Richard III

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! Al Pacino in "Looking for Richard", 1996

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!
Al Pacino in “Looking for Richard”, 1996

The play Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s most striking as we have a villain who openly admits (to the audience) that he is a villain and coolly explains what he is going to do – and then does it. So in the course of the play the narrative tension keeps the public asking themselves whether Richard will pull it off – in a similar way to what happens in the prologue to Romeo and Juliet, where Shakespeare actually reveals the end of the play (i.e. they die. Oops, was it a spoiler? Come on, you shouldn’t NOT know that).

Richard III offers a number of possibilities of reflection on many different themes – and a fair number of connections to the world of today too.

Let’s have a look at the

Prologue

first and foremost.

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. 5
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; 10
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, 15
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, 20
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, 25
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, 30
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.

One of the best film adaptations – a crossover between the play, a documentary and a theatre workshop – is Al Pacino’s 1996 “Looking for Richard”. You can watch the trailer here.

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