Richard III, the Machiavellian Villain

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2000

42 Pages, Grade: 2

Free online reading

1. Introduction

Shakespeare’s Richard III is considered as the most notorious Machiavellian villain of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. By the time Shakespeare wrote Richard III, the term ‘Machiavel’ had already an established set of references. The term was, in fact, so deeply established in the mind of Elizabethan audiences that it was enough to call someone a ‘Machiavel’ in order to characterise him as an utterly amoral and clever villain. The ‘Machiavel’, however, is only one part of Richard’s character as he is a combination of the traditional Vice-figure of the moralities, a tyrant of Senecan revenge tragedy and, of course, the Machiavellian villain. These elements are, in fact, so tightly interwoven that it is very difficult to separate them and concentrate on a single one. Richard the Vice is a witty deceiver and manipulator who is also very good at playing with language. Richard the ‘Machiavel’ seeks his own personal advancement through the exercise of his wit and the role of the Vice is just a part of his Machiavellian tool chest. He is beyond conventional morality, and it is the end which for him justifies the means. The main difference between Richard as the Vice and Richard as the ‘Machiavel’ is that Richard as the ‘Machiavel’ is not a motive-less villain. He commits all of his crimes in order to reach his ultimate goal, the crown of England. Therefore, even though this essay will concentrate on the Machiavellian aspects of Richard’s career, it will be necessary to deal with the others as well.

Research on Shakespeare’s Richard III has come a long way since E. M. W. Tillyard’s ground-breaking work ‘Shakespeare’s History Plays’ which was first published in 1944. Tillyard interpreted Richard III and Shakespeare’s other Histories from the perspective of their political significance and argued that they were a faithful dramatisation of what he called the ‘Tudor Myth’. Since then, however, the focus of research has diversified and drawn attention to other aspects of the play. A. P. Rossiter, for example, put more emphasis on the actual plot of the play and saw Richard as ‘God’s agent in a pre-determined plan of divine retribution[1] ’ who metes out justice on the wicked until he himself is destroyed. For Rossiter, Richard III had an element of subversity because Richard took the audience on a holiday from morality[2]: they enjoyed watching Richard even though they knew beforehand that, in the end, he had to fall. Rossiter understood this as a deliberate undermining of the ‘Tudor Myth’ on Shakespeare’s part. Since the sixties, however, research on Shakespeare’s Richard III has moved to more abstract levels and this approach is still valid. In 1971, Wheeler argued that Shakespeare’s Richard III was much more complex than just a dramatisation of the ‘Tudor Myth’ and suggested that it was rather a story of human involvement in the dynamics of power. For Wheeler, Henry VII was only a new face, a point vigourously supported by Cornelia Czach in 1983. She stressed that Richard was only one of many in a chain of comparable rulers and that at the end of Richard III everybody just rallies around Henry VII but nothing really changes. For her, Shakespeare’s Histories were foremostly a dramatical means of illustrating the inhuman element in history and its inherent absurdity, with the ultimate aim of unmasking history as a whole. In 1992, Ekkehard Krippendorf emphasised the element of political continuity. Furthermore, he pointed out that the Tudors had, ironically, turned out to be a lot more Machiavellian than the real Richard and this had, probably, not gone unnoticed by the Elizabethans.

In order to establish in how far Shakespeare’s Richard is a Machiavellian villain it is necessary to examine those parts of Machiavelli’s philosophy which are relevant to Richard’s actions and to trace Richard’s development from the young, enthusiastic warrior at the beginning of the third part of Henry VI to the ruthless villain who murders and tricks his way to the throne in Richard III.

2. Machiavelli’s political thought

Throughout the history of European literature, the idea of the prime importance of virtue had played a major part. Ever since the sixth century, political theorists had stressed how important it was for a ruler to have moral integrity and to be a good ruler to his subjects. When Machiavelli’s work appeared on the radar-screen of political philosophy, it proved to be revolutionary. Based on his own experience in the foreign politics of Florence he created a framework of political thought which argued that a wise ruler had to be pragmatic and flexible in the choice of his measures, instead of adhering to the imperative of virtue. The main difference between Machiavelli and his predecessors was his extensive application of empirical methods.

2.1. Machiavelli’s concept of virtù

For Machiavelli, virtù was the sum of everything which enabled a ruler to establish stability and the continued existence of his state. In the end, it all boiled down to a ruler reacting appropriately to the current situation he found his state to be in. The most striking novelty in Machiavellian politics was the total subordination of moral imperatives to those of political efficiency. It was the end which for him justified the means. Therefore, if it served the interests of one’s own country, one also has the right (if not even the duty) to go to war with another country. ‘War, therefore, does not reveal the basis of any intrinsic ethical bankruptcy, since war can be used to defend the potential for good, and as such this type of the use of force is a virtuous use of force.[3] ’ As far as foreign policy was concerned, the principle of keeping open as many options as possible also applied to keeping promises:

‘Ihr müßt nämlich wissen, daß es zweierlei Kampfweisen gibt: die eine mit den Waffen der Gesetze, die andere mit bloßer Gewalt; die erste ist dem Menschen eigen, die zweite den Tieren; da die erste oftmals nicht ausreicht, ist es nötig, auf die zweite zurückzugreifen. [...] Da also ein Fürst gezwungen ist, von der Natur der Tiere den rechten Gebrauch machen zu können, muß er sich unter ihnen den Fuchs und den Löwen auswählen; denn der Löwe ist wehrlos gegen Schlingen und der Fuchs gegen Wölfe. Man muß also ein Fuchs sein, um die Schlingen zu erkennen, und ein Löwe, um die Wölfe zu schrecken. Diejenigen, welche sich einfach auf die Natur des Löwen festlegen, verstehen hiervon nichts. Ein kluger Herrscher kann und darf daher sein Wort nicht halten, wenn ihm dies zum Nachteil gereicht und wenn die Gründe fortgefallen sind, die ihn veranlaßt hatten, sein Versprechen zu geben. Wären alle Menschen gut, dann wäre diese Regel schlecht, da sie aber schlecht sind, und ihr Wort dir gegenüber nicht halten würden, brauchst du auch dein Wort ihnen gegenüber nicht zu halten. [...] Aber man muß seine Fuchsnatur zu verschleiern wissen, und ein großer Lügner und Heuchler sein: die Menschen sind so einfältig und gehorchen so sehr den Bedürfnissen des Augenblicks, daß derjenige, welcher betrügt, stets jemanden finden wird, der sich betrügen läßt.[4]

According to Machiavelli, it was the duty of a ruler to aim for the maximum he could possibly achieve in terms of gaining territory for his people, even though the area a state could actually control was limited. If you tried to conquer more territory than your country was able to control, you would eventually cross a line separating virtù from ambition. This would then inevitably lead to your downfall. Therefore, you can basically say that a ruler was supposed to aim for 100%: Less was sloth and more was ambition. Apart from that, giving too much attention to moral values could also lead to fatal consequences for one’s own people and this, otherwise, could easily be avoided, as Machiavelli points out in chapter 15 of The Prince:

‘Viele haben sich Republiken und Fürstentümer vorgestellt, die noch nie jemand gesehen oder tatsächlich gekannt hat; denn es liegt eine so große Entfernung zwischen dem Leben, wie es ist und dem Leben, wie es sein sollte, daß derjenige, welcher das was geschieht, unbeachtet läßt, zugunsten dessen, was geschehen soll, dadurch eher seinen Untergang als seine Erhaltung betreibt; denn ein Mensch, der sich in jeder Hinsicht zum Guten bekennen will, muß zugrunde gehen, inmitten von so viel anderen, die nicht gut sind. Daher muß ein Fürst, wenn er sich behaupten will, die Fähigkeit erlernen, nicht gut zu sein, und diese anwenden, oder nicht anwenden, je nach dem Gebot der Notwendigkeit[5].[6]

The main goal of a ruler, according to Machiavelli, was the defence of the common good. ‘The Machiavellian monarchy does not set the ‘good life’, the virtuous life, and and the common good in the classical sense, as its end. The end of the new state is the procurement of material satisfaction, political security, and historical greatness as if they were the organic, naturalistic, needs of state.[7] ’ For Machiavelli, the worst vice in public life is ambition: ‘Ambition, whether found in a faction or an individual, whether motivated by desire for power or by greed, destroys the virtuous quality of the public good. Yet, at the same time, virtù is said to be compatible with cruelty, especially when it is ‘well used’. A Machiavellian founder could be inhumane, yet still be virtuous.[8] ’ However, even Machiavelli was prepared to draw a line, as he shows when he presents the case of the Syracusean tyrant Agathocles. Here, the term of ‘well used’ cruelty did most certainly not apply. Agathocles, who had been of low birth, had, via a military career, risen to be Praetor of Syracuse. As soon as he had achieved this, he decided to become Prince. So, one morning he gathered his people and the Senate of Syracuse, pretending that he wanted to discuss affairs of the republic with them. But instead, he had the senators and the richest of the Syracusean nobility murdered by his troops. His people were so stunned by this display of action and determination, that they did not put up any resistance whatsoever and the rule of Agathocles was secure for years to come.[9] Machiavelli did not at all approve of what Agathocles had done, even though he was impressed with his decisiveness:

‘[...] [Er ist] nicht durch die Gunst eines anderen, sondern über die Rangstufen des Heeres, die er unter Tausend Mühen und Gefahren erklommen hatte, zur Fürstenherrschaft gelangt und behauptete sie dann durch viele mutige und riskante Entschlüsse. Andererseits kann man es auch nicht Tüchtigkeit nennen, seine Mitbürger umzubringen, seine Freunde zu verraten und ohne Treue, Mitleid und Religion zu sein; auf solche Weise kann man zwar Macht erwerben, aber keinen Ruhm.[10]

The application of dishonest and cruel measures, for Machiavelli, was only justified in times of an interior or foreign political crisis, and not for purposes of usurpation and thus establishing a tyranny.

