Today we’re going to take a look at the Duke of Clarence’ monologue from Richard III. This is a brilliant monologue for playing with imagery and high stakes. There’s a lot to unpack here so let’s dive in!
Richard begins the play by describing how the War of the Roses has finally come to an end and brought peace to the land. He makes a solemn vow to not allow that to happen, given his mistreatment by those around him stating…
“Therefore since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasure of these days”
Richard is hungry for the crown, and so he decides to take it from his brother King Edward the IV for himself. The first part of his plan is to convince King Edward that their other brother the Duke of Clarence is plotting to kill him… And the plan works. Kind Edward has Clarence dragged off to the tower of London. Some time later we see Clarence again in his cell where he talks with the Keeper…
O, I have pass’d a miserable night,
So full of ugly sights, of ghastly dreams,
That, as I am a Christian faithful man,
I would not spend another such a night
Though ’twere to buy a world of happy days,
So full of dismal terror was the time!
Methoughts that I had broken from the Tower,
And was embark’d to cross to Burgundy;
And in my company my brother Gloucester,
Who from my cabin tempted me to walk
Upon the hatches: thence we look’d toward England,
And cited up a thousand fearful times,
During the wars of York and Lancaster,
That had befall’n us. As we paced along
Upon the giddy footing of the hatches,
Methought that Gloucester stumbled, and in falling,
Struck me (that thought to stay him) overboard,
Into the tumbling billows of the main.
O Lord! Methought, what pain it was to drown:
What dreadful noise of waters in mine ears;
What ugly sights of death within mine eyes!
Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks;
Ten thousand men that fishes gnaw’d upon;
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvalu’d jewels,
All scatter’d in the bottom of the sea.
Some lay in dead men’s skulls; and, in those holes
Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept –
As ’twere in scorn of eyes – reflecting gems,
Which woo’d the slimy bottom of the deep,
And mock’d the dead bones that lay scatter’d by.
Pass’d: Been through/Had
Methoughts: It seemed to me/As though
Embark’d: On a journey
Oh I have had a terrible night
With so many horrible visions and bad dreams
That, I swear to heaven,
That I wouldn’t spend one more night here,
Even for a promise of everlasting happiness
The night was so full of dismal terror!
I thought I’d broken out of prison
And was on a journey to cross the ocean to Burgundy
With my brother Richard
Who had persuaded me to leave my cabin and come onto the ships deck.
Then we looked out towards England and reminisced about the horrors of
The War of the Roses
That we had lived through. As we walked along
The unsteady deck of the ship
I thought my brother had stumbled and thought
That he’d hit me while falling trying to keep himself aboard
And I had fallen into the sea
‘Oh God!’ I thought. Drowning is horrible.
The noise of the water in my ears
The sights of death I could see
I thought I’d seen a thousand shipwrecks
And ten thousand men who’d been eaten by fish,
Bars of gold, huge anchors, piles of pearls
Precious stones and priceless jewels
All laying on the bottom of the sea.
Some were in dead men’s skulls
And some had jewels replacing their eyes
They reflected the slimy sea floor
And mocked the bones that were scattered at the bottom of the sea.
Notes on Performance
Firstly we should consider the mental anguish that The Duke of Clarence has been through. He’s been dragged from his bed at night and thrown into the Tower of London on charges of conspiracy to regicide which are entirely untrue. He knows that death is coming and it’s only a matter of time. Keep this in mind when you think of how this kind of fever dream might affect him.
On a more technical level it’s important to note that this is a great, great monologue for playing with imagery. Some of the images that the Duke of Clarence conjures up are, for better or worse stunning. It almost makes you think he’s not locked up.
Lastly, remember the history of the play. We’ve been through an entire civil war and this is almost like a sequel. This character may be suffering from some sort of anguish already and just as everything starts to come to peace, in walks Richard and throws a number of spanners in the works.