The Progressive Isolation of Richard III

December 21, 2020 by Essay Writer

From the very opening of William Shakespeare’s tragic historical drama Richard III, the isolation of the main protagonist is made quite clear, for Richard progressively separates himself from the other main characters and gradually breaks the natural bonds between man and society through his at times well-conceived plan to gain the power of the English throne via the extermination of all those who stand in his way.The first scene in Richard III begins with a soliloquy which emphasizes Richard’s physical isolation as he addresses the audience. This idea of isolation is then heightened by his references to his deformities, such as “rudely stamp’d. . . cheated of feature by dissembling Nature. . . ,” an outward indication to the audience of his disharmony from society and the viciousness of his inner spirit. As he despises “the idle pleasures of these days” and speaks of his plots to set brother against brother, Richard separates himself from those in his orbit who perhaps view him as an outsider due to his physical deformities. His separation from his family is emphasized with “Dive, thought’s down to my soul” when he observes his brother approaching. Thus, Richard provides hints of his physical, social and spiritual isolation which is progressive throughout the play. But despite these hints, Richard still refers to himself as part of the House of York, as shown in his repeated use of “Our.”The concept of Richard’s physical isolation is reinforced in his dealings with Anne in Act One, Scene II, where she calls him “thou lump of foul deformity” and “fouler toad” during their verbal exchanges. Yet Anne still takes the time to speak to Richard and by the end of their exchange she had taken his ring and been “woo’d” by him. In Act IV, Scene II, when Richard has successfully gained the throne, he isolates himself again when he orders the crowd to “stand all apart,” and later, during a dream, Richard ends up completely alone, yet his physical deformities manage to win sympathy from the audience as they pity his condition. But Richard utilizes his deformities “as a tool against the other characters via his portrayal of them as victimizers” (Cheetham 146). Thus, the sense of tragedy is lessened by his actions, even though his isolation becomes greater as the play progresses.Richard’s psychological isolation is conveyed through his lack of conscience via his murderous acts. Nowhere does he feel remorse for his actions, until in Act V, Scene III when he exclaims “Have mercy, Jesu!” and “O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!” With this, Richard’s division from his self is evident, especially when he declares “Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am!” The audience and the reader, however, never is allowed to see into the true mind of Richard, for he is always playing some kind of a role, a loving brother to Clarence, a lover to Anne or a victim of the others in his orbit. The audience feels sympathy for him as he realizes his vulnerable position and for the first time acknowledges the evil which he has done. But since Richard only reveals his feelings of guilt in the last act of the play, the audience/reader is not privy to his internal turmoil and thus the sense of psychological tragedy cannot be built upon.Socially, Richard is isolated from both the upper and lower classes of English society, for in Act I, Scene III, Richard sarcastically calls Elizabeth “sister” and she contemptuously calls him “brother of Gloucester,” a swipe of mockery at his familial bonds. Margaret refers to him as “cacodemon” and “devil,” which highlights that any unity between the characters is temporary and superficial. In Act III, the citizens are said to be “mum” and “deadly pale” which reflects a sense of quiet opposition to Richard’s dastardly activities. Thus, Richard is separated from all those around him, yet temporarily, we see Richard and Buckingham share a kind of bond as Richard denotes him as “My other self,” “My Oracle” and “My prophet.” But they part when Buckingham hesitates to kill the young princes as a result of Richard saying “I wish the bastards dead.” This is the only time that the audience/reader sees Richard truly interact with any other man, but the realization soon comes that this interaction is for purely political purposes and that the union only exists while Buckingham remains useful to Richard. Our sympathy for Richard is limited as we discover he has no true friends and does not genuinely care for his family. Yet even with this increasing isolation, the sense of tragedy upon Richard’s death is not truly saddening to the audience/reader, due to feeling no sense of waste at his loss.Richard also isolates himself from God as he claims to be above the laws of God and utilizes religion as another tool in order to appear holy and just before he becomes king. As the murders accumulate, so does Richard’s separation from God and the need for his death increases. But ironically, being closer to death brings him closer to being in the presence of God.However, Richard does not increasingly isolate himself from the audience/reader, for from their omniscient position, they share in “Richard’s wit, sarcasm and the dramatic irony brought about when the other characters are not fully aware of the implications of his words” (Cheetham 256). Richard also shares his feelings with the audience/reader, although they are not always reliable. But the fact that he enjoys his villainy to such a great extent and feels no remorse for his murders, reduces him to a figure of vice and corruption which detracts from a tragic figure of great proportions.The most poignant part of the play occurs when we see the young princes talking of happy things to their uncle and “Lord Protector.” York says “I shall not sleep quiet in the tower,” and we pity them as they are young and frightened and are forced to occupy the Bloody Tower because “My Lord Protector needs will have is so.” This appears to be the greatest tragic loss in the play which is heightened by the youth and innocence of the two princes. The true tragedy of Richard, at least to the audience/reader, is gained via his attractiveness of a villain who is not constrained by the rules of proper society. In essence, Richard’s isolation appears to increase throughout the play via his villainy and tyranny, but in reality, it is firmly based upon his own inner demons which control his twisted mind and lead him inexorably towards the grave.BIBLIOGRAPHYCheetham, Anthony. The Life and Times of Richard III. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972.Shakespeare, William. King Richard III. New York: Routledge, Kegan and Paul, 1988.

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