How does Shakespeare present the character of Richard in Act 1 of Richard III ? Richard III is a tale of the rise and fall of tyrannical power. Shakespeare uses many classical references and adopts the five act pattern from Roman comedy. What makes Richard a fascinating character is his skill as an actor. Like Falstaff and Hamlet, he is constantly playing a part and enjoying it. In Richard III, Richard’s soliloquies show his true vindictive nature-whereas when he is interacting with other characters, he appears to be much less calculating. Shakespeare alludes to a saint and devil when describing Richard’s two faced character. Richard is often described as occupying a “figural position”; he is able to move in and out of it by talking with the audience on one level and interacting with other characters on another. This is clearly evident when Richard says ‘And thus I clothe my naked villainy’ (I:III:335). Here Richard embodies medieval vice type character. This character was very well known in Shakespeare’s time. Like the vice, Richard is able to present what is evil and turn it into something that is amusing for the audience. This is a classic example of a Machiavellian villain as well as which is prominent in Act I.
Right from the start of the play, it is clear to see that Richard’s skill of rhetoric is advanced. Throughout the act, and indeed the play, he uses his dexterity with language to manipulate many characters. Language may not always be a necessary instrument of power, but for Richard, it is a crucial weapon especially as his body is ‘broken’. His extraordinary skill with words enables him to manipulate, influence, and control those around him. Richard’s skill with language and argument is what enables him to have Clarence thrown in prison all at very little risk to himself. Interestingly, language also seems to be the only defence against Richard, as is shown when Elizabeth matches his skill at wordplay. In such cases, Richard simply uses...
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