Is Richard III a study of how to structure a play, or is it a study of how to gain political power? For different minds, Richard III could be percieved as a fine example of both how to structure a play and how to gain political power. Critics would probably be more intersted in the construction of Richard III than a person seeing the play for the first time. In my opinion, the configuration of Richard III is of equal importance as the plot. Shakespeare uses several succesful devices in structuring the play, that make the audience feel like insiders. Dramatic irony, for example, allows the audience to know something that the other characters don't, to be "in on" the plan.
Another of these is parra lel scenes, where the audience sees events that are happening simultaneously, but to different people. This creates dramatic tension int the play. Another device is dramatic irony, especially when Richard relates his plots to the audience. When Richard says: "Dive thoughts, down to my soul." He lets the audience know what he is thinking, but means to keep his thoughts hidden from the other characters. These aside speeches and soliloquys are particularly fascinating because they are the only parts of the play when we see Richard's true nature. The fact that Richard has to be very cautious as to whom he discloses his real nature is very important.
Even Buckingham does not know Richard's mind throughout the play. Richard only shows his true character to those who he feels pose no threat, and those who do see it, are usually disposed of soon afterwards. However, it should be most detrimental to his reputation should someone of importance to his plots see his character for what it really is. The play is structured around several important themes.
These are: Richard's ambitions, -his aspiration to the crown, irony, -how he deci eves everybody and yet no-one suspects him, fate, -Justice being done to Richard, good triumphing over evil, and morals, -that teach the audience a lesson about good and evil. At regular intervals, Richard discloses his intentions to the audience in soliloquys. In the first scene, Richard reveals his plots to drive a wedge between his brothers, King Edward and Clarence, to play them off one another, then to have Clarence imprisoned and quietly murdered. Plots " to set my brother Clarence and the King in deadly hate the one against the other, and if King Edward be as true and just as I am sub lte, false and treacherous, this day should Clarence be closely mewed up, about a prophesy which sais that "G" of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be." This exemplifies to the audience Richard's mercenary and remorseless nature, his willingness to kill anyone who interferes with his political pursual, regardless of his relationship with them. Irony plays an important role in the play in many ways. For instance, dramatic irony, when the audience know something the other characters don't.
Also when Richard drops hints of his villainy and plots to unsuspecting characters and when other characters' oblivious words or actions prophesise outcomes, for example: in Act 3 Scene 2, Stanley tells Hastings of a dream he has had of Richard revealing his true nature, and endangering Hastings. Hastings dismisses this entirely and mocks Stanley for believing in dreams. He reassures Stanley wrongly of Richard's kind and virtuous disposition. This ties in with another theme: fate, as Elizabethans were particularly intersted in the idea of interpreting dreams and omens. Margaret, Hastings and the Duchess of York all prophesise Richard's nemesis: Margaret: "Sin, death and hell have set their marks upon him." Hastings: "I prophesy the fearful " st time to thee." Duchess: "Bloody thou art, and bloody will be thy end, Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend." Fate also is an important theme of the play.
The Medieval idea of the Wheel of Fortune that supposedly controlled one's fate suggests that Richard's luck rose and fell in large fluctuations. It appeared to climax when Richard became King, but fell sharply almost as soon after he was crowned. The audience of the day would have identified with this, as Elizabethans were very superstitious. Richard's plight is supposedly parallel with the ancient Greek dramas. For example, the Greek tragedy of Phaedra, a young man who had an affair with his Father's lover, and paid with his life as a consequence.
Though in my opinion, the fundamental, most crucial theme of the play is morality. Elizabethan people either were, or liked to appear very pious and devout, so plays with ethics or a moral lesson appealed to them. Although Richard's behaviour is scandalously immoral, the outcome is favourable to the audience of the day, because Richard is punished and good triumphs over evil. Richard certainly does not soften as the play progresses. He is willing to kill anyone who steps in the way of his political aspirations, including his own brother.
