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Act I, scene ii

Summary Act I, scene ii

Richard manipulates Anne by feigning gentleness and persistently praising her beauty, a technique that he subtly twists later in the scene in order to play upon Anne’s sense of guilt and obligation. Richard implies that he killed Anne’s husband, Edward, because Anne’s beauty had caused Richard to love her—and that, therefore, Edward’s death is partially Anne’s fault. This tactic culminates in the highly manipulative, and risky, gesture of Richard’s offering her his sword and presenting his chest to her, saying she may kill him if she can. But, interrupted by Richard’s speeches, Anne finds herself unable to kill him. “Though I wish thy death, / I will not be thy executioner,” she says—just what Richard is counting on (I.i.172173). In proving that Anne lacks the will to kill him, Richard himself establishes a kind of power over Anne. He demonstrates that she cannot back up her words with action, while he backs every claim he makes with swift and violent deeds.

In a broad sense, this scene is a demonstration of Richard’s powerful way with words, which may be the most important aspect of his character. He wins Anne, a seemingly impossible feat. She herself, knowing that she cannot trust him, is nonetheless unable to resist his apparent sincerity and skillfully manipulative gestures. He engineers the entire scene to bring about the result he desires.

As the gleeful Richard says after Anne has left—in a gruesome spectacle of rejoicing that tends to reinforce the audience’s loathing of him, “[w]as ever woman in this humour wooed? / Was ever woman in this humour won?” (I.ii.215–216). Richard then goes on to gloat over his murder of her husband, Edward, to which he now openly admits. Last, Richard seems to take pleasure in comparing his own ugliness to Edward’s nobility—appreciating the accompanying irony that the beautiful Anne will now belong to the hideous Richard. It is difficult to read this scene without concluding that Richard is twisted in mind and emotion as well as body. His intelligence, his skill with words, and his apparently motiveless hatred of the world at large combine with these twisted emotions to make Richard very dangerous indeed.