Richard III Monologue Act 1 Scene 1 | StageMilk
richard III Monologue

Richard III Monologue Act 1 Scene 1

Written by on | Monologues Unpacked

Richard III depicts the Machiavellian rise to power and short lived reign of King Richard the Third of England, and as is usually the case with Shakespeare, there’s probably a bit of creative license taken, but hey, it makes for a cracking play. In this article, we explore this iconic opening Richard III monologue from Act 1 Scene 1. This is a classic soliloquy performed directly to the audience and is a rare occasion where Shakespeare begins a play with a character talking directly to the audience (that isn’t a prologue).

Setting the scene

After a long civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster, England is finally at peace, for now. Richard, who in this scene is still just the Duke of Gloucester, is resentful of his brother King Edward IV’s power and the relative happiness of those around him. In this speech, Richard tells us just why he feels this way and what he plans to do to take power for himself.

For more Richard III monologues 

Original Text “Now is the winter of our discontent”

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And 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 pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.

Modern Translation (Richard III Monologue)

Now our discontent is coming to a close
And is made joyful by my brother, King Edward the IV
And all the sadness that covered our family
Are at the bottom of the ocean, gone away
Now we wear the wreaths of victory on our heads
Our armour is now mere decoration
Our alarms of war are music at parties
Instead of marching to war, we dance
And instead of wrinkling our faces for battle we smile
Instead of riding our war-horses
To scare our enemies
We dance for ladies in their chambers
To songs of love played on the flute
But I, whose body is not made for such sports
Or for admiring itself in the mirror
I that have been unfairly made like this and lack the body
To strut my looks before a lover
I that have been usurped of a beautiful body
Cheated of beautiful features by cruel nature
I am deformed, unfinished, sent into the world before I was ready
Only half made
And so lame and ugly
That dogs bark at me as I limp by them
Why I, in this weak and idle peace time
Have nothing pleasurable I can do to pass the time
Unless I want to look at my shadow in the sun
And sing about my own deformity
Then since I can’t be a lover
To entertain myself in these peaceful days
I am determined to be a villain
And hate the idle, boring, pleasures of this time
I have set dangerous plans in motion
Using lies, drunken prophecies and dreams
To set my brothers against each other
And if King Edward is as true and righteous
As I am cunning, fake, and deceitful
Today my brother Clarence will be locked up
About a prophecy that says ‘G’
Will murder Edwards children
Oh but I must keep my thoughts to myself,
Here comes Clarence

Verse Breakdown

bold = Stressed
Unbold = Unstressed
(F) = Feminine Ending

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures. (F)
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber (F)
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, (F)
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other: (F)
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here (F)
Clarence comes.

Thought Breakdown & Analysis

Now is the winter of out discontent
Now the bad times are coming to an end

So this is the very first line of the play. And it’s one of my favourite openings in the cannon. Ian Mckellen speaks about the significance of opening a play with the word ‘now’ and I think it’s a good point to raise. The Merchant of Venice opens with ‘In’ Twelfth Night opens with ‘If’ and so on. This is not the case with all the plays but it’s just a nice detail. It speaks to what we’ve just seen in the prior three plays, and what Richard is about to say. We’ve suffered through war, hatred, grief and NOW is the winter of our discontent.

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And things are now joyful thanks to my brother King Edward IV

Now that Edward the ‘son of York’ is on the throne things are good. Well according to the House of York, sure!

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
And all the bad things that blanketed our family.

See: Civil War

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Are sunk to the bottom of the ocean

So everything is good now that Edwards the King, the war is over and our family is at peace. Now Richard is going to tell us why.

Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Now we were the wreaths of victory on our heads

Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our battered armor is used as decorations

Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our War alarms are now music at parties

Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Our marching is now delightful dancing

Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
The wrinkled face of war has been smoothed

And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
And now instead of mounting our war horses

To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
To scare our enemies

He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
We dance nimbly in ladies bedrooms

To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
To sexy songs played on the flute

So I thought I’d meet you down here because there’s not a lot to take a look at in there. Shakespeare in these lines has a sense of repetition that speaks to just how intensely Richard feels about the subject matter he’s speaking of. We don’t know just yet how exactly he feels about it, that is until it falls into an actors hands, but the point I’m making is the pure amount of repetition speaks volumes for itself. Shakespeare employs a good amount of antithesis in here as well. War alarms are now music. Marches are now dances. And Armor is now merely decoration. What all of this is coming to we’ll find out but it makes it clear within the first 13 lines of the play just how much everyone has been through, and gives us context for what’s about to come.

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
But I, whose body is not made for such sports

Now here is where we really get to the crux, this a big turning point in the speech. Everything that Richard has set up for us in the past thirteen lines is driving to this. Richard has a resentment to his physical form.

Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
Nor am I made to look lovingly on myself in the mirror

I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
I that have been unfairly made like this and lack the body

(The body to what?)

To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
To strut my looks before a beauty

Richard in the past few lines has expressed to us that he feels physically unloveable. And why wouldn’t he come to that conclusion? All his life that’s what he’s been told.

I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
I that have been usurped of a beautiful figure

Now I know he doesn’t actually say usurped he says curtailed which means cut short, or diminished but within the context this is almost what Richard is saying. He feels that a fair proportion has been stolen from him as he reiterates in the next line when he says.

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Cheated out of having beautiful features by cruel nature

This one is again an example of the repetition used in this speech.

Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Deformed, unfinished born too early

This is the first time that Richard uses the word deformed, it’s the first time that he uses unflattering language to describe himself. Up until now he has said that he has been cheated out of beautiful things using quite beautiful language.

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
Into this world only half finished

Richard feels that he is only half a person. That’s a huge thing for anyone to say.

