Trends and the Tipping Point for a Vengeful God

In Act One of Richard the Third, Richard speaks more heavily in soliloquies and asides than in any other act: a total of 117 lines, divided amongst six speeches:

  1. the opening soliloquy, 41 lines (I.i.1-41)
  2. the soliloquy between Clarence’s exit and Hasting’s entrance, 5 lines (I.i.117-121)
  3. the soliloquy at end of first scene, 18 lines (I.i.145-162)
  4. the soliloquy after the wooing sequence, 36 lines (I.ii.227-63)
  5. the aside after Margaret’s exit, 2 lines (I.iii.318-319)
  6. the soliloquy between the royal reconciliation meeting and the entrance of the murderers, 15 lines (I.iii.324-338)

These speeches, spoken directly to us (rather than just to himself or to others in the cases of asides), makes a connection between him and us, as well as sets a certain loquacious tone for his character.

After the first act, however, this kind of garrulous communication sustains a substantial drop-off, with only seven lines in Act Two and the first half of Act Three:

  1. the aside following his mother’s “blessing,” 3 lines (II.ii.109-111)
  2. the series of asides with Prince Edward, 4 lines over 3 speeches (III.i.79, 82-83, and 94)

Again, these (mostly) comic asides are spoken to the audience, so that while the frequency of these speeches slides down from Act One, they are still delivered to us, still allowing us to connect with him.

For the rest of the play, however, not only is the frequency even less, but something else is at work here as well:

  1. the soliloquy after he sends Buckingham off to begin the whispering campaign, 4 lines (III.v.106-109)
  2. the asides during the post-coronation scene, after Buckingham has shown reluctance in killing the princes, 14 lines over 3 asides (IV.ii.28-31, 42-45, 59-54)
  3. the soliloquy after Tyrrel’s exit, 8 lines (IV.iii.36-43)
  4. the soliloquy after Queen Elizabeth’s exit, 1 line (IV.iv.431)

Twenty-seven lines.  Fewer lines are spoken as clearly to the audience as in the first three acts; only speeches 11 and 12 are obviously to us… and even when the speech MIGHT BE directed at us (as in Act Three, Scene Five), the charm of Act One is gone:

Now will I in, to take some privy order,
To draw the brats of Clarence out of sight;
And to give notice, that no manner of person
At any time have recourse unto the princes.

— III.v.106-109

Even when Richard HAD been derogatory in earlier scenes (“Simple plain Clarence, I do love thee so // That I will shortly send thee to heaven” [I.i.118-119]), there is so much more charm there than in the phrase, “the brats of Clarence.”

note: we’ll talk more about Act Five, Scene Three’s post-dream soliloquy in greater detail later, but–SPOILER ALERT–it’s my contention that the final soliloquy is not spoken to us… nope, not a single one of its 30 lines…

So what to make of this?  Richard begins bringing us into his mind, then either dumps the charm that had once been the cornerstone of those speeches, or excludes us from his thoughts altogether.  So…

What happens?

OK, Sherlock, what was going on when the audience-directed speeches stopped?  Well, the last speeches were the asides that led into the banter-party with the princes in Act Three, Scene One.  Let’s start there, and move forward to see what we can find.

The last of the three asides from that scene comes after Prince Edward’s declaration that when he is old enough, he will “win (England’s) ancient right in France again” (III.i.92), and Richard says, “Short summers lightly have a forward spring” (III.i.94).  With this snarky remark (telling us that Edward won’t live long), Edward’s younger brother Richard arrives, and we witness light banter between uncle and nephews.  Even within the levity, though, there are hidden cutting (pun intended) remarks by Richard:

I pray you, uncle, give me this dagger.

My dagger, little cousin? with all my heart.

— III.i.110-111

The little prince wants Richard’s dagger, and the uncle is more than willing to give him the dagger… most likely through the boy’s “heart.”  And if the dagger isn’t enough,

A greater gift than that I'll give my cousin.

A greater gift! O, that's the sword to it.

