All the passions of the irascible rise from the passions of the concupiscible appetite and terminate in them. For instance, anger rises from sadness, and, having wrought vengeance, terminates in joy.
-- St. Thomas Aquinas
In Richard III, Shakespeare creates evil personified. The wicked protagonist conspires against kin, plots political takeovers, woos widows, sets assassins against children, and relishes each nefarious act. We watch Richard's bravado with wicked glee and delight in each boasting comment sent our direction. Once the bad guy becomes seductive, even amusing, in his blatant cruelty, the playwright must intervene to counterbalance his own brilliant wit. But how can this devil Richard be brought to his knees with the appropriate high style demanded by the script's momentum? Shakespeare leaves us the briefest of stage direction: "Alarum. Enter Richard and Richmond; they fight; Richard is slain" (V.v.). Once "the bloody dog is dead," Richmond prays for "smooth-faced peace" (V.v.2,33). So soon after Richard's tormented dream of accusing ghosts, this closing scene enforces a mood described by Robert Ornstein as "one of somber reflection, not of joyous celebration" (263). However, the interpretive liberties taken by three twentieth-century filmmakers establish elaborated messages about the horrors of bloodshed, the inevitability of power struggles, and the mythmaking of villains.
The 1982 BBC production takes the audience through a series of reactions: the bloodthirst for revenge, the prayer for redemption, and the vision of hellish destruction. We watch Richard circled by soldiers, baited like a bea...
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...thin this structure, his body will pull him downward with the mocking demands of its physical being" (35). Structurally, the gargoyles often function as gutter drains, spewing forth wastewater to protect the aesthetics of the church. Similarly, Richard epitomizes our hatreds and cruelties, reminding us of the evil inside; whether he cleanses our sins through his death depends on the director's approach to redemption and transference.
Eccles, Mark. "Richard III on Stage and Screen." Richard III. New York: Signet Classic, 1988. 265-78.
Hallett, Charles A. and Elaine S. Hallett. The Revenger's Madness. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1980. (Epigraph)
Ornstein, Richard. "Richard III." Richard III. New York: Signet Classic, 1988. 239-264.
Spivack, Charlotte. The Comedy of Evil on Shakespeare's Stage. London: Associated UPs, 1978.
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