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The Characters

Development of Character

Shakespeare’s dramatic achievement comes to the fore in creating and depicting distinctive and credible characters who reveal themselves through consistent actions and dialogue. 

We must remember that character creation is a construct; an artefact and central ones do not necessarily represent the author.  Characters are either portrayed sympathetically or unsympathetically.  The former are called protagonists, heroes or good guys while the latter are antagonists, villains or bad guys.  Sometimes main characters are picaresque – likeable but harmless rogues, larrikins or scoundrels –“loveable rogues”.

Homer animates--Shakespeare animates--in its poor way much literature I think at best awakens a pleasing melancholy." But what men want is "something to animate and ennoble them

Martin Amis points out that over two millennia humans first told stories of Gods, then Kings, then Epic Heroes, then ordinary people , then anti-heroes, then villains, then demons and finally themselves.

 

A major difficulty in understanding Richard III is the complexity of the characters, many with similar names.  It might be best to draw your own family tree chart to map them out for yourself.

Richard -  Also called the duke of Gloucester, and eventually crowned King Richard III. According to Shakespeare’s portrayal he is deformed in body and twisted in mind.1  Richard is both the central character and the villain of the play. He is evil, corrupt, sadistic, and manipulative, and he will stop at nothing to become king. His intelligence, political brilliance, and dazzling use of language keep the audience fascinated—and his subjects and rivals under his thumb.  It is important to realise that the Historical view of Richard is not as negative, in fact in many ways he was a good king.  See: Richard on Trial 

For conflicting views  of Richard III go to:  http://www.richard3museum.co.uk/ 

1 There is no reliable evidence for the popular Tudor idea that he was hunchbacked. Not even the hostile Rous, who claims that he was born with teeth and with hair down to his shoulders after the unlikely term of two years in his mother's womb, calls him a crookback: he merely says that his right shoulder was higher than his left. Modern medical inquiry has suggested that he may have suffered from a minor degree of "Sprengel's deformity", but concluded that 'probably Richard had no great degree of bodily abnormality'. Even the idea of uneven shoulders is not supported by the two earliest-known surviving portraits, that in the Society of Antiquaries of London, painted about 1505, probably in the Netherlands, which shows him with straight shoulders, and that in the Royal Collection, which may be of earlier date, and in which, under recent X-ray examination, there was an original straight shoulder-line, later painted over to give the impression of a raised right shoulder, of which so many copies were later to have been made. The first specific reference to Richard's being a hunchback comes from the records of the city of York for the year 1491. In the course of a heated argument with a local schoolmaster, one John Payntour was later accused of having said that Richard had been 'an hypocrite, a crook back and buried in a ditch like a dog'. But it took the reputation and literary ability of Sir Thomas More to stamp upon the Tudor imagination the idea that Richard was 'little of stature, ill featured of limbs, crook backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard-favored of visage', or, as Shakespeare was to put it, 'not made to court an amorous looking glass'. He does not seem ugly of appearance. The more flattering of the two early portraits, that in the Royal Collection, shows a not uncomely man, despite the obvious lines of anxiety on his brow. The Antiquaries' painting, on the other hand, shows a gaunt, bony, tight-lipped face, again with a suggestion of anxiety. It is noticeable that in both he is shown as being much older than his true age. (pg. 138-140)
In spite of his slender physique, Richard was a tough, hardy and energetic man, who had a proper taste for manly pursuits. He was evidently very fond of hawking, even sending abroad for new hawks as well as combing his own realm. Unlike his lazier brother Edward, he also had an active thirst for warfare. (pg. 142)

1 Ross, Charles, Richard III, 1981, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles

 More ........

Buckingham Richard’s right-hand man in his schemes to gain power. The duke of Buckingham is almost as amoral and ambitious as Richard himself. The young Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, was head of the wealthiest and most long-established of the English magnate families. His career under Richard of Gloucester proved that he was grasping and ambitious to a degree. He had been denied his claim to enjoy the other half of the inheritance of the De Bohun family, which he regarded as his own when the male line of the house of Lancaster was extinguished in 1471 - a claim later to be conceded by Richard III.  Like most of Richard’s minions, Buckingham is disposed with when Richard has finished with him.

 

King Edward IV -  The older brother of Richard and Clarence, and the King of England at the start of the play. Edward was deeply involved in the Yorkists’ brutal overthrow of the Lancaster regime, but as king he is devoted to achieving a reconciliation among the various political factions of his reign. He is unaware that Richard attempts to thwart him at every turn.

