The Invocation of Moral Codes in Richard III Essay

The Invocation of Moral Codes in Richard III Essay

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Shakespeare's Richard III is from the outset a very moral play. It opens with an introduction to the character of Richard in his "Now is the winter..." speech. In this we are first introduced to the idea of a man becoming evil from his own free will, excused (by him) on the grounds of his inability to fit in with the physical ideals of society, saying, "And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover... I am determined to prove a villain." Although we are not, at this point, given a definite indication of Shakespeare's opinion on this moral position, it is the opening for a discussion on what is morally acceptable, which is continued quite decisively throughout the play.

The character of Richard is the ideal tool for this purpose. He is apparently a heartless, unscrupulous, bloody "cockatrice." He kills without remorse (until his dream-like visitation from the ghosts of his victims), while using other peoples' crimes, and supposed crimes as weapons against them. Ornstein describes him as a character "who plays the moral teacher for quite a long time before he becomes the moral lesson of the play." This description is quite accurate, as Richard, in great and unblushing hypocritical fashion, does not hesitate to call others to account for their parts in the pasts atrocities while conveniently overlooking his own; he condemns Margaret's slaughter of Rutland, and commits the double murder of the princes in the tower. This two-faced morality enables us to see and condemn the wicked actions of the others in the play, but also highlights Richard's own villainy. We are not convinced by Richard's pious displays; we know his heart as well as we are able.

In a contrast to Richard's hypocrisy, we see some characters repent before their de...


... middle of paper ...


..., she continues to desire revenge, which can only be completed by Richard's death.

In conclusion, it is apparent that Richard III is quite a moral play. The characters in it are able to repent their own transgressions, and condemn those of others, and finally, retribution and judgement are always carried through. This text fully demonstrates a social morality that is, early on, ignored, but culminates in the fulfilment of a natural justice, and thereby endorses the moral codes it shows us.

Bibliography

Primary text: Shakespeare's Richard III

Secondary texts: A Kingdom for a Stage - Ornstein

Shakespeare's History Plays - Tillyard

Engendering a Nation - Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin

Stages of History - Phyllis Rackin

A Commentary on Shakespeare's "Richard III" - W.H. Clemen

Of Deformity - Francis Bacon

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