The impact of the opening soliloquy (monologue) by Richard in William Shakespeare’s Richard III.
Sometimes the most enlightening things about people can be known by hearing their monologues. Shakespeare is known worldwide as a master dramatist, due equally to his remarkable talent as a storyteller, as to the incredible soliloquies in his plays. One of the most informative and important of these is the one found in Richard III’s opening lines. The significance of this monologue is that it hints at the important, unwritten past that the play is based on, shows Richard’s future plans, and most importantly, reveals who this focal character really is as a person.
Due to the fact that Shakespeare
writes plays, and not novels, modern audiences are often confused when reading his works. In Richard III there is no narrator or any passionate inquiries to the background and the setting, because the audience is expected to know the story, and simply enjoy the portrayal of this fragment of history. So, a modern audience has to rely to a great extent on the undertones of the dialogue. This is why the introductory soliloquy of Richard III is so important. Shakespeare generously grants the reader insight into some of the important background information. “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York” (line 1, scene 1, act 1). These are the very first lines of the play, and already, information is given about the current position and atmosphere in the play.
It entails that there is an air of happiness, of relief, and glory, caused by “this son of York”. This is referring to the end of the War of Roses, and the victory of the House of York, accompanied by the crowning of King Edward IV.
There is perhaps a tone of sarcasm found in these lines, as Richard is not happy, or satisfied with the fact that his brother, instead of himself, is king. Then, Richard goes on to talk about the glory of their victory, and the enormous relief it brings. He bitterly says; “And now, instead of mounting barbèd steeds / To fright the souls of fearful adversaries, / He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber / To the lascivious playing of a lute” (line 10, scene 1, act 1).
He is, not surprisingly, unhappy with the way the throne is governed, and refers to King Edward IV, his brother, with disgust. In conclusion, this first part of the soliloquy deals with the history that lead up to the present in the play, and Richard’s examination of it.
The great significance lies in this soliloquy because the reader gets a look at the real Richard of Gloucester, and who he is behind all his masks. After he talks about his brother, he begins to talk about himself. “…I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks / Nor made to court an amorous looking glass…” are the words he uses to describe himself (line 14, scene 1, act 1). He continues his physical analysis for over 10 lines, with an evident tone of bitterness, anger, and disgust.
Richard is deformed physically as he is ugly and he has a hump. He cries that nature as well as the whole world is unfair to him. He says that he can never feel the love of a woman because of his deformities, and overall, he wishes to express the fact that he does not belong in this world.
The point of Shakespeare inserting Richard’s self-analysis, in the beginning, is important, because, throughout the play, Richard plays his roles so well, from enemy to lover, that confusion is aroused about the true position of Richard of Gloucester. Very brutally, and at the same time elegantly, does Richard describe himself. This gives the audience insight into how Richard feels about himself. His honesty, while he tells about his abnormality, is remarkable, because rarely does he show that kind of honesty anywhere else in the play.
The final aspect of this soliloquy is the foreshadowing it provides. This is found in the conclusion of the monologue, as Richard prepares to set motion to his plans. After his brief description of himself, Richard begins to talk about what he is going to do to win the throne. Richard’s lines of self-portrayal are placed before his plans because Shakespeare would have presumably liked his audience to feel sorry for Richard, and see just causes in all the evil he does
“And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover…I am determined to prove a villain” (line 28, scene 1, act 1). This is his reasoning and justification for his numerous wrongdoings that are to follow. Very calmly and without feeling, except that of passion, does Richard pronounce how he is going to set his brothers against one another, and take the throne for himself. He plots to lure the king against his other brother by prophecies and dreams, which he is sure his brothers will take seriously. This part of the soliloquy proves important because it shows the audience what Richard is planning to do, and gives the audience a sense of anticipation and excitement.
The initial soliloquy by Richard is very important, as well as brilliant. Shakespeare can flawlessly reveal the character of Richard III to its full depth within the very first monologue. Also, the audience can be familiar with Richard’s character early on, which is rare in a complicated and sometimes confusing plot like this one. Shakespeare’s use of impeccable descriptions and a beautiful structure make this soliloquy perfect.