Shakespeare’s Richard III Examined

Machiavelli, the father of Modernity, seems to think that if human nature is malleable, then he can shape the common mentality into any needful tool to sanction his decisions. Truth is not what he seeks, but “truth” that the prince may put in practice and call truth. Machiavelli seems to be removing the pillar of Christianity and the Ancient Aristotelian virtues in order to create a new ruler, who acquires state without the limiting influence of Christian principles and virtues.

Machiavelli on appearances, “Let a prince then win and maintain the state — the means will always be judged honorable and will be praised by everyone; for the vulgar are always taken in by the appearance and the outcome of a thing, and in this world, there is no one but the vulgar.” It sounds harsh, but Machiavelli may be the devil’s preacher. He has projected the power to turn good men bad and bad men worse still.

From the very start, we see the evil designs of Richard’s pretentious actions in Henry VI, “I can add colors to the chameleon, change shapes with Proteus for advantages.” (Part III, III, ii, 191) The audience witnesses his crooked twists and turns as he murders anyone in his path to the throne, but deceiving the rest. Before the people, Buckingham promotes Richard’s feigned appearance as he vocally observes Richard holding the Bible, “Two props of virtue for a Christian prince, to stay him from the fall of vanity; and see, a book of prayer in his hand—true ornaments to know a holy man.” (3.7.98) The Bible, a sign of religious instruction and inspiration and a hand, the sign of good action and leadership. The meaning, of which, never enlightens the limited intellect of the people. Maybe they are duped, but their cheers are forced and weak, but that without an alternative, they acquiesced. Meanwhile, Richard is elevated by his appearances.
Richard uses subtle, notorious and murderous schemes to destroy nations, whether completely or merely reduce the minds of whole nations to ignorance. Richard III is Shakespeare’s attempt to display the evil intrigue. As Machiavelli might say of him, he has “always led a wicked life at every stage,” (Prince, VIII, 51) and had a Machiavellian virtue of mind that he rose through the ranks and has been “determined to become prince and to hold with violence and without obligation to others,” (51) as he kills all in his way. Continuing to the end of the play, one witnesses how Richard III “maintains [his kingdom] with many spirited and dangerous decisions” (52) And yet, Machiavelli would say that Richard did not follow his advice. He did his treacherousness with “brutal cruelty and inhumanity and his infinite wickednesses do not allow that he be among the most excellent men.” (52)

Apparently, Richard ought to have studied more faithfully his master teacher, Machiavelli, for he did not surround himself with barons, rather, he killed everyone who surrounded himself…except for Buckingham. (IV, 25) Additionally and according to Machiavelli, Richard would have best attempted to do all the injuries together as to appease his observers. What “taste[s] less…offend[s] less” (VIII, 55)


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