By: William Shakespeare
Format/Source: Audiobook via LibriVox
The bitter, deformed brother of the King is secretly plotting to seize the throne of England. Charming and duplicitous, powerfully eloquent and viciously cruel, he is prepared to go to any lengths to achieve his goal and, in his skilful manipulation of events and people, Richard is a chilling incarnation of the lure of evil and the temptation of power.
I enjoyed the latter half of the Henry VI and the mess that is the War of the Roses and all of the characters involved, so I was looking forward to listening to this play. This play is quite famous and the character one of the most villanous and well-known amongst Shakespeare’s characters.
Firstly, wow, this play is long O_O I actually found out reading up on this play that it’s the second longest (behind Hamlet). Not that I’m complaining, I found this play to be very accessible, very entertaining. The scheming and the court in-fighting continues in this play as sides are drawn up with Richard III vying for the throne and eliminating everyone ahead of him in the sucession line. Richard is really painted as a cunning villain here, a smooth-talker (example: Act 1, Scene 2 (?) with Anne Neville; omg that exchange) but his soliloquies afterwards shows his ruthlessness and his scheming ways (I used stronger language the first time as I was jotting down notes for this review 😛 ). Richard’s schemes for the throne seems pretty elaborate, but Edward’s court was pretty unstable, enabling Richard to rise above his competitors and eliminate those preceding him in the line. While Henry VI seemed to end on a somewhat stable note, it is clear in this play that Edward’s court is no better than Henry VI’s; there’s still a lot of conflict amongst the different nobles, not to mention amongst the Yorkist brothers. Richard plays on his brothers’ suspicions, superstitions, and their weaknesses; Edward and George had their faults (Edward is easily undermined, George is a flip-flop, etc.) but what Richard did was utterly gross, not to mention what he did to his nephews. By the final two acts though you can see he’s starting to overreach (i.e. the gaul that he would try to marry Edward’s daughter, Elizabeth of York).
There are still plenty of other characters that fill the stage, conveying the state of England and the court during this period. Margaret of Anjou makes an appearance, but I still found her annoying even as she curses all those who contributed to her husband’s downfall and her son’s death. Elizabeth Woodville, the former Lady Grey and Edward’s wife, was totally owning Richard in Act 4, prompting Richard to become more desperate. I found Buckingham to be rather annoying, but again you have characters like him who are out for their own interests over the course of the upheaval.
The story itself covers a fair bit of history, from the demise of Richard’s brothers to the murder of Edward’s sons to Richard’s brief rise and fall and the proclamation of Henry VII as king. Plenty of familiar and popular phrases I see came from this play (“A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” “Now is the winter of our discontent”, etc.), which was pretty cool. I think the best scenes were the ones involving Richard becausehe’s such a fascinating character ad there’s great movement in the plot whenever he’s on-stage.
On another note, here’s a comedic take on Act 1, Scene 2 between Richard III and Anne Neville…Who would’ve thought?
But as I was listening to play, especially as I was listening to Act 4, Scene 2, I couldn’t help but see that there’s a bit of black comedy running through the story. Richard’s frustration with Buckingham in that scene was a little lol-worthy (and then I cringed because the subject matter was dark).
Overall, I really enjoyed listening to Richard III, it’s dramatic and shocking, the conflict between the Lancasters and the Yorks finally coming to an end with Henry VII (Richmond)’s victory. Whatever the historical Richard III was, I can see why he’s ingrained in the public consciousness as a villanous character; the character here in Shakespeare’s play is indeed devious and sly, who thinks (and I am paraphrasing here) “conscience is but a device cowards use”, which says much about his character on the whole. So yeah, Richard III is definitely up there as one of my favourite Shakespeare plays for its dynamicism and entertainment factor.
And now I’m totally psyched for the second cycle of The Hollow Crown 🙂
Edit: Changed the rating from a 4 to a 5. It endures in the mind long after the last line 😛