Richard III: The Tragedy of Isolation

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The real tragedy of Richard III lies in the progressive isolation of its protagonist. From the very opening of the play when Richard III enters "solus", the protagonist's isolation is made clear. Richard's isolation progresses as he separates himself from the other characters and breaks the natural bonds between Man and nature through his efforts to gain power.

The first scene of the play begins with a soliloquy, which emphasizes Richard's physical isolation as he appears alone as he speaks to the audience. This idea of physical isolation is heightened by his references to his deformity, such as "rudely stamp'd...Cheated of feature by Dissembling Nature, deformed, unfinished. This deformity would be an outward indication to the audience of the disharmony from Nature and viciousness of his spirit. As he hates "the idle pleasures of these days" and speaks of his plots to set one brother against another, Richard seems socially apart from the figures around him, and perhaps regarded as an outsider or ostracized because of his deformity. His separation from is family is emphasized when he says "Dive, thought's down to my soul" when he sees his brother approaching. He is unable to share his thought with his own family as he is plotting against them. Thus, we are given hints of his physical, social and spiritual isolation which is developed throughout the play. But despite these hints, he still refers to himself as part of the House of York, shown in the repeated use of "Our".

The concept of Richard's physical isolation is reinforced in his dealings with Anne in Act I scene ii. She calls him "thou lump of foul deformity" and "fouler toad" during their exchange. Despite these insults, she still makes time to talk to Richar...

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...of their deaths.

The most poignant part of the play occurs in seeing the young princes talk happily and innocently to their uncle and "Lord Protector". York says "I shall not sleep quiet in the Tower", and we pity them, as they are young and afraid, and are forced to go there because, as the Prince says, "My Lord Protector needs will have it so". The children had appeared happy, and the Prince had shown wit and intelligence in his conversation with his uncle. This appears to be the greatest tragic loss in the play, which is heightened because of their youth and innocence.

The tragedy of the protagonist is felt because of his attractiveness as a villain and as someone who is not constrained by the rules of society. However, the audience never forgets that he is wicked and therefore we cannot feel a sense of great loss of potential or waste in his death.
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