The story of King Richard the third is a long and winding one with many turns and tribulations. Today we’re going to take a look at a speech from Richard III that comes towards the end of that story when he curses many of those around him. Let’s take a look.
Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, is hungry for the English crown. His relentless ambition isn’t hindered by the fact that his brother is the current Monarch. Richard deceives his brother, King Edward IV, with claims that his other brother, the Duke of Clarence, wishes to take the crown. Edward IV is persuaded and sends Clarence to the Tower of London.
Richard then proceeds to woo Lady Anne, the grieving wife of Prince Edward, literally over the dead body of her husband’s father, Henry VI. Richard manages, in one of the most crafty and spectacular courtships of all time, to successfully woo her.
The court is meanwhile in turmoil over what will happen when the sick Edward IV dies. Elizabeth tells the court that if he dies Richard will be made Protector until his son’s are old enough to rule. Queen Margaret (Henry VI’s widow) arrives and foretells devastation on the court.
Richard then has Clarence murdered. Edward‘s sickness worsens at the news of his brother’s death and he soon dies. Richard is made Lord Protector. He then has Lord Rivers, Lord Grey and other nobles arrested and executed. He manages to persuade his two nephews, the heirs to the throne, to move to the Tower of London.
Cleverly, he and Buckingham begin to spread the word that Edward and his two sons were illegitimate. Richard, in a staged ploy, then pretends to be praying as Buckingham begs him to take the crown; which Richard denies. The citizens then beg him to take the crown, which he then ‘unwillingly’ agrees to take.
Not satisfied with having soiled the names of his two nephews, he orders his loyal ally Buckingham to execute them, but Buckingham wavers. This angers Richard and he instead employees James Tyrell to do the job. When Buckingham asks for the land he was promised, Richard ignores him. This leads Buckingham to rebel and join Henry the Earl of Richmond, who is waiting to put a stop to Richards reign. Richard also disposes of Queen Anne, telling the public she has become ill and she quickly dies. Richard, true to character, seeks a new wife—his brother’s daughter Elizabeth (yes she has the same name as her mother, confusing I know).
The Duchess of York (Richard’s mother) and Queen Elizabeth (Edward IV’s wife) mourn the prince’s death. Queen Margaret arrives and they discuss all their great loses: cursing Richard. And in response, Richard has this to say…
As I intend to prosper and repent,
So thrive I in my dangerous affairs
Of hostile arms! Myself myself confound!
God and fortune, bar me happy hours!
Day, yield me not thy light, nor, night, thy rest!
Be opposite all planets of good luck,
To my proceedings, if, with pure heart’s love,
Immaculate devotion, holy thoughts,
I tender not thy beauteous, princely daughter.
In her consists my happiness and thine;
Without her, follows to myself, and thee ,
Herself, the land, and many a Christian soul,
Death, desolation, ruin and decay.
It cannot be avoided but by this;
It will not be avoided but by this.
Therefore, dear mother—I must call you so—
Be the attorney of my love to her;
Plead what I will be, not what I have been;
Not my deserts, but what I will deserve.
Urge the necessity and state of times,
And be not peevish-fond in great designs.
Hostile Arms: Battle/War
State of Times: Modern Life
Great Designs: Important Decision/Big Picture
In the same way that I wish to prosper and repent my sins,
Let me do the same in my dangerous battles.
Let my life be a hard one.
May God and destiny and destiny not allow me pleasant days.
May the day not give me light and may my nights be restless.
Let me have bad luck if I don’t love your royal daughter with a pure heart, perfect devotion,
and heavenly thoughts.
Our happiness depends on each other’s happiness.
Without her, all around us will see destruction, decay, death and ruin.
This will all happen unless we get married.
Therefore, dear Mother, since I must call you that now.
Be the advocate of my love for her.
Make an argument for what I will be, not what I have been.
For what I will deserve then, not what I deserve now.
Tell her that this is of the utmost importance for the country’s well being,
And to not be foolish and ignorant to the bigger picture.
Notes on Performance
There’s a rich history to this character and indeed to many characters within this same scene. We’ve seen them go from young soldiers and courtiers to now through years and years of war, death, destruction and even some happy times (at the start of this play in particular). If possible I’d recommend reading the “prequels” to this play which take us through the war of the roses, Henry VI part 1, 2, and 3 or at least getting to know the rough outline of those stories as they will inform your choices and character.
Speaking of character. This note is more food for thought than hard-and-fast rule. Many think of Richard as being evil for the sake of evil and the villain to end all villains, and in a way they’re right. Richard does explicitly say at the beginning of this play that he’ll be evil for the sake of it. However I’ve always thought that it’s important to remember Richards motivations for doing so. He’s known very little throughout his life other than unrelenting rejection and vitriol aimed at his physicality from those around him, and in this play he decides to embrace that. Yes he does horrible things and there isn’t an excuse for those things, but all I’m saying is that is also a reason.
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