Malicious credulitie rather embraceth the partiall writings of indiscreet chroniclers, and witty Play-Makers, then [Richard III's] lawes and actions, the most innocent and impartiall witnesses... Yet neither can his blood redeem him from injurious tongues, nor the reproch offered his body be thought cruell enough, but that we must stil make him more cruelly infamous in Pamphlets and Plays.
– Sir William Cornwallis, 1600
As Honour is always attended on by Envy, so hath this worthy Princes fame been blasted by malicious traducers, who like Shakespear in his Play of him, render him dreadfully black in his actions, a monster of nature, rather [than] a man of admirable parts.
– William Winstanley, 1660
If Shakespear is in any Instance to be blamed for keeping too close to the Historian, it is for dignifying the last Moments of this bloody Tyrant with such shining Proofs of Fortitude and Valour as, not withstanding the Detestation we conceived at his cruelties, must force from us an involuntary Applause... Shakespear improves this..., which has indeed this improper Effect, that our hatred of the Tyrant is wholly lost in our Admiration of the Heroe.
– Charlotte Lennox, 1754
[This play] is one of the most celebrated of our authour's performances; yet I know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, to be praised most when praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes noble in themselves, and very well contrived to strike in the exhibition, cannot be denied. But some parts are trifling, others shocking, and some improbable.
– Samuel Johnson, 1765
Shakespeare...in Richard the Third particularly makes so needless a devil of the crook'd-back monster (since we must subscribe to the general opinion of Richard's deformity) that he actually raises our ridicule, where he obviously wishes to excite the abhorrence of his auditors... What man of common sense, for instance, would ask the woman he passionately loved, when upbraiding him with the murder of her father, whether he was not kind in sending him to heaven? What man of common sense would urge as meritorious to a lady of virtue his having killed her husband, and publicly solicit her hand as a reward for so "laudable" an action?
– George Steevens, 1772
Such is the nature of man, that the slightest alarm, arising from within, discomfits him more than the greatest dangers presenting themselves from without. Body may be overcome by body, but the mind only can conquer itself.
– Elizabeth Griffith, 1775
Shakespear has not made Richard so black a Monster as is supposed. Wherever he is monstrous, it was to conform to vulgar opinion. But he is generally a Man. Read his most exquisite address to the Widowed Queen to court her daughter for him—the topics of maternal feeling, of a deep knowledge of the heart, are such as no monster could have supplied. Richard must have felt before he could feign so well; tho' ambition choked the good seed.
– Charles Lamb, 1801
The inferiority of his person made the hero seek consolation and compensation in the superiority of his intellect; he thus endeavoured to counterbalance his deficiency.
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1811
The play itself is undoubtedly a very powerful effusion of Shakespear's genius. The ground-work of the character of Richard—that mixture of intellectual vigour with moral depravity, in which Shakespear delighted to shew his strength—gave full scope as well as temptation to the exercise of his imagination.
– William Hazlitt, 1817
This is the meaning of Richard's words, 'I am myself alone,' the motto of the perfect tyrant, and it at the same time expresses his full, clear consciousness of his own nature. Richard is quite aware that he is a tyrant, he knows it, and wills it; this was required by Shakespeare's view of life, which is far removed from the thought that man is a mere instrument in the hand of a higher power.
– Hermann Ulrici, 1846
If a portion of the bitterness and soured rage that lies in Richard's nature was rooted in this self-contempt of his outward appearance, [then] his contempt of men on the other hand is grounded on the liberal gifts which nature has bestowed on his mind, and on the self-reliance which a comparison with the men around him inspired.
– G.G. Gervinus, 1849-50
Richard does not serve two masters... He has fierce joy, and he is an intense believer—in the creed of hell. And therefore he is strong. He inverts the moral order of things, and tries to live in this inverted system. He does not succeed; he dashes himself to pieces against the laws of the world which he has outraged. Yet we cannot refrain from yielding a certain tribute of admiration to the malefactor, who ventures on the daring experiment of choosing evil for his good.
– Edward Dowden, 1875
Richard is the humorist of Inferno, a human devil jesting with the moral principle of the Universe. The question which he unconsciously proposes to himself, is: Am I of the World's Order supreme? A demonic subtlety of intellect and a demonic strength of will are given to him, and he makes the trial.
– Denton J. Snider, c. l890
[Shakespeare's Richard III] has abundant devilry, humor, and character, presented with luxuriant energy of diction in the simplest form of blank verse... Richard is the prince of Punches: he delights Man by provoking God, and dies unrepentant and game to the last.