2.2. Machiavelli and Fortune

The second pillar of Machiavelli’s political philosophy was Fortune. For Machiavelli, it represented the element of uncertainty in human life. This meant that, however carefully something was prepared and later carried out, there was still a possibility that it could eventually fail, as Münkler explains:

‘Fortuna ist für Machiavelli also der Inbegriff der politischen Variablen. An Geschick und Weisheit der politisch Handelnden entschied sich, wieviel Einfluß Fortuna auf den Ausgang politischer Entwicklungen erlangte. Die 50:50 Relation, in der Machiavelli das Verhältnis zwischen der Gewalt der Fortuna und der Beeinflußbarkeit der Ereignisse durch die Menschen ausgedrückt hat, ist für ihn kein starres Gleichgewicht, sondern der statistische Durchschnitt, wie er sich angesichts der Geschichte darstellt, wobei die Macht der Fortuna umgekehrt proportional zu dem Geschick und Weitblick der politisch Handelnden steigt und fällt.[11]

If a country wanted to be protected from ill Fortune, Machiavelli thought that it was essential for it to have military strength, a citizen army and sound diplomacy. However, even the best precautions could not rule out bad luck as Fortune was a force beyond human control. At best, her effects could be channeled, as Machiavelli illustrates when he compares Fortune to a river in flood:

‘Ähnlich verhält es sich mit Fortuna; sie zeigt ihre Macht dort wo man nicht die Kraft aufbringt, ihr zu widerstehen, und sie lenkt ihre Kraft dorthin, wo sie weiß, daß sie nicht durch Dämme und Deiche aufgehalten wird.[12]

Therefore, Machiavelli concludes that if Italy had catered for her own set of dams and dykes in time, she would not have been in the mess that he saw her in.[13]

Machiavelli’s main interest, however, lies in the way that Fortune affects individuals – or to be more precise, those individuals who hold an important public office[14]. In this context, virtù becomes the most important tool, in order to get the better of one’s Fortune, even though actually being able to overcome one’s Fortune still requires the help of Fortune as Machiavelli illustrates in the following:

‘[...] so stelle ich fest, daß man einen Fürsten heute Erfolg haben und untergehen sieht, ohne daß eine Veränderung seines Wesens oder irgendeiner seiner Eigenschaften zu bemerken gewesen wäre. Dies beruht meiner Meinung nach [darauf], [...] daß ein Fürst, der sich ganz auf sein Glück verläßt, untergeht, sobald dieses wechselt; ferner glaube ich, daß der Glück hat, der seine Handlungsweise den Zeitumständen anpaßt, und ebenso jener ins Unglück gerät, dessen Handlungsweise nicht den Zeitumständen entspricht. Sieht man doch, daß die Menschen auf verschiedene Weise vorgehen, um das Ziel zu erreichen, das ein jeder vor Augen hat, nämlich Ruhm und Reichtum: der eine verfährt mit Besonnenheit, der andere mit Ungestüm; dieser mit Gewalt, jener mit List, einer mit Geduld, ein anderer mit dem Gegenteil; so kann jeder auf unterschiedliche Weise an sein Ziel gelangen. Auch beobachtet man, daß von zwei Besonnenen der eine sein Ziel erreicht, der andere nicht; und das ebenso zwei mit verschiedenen Methoden gleichermaßen Glück haben, der eine mit Besonnenheit, der andere mit Ungestüm: dies liegt allein an den Zeitumständen, die mit der betreffenden Handlungsweise übereinstimmen oder nicht.[15]

Even though the idea that time actually did have a quality had its origins in astrology, Machiavelli was more interested in circumstantial aspects of human action.

He thought that ‘[...] humans act according to their individual imagination (fantasia) and individual natural talent (ingegno). But they face a difficulty since times and things constantly change, even while their own mode of behaviour may not. The key to success is to maintain a harmony between the quality of one’s time, the quality of general time, one’s temperament and humour, and one’s actions.[16]

In order to demonstrate the influence of the quality of time, Machiavelli presents the case of Pope Julius II who was renowned for his uncompromising active manner of tackling problems.[17] Machiavelli does admit that Julius was only lucky because the circumstances he faced happened to favour boldness but his main concern ‘[...] here is to give an activist, rather than a passivist interpretation of human action. Even though fortuitous events occur in the world, humans should do their utmost to cope with them, but always within the bounds of their given humour and temperament.[18] ’ Machiavelli makes his point very clear in one of the most famous and controversial passages of The Prince:

‘Ich ziehe also die Schlußfolgerung, daß, da das Glück wechselt und die Menschen an ihren Methoden festhalten, sie erfolgreich sind, solange beide übereinstimmen und sie erfolglos sind, wenn sie nicht übereinstimmen. Doch halte ich es für besser, stürmisch als besonnen zu sein; denn Fortuna ist ein Weib und es ist notwendig, wenn man sie niederhalten will, sie zu schlagen und zu stoßen. Man sieht auch, daß sie sich von denen, die so verfahren, eher besiegen läßt, als von jenen, die mit kühlem Kopf vorgehen; daher ist sie als Weib stets den Jünglingen zugetan, weil diese weniger besonnen und stürmischer sind und ihr mit größerer Kühnheit befehlen.[19]

Human action, according to Machiavelli, depends on both human initiative and the favour of Fortune. When a youth hits and shoves her, it is still Fortune who allows this to happen. Without her consent, he would not have been able to do so and, in this context, humans become Fortune’s toy, even though they may not be aware of this.

2.3. How well did the Elizabethans know Machiavelli’s work?

Even though Machiavelli’s The Prince was not officially available in English until 1640, there is substantial evidence that his work was known in England well before that particular year, as Bawcutt points out in the following: ‘There are only a few allusions to Machiavelli in England before about 1570, not all of them hostile, usually made by men of learning who had actually visited Italy. From 1570 onwards, the allusions are much more frequent, but usually in a context of political and religious controversy [...][20] ’It was not even really necessary for the texts to be available in English, even though humanist scholars had translated a wide range of classical and temporary works into English. Italian influences (literature, art, etc.) were quite strong at the time, and even if someone actually was not able to read Italian, there always was the possibility of reading either a translation or a discussion of Machiavelli’s work (eg. in French). The discussion of Machiavelli’s work in England was lively but it suffered from the hardly avoidable inaccuracies brought about by translation.

‘We know that Machiavelli’s work was frequently garbled; we also know that his works circulated widely and were translated into several languages, so that garbling was not merely the result of ignorance, though this was certainly a factor, and I am sure that many Elizabethans used the term ‘Machiavellian’ much in the way that words like ‘Freudian’ or ‘Marxist’ are used at present by people who may not have read either writer.[21]

However, the crucial event, in the evaluation of Machiavelli’s was the massacre of the French protestant Huguenots in Paris.

Schieder explains: ‘[...] das Epochenjahr für das Verhältnis des westeuropäischen Protestantismus ist das jahr 1572 gewesen, das jahr der Bartholomäusnacht, die in ihrer Verbindung von List und Grausamkeit als der klassische Fall von machiavellistischer Politik empfunden wurde. Von jetzt an ist der Stab endgültig gebrochen; sein Name wird das Symbol für das böse Prinzip in der Politik, und wird, losgelöst vom Boden der machiavellistischen Schriften, eine eigentümliche, selbständig wirkende Kraft.[22]

People in Elizabethan England could not have agreed more with this assessment of Machiavelli who for them was associated with cruelty and broken promises. The massacre of the Protestant Huguenots in France also had a more concrete dimension for the Elizabethans. They saw it primarily as a Catholic crime and when the relations between England and Spain started to deteriorate in the 1580s, a Spanish invasion became an equally realistic and fearful scenario. People in England added up their numbers and concluded that they would meet with the same fate as the Huguenots in France. After all, the Spanish King had openly welcomed how they had been dealt with. It was not until after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 that the threat of a Spanish invasion was finally off the cards. The parts of Machiavelli’s work which most shocked Elizabethan readers, were chapters 17 (why it is necessary to be cruel under certain circumstances) and 18 (keeping and breaking promises) of the Prince, which they interpreted as a guide for tyrants.

3. The young Richard

At the beginning of 3 Henry VI, Richard is portrayed as a soldier, proud of what he has achieved in battle, but unrestrained by any moral scruples. He, the youngest son, is respected for his courage by his father who claims ‘Richard hath best deserved of all my sons.[23] ’ Young as Richard is, he does not stand back and let his elders make decisions. It is he who suggests that they stay in Parliament House, who mocks King Henry and tells his father to take Henry’s crown.

Richard: ‘You are old enough now, and yet, methinks, you lose.

Father, tear the crown from the usurper’s head.[24]

In 3 Henry VI, I.2, Richard begins to contest his brother Edward’s position of supremacy. It is he who persuades his father to break the oath he has given to the king and brushes aside all moral issues which stand against doing so. Richard argues that his father is the rightful king and, therefore, should not hesitate to take with force what really belongs to him. ‘Moreover, this infant prodigy is given a speech which is to be the clue to the whole of his subsequent career, as the dramatist sees it.[25] ’ Richard’s line of argumentation is truly Machiavellian:

Richard: ‘An oath is of no moment, being not took

Before a true and lawful magistrate

That hath authority over him that swears.

Henry had none, but did usurp the place

Then, seeing ’twas he that made you depose,

Your oath, my lord, is vain and frivolous.[26]

Richard goes on to pledge that he will not rest until the crown of Henry VI firmly rests on his father’s head:

Richard: ‘Therefore to arms! And, father, do but think

How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown,

Within whose circuit is Elysium

And all that poets feign of bliss and joy.

Why do we linger thus? I cannot rest

Until the white rose that I wear be dy’d

Even in the lukewarm blood of Henry’s heart.[27]

Even though Richard is so openly obsessed with the crown, it is important to stress that, at least at this point, he does not want the crown for himself but for his father whom he worships. ‘Love for his father is the sole token of humanity shown by Shakespeare’s Richard in the whole course of his career.[28] ’ Richard is also very proud of him as the following suggests:

Richard: ‘Methinks, ’tis prize enough to be his son.[29]

The news of his father’s death after the battle of Wakefield leaves him unable to

weep and burning for revenge.

Richard: ‘To weep is to make less the depth of grief.

Tears then for babes; blows and revenge for me!

Richard, I bear thy name. I’ll venge thy death,

Or die renowned attempting it.[30]

As far as the last two lines are concerned, Richard will keep his vow, even though his renown will be of some darker kind. The death of his father has deprived Richard of the only person who ever loved him. Furthermore, the loss of his father has profound psychological consequences on Richard, even though these will not become apparent until the second scene of the third act. ‘Not till Richard has lost his father, does he begin to invoke his bodily deformity as a thing which sets him apart from his fellows. There is nobody now to love and praise him; he is no longer the ‘valiant crook-back prodigy’ whose grumbling voice is so dear to the creature he most admired. Hence forth, he is a man apart.[31]

In the meantime, the fortune of battle has turned, and King Henry VI has been taken prisoner[32]. Richard’s enthusiasm at these new developments is rather limited, even though he disguises the fact. ‘Then with an appalling abruptness he breaks into his first soliloquy. It is a coup de théatre. Richard has fought heart and soul to make his father king. But here, in his father’s place, is his brother. Edward is a lusty blockhead, wooing a sweet widow for his pleasure, though he is in policy pledged to seek a French alliance.[33] ’ Elizabeth Grey who requests Edward to return the land of her dead husband makes such a positive impression on him that he decides to marry her and make her Queen of England.[34]

Edward’s decision to marry Elizabeth Grey is to end the unity between the three brothers who have, so far, fought together, to establish and preserve the dynasty of the House of York. Although his two elder brothers and their unborn children are before him in the line of succession, Richard decides that he wants the throne for himself, cost it what it will.

