Richard 111 Essay: How do you judge Richard?

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The protagonist of Shakespeare’s Richard 111 incontrovertibly commits acts of evil throughout the play: the deaths of Clarence, Hastings, Rivers, and of course the -Princes. However, to judge Richard simply as a villain ignores the full complications of his character and the implications of the society in his actions. Richard lives in a time of moral anarchy and social upheaval; the war of the roses causes Richard to grow up in a world where morals and conscience are cast aside for wealth and power. Other than the greed Richard has for, and the enjoyment that Richard gets from chasing the throne, Richard’s main reason for the throne is because he cannot “play the lover”, and this is born so much from his deformity as the society around him. Ultimately it cannot be said that Richard is not a villain, but it would be ignorant and indeed naïve to suggest that his rise and fall were explicitly of his own inherently evil fashioning. The prevailing factionalism and moral turmoil of Richard’s world contributes to his decisions throughout the play. Whilst Richard is often seen to further invert the notions of good and evil -“saint” and “devil”- Richard is not creating these inversions of order, simply utilizing the preconceived mould of Elizabethan society. From the beginning of the play Richard’s moral compass is already misaligned with what contemporary audiences would deem moral, and thus, Richard’s deeds must be considered in view of the social and political agendas of this “tottering” “troublesome” and “reeling” world in which he resides. In light of this Richard’s deeds at the beginning of the play-principally Clarence’s death- aren’t substantially evil, and this is at least partially shown thought the audiences support of Richard at this time. Even for contemporary audiences at the beginning of the play, the ends justify the means. Clarence’s death is marked not so
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