Brand : William; Lull, Janis Shakespeare

King Richard III

Gene zafrin |

Portrait of a villain as an old man

The play's appeal is disturbing. the self-proclaimed "naked villain", the murderer who knows neither pity nor regret, the conniving and lying viper is by far the most interesting character of the play. richard's main merit is having shakespeare speak for him. by virtue of spending more time on stage than any other character, richard commands disproportionate attention from shakespeare and enjoys the good fortune of shakespearean language. from "the winter of our discontent" to "my kingdom for a horse", almost all memorable expressions are richard's. for all his macabre plots, he is playful with language. he puns (as when he is treating "naught" as "naughty" in response to brakenbury who is leading clarence to the tower). he cleverly finishes margaret's long diatribe against him with a single "margaret", sending the volley of her curse right back at her. he shows the widest range of emotion, from self-assured wisecracking to rambling rage. for all his scheming evil, richard has some remarkably attractive qualities. he can be disarmingly honest with himself and with the audience: he is surprised that anne may see in him a "marv'los proper man" (he sees no such thing), he is fully aware that his "all not equals edward's moiety" and that he "most plays the devil". such self-reflection adds another dimension to richard and compares favorably with simple self-involvement of some 20th century villains - certain heads of communist and nazi states. he is anything but a coward: at the end of the line, unhorsed, he continues to fight richmond and despises catesby's suggestion to withdraw. the unquestionable evil that finds ways of being attractive creates an unsettling tension and sense of imbalance. perhaps this is one of the qualities of great literature: it unobtrusively stirs up the embers of the reader's soul using its only poker - art.

Gene zafrin |

Villainy as art

The most beautiful aspect of the play is iago's ingenious deception of othello. in every phrase, iago knows just what to say to swing his moor closer to the belief in desdemona's infidelity. the subtle strategist to his general (and the puppeteer to roderigo and cassio), iago is in full glory practicing his art of insinuation. iago is the master of duplicity: "divinity of hell! when devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows". here he echoes banquo in macbeth: "to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray's in deepest consequence". however, while in macbeth the devious instruments of darkness were netherworldly creatures, here iago himself takes on devil's work. treachery plays here the most insidious part: it lays the ground for murder. treachery itself takes its roots in hatred. while richard iii and macbeth are murderers for their own advancement, iago's guiding star in his hunt is hatred. his "i hate the moor" at the end of the 1st act, breaking the flow of the soliloquy in which he derides roderigo (and not unlike richard iii's "ha!") is the essence of iago in a line. the reasons for his hatred are not as clear cut. iago knows that his being cuckolded by othello is a mere suspicion (but willfully decides that he does not want to know for sure and will act as if it were true). this is his private (false) excuse for hating othello. his public one, or at least the one he presents to roderigo, is having been passed over in the pecking order of military ranking. but he only gives this argument to roderigo and never repeats it in any soliloquies. and we know how much iago can be trusted when he speaks to someone else... his take on cassio is not much more lucid. cassio is surely not married, and yet according to iago, he is "a fellow almost damned in a fair wife" (whether this is one of shakespearean slips where he forgot to give cassio a wife or a mutation of "life" into "wife", the phrase is just too beautiful to disregard, even if it does not fit with the text). "he hath a daily beauty in his life that makes me ugly" complains iago of cassio. he also worries of having been cuckolded by the lieutenant. the former may signify iago's fear of looking bad in the face of cassio's promotion (although "daily" and especially "beauty" do not really fit, so the phrase could signify other things and overall seems obscure). the latter suspicion is just preposterous. so it appears that iago, whom in this play shakespeare gave most artful language, is sometimes inconsequential and opaque. while it may not have been shakespeare's intent, one could conclude from this that hatred may exist for iago without any real reasons at all. some people fall in love for no reason, iago may have fallen in hatred for no reason. maybe iago's excuses for his actions are just his awkward attempts at justifying his inexplicable hatred? in any case, with all his hatred and scheming, iago is another spectacular shakespearean villain endowed with inspired language. his art of intrigue ensures him a place among shakespeare's leading characters (villains for the most part) and will entertain our enduring fascination with human nature's dark side...

Amazon customer |

Thou doth not like shakespeare? thou art a yeasty, clay-brained measle!

I have been called back for the part of hero in an audition. i was advised to acquaint myself with the character and the play itself. i really quite enjoyed it. i laughed much more than i imagined i would, while also pain and anger were riled up in me. this play is absolutely splendid and i hope i will get the part. we are using a shorter, simplified script, though.