And that so lamely and unfashionable
And so lame and ugly

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
That dogs bark at me as I limp by them

He feels he is so ugly that even dogs will bark at him when they see him. This truly drives home just how lowly he thinks of himself.

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
I, in this weak and idle peace time

Have no delight to pass away the time,
Have nothing pleasurable I can do to pass the time

While everyone else is having fun and doing all of these wonderful things I cannot join in.
This is the next turning point of the speech, and we’re about to hear just how he plans to rectify that.

Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
Unless I want to look at my shadow in the sun

And descant on mine own deformity:
And sing about my own deformity

This is a callback to talking about everyone else’s frivolities, their singing and dancing and partying.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
And therefore since I can’t be a lover.

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
To entertain myself in these peaceful days

It’s important to note, and I think this line highlights it, that Richard is a formidable warrior, and is quite revered on the battlefield. However he feels he has no place in peacetime so what’s he going to do?

I am determined to prove a villain
I am determined to be a villain

Oh so that’s what he’s gonna do. He can’t be a lover, so he’ll be a villain.

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
And hate the idle, boring, pleasures of this time

Yes but how?

Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
I have set dangerous plans in motion

He’s plotting. But to do what?

By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
Using lies, drunken prophecies and dreams

To set my brother Clarence and the king
To set my brother Clarence and my other brother King Edward IV

In deadly hate the one against the other:
Against each other

He’s put plans in motion to set his brothers against one another. Unstable power creates a vacuum, and vacuums are usually filled.

And if King Edward be as true and just
And if King Edward is as true and righteous

As what?

As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
As I am cunning, fake, and deceitful

If X then Y?

This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
Today my brother Clarence will be locked up

So he;s using his brother’s righteousness, his honour against him, to have his other brother Clarence locked up. But how?

About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
About a prophecy that says ‘G’

This line really doesn’t need a translation but here we are!

Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Will be the murderer of King Edwards children

So he’s stirred a rumour about a prophecy that says ‘G’ will be the murderer of Edwards children. The logic here is that it means G for George, Duke of Clarence. The irony here is that it could just as easily mean Gloucester.

Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
I must keep my thoughts to myself,

Clarence comes.
Clarence is coming.

So, in essence what’s happening in this speech is you have a formidable warrior, the Duke of Gloucester, Richard telling us how after a bloody and painful civil war the country and their house is now at peace, and everyone in the land is having a grand old time. But he doesn;t feel that he can, because he believes his physical form makes him unloveable. So he decides he will plot against the crown through any means necessary. If people cannot love him, he is determined to earn their fear.

Unfamiliar Language

Lour, lower (v.)
old form: lowr’d
frown, scowl, look dark and threatening

Bosom (n.)
old form: bosome
depths

Brow (n.)
old form:browes
forehead [often plural, referring to the two prominences of the forehead]

Monument (n.)
memory, memorial, remembrance

Alarm, alarum, ‘larm, ‘larum (n.)
call to arms, call to battle, signal to begin fighitng

Measure (n.)
slow stately dance, graceful movement

Dreadful (adj.)
old form: dreadfull
inspiring dread, causing fear, daunting

Grim-visaged (adj.)
old form: Grim-visag’d
with a stern face

Front (n.)
forehead, face

Wrinkled (adj.)
frowning, furrowed

Barbed (adj.)
armoured with barbs, protectively covered

Fright (v.), past form frighted
frighten, scare, terrify

Fearful (adj.)
old form: fearfull
causing fear, awe-inspiring, terrifying, alarming

Sportive (adj.)
old form: sportiue
amorous, wanton, sexual

Stamped (adj.)
old form: stampt
marked [as with a stamp], imprinted

Rudely (adv.)
roughly, clumsily, imperfectly

Want (v.)
lack, need, be without

Nymph (n.)
beauty, damsel, siren

Wanton (adj.)
old form: wonton
lascivious, lewd, obscene

Ambling (adj.)
walking in an affected way, pretentiously strolling

Proportion (n.)
bodily shape, physical form

Curtail (v.)
old form: curtail’d
cut short, diminish

Nature (n.)
natural order, ungoverned state, way of the world [often personified]

Feature (n.)
physical appearance, bodily shape, looks

Dissembling (adj.)
deceitful, hypocritical, false

made up, made-up (adj.)
old form: vp
finished off, put together

Scarce (adv.)
old form: scarse
scarcely, hardly, barely, only just

Breathing (adj.)
living, active, lively

Lamely (adv.)
imperfectly, defectively; also, haltingly, in a lame manner

Halt (v.)
limp, proceed lamely

Piping (adj.)
shrill-toned, high-pitched [either: of pipes; or: of women and children’s voices]

Descant (v.)
develop a theme about, comment, make remarks

Entertain (v.)
old form: entertaine
while away, pass away

Well-spoken (adj.)
old form: well spoken
refined, courteous, eloquent

Determine (v.)
resolve, decide, settle [on]

Idle (adj.)
frivolous, capricious, wanton

Induction (n.)
opening scene [of a play], initial step, preparation

Libel (n.)
defamatory poster, slanderous leaflet

False (adj.)
treacherous, traitorous, perfidious

Mew up (v.)
old form: mew’d vp
coop up, confine, shut up

Closely (adv.)
securely, in strict confinement

Conclusion

We’ve addressed some of the unfamiliar language, and broken down the monologue, so that you now hopefully have a better understanding of the text. Next, read through it multiple times out loud and explore the way the language sounds. For more on how to perform Shakespeare read our article on How to Act Shakespeare. If you have realised that this monologue is not for you, check out our list of amazing male Shakespeare monologues.

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 × two =