Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, Have no delight to pass away the time, Unless to see 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, I am determinèd to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days. (Act I, Scene i, lines 24–31)
In his first monologue, Richard explains the genesis of his drive for power: He claims that since he appears too ugly to be the “good guy” he will recast himself as the “bad guy.” Richard succeeds spectacularly in this role, relishing his cruelty so greatly that an equally likely explanation for his behavior is that he simply enjoys villainy. Perhaps his appearance serves as the excuse for his behavior, not the cause of it.
Nay, do not pause; for I did kill King Henry— But ’twas thy beauty that provokèd me. Nay, now dispatch; ’twas I that stabbed young Edward— But ’twas thy heavenly face that set me on. (Act I, Scene ii, lines 184–187)
Here, Richard woos Anne, even though he killed her husband and father-in-law. He turns logic upside-down by claiming he killed them only out of love for her. That Richard successfully attains his goal seems shocking and emphasizes both his duplicitous nature and his ability to manipulate words so they make a specific impact on the listener. Anne leaves the interview unwilling to give him her heart but still willing to marry him.
But then I sigh and, with a piece of scripture, Tell them that God bids us do good for evil; And thus I clothe my naked villainy With odd old ends stolen out of Holy Writ, And seem a saint when most I play the devil. (Act I, Scene iii, lines 340–344)
Richard exalts in his duplicity. He explains how, with his clever words and manipulative language, he convinces those around him that he is a good person. Richard’s speech makes clear that he pursues all actions with purpose and cunning. With the exception of his confidantes, the royal entourage takes Richard at face value—only his mother and the young Prince Edward have suspicions about his words and deeds.
But, sirs, be sudden in the execution, Withal obdurate; do not hear him plead, For Clarence is well-spoken and perhaps May move your hearts to pity if you mark him. (Act I, Scene iii, lines 353–356)
Richard cautions Clarence’s executioners to do their work swiftly so as to avoid falling under the sway of Clarence’s words. Richard’s concerns show that he understands the power of language, not just in himself but in others. If Clarence manipulates the executioners, Richard’s plot could be foiled. Richard knows he is not invincible and understands he must move to consolidate power quickly.
It cannot be, for he bewept my fortune, And hugged me in his arms, and swore with sobs That he would labor my delivery. (Act I, Scene iv, lines 228–230)
Deception serves as Richard’s modus operandi, and Clarence falls as one of his earliest victims. Although the hired murderers actually tell Clarence that Richard ordered his execution, Clarence still can’t believe what he hears. Clarence’s refusal to accept his brother’s culpability stands as evidence of Richard’s skill with his words of deceit. This scene demonstrates the depth of Richard’s ability to deceive as well as the serious repercussions his actions have on those who come between him and his goals.
Where it seems best unto your royal self. If I may counsel you, some day or two Your Highness shall repose you at the Tower; Then where you please and shall be thought most fit For your best health and recreation. (Act III, Scene i, lines 63–67)
Working to set his plans in motion, Richard suggests to Prince Edward that he stay in the Tower to await his coronation. The Tower’s association with Clarence’s murders makes Richard’s intentions for the boys clear to the audience. Prince Edward also expresses reservations, explaining that he doesn’t like the building. Edward’s discomfort since his arrival in London shows his suspicions of his uncle.
Look what is done cannot be now amended. Men shall deal unadvisedly sometimes, Which after-hours give leisure to repent. If I did take the kingdom from your sons, To make amends I’ll give it to your daughter. If I have killed the issue of your womb, To quicken your increase I will beget Mine issue of your blood upon your daughter. (Act IV, Scene iv, lines 294–301)
To cement his kingship and preclude usurpers to the throne, King Richard wants to marry Queen Elizabeth’s daughter. Their union would join the two familial lines that have been vying for the throne. Richard, as he always does, here attempts to sway the queen with language. His logic seems twisted, just as his logic was in his pursuit of Anne. In both cases, Richard uses his own acts of violence as an excuse to woo a woman in marriage.
What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by. Richard loves Richard; that is, I and I. Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am. Then fly! What, from myself? Great reason why: Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself? Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good That I myself have done unto myself? O, no! Alas, I rather hate myself For hateful deeds committed by myself. I am a villain. Yet I lie. I am not. Fool, of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter. (Act V, Scene iii, lines 194–204)
On the eve of the battle, Richard awakens from dreams of the ghosts of those he has murdered and reveals, for the first time, a hint of conscience. He acknowledges that all his evil acts have been committed strictly to benefit himself. Still, he vacillates between channeling this knowledge toward a more positive outcome—for instance, stepping down from the throne—and accepting that he is just a bad guy who wants power.
By the apostle Paul, shadows tonight Have struck more terror to the soul of Richard Than can the substance of ten thousand soldiers Armed in proof and led by shallow Richmond. (Act V, Scene iii, lines 229–232)
After the ghosts of those he has murdered visit him, Richard experiences, for the first time, palpable fear. His fear of the dead over Richmond’s army reveals his own irrationality—ghosts can’t physically harm him, but armed men certainly can. That Richard reacts to the ghosts on an emotional level indicates that he also is covering up other feelings, perhaps a deeply buried strain of guilt.
Slave, I have set my life upon a cast, And I will stand the hazard of the die. I think there be six Richmonds in the field; Five have I slain today instead of him. A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! (Act V, Scene iv, lines 9–13)
These lines represent the last words that Richard speaks, for Richmond will kill him at the beginning of the next scene. Richard’s lines here represent some of the play’s most famous. In the heat of battle, Richard’s horse has been killed, and he needs another to search for Richmond more swiftly. Richard’s need for a horse demonstrates the fragility of human life and expectations. The king suddenly needs more than anything a simple animal, or else he may lose the kingdom.