Monday, December 15, 2008

Richard III

It is a play that largely belongs to the angry, mourning women lamenting their losses at the hands of Richard.  It seems filled with the motif of time periods.  It may be a compromised work; today we don't care for our writers to create their works with concern for the political powers (but then, much of Western civilization's paintings are tainted by power and money too, right?).  A few issues stand out to me.

Obsession with the Shadow Self: Self-Love and Self-Hate
In Richard's first speech, he laments the boredom of the current time period; he'll have nothing to do

"Unless to spy my own shadow in the sun
And descant on my own deformity" (I.ii.26-27)

An odd line, I thought, but probably just a chance for Shakespeare to dig at his villain's (and the current dynastic family's villain's) physical flaws.  But then another line resonated in a similar vein:

"Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass
That I may see my shadow as I pass" (I.ii.262-263).

Suddenly we have a pattern.  Richard twice invokes a desire to examine his own shadow.  Once he muses on examining his own shadow to pass the time, and shortly after discusses examining his shadow through a mirror (taking himself a step away from the actual shadow).  A contrast: the sun, his shadow.  The sun representing, perhaps, God, King, Goodness, the shadow representing all of Richard's flaws.

But Richard is going to perform many dark deeds throughout the play.  This focus on his own shadow (not himself or his deformity, but the shadow of his deformity) on one hand shows a fixation on his own evil.  But on the other hand, it shows a desire to distance himself from this evil.  He doesn't want to look at himself; he only wants to look at his own shadow.  After that, he doesn't even want to look at his shadow; he wants to examine his shadow through a mirror as he walks away from it.

I think this becomes interesting when Richard wakes on the day of the battle, after ghosts have cursed him to despair and death in the night:

"What do I fear?  Myself?  There's none else by.
Richard loves Richard: that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here?  No.  Yes, I am.
Then fly.  What, from myself?  Great reason why!
Lest I revenge.  What, myself upon myself?
Alack, I love myself. Wherefore?  For any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O no! Alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself.
I am a villain.  Yet I lie, I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well.  Fool, do not flatter" (V.iii.183-193)

If there was ever a better written expression for the conflicted self, self-hatred and self-love combined into a self-fear, I haven't read it.  Certainly, shortly after Richard bucks himself up for war by denying his conscience:

"Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls;
Conscience is but a word cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe;
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law!" (V.iii.309-312)

But is that conflicted self that lingers with me--objectively illustrated by a desire to examine one's shadow, an act requiring both self-love and self-hate.

Justifying War
We see the Tudor hero Richmond and the Tudor villain Richard inspire their troops with different justifications for war.  Both are familiar.

Good Richmond buoys the troops by claiming they fight for God.

"God and our good cause fight upon our side" (V.iii.241)

"One that hath ever been God's enemy
Then if you fight against God's enemy,
God will in justice ward you as his soldiers" (V.iii.253-255)

"Then in the name of God and all these rights,
Advance your standards, draw your willing swords" (V.iii.263-265)

Written at a time when belief in the divine right of kings was a foundational principle for government, there is sincerity here.  Still, Richmond is making a power play: he's waging a war to remove another king and place the crown on his own head.  He claims, of course, that he fights on God's side, but he's certainly not an objective student of God's will ("God insists I wage a war to make myself King" is hardly convincing).  But then, many killers and warmongers justify their murders and wars by claiming God is on their side.  it is often that in a war, the religious on each side calls on God to justify its own cause.

Evil Richard calls for war by demonizing the enemy and by calling on fears of what will happen if they don't fight and win.

"A sort of vagabonds, rascals, and runaways,
A scum of Britains and base lackey peasants,
Whom their o'ercloyed country vomits forth
To desperate ventures and assured destruction.
You sleeping safe, they bring you unrest;
You having lands, and blest with beauteous wives
They would distrain the one, distain the other." (V.iii.317-323)

"Shall these enjoy our lands?  Lie with our wives?
Ravish our daughters?" (V.iii.337-338)

Richard dehumanizes the enemy, and calls upon fears of what this monstrous enemy will do to the good people's peaceful homes.  They, then, become just warriors: they are merely defending peace by waging war.  Earlier, Richmond makes a similar claim:

"To reap the harvest of perpetual peace
by this one bloody trial of sharp war" (V.iii.15-16)

Of course, perpetual war can be justified by these claims.

Syntax and Ambiguity

"Now is the winter of our discontent" (I.i.1)

In isolation, the wonderful first line has clear meaning: the bad time is now.  But that line is part of a clause:

"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York" (I.i.1-2)

This clause also has a clear meaning: the bad time is now over.

The beauty of the syntax also finds meaning in the speaker.  For Richard, the "glorious summer" is his own "winter of [...] discontent:" he's not happy.  And as the play is about to detail Richard's rise to power, it is also going to detail England's "winter of our discontent" which is, in Richard's time, occurring now.  The play is the winter of discontent, even if the clause means the winter of discontent (which includes a long civil war) is over.

The syntax is genius.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:54 PM

    Web - Service - Async - Task web - Service - Task = new Web - Service - Async - Task();.
    The burglar home alarm systems act as an ultimate protector in extreme situations.
    &nbsp - Personal stories from numerous along time of trials, troubles, and
    victories can be told based on the contents of ones fishing tackle box.

    Feel free to surf to my site article spinners