is the winter of our discontent
summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds
that loured upon our house
In the deep bosom
of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound
with victorious wreaths,
Our stern alarums
changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches
to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath
smoothed his wrinkled front,
. . .
capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious
pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped
for sportive tricks
Nor made to court an amorous
. . .
I in this weak piping time of peace
delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy
my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own
And therefore since I cannot prove
To entertain these fair well-spoken
I am determined to prove a villain
hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Richard speaks these lines to the audience
at the beginning of the play. His speech serves a number of important
purposes. It sets the scene, informing the audience that the play
begins shortly after the death of Henry VI, with King Edward IV
restored to the throne of England. Richard speaks of recent fighting,
and says that “All the clouds that loured upon our house”—that is,
the house of York—have been dispelled by the “son of York,” King
Edward, whose symbol was the sun. Richard paints a vivid picture
in which the English have put aside their arms and armor and celebrate
in peace and happiness, culminating in the image of the god of war
smoothing his rough and fierce appearance and playing the part of
a lover in a woman’s chamber. All of these images make
it clear to us that Richard has no justification for seizing the
throne. England is obviously not oppressed or subject to tyranny,
and Richard’s own brother holds the throne. That Richard intends
to upset the kingdom by seizing power for himself therefore renders
him monstrously selfish and evil.
Richard offers a pretext for his villainy by pointing
out his physical deformity. He says that since he was not made to
be a lover, he has no use for peace, and will happily destroy peace
with his crimes. We are not likely to accept this reasoning as a
valid or convincing justification for Richard’s villainy. Instead
of making Richard sympathetic, it makes him seem more monstrous,
because he can so blithely toss aside all of the things that the
rest of humanity cherishes. At the same time, Richard’s speech makes
his true motivations seem all the more dark and mysterious.