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Richard the Third: Abuse of Power; Abuse of Self

Richard the Third is self-abuse at it's finest.

Some quick random thoughts:

Power without self-awareness breeds self-destruction.

R3 doesn't TRULY believe at the beginning he's a villain. "[S]ince I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well-spoken days," he says, "I am determined to prove a villain..." He's set things up but nothing's in play yet. His actions haven't yet defined him.

Power comes first from power over one's own self, which is what you see at the beginning. To set up the machinations at the beginning he has to control his body--his face, primarily, to put forth the concerned expressions towards Clarence, towards Lady Anne--to appear the way he WANTS to appear and so deceive others.

And he realizes it's easy. Which always disappoints. The first time you lie to GET something and actually get it--there's a disappointment. "Where is the higher, greater good to stop me from this?"

Look how he seduces Anne in Act I, Scene 2, and then badmouths her once she leaves!

Having God, her conscience, and these bars
against me,
And I nothing to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!
Hath she forgot already that brave prince,
Edward, her lord, whom I, some three months since,

Each gain through deceit keeps him on the climb upward to greater power to--I believe--find an even greater "goodly" power to stop him.

Power is just the willingness to do what someone else won't.

Power seems to be one of those things people mistake as roads to redemption, or self-fulfillment, or whichever name you choose to give to just being good with yourself. R3's decision to be a villain makes him first subjugate his body and then all those around him to his will. But he is always looking for ANYBODY to stand up to him and set him straight.

The monologue that he offers in Act IV Scene 4 in response to Elizabeth has him talking how heaven and fortune and all good things should bar him from happiness.

As I intend to prosper and repent,
So thrive I in my dangerous attempt
Of hostile arms! myself myself confound!
Heaven and fortune bar me happy hours!
Day, yield me not thy light; nor, night, thy rest!
Be opposite all planets of good luck
To my proceedings...

Is he denying those things? No. He's screaming for them to please keep him unhappy. Why? He's a warmonger. He thrives on unbalance. Heaven and fortune deliberately remain out of his reach because he only know war.

A number of times he offers the honesty of his pain and his confusion, and then does something "naughty." He's attempting to get the "good" people to stand up to him and set him straight.

But nobody will stand up to him. Richard the Third is the devil challenging men and women both to give him the peace he seems to crave.

He mentions the way he's at odds with himself a few times. And those ghosts of his conscience near the end of the play should be seen springing from his own head and then beating the crap out of him. Or stay there in the background while he realizes that he doesn't love himself but completely hates himself--when he realizes that, based on his actions, he actually IS, now, finally! a villain.

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 deeds committed by myself!
I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.

But self-awareness takes courage. In the end even he doesn't have the courage to stand up to himself and so he does what any good warmonger does: he rallies his army by demonizing his foe. And even when his ally--his forced ally--turns away and refuses him aid he blindly charges ahead. What else can an unchecked villain do?

I watched a gentleman once hold a five-pound note tight across the back of his hand and then attempt to burn a hole through it with a cigarette. He did it in light of a challenge by someone he didn't like. He permanently scarred his hand. He subjected his body to his will at great personal cost.

And do you know the story that he told everyone of how he motivated himself to continue? He told the story of how the entire time he was burning himself that he would only stop when he decided he couldn't tell the "girl of his dreams" that he loved her.

He tried to tell all those around him that the scar was a mark of how much he loved this girl. But I saw. It was more a badge to remind him that he was capable of power and control. He wanted to establish that he was more powerful than the person who challenged him. And so he controlled his own responses and subjected himself to agony. He claims, still, it was all for a dream--in this case, a "dream of love" (but it could just as easily be a "dream of freedom"). But it wasn't. It isn't. It's a dream of vengeance. It's a dream of power. And he scarred himself without ever winning the actual "dream."

Richard the Third--like anybody vying for power who lacks self-awareness--for all intents and purposes, does the same goddammed thing, both to himself and to his country.

Love to you all.

The Ninth Circle
copyright 2004 by Michael A. Moran