Richard III - Tragedy in Isolation


"The tragedy of Richard III lies in the progressive isolation of its 
protagonist". Discuss.

 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 Jesu!" 
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 proportions.

 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 death.

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