Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
ON RICHARD'S CHARACTER
If Richard is something like the Renaissance will incarnate, he is equally, in his total, eager submission to it, evil incarnate. Whatever his lusty attractiveness, we cannot deny that he treats all men, even himself finally, as mere objects. Too late he discovers, to his amazement and confusion, that he too has feelings, is subjective and subjected, in more than will and conscious self-control. Herein lies his repulsiveness. His is a Dionysianism so passionately self-serving, so deliberate if not cold-blooded, that, corrosive rather than life-giving like the Dionysian at its best, it turns all not only to destruction but to cheapness, ignominy, pointlessness.
Theodore Weiss, The Breath of Clowns and Kings, 1974
The great stories of murder are about men who could not have done it but who did. They are not murderers, they are men. And their stories will be better still when they are excellent men; not merely brilliant and admirable, but also, in portions of themselves which we infer rather than see. Richard is never quite human enough. The spectacle over which he presides with his bent back and his forked tongue can take us by storm, and it does. It cannot move our innermost minds with the conviction that in such a hero's death the world has lost what once had been or might have been the most precious part of itself. Richard is never precious as a man. He is only stunning in his craft, a serpent whose movements we follow for their own sake, because in themselves they have strength and beauty.
Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare, 1939
ON RICHMOND'S FUNCTION
The astonishing thing about this play is that until almost the end, there is no sign of a possible antagonist, no visible secular force that can bring the tyrant down. Richmond is not even mentioned until Act IV, and appears in only the last three scenes. He is little more than a deus ex machina let down from above to provide a resolution both for the immediate action of this play and for the long-continued drama of conflict between York and Lancaster.
George J. Becker, Shakespeare's Histories, 1977
RICHARD III AS TRAGEDY
Thus Shakespeare pictured the dominating sins in the play as perjury and murder, sins against the moral order. He portrayed and analyzed the passion of ambition that caused Richard to sin and the passion of fear that at the same time punished him for his sins and forced him to wade still further in blood. He inserted non-historical scenes developing the Elizabethan philosophy of revenge. He used the supernatural to enhance the horror of the play and to contribute to the impression of a divine vengeance meting out punishment for sin. He showed God's revenge exacted through the agency of the evil Richard, who was nevertheless to be held to account for his evil-doing. He made use of the pathos of the death of the royal children. These are the common methods of Shakespearean tragedy, and they justify those who hold Richard III to be a tragedy.
Lily B. Campbell, Shakespeare's "Histories:" Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy, 1968.
COMEDY IN RICHARD III
Richard's sense of humor, his function as clown, his comic irreverences and sarcastic or sardonic appropriations of things to (at any rate) his occasions: all those act as underminers of our assumed naive and proper Tudor principles; and we are on his side much rather because he makes us (as the Second Murderer put it) "take the devil in [our] mind," than for any "historical-philosophical- Christian-retributional" sort of motive. In this respect a good third of the play is a kind of grisly comedy; in which we meet the fools to be taken in on Richard's terms, see them with his mind, and rejoice with him in their stultification (in which execution is the ultimate and unanswerable practical joke, the absolutely final laugh this side of the Day of Judgment).
A. P. Rossiter, "Angel With Horns: The Unity of Richard III," in Shakespeare, The Histories, ed. Eugene M. Waith, 1965
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts