Richard III Essay, Research Paper
The Cold, Fearful Soliloquy of a Condemned King
The night before battle at Bosworth field, Richard’s sleep is disturbed by the ghosts of those he murdered in his scheme to acquire and retain the kingship. The ghosts haunt Richard with prophesies of the justice due him. Startled from sleep, Richard’s shaken soliloquy is delivered fearfully and honestly, testifying his gradation of sins and foreshadowing his inevitable demise.
While dreaming, Richard is reminded of the evil deeds he has performed by the ghosts of his victims. As Richard sleeps his conscience is awake for the first time in the play. The king’s waking soliloquy in Act V, Scene 3 is the strongest example of Richard’s troubling guilt, failing confidence, and fear of moral retribution. The ambitious Richard’s resolve is shaken by the realization that his evil deeds have assigned him a fate that wrests away control. The kings reactions to the ghosts are confused and contradicting; they are the desperate lamentations of a condemned man.
In Act IV, Scene 4 the first mention of Richard’s prophetic dreams is made by Lady Anne to Queen Elizabeth, “For never yet one hour in his bed / Did I enjoy the golden dew of sleep, / But with his timorous dreams was still awakened.”(ll. 82-84). Anne tells of Richard’s ongoing nightmares. The dreams are a sign of a guilty conscience upon a decidedly, “subtle, false, and treacherous”villain (I.i.37). Awake, Richard’s evil and ambition deny any intrusion of conscience. Asleep, Richard is at his least villainous. With evil in remission, moral consequences
are no longer eclipsed. Imminent divine punishment plagues the troubled mind of the king. Anne does not, “enjoy the golden dew of sleep,”nor does Richard. Richard awakes to find that, “Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.”(V.iii.181). Richard’s, “golden dew,”is poisoned by guilt.
Richard’s trembling in Act 5, Scene 3, is his only display of fear throughout the play. Once able to ignore moral sense with the business of evil deeds, Richard is awake and suffers the conscience he no longer can ignore. He describes, “My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, / And every tongue brings in a several tale, / And every tale condemns me for a villain.”(ll. 193-95) Richard no longer delights in his villainy; his pitiless guilt accompanies the culmination of sins that “throng to the bar”(199) and threaten, “vengeance on the head of Richard.”(206)
Richard’s past actions had set a course for fate beyond Richard’s control. Once the process had begun, Richard could do little to stop what was seemingly to his favor anyway. During Richard’s plotting of the young princes’ murders, he defends the necessity of his actions, “But I am in / So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin.”(IV.ii.63-64). For Richard, there’s no going back. Each sin has served to introduce a more dire sin necessary to Richard’s cause. The murderous sins of Richard have been, “all used in each degree”(V.iii.198). Richard’s schemes have become more diabolical as they become less avoidable to insure Richard’s security. In his exploits to become king, Richard unwittingly cast himself into a downward spiral of increasing sin, ending ultimately with Richard’s own destruction at the center.
Richard’s loss of control is also evidenced by his suspicions of his supporters. Injured in doubt, Richard with Ratcliffe searches the camp for dissenters in lines 220-222 of Act V, Scene 3. Although Richmond is outnumbered, Richard is unsure of himself as the battle looms near. Richard must reaffirm his confidence after his conscience revealed shadows that, “struck more terror to the soul of Richard / Than can the substance of ten thousand soldiers”(V.iii.219). Justice for Richard is the overwhelming force with which he can not cope; Richmond is the Agent by which this toll is exacted.
Richard’s soliloquy is an ironically lends truth to lies told seeking Queen Elizabeth’s favor. Prophetically, Richard begs her sympathy, “Heaven and fortune bar me happy hours! / Day, yield me not thy light, nor, night thy rest!”(IV.iv.401). In his unconvincing appeal to Elizabeth, Richard describes a suffering of his own creation that he truly will experience.
Asleep at night Richard is tortured with guilty conscience. By day, the sky lours upon him as he prepares for battle with Richmond. The sun’s refusal to shine on this “Sun of York”(I.I.2) increases the darkness for Richard. Soon, there will be, “vengeance on the head of Richard.”(V.iii.206)