Richard: ‘So do I wish the crown, being so far of;

And so do I chide the means that keeps me from it;

And so, I say, I’ll cut the causes off,

Flattering me with impossibilities.[35]

Now, for the first time, Richard thinks about his deformity, which had not been an issue while his father was still alive and, realising that it will cut him off from earthly pleasures, he determines that he will not rest until he is king:

Richard: ‘Then, since this earth affords no joy to me

But to command, to check, to o’erbear such

As are of better person than myself,

I’ll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,

And whiles I live, t’account this world but hell,

Until my mis-shap’d trunk that bears this head

Be round impaled with a glorious crown.[36]

The following lines show Richard’s intention of achieving his aims by deceit and murder and ‘[...] express the very core of what an Elizabethan audience would recognise as Machiavellian doctrine, as practised by Italian despots, and by the French queen-mother in the treacherous Massacre of St Bartholomew in 1572.[37]

Richard: ‘Why, I can smile, and murder while I smile,

And cry “Content” to what grieves my heart,

And whet my cheeks with artificial tears,

And frame my face to all occasions.

I’ll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall;

I’ll play the orator as well as Nestor,

Deceive more slily than Ulysses could,

And, like Sinon, take another Troy.

I can add colors to the chameleon,

Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,

And set the murderous Machiavel to school.[38]

At the moment, however, there is not much that Richard can do to achieve his aim. The most important thing for the time being is to keep his brother on the throne. Richard has to be loyal to his brother for the moment, in order to be able to carry out his own plans, later. Edward’s marriage to Lady Grey causes the King of France, to whose sister Edward was betrothed, to switch his allegiance to the House of Lancaster. It also causes Warwick and Clarence to defect. Richard, however, stays. ‘The defection of Clarence and Warwick to the cause of Lancaster provides him with further occasion to display his energy and resource. Edward is captured by the Lancastrians and King Henry is restored to the throne. Richard rescues his brother and urges him to reclaim at once the crown he has lost.[39] ’ Richard’s patience is finally rewarded at the battle of Tewkesbury. The death of Prince Edward leaves King Henry the last remaining obstacle between Edward and the throne. It is symptomatic for Richard’s decisiveness that, after the battle, in truly Machiavellian style, he immediately rides to London in order to take charge of the problem personally. Richard’s killing of King Henry marks his first political murder and his comments referring to it are very cynical:

Richard: ‘See how my sword weeps for the poor king’s death!

Oh, may such purple tears be alway shed

From those that wish the downfall of our house!

If any spark of life be yet remaining,

Down, down to hell, and say I sent thee thither.[40]

From now on Richard’s mind is free to focus on the goal which he has set for himself: the crown of England. ‘And in his final soliloquy in this play he reaffirms his resolve to remove both Edward and Clarence from his path, and again, in Machiavellian terms, emphasises his immunity to normal human weakness.[41]

Richard: ‘I have no brother, I am like no brother,

And this word “love” which greybeards call divine,

Be resident in men like one another

And not in me. I am myself alone.

Clarence, beware. Thou keep’st me from the light;

But I will sort a pitchy day for thee;

For I will buzz abroad such prophesies

That Edward shall be fearful of his life,

And then, to purge his fear, I’ll be thy death.

King Henry and the Prince his son are gone;

Clarence, thy turn is next, and then the rest,

Counting myself but bad till I be best.[42]

In the last scene Edward, surrounded by his wife, baby boy and brothers, believes he has achieved a lasting peace which he hopes to pass on to his heir. In an aside Richard threatens to destroy the child after the death of his elder brother Edward.

Richard: ‘I’ll blast his harvest, if your head were laid;[43]

He feigns love but at the same time reveals his true feelings.

Richard: ‘To say the truth, so Judas kiss’d his master;

And cried “All hail” when as he meant all harm.[44]

By the end of the play, Richard has freed himself from all remains of conventional morality and so the stage is set for the plot of Richard III.

4. Richard’s moral choice

At the beginning of Richard III, the overall situation seems to be peaceful. The civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York is over and Richard’s brother Edward is king of England. Everybody at court seems to be settling down to the new situation of peace – everybody apart from Richard, who has not forgotten, what he had committed himself to at the end of 3 Henry VI, after he had killed King Henry in the Tower. He makes this very clear in his opening soliloquy:

Richard: ‘Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,

Have no delight to pass away the time,

Unless to see my shadow in the sun

And descant on my own deformity.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

I am determinèd to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.[45]

Richard’s contempt for the new situation of peace is easily explained: war was the only time, when Richard’s services were appreciated and he was met with respect for his courage and determination, instead of with scorn for his deformity. Now that the war is over, he realises that, from now on, his deformity[46] will again become the focus of attention. However, instead of despairing over the unlikeliness of a woman’s love for him, he decides to prove a villain. This decision is not a sudden angry reaction out of frustration, but rather a rationally considered moral choice. ‘Die Monologe Gloucesters sind kalte rationale Überlegungen über die nächsten Schritte von einer Machiavelli nahekommenden Kraft der Analyse politischer Situationen [...].[47] ’ It is also important to stress that Richard is not a victim of his deformity. Rather, he is motivated by his moral deformity and thus his moral choice becomes an outward expression of it.

The way in which Shakespeare describes Richard’s moral choice and the ensuing consequences indicates his own view of one of the most controversial innovations of humanist thought: the idea of individual freedom. Although everybody had a God-given place in the framework of society, you were still free to excel in any particular field or occupation you happened to be good at. This understanding of individualism was also reflected in the Renaissance concept of art: basically everything which required a certain degree of skill was considered an art. Even though the Renaissance broadened the view of what mankind was able to achieve, this new individualism also had its darker side. People suddenly started to realise the moral implications of individual freedom and this is why the emphasis on virtuous action, as one of the main goals of learning, became a fundamental principle of humanism. Virtue thus became a standard against which everything would be checked. One of the most important novelties which had been brought about by humanism was a new assessment of the position of the individual, as Michael Maurer explains in the following: ‘Während in der Überlieferung vor allem das blinde Schicksal, der Kampf des Einzelnen gegen das Rad der Fortuna, das einen heute nach oben treibt und morgen fallen läßt, strukturbildend waren, wurde nun im Zeitalter von Shakespeare die Autonomie des Individiums stärker betont.[48] ’ This, foremostly, applied to the ‘de casibus’-tragedy. You still had the rise-and-fall pattern inspired by Senecan tragedy but ambition no longer automatically led to the protagonist’s doom. The focus of attention now lay in his motivation. In this context, ambition no longer had to be bad from the start. Instead, everything boiled down to the motivation of the protagonist and the lawfulness of the means which he applied.

As far as the Elizabethans were concerned, Richard, like Machiavelli, was far removed from any conventional notion of morality or virtue.[49]

‘Richard as a character expresses Shakespeare’s fascination with the possibility of a creative, self-assertive individuality [...]. But as a figure exercising his egoistic freedom in the world of other men, Richard presents to Shakespeare the possibilities of terror and destruction which can accompany that freedom. The grotesque proportions of Richard’s evil reflect Shakespeare’s radical distrust of the individual not controlled by a divine moral plan.[50]

Richard does not feel bound by any authority whatsoever. He is completely self-centered and also very straight-forward about his goals. Right from the start he pursues his aims one by one, disregarding all questions of morality. The end for him always justifies the means. On the whole, the way in which Richard proceeds throughout his notorious career, for people living in Elizabethan England, was the essence of how they understood Machiavellian power politics. To them, Machiavelli, had been an advocate of cold-blooded murder as a legitimate means of pragmatic policies.

5. The elimination of Clarence

Clarence is totally deceived by Richard’s pretended concern and compassion for his plight. Richard at once lays the blame for the arrest of his naive brother on the queen and her family.

Richard: ‘Why, this is when men are ruled by women.

’Tis not the king that sends you to the tower.[51]

He tells Clarence that she had likewise been responsible for the imprisonment of Hastings, who is about to be released, thanks to the influence of the king’s mistress, Jane Shore. An interesting detail in Richard’s line of argumentation, here, is the element of witchcraft. Richard had brought it up earlier, in 3 Henry VI, when he talked about his deformity, and that his mother was to blame for it.

Clarence is no match for Richard’s supreme intelligence. He had been outraged at his brother Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey and Richard only has to fuel his brother’s hatred and suspicion of the queen, at the same time drawing away suspicion from himself. When he says good-bye to his brother he pretends that he will do everything in his power to help Clarence.

Richard: ‘We are the queen’s abjects and must obey.

Brother, farewell. I will unto the king,

And whatsoe’er you will employ me in,

Were it to call King Edward’s widow sister,

I will perform it to enfranchise you.

Meanwhile, this deep disgrace in brotherhood

touches me deeper than you can imagine.[52]

Clarence is deceived into believing that Richard will do everything to secure his release and Clarence will continue to think so right until the murderers tell him who really sent them.[53] Richard, however, is only prepared to help his brother to an early grave.

Richard: ‘Go, tread the path that thou shalt ne’er return.

Simple, plain Clarence, I do love thee so

That I will shortly send thy soul heaven,

If heaven will take the present at our hands.[54]

The last sentence, here, is an allusion to Clarence’s own past record of villainies and betrayals. In 3 Henry VI, he had first betrayed his brother, then Warwick, and then he had participated in the killing of King Henry’s son Edward.[55] ‘Thus Clarence pays the debt of his kind. He has played the game and inevitably pays his forfeit – cruel to his enemies, false to his friends, unequal in force or cunning to his brilliant brother. He excites our compassion without moving our hearts.[56]

6. Richard and Anne

Richard’s next step is to find himself a future queen. His obvious choice is Anne, because, as the widow of the last Prince of Wales, she embodies the claims of the House of Lancaster. Apart from that, she would also make a beautiful trophy and Richard could demonstrate that he was able to win her, despite his deformity and her hatred for him. In the end, she proved to be the ultimate proving ground for his talents as a dissembler, another key feature of the Machiavellian villain.

