Shakespeare/Richard III Tragedy term paper 12575

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"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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