Ay, gentle cousin, were it light enough.

— III.i.115-117

Dagger too small?  Then Richard is willing to give him (use) the sword.  The little Richard Duke of York is precocious, and (too) full of ideas.  His mother knows it (II.iv.35), and his brother knows it as well:  “My Lord of York will still be cross in talk: // Uncle, your grace knows how to bear with him” (III.i.126-127).  Prince Edward hopes that Richard will understand and have patience with the boy.  And, as if using THAT request as an opportunity to be both “parlous” and “perilous” (II.iv.35 and III.i.154, respectively), young Richard teases:

You mean, to bear me, not to bear with me.
Uncle, my brother mocks both you and me;
Because that I am little, like an ape,
He thinks that you should bear me on your shoulders.

— III.i.128-131

Young Richard makes a reference to jesters and bears often carrying monkeys at fair.  The fact that the boy is being somewhat self-deprecating–comparing himself to a monkey–does not lessen the brutality of the insult to his uncle (as he openly says that concept is “mock[ing]”).  The bears, of course, are less than human.  The jesters, too, often were hunchbacks.  Freaks.  His uncle, he is saying, is a freak of nature.

And this, I would argue, is the tipping point.

When Richard next speaks, it’s in an all-business, banter-free zone:

My lord, will't please you pass along?
Myself and my good cousin Buckingham
Will to your mother, to entreat of her
To meet you at the Tower and welcome you.

— III.i.136-139

Uh, time to go, kiddies.  Oh, and by the way, you’re going to the Tower, and my bud here Buckingham and I are going to try to get your mom there, too.  When young Richard balks, citing fear of Clarence’s ghost, Prince Edward and uncle Richard drop into iambic trimeter:

I fear no uncles dead.

Nor none that live, I hope.

— III.i.146-147

Twenty lines ago, that six-word line of Richard’s might have appeared as a witty aside.  Now, it’s not… he doesn’t care to be comic or charming or anything to anyone else; his meaning is clear, and is message is clearly received, as Edward’s response (“An if they live…” [III.i.148]) obviously references it.

This lack of caring of what others think continues after the princes leave, when Richard says of his namesake, “Bold, quick, ingenious, forward, capable: // He is all the mother’s” (III.i.155-156), disparaging his own brother in front of Catesby; it’s up to Buckingham to change subjects (“Well, let them rest…” [III.i.157]), while swearing Catesby to “closely conceal what we impart” (III.i.159).

Richard’s new verbal brutal bluntness hits its peak in response to Buckingham’s question as to what to do if Hastings doesn’t want to consider Richard as king:  “Chop off his head”  (III.i.193).  The charming Richard is dead.  Long live (or maybe not) the brutal Richard.

So we know the WHEN and the WHAT of the shift in tone: Richard of York’s “bear” comment.

But why?

Other characters have insulted him to his face for his freakish visage:  Anne (“lump of foul deformity” [I.ii.57]), Margaret (“elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog” [I.iii.228]), even himself (that opening soliloquy and “misshapen thus” [I.ii.250]).  So, what is different here?

Is it because the speaker is a child, one with whom Richard had been playing just a moment earlier?  A child with whom there seems to be much affection?  His own namesake?  Can Richard accept (maybe even relish) the insults from adults, but from his nephew the pain is too great?  Does it go back to that opening speech and the root of his deformity, the sexual dysfunction of it, that makes it worse?  Is the Duke of York’s youth a reminder to Richard of what he can never do–father a child–because of his deformed genitalia?  Is this the reason he so quickly turns so brutal, so callous?

Is it a case of:

since he cannot prove a Creator, he is determined to prove a wrathful God, smiting all in his path?

And as Buckingham first gains our allegiance through his invocation of God, is this then the beginning of the end of our connection to Richard.  We want a Creator, not a vengeful god; Richard symbolically knows this and begins to shut us out of his thoughts.

Then with us out of his corner, then Buckingham banished, Richard is alone, with no one to tell his secrets?

Is THIS then The Tragedy of Richard the Third?