Richard III

by: William Shakespeare

Evil

1

I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion, Cheated of feature by dissembling nature. Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time Into this breathing world, scarce half made up. (Act I, Scene i, lines 18–21)

In the opening monologue of the play, Richard describes his physical deformity and unattractiveness. He feels handicapped by his hunchback and visage, and he lets his deformed, misshapen body come to be the living embodiment of his own twisted nature. The fact that Richard can analyze the relationship between his body and his personality demonstrates a presence of mind that indicates that he could also choose to overcome his physical limitations. Instead, however, he succumbs to his base nature. While his body has helped give birth to the evil inside him, Richard himself helps that evil grow and thrive.

2

Was ever woman in this humor wooed? Was ever woman in this humor won? I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long. (Act I, Scene ii, lines 235–238)

Having won over Anne’s hand in marriage—no small feat considering he murdered her husband and father-in-law, King Henry VI—Richard cruelly gloats in his victory. He feels determined to marry Anne for his own purposes despite his protestations of deep love for her—after all, Richard’s nature truly precludes his ability to love anyone. While he claimed in the previous act that he wanted to marry Anne because he believed he would get something out of the alliance, he also seems to be acting in pure wanton delight in his cruelty and ability to degrade another human being.

3

Ah, that deceit should steal such gentle shape, And with a virtuous visor hide deep vice. He is my son, ay, and therein my shame, Yet from my dugs he drew not this deceit. (Act II, Scene ii, lines 27–30; In-text citation Act II, Scene ii, lines 107–108)

The Duchess of York, Richard’s mother, exists as one of the few people who sees her son’s true nature. While Clarence’s children guilelessly accept Richard’s explanation that Edward ordered the death of their father, the Duchess immediately sees the truth behind the lie. Instead of attempting to stop Richard, however, she hopes for his reform. Later in the same scene, when she meets with Richard herself, she even gives him the blessing he asks for: “God bless thee, and put meekness in thy breast,/Love, charity, obedience, and true duty.” These words show that she has not completely lost hope for him.

4

O bitter consequence That Edward still should live “true noble prince”! Cousin, thou wast not wont to be so dull. Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead, And I would have it suddenly performed. (Act IV, Scene ii, lines 16–20)

Having murdered and connived his way to the crown, Richard now wants to eliminate any potential challenges. Thus, he demands the execution of his nephews, the young princes. Here he speaks bluntly of his desire to kill the lawful heir to the throne along with his younger brother. While Richard’s previous actions have clearly manifested his cruel and power-hungry nature, the indifference he demonstrates to human life, let alone his own family, seems shocking. Richard is able to see only through the lens of his own desires, in this case, how he can retain his ill-begotten power.