– George Bernard Shaw, 1896
Richard is an enormously magnified representation of something we can all discover in ourselves. We all think we have reason to reproach nature and our destiny for congenital and infantile disadvantages; we all demand reparation for early wounds to our narcissism, our self-love. Why did not nature give us the golden curls of Balder or the strength of Siegfried, or the lofty brow of genius or the noble profile of aristocracy? Why were we born in a middle-class dwelling instead of a royal palace? We could as well carry off beauty and distinction as any of those whom now we cannot but envy.
– Sigmund Freud, 1915
[Richard III] is a strange combination of villain and comedian, a jesting and intellectually adroit rogue. The effect is a peculiarly complex one; if we try to approach Richard as a realistic character portrayed, we shall miss completely the intention of Shakespeare. Richard is a study in disguises, a set of variations on the theme of deception.
– Sidney Thomas, l943
We need not choose between Richard the psychological study in compensation for physical disability and Richard the embodiment of sheer demonic will, for he is both... He ranges from credibly motivated villain to a symbol, psychologically absurd however useful dramatically, of the diabolic.
– E.M.W. Tillyard, l944
On the face of it [Richard] is the demon Prince, the cacodemon born of hell, the misshapen toad, etc. (all things ugly and ill). But through his prowess as actor and his embodiment of the comic Vice and impish-to-fiendish humour, he offers the false as more attractive than the true and the ugly and evil as admirable and amusing.
– A.P. Rossiter, 1953
Richard, then, is a fox among foxes. He is wittier than the others and more successful. But his victories can be attributed not so much to the fact that he is more villainous than the rest, as to the fact that he is more consistently and self-admittedly villainous.
– Murray Krieger, 1959
But do not suppose I am saying that the play is a 'debunking of Tudor myth,' or that Shakespeare is disproving it. He is not 'proving' anything... This historic myth offered absolutes, certainties. Shakespeare in the Histories always leaves us with relatives, ambiguities, irony, a process thoroughly dialectical.
– A.P. Rossiter, 1961
In Richard III, although the various conventions are not yet welded into a unity, the connexion between linguistic vitality and energy of moral insight is already apparent. It is not only that Richard's lively idiom "cuts through the muffled hypocrisies of language." Even in the elaborately stylized scenes Shakespeare is aiming at something more subtle than a self-conscious display of rhetorical skill: these too can precipitate a moment of lucid truth about human nature; as when... Queen Elizabeth, engaged in a formal rhetorical duel with Richard (IV.iv.376-80), shows him, step by step, that there is nothing he can swear by and be believed—neither honor, nor self, nor religion.
– L.C. Knights, 1962
The tragic conflict, what lifts the play above melodrama or the mere narrative of a well-merited fall, is not offered within the characters of Richard, but in the character of the play itself, in the conflict of dramatic modes that it presents. And in this we may see the morally and physically deformed Richard as an image of the tragic enfeeblement of man.
– Nicholas Brooke, 1965
Here the King is, in the first half of the tragedy, the mastermind of the Grand Mechanism...the Machiavellian Prince. But Shakespeare is wiser than the author of The Prince. As he walks up the grand stairs, Richard becomes smaller and smaller. It is as if the Grand Mechanism was absorbing him. Gradually he becomes just one of its cogs. He has ceased to be the executioner, he is now a victim, caught in the wheels.
– Jan Kott, 1965
Richard is a very special kind of monster, the monster as humorist. To him the code of traditional morality and the bonds of social affection are not a hated enemy but an amusing tool. He uses them to play with other people's emotions both to attain his secret ends and out of sheer virtuosity. If he were an embittered outcast, he would never have the detachment to be such a consummate hypocrite. Hatred is a powerful form of evil, but Richard goes beyond hatred to the malevolence of the brilliant man, contempt.
– Robert B. Pierce, 1971
An absolute rejection of the irrational is a fatal misjudgment in the world of Richard III... As each spirit pauses, he/she speaks to Richard like a voice of consciousness within the soul... Consciousness is the one enemy that he can neither trick nor silence... From the controller of his dreams, he has become the controlled, the victim of his own horrible imaginings.
– Marjorie Garber, 1974
Richard, however, like Faustus, hears no answer from his Savior, but turns inward to find only himself present. Shakespeare makes the experience dramatically more powerful by portraying Richard's profound sense of aloneness... The loss of all companionship is perhaps the strongest foreshadowing of hell. The ghosts have come and gone, the demons have disappeared, and Richard is left with himself: "Is there a murtherer here (V.iii.215)?"
