William Shakespeare’s Richard III is a historical play that focuses on one of his most famous and complex villainous characters. Richard III or The Duke of Gloucester, who eventually becomes king, is ambitious, bitter, ugly and deformed. He manipulates and murders his way to the throne and sets the tone for the whole play with his very first speech, which is the opening of the play. Richard opens with the lines “now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York, and all the clouds that loured upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried” (1.
1. 1-4). These lines use the metaphor of changing seasons, winter signifying trouble and summer content, to show how his brother has laid to rest his family’s problems. The second two lines explain that the “clouds’ of trouble have been cleared and buried for good, signified by being buried deep within the ocean. Richard proceeds by explaining that arms and armor have been laid to rest and instead of battle cries, it is the romantic sounds of music that play in the kingdom.
He says, “Now our brows bound with victorious wreaths, our bruised arms hung up for monuments, our stern alarums changed to merry meetings, our dreadful marches to delightful measures. Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front” (1. 1. 5-9). He continues explaining the current atmosphere of a peaceful kingdom with the lines, “and now, instead of mounted barbed steeds to fright the souls of fearful adversaries, he capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber to the lascivious pleasing of a lute” (1. 1. 10-13).
In lines 1-13, Richard is simply explaining how the kingdom had gone from war to peace and no longer do men have to worry about violence but can now relax with smiles and sex instead. It is not until line 14 that Richard starts revealing his own character and the villainy he will perpetuate throughout the entire play. After Richard explains that peace has washed over the kingdom and everyone is content with their dancing, sex and leisure, he goes on to explain his own feelings on the matter, which reveals his bitterness.
Richard says to us, “but I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, nor made to court an amorous looking glass; I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty to strut before a wanton ambling nymph; I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion, cheated of feature by dissembling nature, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world scarce half made up, and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me as I halt by them” (1. 1. 14-23).
These lines reveal that Richard is bitter of his deformity and ugliness. He feels cheated by nature and would like nothing more than to experience the love of a woman but has even been robbed of that by his cruel deformity. Perhaps if not for his deformity and ugliness, Richard could have been content in peace and leisure, curtailing him from villainy. Richard says this quite blatantly with the lines that follow. He says that, “Why I, in this weak piping time of peace, have no delight to pass the time away” (1. 1. 24-25), which is basically saying that it is because he is cheated that he cannot enjoy the fruits of peace as everyone else does. He is at an unfair advantage and will find something else to do with his time. Since Richard cannot enjoy the same things as everyone else, he will find his own way to pass the time. He will commit to villainy and take the throne as his own. Richard’s bitterness becomes apparent through lines 14-27 but he reveals his ambitions throughout the rest of the speech.
Richard commits to becoming a villain and even reveals the start of his plan in doing so. He starts this process with, “and therefore, since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to become a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these days” (1. 1. 28-31). Since Richard cannot do anything about his deformity and ugliness he turns his bitterness to ambition and lays the groundwork for his plan to betray King Edward IV. Richard tells the audience, “plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, by drunken prophecies, libels and dreams, to set my brother Clarence and the King in deadly hate against the other; and if King Edward be as true and just as I am subtle, false, and treacherous, this day should Clarence closely be mewed up, about a prophecy, which says that G OF Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be” (1. 1. 32-40). In these lines, Richard reveals his plan that he will turn Clarence and King Edward against each other so Edward will banish Clarence to the tower because he believes Clarence will be his murderer.
Richard will do this through declaring a prophecy that this will be so. Richard explains that this will work because King Edward is as just as Richard is treacherous and Richard will use that against King Edward to cause his and Clarence’s demise. It is not known whether the character Richard would have revealed more about his plan this early in the play because he is interrupted by Clarence. Richard ends the speech with the lines, “dive thoughts down to my soul, here Clarence comes” (1. 1. 41), which basically means that he better keep these villainous plots to himself for now because Clarence had just appeared.
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Analysis of Richard Iii’s Winter of Discontent Speech. (2016, Sep 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/analysis-of-richard-iiis-winter-of-discontent-speech/