The Character of Richard III


Some works could be labelled ‘character-driven’, while some are ‘plot-driven’.

Shakespeare’s Richard the Third is an example of the first kind. Richard is an interesting example of a constructed figure: there is nothing about him that resembles a ‘real’ human being, even physically, portrayed as he is as a deformed freak. Apart from the fact that he has more than 300 lines and even when not on stage is the main topic of discussion for the other characters, it is his ongoing use of the inhuman tools of manipulation and betrayal throughout the story to gain power which create a hollowness far removed from verisimilitude. This empty heart is precisely what gives Richard his power as a character: it draws attention toward it, not only from the other characters, who fall under a snake-like spell, but also from the audience.

Almost as though he is an experiment in character construction, we see Shakespeare’s Richard gambol through the play committing one evil act after another, deflecting any attempt at criticism and blatantly betraying everyone. Brackenbury, here, for example, has walked in on Richard defacing the queen, but Richard deflects him with a series of simple lies:

Even so; an't please your worship, Brackenbury,

You may partake of any thing we say:

We speak no treason, man; we say the king

Is wise and virtuous, and his noble queen

Well struck in years, fair, and not jealous;

We say that Shore's wife hath a pretty foot,

A cherry lip, a bonny eye, a passing pleasing tongue;

And that the queen's kindred are made gentlefolks.

How say you, sir? Can you deny all this?

Richard then questions Brackenbury as to whether or not he agrees with Richard and his exaggerated assessment of the queen, which throws Brackenbury off completely and puts him on the spot. Richard’s tactic of deflecting the question recurs - Richard is a master of it, but presents himself to the audience openly, explaining his approach: