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Richard III


By William Shakespeare
The Progressive Isolation Of The Protagonist
From the very opening of the play when Richard III enters
"solus", the protagonist's isolation is made clear.
Richard's isolation progresses as he separates himself from
the other characters and breaks the natural bonds between
Man and nature through his efforts to gain power.
The first scene of the play begins with a soliloquy, which
emphasizes Richard's physical isolation as he appears alone
as he speaks to the audience. This idea of physical
isolation is heightened by his references to his deformity,
such as "rudely stamp'd...Cheated of feature by Dissembling
Nature, deformed, unfinished. This deformity would be an
outward indication to the audience of the disharmony from
Nature and viciousness of his spirit. As he hates "the idle
pleasures of these days" and speaks of his plots to set one
brother against another, Richard seems socially apart from
the figures around him, and perhaps regarded as an outsider
or ostracized because of his deformity. His separation from
is family is emphasized when he says "Dive, thought's down
to my soul" when he sees his brother approaching. He is
unable to share his thought with his own family as he is
plotting against them. Thus, we are given hints of his
physical, social and spiritual isolation which is developed
throughout the play. But despite these hints, he still
refers to himself as part of the House of York, shown in
the repeated use of "Our".
The concept of Richard's physical isolation is reinforced
in his dealings with Anne in Act I scene ii. She calls him
"thou lump of foul deformity" and "fouler toad" during
their exchange. Despite these insults, she still makes time
to talk to Richard, and by the end of their exchange, she
has taken his ring and been "woo'd" by him. After Richard
has successfully gained the throne, he isolates himself
when he asks the crowd to "stand all apart" in Act IV scene
ii. And later, when Richard dreams, he is completely alone.
Physical isolation in Richard's deformity wins sympathy
from the audience as we pity his condition. But Richard
uses his deformity as a tool against the other characters,
to portray them as victimizing Richard. Thus the sense of
tragedy is lessened by his own actions, even though his
isolation may become greater as the play progresses.
Richard's psychological isolation is conveyed through his
lack of conscience in his murderous acts. Nowhere does he
feel remorse for his murders, until Act V scene iii when he
exclaims "Have mercy Jesus!" and "O coward conscience, how
dost thou afflict me!". In this turning point, Richard's
division from his own self is made clear from "I and I",
and "Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am!" He has
conflicting views of himself and realizes that "no
creature" loves him, not even himself. We also never the
"real" mind of Richard, for he is always playing a role, of
a loving brother to Clarence, a lover to Anne or a victim
to the others. We feel sympathy for Richard as he awakes in
a vulnerable position and for the first time acknowledges
the evil that he has done. But as he only reveals his
feelings of guilt in the last act of the play, we do not
see him in 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 society. In Act I scene iii, Richard
sarcastically calls Elizabeth "sister", and she
contemptuously calls him "Brother of Gloucester" making a
mockery of familial bonds. Margaret calls him "cacodemon"
and "devil", and any unity that the characters have on
stage is temporary and superficial. In act III, the
citizens are said to be "mum" and "deadly pale", which
gives a sense of quiet opposition to Richard's activities.
Richard is thus separated from all around him. Temporarily,
we see Richard and Buckingham share a kind of bond, as
Richard calls him "My other self", "My Oracle" and "My
prophet". But they part when Buckingham hesitates to kill
the young princes when Richard says "I wish the bastards
dead". This is the only time the audience sees Richard act
with any other man, but we realize that it is for purely
political purposes and that the union exists only while
Buckingham remains useful to him. Our sympathy for Richard
is limited as we see that he has no true friendships, and
does not genuinely care for his family or friends. Thus
even in his increasing isolation the sense of tragedy upon
his death is not really saddening to the audience as there
is no real sense of waste at his loss.
Richard isolates himself from God, as he claims to be above
God's law and only uses religion as a tool to appear holy
before he is King. But ironically, although he breaks the
bonds between man and Nature, he is a tool of Divine
Justice as he kill those who were sinners, for example
Clarence who recalls his horrible dream and realizes his
guilt early in the play. As the murders accumulate so does
his separation from God, and the need for his death
increases. But being closer to his death brings him closer
and closer to being with God. Thus although Richard may not
realize it, he is never too far from God.
But Richard does not increasingly isolate himself from the
audience. From our omniscient position, we share in
Richard's wit, sarcasm, and the dramatic irony brought
about when other characters are not fully aware of the
implication of his words. Richard also shares his feelings
with us, although he is not always truthful. 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 is not really seen to be a tragic figure of great
In his killing, we see the guilt of Clarence, King Edward,
Rivers, Hastings Buckingham and Lady Anne exposed before
their deaths, along with all those who die. Thus their
deaths are necessary and the audience remembers that. Also,
the deaths appear off-stage, which lessens the impact of
their deaths.
The most poignant part of the play occurs in seeing the
young princes talk happily and innocently 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 afraid,
and are forced to go there because, as the Prince says, "My
Lord Protector needs will have it so". The children had
appeared happy , and the Prince had shown wit and
intelligence in his conversation with his uncle. This
appears to be the greatest tragic loss in the play, which
is heightened because of their youth and innocence. The
tragedy of the protagonist is felt because of his
attractiveness as a villain and as someone who is not
constrained by the rules of society. However, the audience
never forgets that he is wicked and therefore we cannot
feel a sense of great loss of potential or waste in his


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