Analysis of Richard Iii’s Winter of Discontent Speech

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The historical play Richard III by William Shakespeare focuses on the character Richard III, also known as The Duke of Gloucester, who becomes king. Richard III is a complex and famous villainous character, characterized as ambitious, bitter, ugly, and deformed. Throughout the play, he manipulates and murders to obtain the throne. The opening speech sets the tone for the play. In this speech, Richard declares, “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 metaphorical lines compare changing seasons; winter represents trouble while summer indicates contentment, symbolizing how Richard’s brother has resolved their family issues. The following two lines explain that troubles have been eradicated, represented by being buried deep within the ocean’s depths. Richard then proceeds to elaborate that weapons and armor have been put aside, replaced by the romantic melodies playing in the kingdom.

He states, “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 proceeds to describe the current peaceful state of the kingdom by saying, “and now, instead of mounted barbed steeds to frighten the souls of fearful adversaries, he capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber to the lascivious pleasing of a lute” (1. 1. 10-13).

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Richard begins by describing how the kingdom has transitioned from a state of war to one of peace. Now, men no longer need to fear violence and can instead enjoy relaxation, smiles, and sexual activities. However, in line 14, Richard starts to unveil his true character and the malicious actions he will carry out throughout the play. While everyone else is content with their dancing, sex, and leisure, Richard expresses his bitterness towards the situation.

Richard claims that he is not suited for playful entertainment and does not possess the qualities that make one attractive to a mirror. He believes that he is marked with roughness and lacks the grace to impress a seductive nymph. Richard also feels that he has been deprived of physical beauty by nature’s deceitfulness, making him deformed and incomplete. He was brought into the world prematurely, not fully formed, and his appearance is so odd that even dogs bark at his limping presence (1. 1. 14-23).

The lines demonstrate Richard’s bitterness regarding his deformity and ugliness. He feels deprived by nature and desires the love of a woman, but his cruel deformity prevents him from having that experience. Richard suggests that if not for his deformity and ugliness, he could have found contentment and avoided villainous behavior. He explicitly states, “Why I, in this weak piping time of peace, have no delight to pass the time away” (1. 1. 24-25), conveying that his disadvantage prevents him from enjoying peaceful pursuits like everyone else. As a result, Richard will seek his own means of passing the time and pursue villainy to claim the throne. The subsequent lines further expose Richard’s bitterness and reveal his ambitions.

Richard makes a commitment to embrace villainy and shares the initial stages of his plan. He declares, “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). Unable to change his physical deformity and unattractiveness, Richard directs his bitterness towards ambition and starts plotting to betray King Edward IV. Richard informs 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 unveils his scheme to manipulate Clarence and King Edward into turning against one another so that Edward will exile Clarence to the tower under the belief that Clarence will eventually murder him.

Richard will accomplish this by making a prophecy that it will happen. Richard explains that it will be successful because King Edward is just while Richard is deceitful, and Richard will exploit that to bring about the downfall of both King Edward and Clarence. It is unclear whether Richard would have revealed more about his plan at this early stage of the play, as he is interrupted by Clarence. Richard concludes his speech with the words, “Let me dwell on those thoughts in secret, here comes Clarence,” indicating that he should keep these malicious schemes to himself for now since Clarence has just arrived.

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