King Richard Iii & Looking for Richard

Through Shakespeare’s
Anne: No beast so fierce but knows some of pity.
Richard: But I know none, and therefore am no beast.
Anne: O wonderful, when devils tell the truth!

In Shakespeare’s presentation of the character of Richard III, we can clearly identify “beastly, savage, [and] devilish” qualities and characteristics. Indeed, Richard can be described as an amalgam of both the Vice and the Machiavelli figures, traditional dramatic representations of evil and monstrosity. However, some critics disagree, instead arguing that Shakespeare introduces a psychological dimension to Richard’s character, making him sharply human rather than an allegorical Devil-Vice figure or typical Machiavelli.

Upon studying and analysing Richard’s character qualities, it becomes obvious that he holds many characteristics in common with “the formal Vice, Iniquity”, a character in medieval morality plays. In these morality plays, the Vice functioned primarily as the “hell-govern’d” devil figure, an embodiment of pure evil and the ruthless opponent of God. Clearly, Richard “hath ever been God’s enemy”, in that he directly challenges and murders England’s heirs, the inheritors of the divine right of kings, who held the throne with the permission and support of God. However, although offering constant opposition to God, the Vice character was subject to God’s will, and was always ultimately punished. Similarly, as the “foul defacer of God’s handiwork”, Richard receives his deserved punishment at the hands of Richmond, the conventionally good character who fights and overcomes Richard “in God’s name.”

In constructing the character of Richard, Shakespeare also draws upon many theatrically effective elements of the Vice tradition. Firstly, Richard’s grotesque appearance is a quality shared by Vice figures. Indeed, his “deform’d, unfinish’d” body, withered arm, limp and hunched back symbolise the fact that “sin, death and hell have set their marks on him”, and...