Richard III tracks Richard's bloodthirsty ascent to power. The play is almost all action – it contains less meditation and soliloquy than many of Shakespeare's plays – and nearly every action is orchestrated by Richard to facilitate his own rise to the crown. The play begins right after King Henry VI's death vacates the throne and ends as soon as Richard is slain by Richmond at the end of Act V, its dramatic shape framing a zoomed-in view of Richard's violent power grab. The peacetime England presided over by King Edward at the start of the play and Richmond at the end is a world apart and can't coexist with the murderous, terrified atmosphere that Richard thrives in. Indeed, Richard himself admits at the play's start that he has no place in peacetime England: "Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, have no delight to pass away the time." Indeed, in creating Richard, Shakespeare creates an image of unadulterated greed for personal power, a true Machiavellian leader who lacks all moral and emotional compunction. His own advancement is the only thing he pays attention to and, much to the other characters' chagrin, Richard remains deaf to people's grief and pleas for mercy no matter the circumstances. Unfazed by the fact that he himself is to blame for Lady Anne's mourning (since he killed her husband and father-in-law), Richard woos the grief-stricken lady just to make himself feel powerful. When his own mother, the Duchess of York, tries desperately to articulate her anger to him, he ignores her. Likewise, Richard spurns his loyal friend Buckingham's entirely justified request for the reward Richard himself has promised. He is numb even to the enraged misery of Queen Elizabeth, whose two sons Richard has slain, and has the nerve to ask the devastated mother for her daughter's hand in marriage.
Yet while most of the play's action focuses on Richard's ruthless self-empowerment, it opens with a glimpse into Richard's profound disempowerment, which, though it doesn't excuse any of Richard's brutality, offers psychological insight into his behavior. In Act 1 scene 1, Richard walks into the play with hideous features and a severe hunchback, the result of a premature birth. Alone on stage, all attention is focused on Richard's body whose deformity and weakness Shakespeare probably exaggerated for dramatic effect (the historical Richard suffered from scoliosis but had no hunchback). Those around him frolic and make love in celebration of peacetime, Richard says, but he, "curtailed of this fair proportion, cheated of feature by dissembling nature, deformed, unfinished…so lamely and unfashionable," cannot partake of their joy. "And therefore," he adds, "since I cannot prove a lover…I am determined to prove a villain." Implying that Richard's physical disempowerment is the root cause of his blood-thirst for political empowerment presents Richard's power grab as compensatory, an effort to outweigh the disadvantages he was born with. From this perspective, Richard is still a villain and his violence is still horrifically unjustified, but it is, however perversely, more understandable.
Power Quotes in Richard III
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun,
And descant on mine own deformity;
And therefore,--since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,--
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams…
Ay me, I see the ruin of my house!
The tiger now hath seiz'd the gentle hind;
Insulting tyranny begins to jet
Upon the innocent and aweless throne.
Welcome, destruction, blood, and massacre!
I see, as in a map, the end of all.
Your are too senseless-obstinate, my lord,
Too ceremonious and traditional.
Weigh it but with the grossness of this age,
You break not sanctuary in seizing him.
The benefit thereof is always granted
To those whose dealings have deserv'd the place
And those who have the wit to claim the place.
The Prince hath neither claim'd it nor deserv'd it,
And therefore, in mine opinion, cannot have it.
Then, taking him from thence that is not there,
You break no privilege nor charter there.
Tut, I can counterfeit the deep tragedian;
Speak and look back, and pry on every side,
Tremble and start at wagging of a straw,
Intending deep suspicion. Ghastly looks
Are at my service, like enforced smiles;
And both are ready in their offices
At any time to grace my strategems.
What! think you we are Turks or Infidels?
Or that we would, against the form of law,
Proceed thus rashly in the villain's death
But that the extreme peril of the case,
The peace of England and our person's safety,
Enforc'd us to this execution?
Who is so gross
That cannot see this palpable device?
Yet who's so bold but says he sees it not?
Bad is the world; and all will come to nought,
When such ill dealing must be seen in thought.
No, so God help me, they spake not a word;
But, like dumb statues or breathing stones,
Star'd each on other, and look'd deadly pale.
Which when I saw, I reprehended them,
And ask'd the mayor what meant this willful silence.
I must be married to my brother's daughter,
Or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass.
Murder her brothers, and then marry her!
Uncertain way of gain! But I am in
So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin:
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.
The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar,
That spoil'd your summer fields and fruitful vines,
Swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough
In your embowelled bosoms—this foul swine
Is now even in the centre of this isle
What do I fear? Myself? There's none else by.
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No-yes, I am.
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why-
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself!
Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O, no! Alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deed committed by myself!
I am a villain; yet I lie, I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter.
And then, as we have ta'en the sacrament,
We will unite the white rose and the red:
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown'd upon their enmity!
What traitor hears me, and says not amen?
England hath long been mad, and scarr'd herself