According to Keeton this scene ‘[...] is inserted with the deliberate intention of showing how completely Richard has mastered the Machiavellian technique. It also strikingly illustrates the fact that although everything which Richard does is evil, and although his appearance is repulsive and Margaret habitually describes him as a monster, he is nevertheless generally trusted, has a reputation for blunt honesty and fidelity, and even has made himself attractive to women. Equally notable is the fact that whenever he is taxed with some crime, his explanation is prompt and plausible. The whole scene with Anne emphasises his mental agility and his readiness in repartee, and by the end of it even she has succumbed to the overpowering charm which he uses with such effect, and with such supreme insincerity; [...][57]

Anne is, however, still intelligent enough to have sincere doubts over Richard’s feelings.

Anne: ‘I would I knew thy heart.

Richard: Tis figured in my tongue.

Anne: I fear me both are false.[58]

Anne is a widow in medieval England. This means that there are only two options open to her: either to remarry or to spend the rest of her life in a cloister. Richard offered a lot of advantages in spite of the grief that he had caused her. With this in mind, it is not too difficult to imagine, that in the end she simply chose ‘the devil she knew’ as the lesser evil. However, as Spivack points out, there were also other reasons for Shakespeare to put the wooing scene into the play.

‘She stimulates his most brilliant achievement [...] because she is his most difficult undertaking, the abhorrence for the murderer of her husband and her royal father in law corresponding to the more abstract enmity of virtue to vice that puts the vice of the moralities on his mettle when faced with the equivalent situation. Shakespeare exploits this traditional crux to the uttermost by allowing Richard to intrude upon her at the moment the most hopelessly inauspicious for his enterprise, when she is following the corpse of murdered King Henry to its burial, her grief mingled with curses against the author of it. So contrived to extend his skill, the scene is Richard’s masterpiece [...] At the end Anne has made the same moral reversal that marked the career of Mankind and all his descendants: she has thrown over her alliance with virtue and united herself to evil.[59]

Although Anne, at first, was Richard’s fiercest adversary, she finally succumbs to him, because she is human. Even if the reasons of the real Anne to marry Richard, probably were a lot more pragmatic, Shakespeare makes it look as if Anne was just a challenge for Richard’s superb wit.

As Palmer points out, ‘Richard’s wooing may be dictated by political necessity, but its prime purpose for the dramatist is to show Richard’s insolent virtuosity in persuasion, his delight in the exercise of his mind and will, his pride in attempting the impossible and his triumph in his achievement. The reasons which Richard gives for the attempt are secondary. Here was a challenge to his wit which, apart from any question of expediency, was irresistible.[60]

Richard’s victory over Anne was a great one indeed. Even though she had been so violently hostile at the beginning of the scene, he still managed to win her but, in spite of his joy, he had nothing but contempt for her. On top of that, his victory over her is also one over God and the latter makes him especially proud of his achievement. Therefore, from his morally deformed perspective, he has every reason to be delighted with himself and thus he celebrates accordingly:

Richard: ‘Was ever woman in this humour wooed?

Was ever woman in this humour won?

I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long.

What, I that killed her husband and his father,

To take her in her heart’s extremest hate

With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,

The bleeding witness of her hatred by,

Having God, her conscience, and these bars against me,

And I no friends to back my suit withal

But the plain devil and the dissembling looks?

And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!


Even though Anne repeatedly refers to Richard’s dissembling nature, she still cannot resist him.[62] Richard overcomes overwhelming odds against her in truly Machiavellian style: Anne literally becomes an embodiment of Fortune and Richard beats down her defences.[63]

7. Richard plants discord at court

Richard’s next step towards his goal is to rid himself of Clarence, at the same time putting the blame on the queen. In a game of cat and mouse he taunts her until she threatens that she will complain to Edward, thus giving Richard the opportunity to remind everyone how much Edward owes him.

Richard: ‘Ere you were queen, ay, or your husband king,

I was a pack-horse in his great affairs,

A weeder-out of his adversaries,

A liberal rewarder of his friends.

To royalize his blood I spent mine own.[64]

At the same time he denies having any ambitions to become king.

Richard: ‘If I should be? I had rather be a pedlar.

Far be it from my heart, the thought thereof.[65]

With a brilliant display of acting, Richard has managed to reverse the roles and turn the queen herself into a calculating ‘Machiavel’. Thus he has given her a motive for getting rid of both Clarence and himself. Richard’s accusations culminate in reminding her that both her former husband and her brother had fought for the House of Lancaster in the past war. Suddenly, the queen has treason looming over her head.[66]

Throughout the whole scene, Richard proves to be a superb actor. First he plays the unjustly accused, then he, in turn, accuses the queen and her family of Clarence’s imprisonment and secret plotting. He rounds off a masterly performance by pretending only to be a plain man, who cannot flatter and the pious man who is too kind-hearted to get on in the world.[67] ‘Er stellt sich hin als der Edle, Einfache in dieser schlimmen Welt. Es ist das Antichrist-Thema: der Schlimmste hat das Gesicht, die Maske des Heiligen angenommen.[68] ’ After the others have gone, Richard rejoices at how convincingly he has managed to deceive them.

Richard: ‘I do the wrong, and first begin to brawl.

The secret mischiefs that I set abroach

I lay into the grievous charge of others.[69]

Richard: ‘And thus I clothe my naked villainy

With odd old ends stol’n forth of holy writ,

And seem a saint when most I play the devil.[70]

As Keeton has pointed out, this skill of Richard’s as a dissembler was understood in Elizabethan England as one of the principle character traits of the Machiavellian villain: ‘[...] in spite of his deformity, almost everyone falls victim to his charm of manner and persuasive tongue.[71] ’ At the end of the scene, Richard seals the fate of his brother Clarence when he hands the execution warrant to the two murderers who then promptly set off towards the Tower. This means, that throughout the whole scene he must have had the execution warrant in his pocket, and still he had no scruples about casting the blame on others.

The beginning of act II sees Edward on his deathbed. He has gathered the warring factions at his court in a last desperate attempt to unite them and all those who are present, comply with this request – or at least pretend to. When Richard enters, he pretends to join in the cordial mood and even takes the lead. ‘On Richard’s face, love glows more brightly than on any other.[72] ’ In reality, however, he is only waiting for the right moment to break the news of Clarence’s death. He does not have to wait long. When the queen asks her husband, to include his imprisoned brother in these reconciliations, Richard pretends to take offence:

Richard: ‘Why, madam, have I offered love for this,

To be so flouted in this royal presence?

Who knows not that the gentle Duke is dead?[73]

The news of Clarence’s death leaves the king and all the people around him shocked and stunned. From one moment to another, Richard has shattered both the king’s optimism and the cordial mood at court.[74] ‘It is one of the fine dramatic moments of the play, with Buckingham whispering, ‘look I so pale, Lord Dorset, as the rest?’ Dread and suspicion divorce his nobles in an instant while in the soul of the dying king bitterness marries despair.[75] ’ The king cannot understand that Clarence was executed because he himself had revoked the order but Richard explains:

Richard: ‘But he (poor man) by your first order died,

And that a wing’d Mercury did bear;

Some tardy cripple bare the countermand,

That came too lag to see him buried.[76]

The irony here, of course, is that Richard actually was both the ‘wingèd Mercury’ and the ‘cripple’, although one has to admit that he most certainly was not tardy in the way he proceeded.

The grief over his brother’s death and his own guilt is too much for Edward and soon afterwards he is led away by his queen. Richard pretends to be the decent man and casts further suspicion on the queen’s family.

Richard: ‘This is the fruits of rashness. Marked you not

How the guilty kindred of the queen

Looked pale when they did hear of Clarence’s death?

Oh, they did urge it still unto the king.

God will revenge it. Come, lords, will you go

To comfort Edward with our company.[77]

Only a short while later, the queen announces the king’s death. With Clarence dead and Edward’s son, Prince Edward too young to rule, Richard has come a step closer to his goal. He is to be Lord Protector. Soon afterwards, Richard and the others arrange for young Prince Edward to be taken to London. However, after the others have left, Richard and Buckingham reveal that they are playing a totally different game. Buckingham proposes to separate the queen’s relatives from the young prince and, for the moment, Richard will all too gladly pretend to accept a back-seat and leave everything to Buckingham.

8. Richard paves his own way to the crown

Richard’s principal accomplice on his way to the throne is Buckingham. His reasons for siding with Richard are pure calculation and thus entirely egoistic and Buckingham becomes Richard’s principal henchman.

‘Buckingham was privy to all Richard’s plans. He was the counsellor, instrument and crony to his master. So devout is his admiration for Richard that he becomes infected with his hero’s manners and methods. He imitates with zest Richard’s radiant hypocrisy and abrupt violence. When Queen Elizabeth sends her son to sanctuary, it is Buckingham who, in the very accents of Richard, argues that it would be no sin to drag him forth. Sanctuary, he maintains, was never designed to keep children away from their lawful guardians:[78]

Buckingham ‘You are too senseless, obstinate my lord,

Too ceremonious and traditional.

Weigh it but with the grossness of this age.

You break no sanctuary in seizing him.

The benefit thereof is always granted

To those whose dealings have deserved the place

And those who have the wit to claim the place.

This prince hath neither claimed nor deserved it,

And therefore, in mine opinion, cannot have it.

Then taking him from thence that is not there,

You break no privilege nor charter there.

Oft have I heard of sanctuary men,

But sanctuary children ne’er till now.[79]

Furthermore, it is also Buckingham who insists that Hastings should join the party sent to remove Prince Edward’s younger brother from church sanctuary at Westminster, where he is staying with his mother.

Buckingham: ‘If she deny, Lord Hastings, go with him

And from her jealous arms pluck him perforce.[80]

From an Elizabethan perspective, everything Buckingham says here is ‘Machiavellian’ to the core: Buckingham issues orders to snatch a child, currently under protection of church sanctuary from the arms of his mother, only for the sake of political pragmatism and Wolfgang Clemen illustrates,

‘[...] hier wird heiliges und in der Tradition verankertes Recht mit spitzfindiger Begründung gebrochen. Shakespeare läßt überdies bei seinem Appell an den Kardinal sich auf „the grossness of the age“ (46) berufen, eine sehr bezeichnende, in der Quelle nicht gegebene Hinzufügung Shakespeares. Buckingham will sagen: Verglichen mit der „Rohheit des Zeitalters“, und unter Anlegung der Maßstäbe, mit denen in solcher Zeit derartige Aktionen beurteilt werden, würde der Kardinal, wenn er den Prinzen gewaltsam aus dem Asyl heraushole, kein Unrecht begehen. – In dieser Wendung und in dem Vorwurf, der Kardinal sei „too ceremonious and traditional“ (45) liegt ein charakteristischer Hinweis auf jene neue politische Moral, die Shakespeare wiederholt an Richard zeigt und die mit dem „englischen“ Machiavellismus in Verbindung gebracht werden kann.[81]

Buckingham’s eagerness to please his master allows Richard to stay in the background, and Richard deceives Buckingham into believing that they are partners. ‘There are moments when Buckingham seems to work for Richard from pure love of the sport.[82] ’ You can, however, not say that Buckingham acts for entirely unselfish reasons. Richard simply knows how to motivate his ‘partner’:

Richard: ‘And look when I am king, claim thou of me

The earldom of Hereford and all the movables

Whereof the king my brother was possessed.

