Henry VI Part 3

by: William Shakespeare

Act III, Scenes i-ii

Commentary

In this first long soliloquy in this play, Richard's plans become clear. Upset that his brother decides to marry Lady Gray even while Warwick negotiates for a French bride, Richard thinks about his desire for the crown and how far he is from inheriting it. It is too difficult, he first thinks, to negotiate through all these people. But when he considers the courtly life of a noble, he knows it is not for him.

He believes he will never enjoy the pleasures of the world, including the love of women, because of his appearance. Richard was said to be lame, hump backed, with one arm shorter than the other. Since his mother cursed him with such a horrible appearance, he believes he will enjoy no pleasure in the court. His alternative, then, is to set his sights on the crown and to get it through devious means. From now until he gets the throne, Richard will play a role and become an actor in the court of England. He will seem to be charming while he plots the downfall and death of others, he will seem innocent and harmless while he cuts a swathe of destruction through the court.

Richard is a figure fashioned after the Vice figure of medieval religious dramas, a witty and engaging character who embodied the principle of evil. Richard, too, evokes Nicolo Machiavelli, a fifteenth century Italian political philosopher most known in England as an advocate of ruthless political cunning. This draws an association to the figure of the stage Machiavel, a character, like the Vice figure, who embodied the hypocrisy attributed to modern political schemers.

While Richard shares affinities with both these characters, he is not fully either. He seems to represent what happens when the identifying ties of family, like "son" or "brother" are disrupted. And Richard epitomizes the deforming effects of ambition. Hence, Richard's actual physical deformity raises curious questions. Is his outward appearance a marker of his corrupt inner being? Or is his outward appearance a cause (or excuse) for his behavior? These questions come up again and again, as Richard refers to his deformity of body and mind throughout this play and the later play, Richard III.