Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
An imprisoned Buckingham awaits execution ruminating on the significance of it being All-Souls’ day. He is “victim” to another one of those unintended self-curses of which this play is full:
This is the day which, in King Edward’s time,
I wish’d might fall on me when I was found
False to his children and his wive’s allies;
. . .
That high All-Seer, which I dallied with,
Hath turn’d my feigned prayer upon my head,
And given in earnest what I begg’d in jest.
Richmond gives a rousing hearty speech to his key military supporters, including the Earl of Oxford, whose only lines in the play are these:
Every man’s conscience is a thousand men,
To fight against this guilty homicide.
It’s a bit disappointing to find Edward De Vere having his ancestor — the 13th Earl of Oxford, John de Vere (Farina 146) — buy into the idea of Henry Tudor as a hero, but the fact of such a cameo supports the Oxfordian identification of “Shake-speare.” The 13th Earl was the first person created Knight of the Garter by Henry VII and the hereditary office of Lord Great Chamberlain was bestowed upon him (Clark 418).
Richard III is said to have friends only through fear, and they will come over to Richmond’s side in time.
Richard sets up his tent on Bosworth Field with his men, who outnumber Richmond’s three to one. He is encouraged that, additionally, “the King’s name is a tower of strength” (V.iii.12) — a famous phrase now that perhaps derived from Prov. 18:10, but that makes Macrone uncomfortable: “it is easy to imagine the strength of a tower, but difficult to imagine a tower of strength … a tower built of strength” (171).
Richmond is also set up and is likely to “rest quiet to-night” (V.iii.43). Shifts between parallel scenes of the two camps contrast the blithe serenity of Richmond’s batch with the relative paranoia on Richard’s side. Richard “will not sup to-night” (V.iii.48), but he does insist on bowls of wine (V.iii.63, 72). A pageant of ghosts appears: Prince Edward (Henry VI’s son), Henry VI, Clarence, the Lords Richard had killed, the two princes, Hastings, Anne, Buckingham. In turn they curse Richard — “Despair and die!” (V.iii.126, 135, 140, etc.) — and wish Richmond well.
Richard awakens, screaming for a horse, and offers a fragmented soliloquy meant to convey his discomposure:
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by.
Richard loves Richard, that is, I am I.
Is there a murtherer here? No. Yes, I am.
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why —
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O no! Alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself.
I am a villain; yet I lie, I am not.
. . .
I shall despair; there is no creature loves me,
And if I die no soul will pity me.
This facet of Richard has met with critical objection. “This Richard has no inwardness, and when Shakespeare attempts to imbue him with an anxious inner self, on the eve of his fatal battle, the result is poetic bathos and dramatic disaster” (Bloom 66). Another critic points to the ambiguity of tone, the discrepancy between the style and the emotions behind this speech of Richard’s, calling it more “a cerebral self-examination than an emotional revelation” (Wells 105). So Richard’s “iron will had its Achilles heel: his superstition…. The play is the story of how his imagination gradually gets the better of his will” (Goddard, I 37). Richard “implodes at Bosworth” (Garber 145).
Richard is startled by Ratcliffe, but intends to eavesdrop on his own men in their tents to check their loyalty (V.iii.221f). Meanwhile, Richmond gives a big damn speech, insisting that “Richard except, those whom we fight against / Had rather have us win than him they follow” (V.iii.243-244), and calling Richard “A base foul stone, made precious by the foil / Of England’s chair, where he is falsely set; / One that hath ever been God’s enemy” (V.iii.250-252). His war sounds like a crusade.
Richard notes that there is no sun today. But he’s back to his old self: “Conscience is but a word that cowards use” (V.iii.309). In his speech to his men, he reminds them that the opposing army is made up of “runaways,” “scum,” and base “peasants, / Whom their o’ercloyed country vomits forth” (V.iii.316-318). When news comes that Lord Stanley will not join Richard, Richard shouts, “Off with his son George’s head!” (V.iii.344), but this must wait until after the battle.
The formerly imperturbable Richard thereupon falls into a veritable panic. He dispatches messengers without telling them what to say or do, rebukes one for not departing with no orders, and forgets what he has told another a moment before. He is utterly rattled. (Goddard, I 38)
Like all but one of the kings in these History Plays, Richard has failed to come to terms with the nocturnal world — the other side of life — the unconscious. Of that unconscious world … the horse has been a symbol, standing for the living stream of unconscious energy on which consciousness rides. Consciousness must guide it or it will run away with consciousness. (Goddard, I 39)
“Richard, once actor, director, stage manager, and prompter, has lost control, not only of events, but even of his own plans and his sense of self…. Richard is left without a role to play” (Garber 156).
