Richard III

Speculation on Richard III's Malignity

'Distortum vultum sequitur distortio morum.'

[Distortion of character follows a distorted countenance.] --Thomas More

Shakespeare's Richard III from the so-titled play shares the unsettling characteristic of being expressly "determined to prove a villain" (I.i.30) with other Shakespeare creations, most notably, Iago of Othello, and Aaron the Moor of Titus Andronicus, who, like Richard is quite obviously a physical outsider. Richard's statement, which Shakespeare includes in the first scene, carries an ambiguous, double-edged meaning. First, Richard is saying by this that he is resolved to "prove" himself "a villain." This interpretation requires that the reader imbue Richard with free will. The OED's definition of "resolving" as the act of "making up one's mind" shows why. If life is pre-ordained then a man can never make up his own mind, only destiny can. Being resolved is the subject's demonstration of free will. The second possible interpretation directly contradicts the first. That is, Richard might be saying that he is "determined" as by fate (or perhaps his author, Shakespeare) to "prove a villain." In this case, he has no...

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