Buckingham: I’ll claim that promise at your grace’s hand.

Richard: And look to have it yielded with all kindness.[83]

Buckingham is the perfect Machiavellian agent[84]. He does the dirty work for Richard and if something goes wrong, Richard can easily find a pretext to get rid of him, while at the same time, he secures Buckingham’s loyal services with the prospect of granting him favours in the future. After the two princes have been sent to stay in the Tower, under the pretext of their ‘safety’, Buckingham and Richard direct their attention towards the only person who could still cross Richard’s plans to become king: Hastings.

Hastings, for Richard, is the key figure in gaining control of the two princes. He is the former chamberlain of King Edward, and as such he has enjoyed a good relationship with both of Edward’s sons[85]. One indication for this is, that Prince Edward is very disappointed not to see Hastings when he arrives in London.[86] Another is, that Buckingham is eager to have Hastings in the party which is sent to remove young York from sanctuary.[87] Hastings’s good relations to the young princes allow Richard a much easier access to them. Although Hastings is prepared to help Richard become Protector, he draws the line when asked by Catesby to help Richard to the crown. From that point on, Hastings is no longer of any use to Richard and Richard makes quite clear how he will deal with Hastings if he does not comply.

Buckingham: ‘What shall we do if we perceive

Lord Hastings will not yield to our complots?

Richard: Chop off his head.[88]

Richard has prepared the removal of Hastings very carefully. It is all to happen at a council meeting where the date for the coronation of Prince Edward is to be decided. Knowing that Hastings will oppose Richard’s plans to seize the crown, Richard has to move quickly – before Edward can be crowned. Hastings is foolish enough to doubt the evidence and provokes an outburst in which Richard accuses Hastings of treachery for defending his mistress and condemns him to death.

Hastings: ‘If they have done this deed, my noble lord –

Richard: If? Thou protector of this damnèd strumpet,

Talk’st thou to me of ifs? Thou art a traitor.

Off with his head! Now by Saint Paul I swear,

I will not dine until I see the same.[89]

Richard leaves the others in the room no time to answer and orders everyone who is on his side to leave the room with him. Hastings is led away to his execution immediately afterwards.[90] His lamentations are mercilessly cut short by Ratcliffe and Lovell and Cornelia Czach illustrates:

‘Durch den Wahnwitz eines solchen menschenverachtenden Zynismus schon im kleinsten Handlanger des Teufels gewinnt auch die Sterbeszene Züge einer grotesken Persiflage. Der schwarze Komödiant Richard läßt seinen Opfern nicht einmal mehr die Zeit, zu beichten und eine Sterberede zu halten wie in der Tragödie. Er ist stets in Eile und verwirklicht seine Pläne schnell und überraschend, für das Verweilen der Tragödie in Pathos und Emotion hat er, der gefühllose Rationalist, keine Muße.[91]

With the removal of Hastings, Richard’s path to the crown is as good as free. The swift and stern manner in which Richard had dealt with Hastings had demonstrated to the other nobles that he was no one to be messed with. All he has to do now is to find a way to persuade the citizens that he alone is the rightful heir to the throne of England.

With his next tactical move, to persuade the citizens of London that Edward’s children are bastards and that Richard is, therefore, the rightful heir to the throne, Richard does not meet with his accustomed success. If Richard cannot be made king by popular acclaim he must be presented in a different light – the devout man reluctant to accept the proffered throne.

Buckingham: ‘Ah ha, my lord, this prince is not an Edward.

He is not lulling on a lewd love-bed

But on his knees at meditation,

Not dallying with a brace of courtesans

But meditating with two deep divines,

Not sleeping to engross his idle body

But praying to enrich his watchful soul.

Happy were England, would this virtuous prince

Take on his grace the sovereignty thereof,

But sure I fear we shall not win him to it.[92]

Richard feigns reluctance to meet the mayor and aldermen, and finally he appears with a prayer book in his hand, flanked by two bishops. ‘There are no bishops present in the gallery scene as Holinshed describes it, it is Shakespeare who has amplified the scene iconographically, in accordance with his portrait of Richard as a master of deceptive stage management.[93] ’ As far as England is concerned, the image of a king flanked by two bishops had its origins in the myth of King Arthur. ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth described Arthur brought to his coronation by two bishops.[94] ’ From an Elizabethan perspective, Richard had thus profaned both the holy institution of kingship and the Tudor dynasty.[95]

However, as Naumann points out, the significance of this scene also has a more abstract level. ‘Der Akzent der Darstellung liegt auch hier nicht auf der menschlichen Entwicklung, sondern eher auf der Vorführung abstrahierter Tugenden oder Laster, wie der Heuchelei, die in Richard verkörpert ist, und die sich in das Gewand der Tugend gekleidet hat.[96] ’ When Richard appears on the gallery with a prayer book in his hand, flanked by two bishops, he plays the part of the simple, pious, tender-hearted prince who is more concerned with religion and meditation than with politics. This whole part of the scene also reflects a crucial point which Machiavelli had made: that what you seem to be is more important than what you actually are[97], and Wolfgang Clemen explains:

‘Nirgendwo ist die Ironie der Situation durch paradoxe Umkehrung aller Rollen so meisterhaft gehandhabt und so kunstvoll mit den verschiedenen Formen der Sprachironie mehrschichtig verbunden. Nirgendwo haben wir auch eine so bewußt durchgeführte Anwendung der „Verstellungsrhetorik“. An keiner anderen Stelle erleben wir „Richard den Schauspieler“ mit solcher Virtuosität in einer ad hoc „gestellten Szene“, für die er selber gleichzeitig der Regisseur war.[98]

The last thing Richard would want to decline is the crown of England. However, he still has to fool the mayor and the citizens into believing that he has to be persuaded into accepting the crown. In the end the astonishing display of acting of both Richard and Buckingham pays off.[99]

Richard allows himself to be persuaded into accepting the throne on the grounds of the illegitimacy of Edward’s son in order to save his dynasty.

Buckingham: Your brother’s son shall never reign our king,

But we will plant some other in the throne

To the disgrace and downfall of your house.[100]

At last, Richard allows himself to be ‘persuaded’ into accepting the throne.

Richard: ‘Cousin of Buckingham, and sage, grave men,

Since you will buckle fortune on my back,

To bear the burden, whe’er I will or no,

I must have patience to endure the load.[101]

Richard’s line of argumentation is religious to the core, even though he himself, of course, is not. As Bridget Gellert Lyons has shown, Richard’s language is transformed into an image of Christian patience and endurance. ‘He suggests that the ‘burden’ of kingship which he is reluctantly agreeing to assume is a cross which he has to bear, like his hunchback, or that he is like the emblem representing religious Hope as a man with Fortune’s wheel strapped to his back, who walks along, doubled over by his burden, yet supported by his staff of Hope.[102] ’ The farce which both Richard and Buckingham have acted out so perfectly, thus, becomes an inversion of traditional concepts of kingship.

9. Richard as king

In the second scene of the fourth act Richard is finally crowned. However, there is something very strange about this scene: Even though Richard is king there is a deep divide between him and the other people in the room. He is totally isolated as Bridget Gellert Lyons illustrates:

‘Mounted on the throne with great flourishing, presumably for the first time, he asks everyone but Buckingham to withdraw (‘Stand all apart.’ IV.2.1), thus dramatising in visual terms that his eminence is not the summit of society’s pyramid, but a lonely perch occupied by him alone in the temporary company of his accomplice in crime. The royal seat of England, separated in this way from the society to which it is meant to give order and coherence, becomes the private place where Richard plots the murder of the legitimate ruler, and where he is unable to assert his authority even over his accomplice.[103]

It now becomes obvious that Richard has a lot more talent as an actor than as a politician. He is in fact not quite as Machiavellian as the Elizabethan cliché of the term would have suggested. After all, one of the most important points which Machiavelli had made was that a ruler should do everything he could in order to gain the support of the dominant social group. Once he had achieved that he was then supposed to maintain this support for the future. ‘Gut geordnete Staaten und kluge Fürsten waren mit Eifer darauf bedacht, die Großen nicht zur Verzweiflung zu bringen, sowie das Volk zufriedenzustellen und bei guter Stimmung zu halten, denn dies ist eine der wichtigsten Aufgaben, die ein Fürst hat.[104] ’ Furthermore, even though it was safer for a ruler to be feared than loved, he was still supposed to avoid anything which might have incurred the hatred of his people.[105] The latter was certainly not something you could have said about Richard who had already burnt his boats long before he actually managed to become king. ‘Richard the master of palace politics does everything possible to prevent himself from attaining his broad base in popular support, which in England was manifested in the strength of the nobility.[106] ’ Although Richard now has the power, this power of his lacks a proper base. In the end it is inevitable that he has to fall, as Wheeler illustrates. ‘Richard, politically, ironically is the ‘bottled spider’ that Margaret calls him, able to poison whomever ventures into his web, but not able to extend this web as a means of embracing the power of the kingdom.[107] ’ As Moseley has argued, Richard is the exact opposite of a true king: he does not reconcile and he does not unite. ‘The opposite of a true King is the tyrant, for whom power and its exercise is merely selfish. Richard as King demonstrates in his tyranny the true nature of Machiavellian ambition and ignoring of the moral law, and as we have seen, it is when he became King that he ceases to personate; he shows what he personally is.[108] ’ Especially this last aspect is drastically demonstrated in the dialogue between Richard and Buckingham which immediately follows Richard’s coronation. Richard begins by hinting that his position is endangered by the young Prince Edward.

Richard: ‘But shall we wear these glories for a day?

Or shall they last, and we rejoice in them?[109]

When Buckingham is reluctant to follow him he comes straight to the point.

Richard: Cousin, thou was not wont to be so dull.

Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead,

And I would have it suddenly performed.[110]

Suddenly Richard’s language has changed: from courtly to brutally direct. When Buckingham hesitates he inadvertently seals his own fate. Richard had ‘played the touch’ to see how far his partner in crime was prepared to go. Now it is Buckingham’s turn to draw the line. Until then he had just about managed to leave the murders to Richard, however deeply he may have been involved in the preceding plotting. Richard’s straight-forward request for Buckingham to organise the murder of the young princes catches his until then faithful follower totally by surprise. ‘Buckingham withdraws to think over Richard’s proposal, but Richard’s mind was made up at the first sign of hesitation in his confederate. He does not wait for Buckingham’s considered reply. He has no use for a man who has a pitiful, small mind of his own.[111] ’ Buckingham is thus sidelined and his request, regarding the earldom which Richard had promised to him earlier, is harshly brushed off. Furthermore, Richard humiliates him by simply ignoring him.[112] In Machiavellian terms, this is Richard’s first political mistake as Machiavelli explains in the following: ‘Es gilt also festzustellen, daß man die Menschen entweder verwöhnen oder vernichten muß, denn für leichte Demütigungen nehmen sie Rache, für schwere können sie dies nicht tun; also muß der Schaden, den man anderen zufügt, so groß sein, daß man keine Rache zu fürchten braucht.[113] ’ Buckingham will not forget how he has been treated by Richard and defect to Richmond’s side. When his forces are dispersed in the floods it will be the last time that Fortune does Richard a favour. Even though Buckingham is little more than a sorry imitation of Richard there is a significant difference between the two of them: Buckingham still has a tiny rest of fundamental goodness, a quality which Richard lacks entirely, as Cornelia Czach shows in the following:

‘Richard hingegen bekennt sich in dämonischem Zynismus ehrlich, ohne sich irgendeine Legitimationsinstanz zu schaffen, zur Menschenverachtung als Bedingung erfolgreicher Machtpolitik und Kriegsstrategie, zum Machiavellistischen Gewaltprinzip. Konsequenter als alle anderen weist er jeden Moralkodex zurück, der zu den Regeln seines eigenen Gesellschaftsspiels in Widerspruch steht, die er selbst setzt und auf die sich die anderen einlassen müssen.[114]

After Richard had forced Buckingham to show his cards, he turned to Tyrell and put him in charge of the crime which was to cement his reputation as the most notorious criminal in the history of English politics: the murder of the two little princes in the Tower. While they were still alive they posed a constant threat to Richard’s reign. Therefore, it is very likely that Richard had already made up his mind about how to deal with them well before he actually became king, as Palmer explains:

‘Child murder is a political expedient on which countless generations of men in authority have based their privilege and power. [...] All down the ages the successful politician has shown little or no reluctance to out-Herod Herod in his slaughter of the innocents. The crime of Richard is the secular crime of the power politician in every age and there is a sense in which every political leader is a wicked uncle who kills little children in their beds.[115]

When Tyrell returns with the news for Richard that the princes are dead, he describes how they were murdered in a remorseful soliloquy.

Tyrell: ‘The tyrannous and bloody act is done,

The most arch deed of piteous massacre

That ever yet this land was guilty of.[116]

Tyrell is, in fact, the first to show any notion of guilt whatsoever since the murderers of Clarence in the first act and, as Cornelia Czach has shown, this is symptomatic for the overall atmosphere of the play.

‘In Richard III gibt es keinen Konflikt zwischen Gut und Böse; das Böse allein herrscht; von allen Seiten unterstützt. Die Welt ist nicht aus den Angeln gehoben wie in der Tragödie, sondern gezeigt wird, wie diese Welt tatsächlich ist. Und so, wie sie ist, ist sie in sich intakt, stimmig und in sich geschlossen. Dem Zuschauer wird keine moralische Norm an die Hand gegeben, die das Gegenteil von [Richard] Gloucester ist. Richard selber ist die Norm, der Prüfstein vor dem sich die anderen Figuren enthüllen und sich ihre eigene Zwielichtigkeit zu erkennen geben müssen.[117]

This is also why we do not feel any real sympathy with Richard’s victims – apart from the little princes. Most of them are themselves despicable, weak or eaten up by their own individual desire for personal advancement.

After Tyrell has left Richard contemplates his achievements. Both of Edward’s sons are dead and Clarence’s children have also been rendered harmless. Furthermore, the death of his wife Anne has opened the opportunity for him to marry Edward’s daughter Elizabeth, his last challenge to the throne. Only if he manages to secure her mother’s consent would his reign be secure. Richard is totally aware of this fact as the frankness of his soliloquies shows[118] and Wolfgang Clemen explains:

‘Der auf Tyrell’s Abgang folgende Monolog Richards ist ganz in der Technik des zusammenfassenden „Lageberichts“ oder der „Situationsüberschau“ [...] [gehalten]. Durch die rasche summarische Aufzählung der verschiedenen „Erfolge“, die jeweils mit einer einzigen Verszeile „abgetan“ werden, wird gleichzeitig betont, wie kaltblütig Richard hier Bilanz zieht. Sind die ersten vier Zeilen rückwärts gewandt, so erhalten die folgenden (und abschließenden vier Zeilen die Ankündigung des nächsten Planes, wobei Richard zum letzten Mal seine Rolle mit übermütiger Selbstironie (a jolly thriving wooer, 43) beschreibt.[119]

With the little princes dead Richard had thought himself only one step away from really securing his reign. He was, however, only deceiving himself. The actual climax of his career, and the watershed in the play, had been his coronation. Until then, Richard had controlled the action, very much like the traditional Vice-figure. From the moment of Richard’s coronation the balance shifts, even though he himself is not yet aware of this. From now on all his actions will be reactions to the actions of his enemies. Before Richard became king, he could operate from a cover. Now, Richard is exposed and himself subjected to plotting. It is no longer he who plots and his powers will steadily decline until, eventually, he will be on par with everybody else in the play.[120]

‘Richard, after the death of the princes, is like an artist who has put the finishing touch to a masterpiece. For this, he was ordained and he has fulfilled his destiny. The virtue, an evil virtue – has gone out of him. He will never again be the jocund adventurer in crime. [...] This falling-off in Richard’s performance is not due to any falling off in Shakespeare’s creative power. It is an essential feature of the tragedy and profoundly characteristic of the man.[121]

Even though Richard had succeeded in being crowned he had only been able to attain a symbol of power. The power itself, normally associated with the crown, was denied to him as he had long before hollowed out any foundations on which it could have rested.

From now on the pressure on Richard will not ease off and all of a sudden meaner qualities which Richard had seemed to lack in the preceding part of his career become apparent. When Richard and Catesby come to inform him that Richmond’s navy is approaching, Richard, for the first time, seems to be caught off guard and in the subsequent discussion with Ratcliffe and Catesby he confuses his orders.[122] At first, he issues orders to Catesby to go to Salisbury to the Duke of Norfolk and, a few lines later, he suddenly reprimands Ratcliffe for not having complied with the orders he had given to Catesby. Another clear indication that Richard is increasingly losing control is when he strikes the third messenger[123] because he had lost his temper over the bad news brought by the previous two. Ironically, it is the third who brings good news[124] and for the first time, Richard is actually honest about an apology[125].

The crucial scene to demonstrate how little power Richard now effectively has is his failed attempt to persuade Queen Elizabeth to woo her daughter in his name.[126] As in the case of Anne he does not love her. His only reason is that a marriage with the daughter of Elizabeth and Edward, the direct heiress to the throne, would secure his reign once and for all. Richard even uses the same tactics as in the earlier scene with Anne. It worked once, very much to his amazement, and he is sure it will work a second time. ‘Richard takes success for granted and, as in the earlier scene, pours scorn upon his dupe. But this time it is Richard who is deceived. Elizabeth gives her daughter to Richmond, thus uniting the white rose and the red in a dynasty which is to supplant Richard on the throne and to create the legend of his infamy.[127] ’ Elizabeth seems to give in to Richard’s request and agrees to talk to her daughter about the matter. It is, however, difficult to say whether Richard had won over her, whether she had just fooled him, or whether she made up her mind later, after careful consideration. Expert opinions on this matter are divided. Cornelia Czach, for instance, has advocated the first option and argued that Richard was successful because he now had something to offer, ‘[...] denn er hat ein Königreich zu bieten, um sein Gegenüber zum Verrat an der Tochter zu bewegen.[128] ’ Historic facts indeed seem to favour her point. However, other scholars like Clemen and Wheeler are a little bit more cautious[129] and have, in turn, suggested that she probably did not make up her mind until later on, after she had enough time to go through the pros and cons of either marital option carefully. In dramatic terms, however, it would make more sense to assume that Elizabeth had indeed managed to deceive Richard deliberately. This would mean a sharp contrast to the earlier scene with Anne and would demonstrate how Richard’s powers were fading increasingly.

Even though Richard’s failure to win over Elizabeth is his first major failure, it is, nevertheless, decisive. When Elizabeth agrees to give the hand of her daughter to Richmond, Richard’s fate is finally sealed and, from then on, his decline will prove to be unavoidable. As Palmer points out,

‘The decline in Richard’s genius for decisive action has in it no element of remorse. It springs, on the contrary, from a sense that anything he may have to do next must necessarily be something of an anti-climax. The first, fine careless rapture is exhausted. All he can do henceforth is to maintain his position and accept the necessities which it lays upon him.[130]

Therefore, in Machiavellian terms, you can say that even though necessità forces him to act, he no longer has a sufficient amount of virtù to act appropriately. As a consequence, Fortune begins to turn her back on him and Richard will increasingly find himself fighting losing battles. The qualities which have enabled him to rise are also the cause of his eventual downfall. And this is where the element of tragedy comes in, as Moseley illustrates: ‘It delineates the rise and deserved fall of Richard and shows how even when he thinks he is most in control Fortune can tip the scale against him [...][131] ’ Ironically, Richard makes the same mistake as Hastings and, yet again, pride comes before a fall – this time his own. In the end, he is only a tool of Providence whose purpose is to weed out the consequences of the usurpation of Henry IV. Ironically, it is Richard who brings down his own House and who paves the way for the reaccession of the House of Lancaster.

10. Richard’s Conscience

The element of conscience, as far as Richard is concerned, is one of the main themes of Shakespeare’s Richard III. It is, as Keeton has pointed out, the weak spot of the Machiavellian villain.[132] ‘In the end the Machiavellian who thinks himself free from moral restraint is defeated by the moral order of the universe contained in little, microscopically, in his own self.[133] ’ In fact, it had been Anne who had dropped the first hint that Richard was haunted by his conscience earlier in the play, when she mentioned ‘his timorous dreams’.[134] Through Richard’s inner conflict, until then well hidden from the attention of the people around him and the audience, Shakespeare demonstrates the profoundly damaging effect which the exercise of power can have on the human soul. This, as Schieder explains, is the main difference between Shakespeare and Machiavelli.