He is willing to force his niece into an incestuous marriage with him, so as to secure his political gains. The play appears to be of two halves. The first half, Acts One, Two and Three are focused on Richard's success. The second half, Acts Four and Five, are centred around Richard's plight. Richard seems to lose his power in the second half of the play, the audience see his weakness when people start to lie to him. Elizabeth appears to agree to woo her daughter for him, but secretly plans to get her daughter quickly married to Richmond: "Shall I go and win my daughter to thy will?" and "I go, write to me very shortly, and you shall understand from me her mind." Stanley also lies to Richard about his loyalty: "Most mighty sovereign, you have no cause to hold my friendship doubtful, I never was, nor never will be false." Whereas once, Richard was able to command the devotion of his courtiers, he now feels that he has to blackmail Stanley with his nephew's life, in order to keep Stanley loyal to him.
Not only is Richard's downfall historically correct, but Shakespeare has enforced this with recurring themes of right and wrong in the play. This seems so because Shakespeare knows this is what the audience wants to happen. However, it is true to say that Richard III is a biased play because Elizabeth I was of the opposing Lancastiran family and Shakespeare embellished the truth to please her by diminishing Richard's character, qualities and appearance. Although it has never been proven to be true, it is thought that Richard murdered his nephews. This was another point on which we cannot be sure of its testimony. His deformity in the play, was also not true to life.
I also believe that Richard III is a study of how to gain political power. The play closely narrates Richard's ambitions and success in acquiring and maintaining his power. Richard appears to have a deep inferiority complex throughout the play. I think that this unprovoked bitterness stems from his deformity. Richard feels that his disfigured looks leave him unsuccessful in sexual exploits. He therefore states that: "Since I cannot prove a lover, to entertain these fair and well spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days." Richard's psychological acrimony is supported in his hatred towards the Woodville family, as he has no motive to justify his resentment.
Richard loses what little moral sense he has due to his political ambitions and is completely remorseless, unimpressed and almost amused by the way people are maneuvered and manipulated by him... "Relenting fool, shallow changing woman." Richard mutters to himself after he thinks that he has successfully persuaded Elizabeth to woe her daughter for him. Richard knows exactly how to behave honourably and virtuously when trying to win people's good favour. For instance, in Act Three, Richard has to impress the Mayor with his piety, ironically because he masks his corruption and evil with unnervingly convincing performances. In fact, throughout the play, Richard appears amiable and charming on the surface, concealing his true nature; a ruthless and bitter disposition completely devoid of feeling, though he is able to affect sentiments of sanctity and compassion when fooling others, which is unusual in a villain. Richard, despite his deformities, is a proud character.
Because he cares for no-one, he fears no-one. His arrogance dismisses Richmond as a threat, therefore Richard is defeated when he underestimates Richmond's strength. Fundamentally, Richard's pride condemns him. Although Richard appears to be composed 100% villain, he has some attractive qualities which would appeal to the audience; his humour, charm, wit, intellect and dramatic skills are all highly admirable. In terms of politics, I think that Richard would make a successful, clever King. His major flaw is that he would need to control his conceit.
If he could overcome that, I think he would be able to easily outwit enemies with tactical ruthless actions. However, he would probably be harsh and obstinate with his subjects as he is not compassionate, though his eloquent performances would prove successful in debating, persuading and in situations where he is required to behave diplomatically. Though the construction and characterization of Richard III are of equal importance, I believe that the sequence of events has more initial impact on the audience. It is Richard's success and eventual downfall that is of dominant interest in the play, but Richard's intricate character is something to analyse on reflection. A contemporary audience would find the play harder to perceive due to circumstances, such as the difference between the authority the monarchy had in Richard III's day, than today. Also, certain topics, such as witchcraft, have been proven and dismissed as irrational superstition.
However, an audience today would probably have a much more light hearted approach to the play because society today is much less restrained, where dysfunctional families and personalities are discussed a lot more freely and psychological disorders are researched treated and accepted today. Though the different audiences over the years have different reactions to the play, the most common attitude towards Richard has stayed the same. Most viewers think that Richard's ruin was a punishment for his wrongdoings.