 

Clarence – Depicted as the gentle, trusting brother born between Edward and Richard in the York family, The play entirely ignores Clarence's turning traitor in 1469 with Warwick.2 Clarence in reality was as opportunistic and ruthless as the rest of the families. According to Shakespeare, Richard has Clarence murdered in order to get him out of the way though there is no historical evidence for this allegation. Clarence leaves two children, a son and a daughter.

 

Queen Elizabeth -  The wife of King Edward IV and the mother of the two young princes (the heirs to the throne) and their older sister, young Elizabeth. After Edward’s death, Queen Elizabeth (also called Lady Gray) is at Richard’s mercy. Richard rightly views her as an enemy because she opposes his rise to power, and because she is intelligent and fairly strong-willed. Elizabeth is part of the Woodeville family; her kinsmen—Dorset, Rivers, and Gray—are her allies in the court.

 

Dorset, Rivers, and Gray - Relatives and allies of Elizabeth, and members of the Woodeville and Gray families. Rivers is Elizabeth’s brother, while Gray and Dorset are her sons from her first marriage. Richard eventually executes Rivers and Gray, but Dorset flees and survives.

Anne -  The young widow of Prince Edward, who was the son of the former king, Henry VI. Anne’s marriage to Prince Edward had been arranged for political reasons Lady Anne would have known Richard from her younger days but she hates Richard because she believes he killed Prince Edward, her husband,(for which there is no historical evidence) . 

 

Duchess of York - Richard’s widowed mother, also of Clarence, and King Edward IV. She is Elizabeth’s mother-in-law,  protective of Elizabeth and her children, who are the duchess’s grandchildren. She is angry with, and eventually curses, Richard for his evil deeds.

 

Margaret – Richard’s most bitter accuser, she was the widow of the dead King Henry VI, and mother of the slain Prince Edward. Queen Margaret died 1482 so her appearance after Act II, scene 1 is historically impossible. In medieval times, when kings were deposed, their children were often killed to remove any threat from the royal line of descent—but their wives were left alive because they were considered harmless. Margaret was the wife of the king before Edward, the Lancastrian Henry VI, who was subsequently deposed and murdered (along with their children) by the family of King Edward IV and Richard.

 

 The princes -  The two young sons of King Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth, their names are actually Prince Edward and the young duke of York, but they are often referred to collectively. Agents of Richard murder these boys—Richard’s nephews—in the Tower of London. (Again this is clearly a dubious allegation) .Young Prince Edward, the rightful heir to the throne, should not be confused with the elder Edward, prince of Wales (the first husband of Lady Anne, and the son of the former king, Henry VI.), who was killed before the play begins.

  

Young Elizabeth  is the former Queen Elizabeth’s daughter. Young Elizabeth enjoys the fate of many Renaissance noblewomen. She becomes a pawn in political power-brokering, and is promised in marriage at the end of the play to Richmond, the Lancastrian rebel leader, in order to unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster.

 

Ratcliffe, Catesby -  Two of Richard’s followers in the nobility.

 

Tyrrell -  A murderer whom Richard hires to kill his young cousins, the princes in the Tower of London.

 

Richmond -  A member of a branch of the Lancaster royal family. Richmond gathers a force of rebels to challenge Richard for the throne. He is meant to represent goodness, justice, and fairness—all the things Richard does not. Richmond is portrayed in such a glowing light in part because he founded the Tudor dynasty, as Henry VII, the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth when Shakespeare lived.

 

Hastings - William, Lord Hastings was the most powerful and prominent of the non-royal nobility who owed his advancement entirely to the favor of Edward IV himself.  A lord who maintains his integrity, remaining loyal to the family of King Edward IV. Hastings winds up dead for making the mistake of trusting Richard and opposing the elimination of the princes.

 

Stanley -  The stepfather of Richmond. Lord Stanley, earl of Derby, secretly helps Richmond, although he cannot escape Richard’s watchful gaze.

 

Lord Mayor of London -  A gullible and suggestible fellow whom Richard and Buckingham use as a pawn in their ploy to make Richard king.

 

Vaughan -  A friend of Elizabeth, Dorset, Rivers, and Gray who is executed by Richard along with Rivers and Grey.

 

2 Ross, Charles, Richard III, 1981, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles


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