‘Shakespeare führt damit weit über Machiavelli hinaus, der sie nur als etwas Zweckrationales, Technisches kannte, oder da, wo sie als Ehrgeiz, ungesättigter Machttrieb in seelische Bereiche führte, der Berechnung, dem Kalkül zu unterwerfen suchte. Seine Entdeckung steht ebenbürtig neben derjenigen Machiavellis, wenn auch dieser sie durch sein Werk und deren Nachwirkungen überhaupt erst möglich macht.[135]

On the outside Richard still puts up a brave face and encourages the people around him. However, he has lost his supreme confidence and he even admits his fear to Ratcliffe.

Richard: I have not that alacrity of spirit

Nor cheer of mind that I was wont to have.[136]

Richard even asks for wine twice, within a reasonably short amount of time[137], another indication that he is growing increasingly nervous.

The most important part of the last act is when Richard is haunted in his sleep on the eve of the final battle at Bosworth by the ghosts of the people he murdered. They are a symbolic representation of Richard’s crimes and his suppressed guilt and serve to remind both him and the audience of what he will shortly pay for with his life. ‘Richard suffers no effective remorse. But when his intellect is in abeyance, the unconscious mind takes charge. Here, at last [...] is the underlying cause of his startling confession that he has lost his alacrity of spirit and cheer of mind.[138] ’ When Richard wakes up from his dream he is quite obviously shaken. As Haeffner illustrates, bad dreams, for an Elizabethan audience, were a clear hint that a character in a play was suffering from melancholia:

‘To be melancholy nowadays is to be merely sad or depressed [...]. But to Shakespeare’s audience it suggested rather a dangerous mental sickness which could take the form of insanity. [...] Its symptoms varied strongly, however, from a sharp wit and talkativeness, to pessimism and a desire for revenge against society, against law and order. Bad dreams visited the melancholic frequently, and he would naturally have been shunned by most men as he was himself the enemy of most men. Almost all the characteristics of the melancholic are shown in Shakespeare’s Richard. In a way it excuses him from behaving as he does, and it makes just possible a feeling of pity for him at the end when he is beset by enemies, and overcome by his conscience and bad dreams.[139]

The ghosts of Richard’s victims come in turn to appear to both Richmond and Richard. They encourage Richmond and they pound Richard with a series of accusations and curses. When Richard awakes he is depressed and tormented by his conscience. ‘His dream forces him for the first time in the play to see himself as a man who is after all bound by the moral restraints he has deliberately overthrown, trapped in the prison of his own despair.[140] ’ And this despair is genuine and not just a short glimpse of fear as Cornelia Czach has suggested.[141]

Richard: ‘O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me?[142]

Richard: ‘Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am.[143]

Richard: ‘Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good

That I myself have done unto myself?

Oh, no. Alas, I rather hate myself

For hateful deeds committed by myself.

I am a villain. Yet I lie, I am not.

Fool, of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter.

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,

And every tongue brings in a several tale,

And every tale condemns me for a villain.[144]

By suppressing the moral implications of his actions Richard had only deceived himself. In his dreams, however, his mind is no longer under his control and, consequently, it now confronts him with realities he cannot escape from. Since Richard had decided to dedicate himself to a career of Machiavellian villainy, he had managed to alienate himself from everyone and everything in his world: his country, the audience and, ultimately, his own self.[145] At the end of his career, he is a lost soul.[146]

When Ratcliffe comes to tell Richard that it is time to get ready he finds Richard in a state of thoughtful depression.

Richard: By the apostle Paul, shadows tonight

Have struck more terror to the soul of Richard

Than can the substance of ten thousand soldiers

Armèd in proof and led by shallow Richmond.[147]

However, Richard quickly pulls himself together and gets back to business. He organises his army and encourages his confederates.

Richard: ‘Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls,

For conscious is a word that cowards use,

Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.

Our strong arms be our conscience, our swords our law![148]

Even though this is little more than a last act of defiance, for Richard it is the only way out still left to him. ‘All the evidence is against him now. Conscience is not just a word, not just a fiction invented as a political tool, force is useless against it. It is real and it destroys.[149] ’ Richard’s flamboyant speech before his troops is a last futile attempt to take the bull by the horns. The speed with which his forces will disintegrate demonstrates how right he was about his doubts over the loyalty of his troops.[150] In the end he will bravely fight alone and die alone.

11. Conclusion

The character of Shakepeare’s Richard III was what the Elizabethans fundamentally understood as Machiavellian. He achieved his aims by deceit and murder. Machiavelli, himself, would not have approved of everything Richard did.[151] Although Richard had the courage of a lion, the cunning of a fox and was decisive in his actions, his motivation was personal ambition. He succeeded in becoming king but he neither won the support of the nobles or his countrymen nor were his actions in their interest. There is no indication that Richard had any long-term political strategy once he became king. On the contrary, he destabilized a fragile peace and plunged his country back into civil war. As a result, he not only met his own downfall but he also caused the fall of the House of York.

12. Bibliography

12.1. Primary sources:

Machiavelli, Niccolò: Il Principe / Der Fürst. Italienisch / Deutsch. trans. and ed. Rippel, Philipp. Stuttgart 1986.

Shakespeare, William: King Richard III. ed. Lull, Janis. 1st Edition. Cambridge 1999.

Shakespeare, William: The Third Part of King Henry The Sixth. in: The Complete Works of Shakespeare. ed. Bevington, David. 3rd. Edition. Glenview, Illinois 1980.

12.2. Secondary sources:

Anglo, Sydney: Machiavelli. A Dissection. New York 1969.

Bawcutt, N.W.: ‘Policy’, Machiavellianism, and the Earlier Tudor Drama. in: English Literary Renaissance 1 (1971).

Bawcutt, N.W.: Some Elizabethan Allusions to Machiavelli. in: English Miscellany 20 (1969).

Clemen, Wolfgang: Kommentar zu Richard III. Interpretation eines Dramas. 2nd Edition. Göttingen 1969.

Clemen, Wolfgang: Shakepeare und das Königtum. in: Shakespeare- Jahrbuch 68 (1932).

Coe, Charles Norton: Shakespeare’s Villains. New York 1957.

Czach, Cornelia: Geschichtsdrama und Historiographie. Der Versuch der Bewältigung von Geschichte: Shakepeares Richard III. in: Anglia 101 (1983).

Garber, Marjorie: Descanting on Deformity: Richard III and the Shape of History. in: The Historical Renaissance. New Essays on Tudor and Stuart Literature and Culture. ed. Dubrow, Heather and Strier, Richard. Chicago 1988.

Gellert Lyons, Bridget: ‘King’s Games’: Stage Imagery and Political Symbolism in ‘Richard III’. in: Criticism 20 (1978).

Haeffner, Paul: A critical commentary on Shakespeare’s Richard III. London 1966.

Hanham, Alison: Richard III and his early historians. 1483-1485. Oxford 1975.

Keeton, George W.: William Shakespeare’s legal and political background. London 1967.

Krippendorf, Ekkehart: Politik in Shakepeares Dramen. Historien, Römerdramen, Tragödien. Frankfurt am Main 1992.

Lamb, V.B.: The Betrayal of Richard III. London 1968.

Maurer, Michael: Kleine Geschichte Englands. Stuttgart 1997.

Metzler Lexikon Literatur- und Kulturtheorie. Ansätze – Personen – Grundbegriffe. ed. Nünning, Ansgar. Stuttgart 1998.

Moseley, C.W.R.D.: William Shakespeare. Richard III. London 1989.

Münkler, Herfried: Machiavelli. Die Begründung des politischen Denkens der Neuzeit aus der Krise der Republik Florenz. Frankfurt am Main 1982.

Naumann, Walter: Die Dramen Shakespeares. Darmstadt 1978.

Palmer, John: Political and comic characters of Shakespeare. London 1974. Parel, Anthony J.: The Machiavellian Cosmos. New Haven 1992.

Rossiter, A.P.: Angel with Horns and other Shakespeare Lectures. ed. Storey, Graham. London 1961.

Shakepeare-Handbuch. Die Zeit – Der Mensch – Das Werk – Die Nachwelt. ed. Schabert, Ina. Stuttgart 2000.

Schieder, Theodor: Shakespeare und Machiavelli. in: Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 33 (1951).

Skinner, Quentin: Machiavelli. Oxford 1981.

Spivack, Bernard: Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil. New York 1958.

Tillyard, E.M.W.: Shakespeare’s History Plays. Harmondsworth 1962.

Watson, George: Machiavel and Machiavelli. in: Sewanee Review 84 (1976).

Wheeler, Richard P.: History, Character and Conscience in Richard III. in: Comparative Drama 5. No. 4. (Winter 1971/72).


[1] Rossiter, A.P.: Angel with Horns and other Shakespeare Lectures. ed. Storey, Graham. London 1961. (in the following quoted as: Rossiter: Angel with Horns.) p. 20.

[2] Palmer, John: Political and comic characters of Shakespeare. London 1974. (in the following quoted as: Palmer: Political and comic characters.)p. 66.

[3] Parel, Anthony J.: The Machiavellian Cosmos. New Haven 1992. (in the following quoted as: Parel: Machiavellian Cosmos.) p. 100.

[4] Machiavelli, Niccolò: Il Principe / Der Fürst. Italienisch / Deutsch. trans. and ed. Rippel, Philipp. Stuttgart 1986. (in the following quoted as: The Prince.) 18. pp. 135 & 137.

[5] Necessità was the third pillar of Machiavelli’s political thought.

[6] The Prince 15, p.119.

[7] Parel: Machiavellian Cosmos. p. 121.

[8] Parel: Machiavellian Cosmos. p. 87.

[9] cf. The Prince 8, pp. 65 & 67.

[10] The Prince 8, pp. 67 & 69.

[11] Münkler, Herfried: Machiavelli. Die Begründung des politischen Denkens der Neuzeit aus der Krise der Republik Florenz. Frankfurt am Main 1982. (in the following quoted as: Münkler: Machiavelli.) pp. 302f.

[12] The Prince 25. p. 193.

[13] cf. The Prince 19. p. 143.

[14] Machiavelli’s view of the individual was rather disillusioned. He thought that the best an individual could aspire to was to become a good citizen, a tiny wheel in some much more complex mechanism. An excessive amount of amount of freedom would only lead to disorder. (cf. The Prince 17. pp. 129 & 131.)