– Bettie Anne Doebler, 1974
Richard's confidence in the efficacy of acting as a mode of action certainly stands at the opposite pole from Hamlet's metaphysical agonies, but it, too, is the product of something much deeper than mere connoisseurship... Richard...sets out, rather, to "create" himself. His methods are those of the theater...it is through action that we realize what we are; it is through acting that we make real what we are not.
– Michael Neill, 1975
Shakespeare began to write these plays with a coherent set of received values in his mind. Nevertheless, he began at some point to see where such values inevitably led, and places them, these values he shares to some degree, in his villain. One of Richard's defining characteristics is misogyny (so too, Iago). Shakespeare did not unthinkingly adopt the ideas of his culture: he saw something profoundly lethal about misogyny, and tried to find another way to deal with the traditional arrangement of morals implicit in the gender principles.
– Marilyn French, 1981
Shakespeare's play departs so drastically from history that [biographies of all the characters for the cast are] of curiosity value rather than of any real use.
– Antony Sher, who played Richard III, 1985
I began to study the piece and became more and more aware of what part it was. It began to grow inside me. I had to find the character, and slowly he began to come to me... I never believed that the real paintings of him were anything like him; or, if I did, I wasn't going to admit it. Nothing was going to stop me putting that make-up on. I wanted to look like the most evil thing there was. [The audience] must be won over by his wit, his brilliantly wry sense of humor and his veneer of smiling sophistication.
– Laurence Olivier, who played Richard III, 1986
Richard is very much of the new capitalist world. He uses the language of business and displays its attitudes throughout.
– Paul N. Siegel, 1986
Richard III is, after all, a play in which the wounds of the murdered bleed again in the presence of the murderer, the stabbing of a horse is a compelling omen, curses are efficacious, dreams possess explanatory value, ghosts return to influence and govern temporal events, and prophesies are fulfilled not in vague and general terms but in specific detail.
– E. Pearlman, 1992
[Elizabeth] is drawn into Margaret's world, and the Duchess of York and Anne are part of it, too. It is a ritualistic, primitive, incantatory world, depending upon an absolute belief in the power of the curse, the very opposite of political power and deriving from its loss, drawing its strength from grief. Only the women have direct access to this intuitive power; the men make contact with it only subconsciously, through the series of dreams that punctuates the play. This primitive power takes control of the play as soon as Richard sits on the throne.
– Steven Pimlott, director of the RSC's production, 1995
It is [the women] who bring home the horror behind the succession struggles of the history books, by consistently presenting the action to the audience as domestic tragedy...The changes in fortune which the men see as the successive triumphs and failure of coats of arms and great houses, the women experience (and articulate) as personal losses, private emotional catastrophes. So, while the men of the nobility conspire to cause each other's deaths, and plot the substitution of one royal line for another, the women wait. Deprived themselves of the ability to act, they stand by, majestically grieving, and count the cost of civil war in human terms.
– Lisa Jardine, 1995
Villainy reveals through performance the true, core content of every person, thereby turning villains like Richard into messengers of truth. This challenges the Elizabethan belief in physical appearance as an outward reflection of internal constitution. Such a belief is true only concerning ugliness. Beauty reflects nothing. It simply lies.
– Tzachi Zamir, 1998
Not only does Richard compare himself to the best orators and deceivers known to history, he believes without a doubt that he will outperform them... Richard sees himself as an actor in a play larger than life, a play in which he not only takes the lead, but takes the lead better than anyone else.
– Christopher Andrews, 2000
Richard is a sinner who knows himself as such and who cannot repent. Without grace there is no essential self... Richard fended off any responsibility for his own actions for as long as he could blame himself on his ontological beginnings, and hence on his mother. Her rejection of him signifies not only that humanity as a whole has turned against him, but also that he must take new account of himself... "Richard loves Richard" is a last-ditch gesture towards self-engendering through a narcissistic embrace of self, as well as a sad parody of God's love for humanity.
– John Jowett, 2000
Like a shark, Richard must always be moving forward, away from what he is and what he has done.
– Stephen Brown, 2002
Although [Margaret] is not represented as a ghost, she haunts the play like a soul from purgatory. Ghostlike, she stands—and speaks—outside the main action (only she and Richard have asides), and when she does make contact with others, they seem unable to act upon her.
– Janis Lull, 2002
Richard understands that the ability to shape the narrative of history is indistinguishable from the ability to shape the events of history itself. Richard's murders are not violent; there is little sense in them of bloodlust. He merely wants his victims to be absolutely silent, to have no say. There is no one more vulnerable than the dead because they have no control over their own stories. Richard understands better than anyone that dead men tell no tales.
– Stephen Marche, 2003
– Contributed by the CST Education Department