On the battlefield, Richard claims to have slain five men outfitted like Richmond. And, “A horse, a horse! my kingdom for a horse!” he calls twice (V.iv.7, 13). Aside from the fact that you can’t really have horses on stage, this is sometimes taken as another insult to Richard III in the play, as if he’s trying to run away from battle. Actually, it’s a valiant moment: “he refuses to forsake the fray although his horse has bit the dust” (Macrone 60). This is consistent with Richard’s character all along — he likes strife, more than the crown and kingdom. At the beginning of the play, a war had just ended, and within a few lines Richard is grousing about peacetime lute-playing. He has consistently enjoyed stirring up trouble; it’s just not recognized as that because he keeps going way beyond mere dabbling and instigating. Some people are like this, without the reals guts to be butchers — they just feel alive when they can crap things up for everyone around them. Ultimately, the play wants to show the self-destructiveness of evil, but we are nevertheless left with a sense of tragic loss of something: partly, perhaps, something aesthetic: “Shakespeare gives him [Richard] many flashes of colloquial directness contrasting with the formality of other characters. All this creates a tension between our aesthetic response to his cleverness and our moral response to the uses to which he puts it” (Wells 103).
“Shakespeare always decides battles by Homeric single combat” (Asimov 740). Richard is slain by Richmond, so “the bloody dog is dead” (V.v.2). “Actually, the battle came to an end when Richard, despairing, deliberately charged into a dense group of enemies, crying ‘Treason, treason.’ He hacked away, killing a number, before he was pulled off his horse and killed in his turn, at the age of thirty-two” (Asimov 740).
Richmond commands that the nobles of both armies be buried honorably (a big lie — we don’t even know what in hell they did to the slain body of Richard). A big damn lot is made of Stanley’s son being alive still (V.iv.9f): bfd. Richmond will marry young Elizabeth and “We will unite the White Rose and the Red” (V.v.19). The royal “we” already? Who died and made him king? (Oh, yeah. He, Elizabeth I’s grandfather, made himself king by usurping the crown.) The Wars of the Roses are over now with the establishment of the Tudor line, ostensibly. The red and white roses are united, “For the red and the white — blood and spirit — are the indispensible ingredients of life” (Goddard, I 40). So huzzah for England. No more repressive bloody perverts in power now that the Tudors are here! Oh, wait….
Historically, Henry VII “was a hard, cold, avaricious man” (Asimov 740). And young Edward, Earl of Warwick, the only son of George of Clarence, was kept alive in prison throughout Richard’s reign. He may have been mentally retarded. “He was executed not at the order of Richard III, but at the order of his successor, Henry VII, in 1499” (Asimov 727). “No societies have sprung up to defend and lionize Richmond. He wins the crown and the queen, but not the play. This, we might say, is the victory of theater over history” (Garber 159).
Richard is “a master of persuasive language rather than a profound psychologist or a criminal visionary. This Richard has no inwardness” (Bloom 66). The play “is often closer to melodrama than to tragedy” (Goddard, I 36). Nevertheless, “Richard’s has the reputation of being one in which the actor can achieve almost complete domination, outshining everyone else, exploiting the role’s manifold opportunities for the display of sardonic humour, witty malevolence, and savage ferocity, along with moments of gloomy introspection and conscience-ridden hysteria” (Wells 101).
Shakespeare’s Richard, a walking hieroglyph of the unnatural, with his hunch-back, his withered arm, and hi limp, produces this kind of disturbance in nature wherever he goes” (Garber 153).
“The analogy between Shake-speare’s humpbacked usurper and the power-hungry Robert Cecil was hardly obscure and not hard to apprehend. Common libelers, for instance, were fond of comparisons between Cecil and Richard III. (‘Richard [III] or Robin [Cecil], which was worse? / A crook’t back great in state is England’s curse,’ etc.)” (Anderson 305; cf. Ogburn and Ogburn 323, 1110). The elder Ogburns think de Vere turned back to his old history play written in the Tower when the Southampton matter became dire (Ogburn and Ogburn 1113-1114). The play is born of the “repulsion against hypocrisy and ambition of the Cecilian order” (Ogburn and Ogburn 1114), with father Burghley and son Robert mixed with their “Cecilian sanctimony” in the final version (Ogburn and Ogburn 1115).
The Richard III Society was founded in England in 1924. Its American sister organization, Friends of Richard III, included Salvador Dalí, Helen Hayes, and Tallulah Bankhead as charter members (Garber 132).