[15] The Prince 25. pp. 193 & 195.

[16] Parel: The Machiavellian Cosmos. p. 76.

[17] cf. The Prince 25. p. 197.

[18] Parel: The Machiavellian Cosmos. p. 83.

[19] The Prince 25. p. 199.

[20] Bawcutt, N.W.: ‘Policy’, Machiavellianism, and the Earlier Tudor Drama. in: English Literary Renaissance 1 (1971). (in the following quoted as: Bawcutt: ‘Policy’.) p. 208 (for further detail cf. Watson, George: Machiavel and Machiavelli. in: Sewanee Review 84 (1976). pp. 631-637).

[21] Bawcutt: ‘Policy’. p. 208.

[22] Schieder, Theodor: Shakespeare und Machiavelli. in: Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 33 (1951). (in the following quoted as: Schieder: Shakespeare und Machiavelli.) p. 136.

[23] Shakespeare, William: The Third Part of King Henry The Sixth. in: The Complete Works of Shakespeare. ed. Bevington, David. 3rd. Edition. Glenview, Illinois 1980. (in the following quoted as: 3 Henry VI.) I.1.17.

[24] 3 Henry VI. I.1.113f.

[25] Keeton, George W.: William Shakespeare’s legal and political background. London 1967. (in the following quoted as: Keeton: Shakespeare’s background.) p. 320.

[26] 3 Henry VI. I.2.22-27.

[27] 3 Henry VI. I.2.28-34.

[28] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 68.

[29] 3 Henry VI. II.1.20.

[30] 3 Henry VI. II.1.85-88.

[31] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 69

[32] cf. 3 Henry VI. II.2 – III.1.

[33] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 70.

[34] cf. 3 Henry VI. III.2.1-117.

[35] 3 Henry VI. III.2.140-143.

[36] 3 Henry VI. III.2.165-171.

[37] Keeton: Shakespeare’s background. p. 326.

[38] 3 Henry VI. III.2.182f.

[39] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 73. and cf. 3 Henry VI. III.5. & III.7.

[40] 3 Henry VI. V.6.63-67.

[41] Keeton: Shakespeare’s background. p. 326.

[42] 3 Henry VI. V.6.80-91.

[43] 3 Henry VI. V.7.21.

[44] 3 Henry VI. V.7.33f.

[45] Shakespeare, William: King Richard III. ed. Lull, Janis. 1st Edition. Cambridge 1999. (in the following quoted as: Richard III.) I.1.24-31.

[46] For centuries, people believed that deformity of the body was the outward expression of a morally deformed mind.

[47] Schieder: Schakespeare und Machiavelli. p. 140.

[48] Maurer, Michael: Kleine Geschichte Englands. Stuttgart 1997. p. 145.

[49] cf. Keeton: Shakespeare’s background. p. 328.

[50] Wheeler, Richard P.: History, Character and Conscience in Richard III. in: Comparative Drama 5. No. 4. (Winter 1971/72). (in the following quoted as: Wheeler: History, Character and Conscience). pp. 319f.

[51] Richard III. 1.1.62f.

[52] Richard III. I.1.106-112.

[53] cf. Richard III. I.4.227-239.

[54] Richard III. I.1.113-115.

[55] cf. Clarence’s dream. in: Richard III. I.4.146-153.

[56] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 79.

[57] Keeton: Shakespeare’s background. p. 330.

[58] Richard III. I.2.197-199.

[59] Spivack, Bernard: Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil. New York 1958. (in the following quoted as: Spivack: Allegory of Evil.) pp. 404f.

[60] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 81.

[61] Richard III. I.2.231-242.

[62] cf. Richard III. I.2.153 & I.2.189.

[63] cf. Palmer: Political and comic characters. p.83. and The Prince 25. pp. 193 & 195.

[64] Richard III. I.3.119-123.

[65] Richard III. I.3.147f.

[66] Richard III. I.3.125-137.

[67] cf. Machiavelli’s remarks on the use of duplicity and calculated piety in peace and war. in: The Prince 18

[68] Naumann, Walter: Die Dramen Shakespeares. Darmstadt 1978. (in the following quoted as: Naumann: Shakespeares Dramen.) p. 14.

[69] Richard III. I.3.324-326.

[70] Richard III. I.3.336-338.

[71] Keeton: Shakespeare’s background. p. 331. and cf. Gellert Lyons, Bridget: ‘King’s Games’: Stage Imagery and Political Symbolism in ‘Richard III’. in: Criticism 20 (1978). (in the following quoted as: Geller Lyons: King’s Games.) p. 19.

[72] Spivack: Allegory of Evil. p. 402.

[73] Richard III. II.1.78-80.

[74] cf Wheeler: History, Character and Conscience. p. 309.

[75] Spivack: Allegory of Evil. p. 403.

[76] Richard III. II.1.89-92.

[77] Richard III. II.1.136-141.

[78] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 93.

[79] Richard III. III.1.44-56.

[80] Richard III. III.1.35f.

[81] Clemen, Wolfgang: Kommentar zu Richard III. Interpretation eines Dramas. 2nd Edition. Göttingen 1969. (in the following quoted as: Clemen: Richard III.) p. 173.

[82] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 95.

[83] Richard III. III.1.198-202.

[84] cf. The Prince 19. p. 149.

[85] As Catesby points out in Richard III. III.1.166.

[86] Richard III. III.1.22f.

[87] Richard III. III.1.35-59.

[88] Richard III. III.1.194-196.

[89] Richard III. III.4.72-76.

[90] Richard III. III.4.79-106.

[91] Czach, Cornelia: Geschichtsdrama und Historiographie. Der Versuch der Bewältigung von Geschichte: Shakepeares Richard III. in: Anglia 101 (1983). (in the following quoted as: Czach: Geschichtsdrama und Historiographie.) p. 402.

[92] Richard III. III.7.70-79.

[93] Gellert Lyons: King’s Games. p. 23.

[94] Gellert Lyons: King’s Games. p. 22.

[95] Through his Welsh ancestory, Henry VII ‘[...] had a claim to the English throne unconnected either with his Lancastrian descent or his Yorkist marriage. Not only did he claim through his ancestor Owen Tudor, husband of Henry V’s widow, direct descent from Cadwalladar, last of the British kings, but he encouraged the old Welsh superstition that Arthur was not dead but would return again, with the suggestion that he and his heirs were Arthur reincarnate.’(Tillyard, E.M.W.: Shakespeare’s History Plays. Harmondsworth 1962. pp. 29.)

[96] Naumann: Shakespeares Dramen. p. 19.

[97] cf. Schieder: Shakespeare und Machiavelli. p. 142.

[98] Clemen: Richard III. p. 211.

[99] cf. Rossiter: Angel with Horns. p. 19.

[100] Richard III. III.7.214-216.

[101] Richard III. III.7.225-228.

[102] Gellert Lyons: King’s Games. p. 23.

[103] Gellert Lyons: King’s Games. p. 25.

[104] The Prince 19. p. 147.

[105] cf. The Prince 17. p. 129. and The Prince 19. p. 149.

[106] Wheeler: History, Character and Conscience. p. 310.

[107] Wheeler: History, Character and Conscience. p. 311.

[108] Moseley, C.W.R.D.: William Shakespeare. Richard III. London 1989. (in the following quoted as: Moseley: Richard III.) p. 78.

[109] Richard III. IV.2.7f.

[110] Richard III. IV.2.18-20.

[111] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 96.

[112] cf. Richard III. IV.2.84-101. (Moseley (cf. Moseley: Richard III. p. 72.) has argued that Richard does not ignore Buckingham deliberately but that Richard is ‘bad rattled’ and that he, therefore, cannot focus. It is an interesting point but it seems a little bit far-fetched.

[113] The Prince 3. pp. 17 & 19.

[114] Czach: Geschichtsdrama und Historiographie. p. 397.

[115] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 101.

[116] Richard III. IV.3.1-3.

[117] Czach: Geschichtsdrama und Historiographie. p. 399.

[118] cf. Richard III. IV.3.36-43 and ibid. IV.2.61f.

[119] Clemen: Richard III. p. 244.

[120] cf. Moseley: Richard III. p. 75.

[121] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 103.

[122] cf. Clemen: Richard III. pp. 269-270.

[123] Richard III. IV.4.515.

[124] Severe flooding has caused Buckingham’s forces to be disperced. His precise whereabouts are currently unknown. Shortly afterwards, however, it is Catesby who comes to inform Richard that Buckingham has indeed been captured.

[125] cf. Richard III. IV.4.517-523.

[126] cf. Richard III. IV.4.199-436.

[127] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 105.

[128] Czach: Geschichtsdrama und Historiographie. p. 404.

[129] cf. Clemen: Richard III. p. 275. and Wheeler: History, Character and Conscience. p. 309.

[130] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 104.

[131] Moseley: Richard III. p. 24.

[132] cf. Keeton: Shakespeare’s background. pp. 332f.

[133] Moseley: Richard III. p. 79.

[134] cf. Richard III. IV.1.83-85. (Furthermore, bad dreams were a common dramatical trait of tyrants. (cf. Moseley: Richard III. p. 75.))

[135] Schieder: Shakespeare und Machiavelli. p. 145.

[136] Richard III. V.3.75f.

[137] Richard III. V.3.66 and ibid. V.3.74.

[138] Palmer: Political and comic characters. p. 109.

[139] Haeffner, Paul: A critical commentary on Shakespeare’s Richard III. London 1966. p. 14.

[140] Moseley: Richard III. p. 39.

[141] cf. Czach: Geschichtsdrama und Historiographie. p. 404f.

[142] Richard III. V.3.182.

[143] Richard III. V.3.187.

[144] Richard III. V.3.190-198.

[145] cf. Habermann, Ina and Klein, Bernhard: Die Historien. in: Shakepeare-Handbuch. Die Zeit – Der Mensch – Das Werk – Die Nachwelt. ed. Schabert, Ina. Stuttgart 2000. p. 345.

[146] Coe, Charles Norton: Shakespeare’s Villains. New York 1957. p. 27.

[147] Richard III. V.3.217-220.

[148] Richard III. V.3.310-313.

[149] Moseley: Richard III. p. 83.

[150] cf. Richard III. V.3.222f.

[151] cf. Wheeler: History, Character and Conscience. p. 309.

42 of 42 pages


Richard III, the Machiavellian Villain
University of Münster
HS Looking at Richard III
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Richard, Machiavellian, Villain, Looking, Richard
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Patrick Libuda (Author), 2000, Richard III, the Machiavellian Villain, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 3/6/2013

    very helpful... thank you

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