Monthly Archives: October 2015

Master Manipulators: Richard and Iago

by Erin McGuinness (Circle 3)

In both Othello and The Tragedy of King Richard III, the audience is presented with very manipulative characters.Iago and Richard also differ in the way they go about manipulating people. Iago does it and feigns care and concern, hence he is referred to as “Honest Iago” by Othello for the better part of the play. He carefully tends to Othello to craft this identity that fools everyone. While Richard is a known deceiver, he does not spend a long time making himself out to be something that will work to his advantage. For example, Richard plays the part of the concerned dedicated brother when he is “informed” that his brother Clarence is going to be imprisoned in London Tower. Richard reacts by asking Clarence in I.i.49-51, /Belike his majesty hath some intent/ That you should be new-christened in the Tower./ But what’s the matter, Clarence? May I know?/ Here, Richard is feigning total concern for Clarence. To reassure his brother that he will be fine, he mentions that he is going to be “new-christened” in the Tower. Shakespeare utilizes a pun to have Richard’s final vow to Clarence. He states in I.i.115-116, /We;;, your imprisonment shall not be long. / I will deliver you or lie for you./ Richard puns off of the words deliver and lie here, as Clarence is probably thinking that Richard will “deliver” him from the Tower and “lie” his own life down to save his brother. In reality, Richard plans to “deliver” Clarence to the Tower with no chance of ever leaving, and “lie” to Clarence in order to get away with it.

Both Richard and Iago are so good at deceiving people because they know them so well. For example, Iago knows that Desdemona will not stop vouching for Cassio because it is in her caring and compassionate nature to do all that she can to help. Richard understands how Lady Anne works- how even in her rage and sadness over the loss of her husband, she could never kill another. This is why Richard offers her that option in I.ii.168-171, /Nay, do not pause, for I did kill King Henry;/ But ‘twas thy beauty that provoked me./Nay, now dispatch: ‘twas I that stabbed young Edward;/ But t’was thy heavenly face that set me on./  Not only does Richard admit guilt to murdering her husband but he then makes her believe that she is to blame. They end their exchange with Lady Anne recognizing how great it is to see Richard / become so penitent/ in I.ii.208. She completely plays into Richard’s plan and becomes just another pawn in his plot to get the crown.

Finally, the method of only keeping people around as long as they can help you before harming your purposes is one that Richard and Iago both observe. Roderigo spends his funds away by going to Cyprus to try and win over Desdemona, and in the end, Iago kills him for being a liability to revealing his scheme. Hastings is slated to be executed after Richard tests him to see where his loyalties are. I am looking forward to uncovering more similarities  between Richard III and other plays we have already covered as we finish our reading.

“Grannam” York

by Jordana Jampel (Circle 5)

With her hair about her ears, as the stage directions put it, Queen Elizabeth comes into the room in which The Duchess of York and Clarence’s son and daughter are debating Clarence’s death. Elizabeth tells them that King Edward just died, presumably from heartbreak over accidentally murdering Clarence, to which The Duchess of York responds with, “Ah, so much interest I have in your sorrow/ As I had title in thy noble husband./ I have be wept a worthy husband’s death,/ And lived with looking on his images./ But now two mirrors of his princely semblance/ Are cracked in pieces by malignant death, And I for comfort have but one false glass,/ That grieve me when I see my shame in him” (2.2.47-54). The Duchess’ heartfelt response sparks a not-so-family conversation about the deaths of Edward and Clarence, but the way the conversation pans out is, in my opinion, extremely un-family like. There is a lack of empathy between one another even though each person in the room lost a family member, and nonetheless, they were Royal brothers. Instead of condoling their grandmother,  Clarence’s two children turn to Elizabeth and tell her how they will not grieve with her because she hadn’t grieved with them when they found out their father died. The children’s lack of response to their grandmother greatly contrasts the way the Duchess responds to Elizabeth, “Ah, so much interest I have in your sorrow” (2.2.47).

As I continue to read this part of the play over again, (it might be one of my favorite pieces of literature I’ve read thus far) I wonder if this is an accurate depiction of the unemotional way the Royal family engaged with one another, or if Shakespeare, for the sake of drama, elaborates the animosity between the York family members. As Elizabeth and Clarence’s children continue to exclaim their individual woes about their lost loved ones without the care of the other brother’s mourners, The Duchess of York interrupts the three family members and in an eloquent, riddle like manner, expresses to them how she has lost not one loved ones, but two: “She for an Edward weep, and so do I;/ I for a Clarence weep, so doth not she./ These babes for Clarence weep, and so do I;/ I for Edward weep, so do not they./ Alas, you three on me, threefold distressed,/ Pour all your tears. I am your sorrow’s nurse,/ And I will pamper with lamentation” (2.2.79-88). Instead of trying to compete with Elizabeth and the children in who is the most upset, The Duchess urges bitter kin to confide in her, which serves as evidence of the strength that lies within her. The Duchess doesn’t reprimand or criticize Elizabeth and the children in the same manner they were speaking to each other, instead she soothes the high tension by acting as the only family-like family member of all the York family. With this in mind, maybe Shakespeare intended for a very specific familial subtext in this particular scene; Shakespeare seems to be emphasizing the importance of not necessarily familial relationships, but filial relationships. I am not too sure of the significance of filial relationships within the play, but I do know that The Duchess of York is the only York family member who actually seems to be a real, emotional person.

Shakespeare’s Rogues Gallery

by Scott Phillips (Circle 4)

The best part about being an avid reader of comic books to me was never the heroes; although some heroes are quite wonderful for not only their devotion to justice but also the underhanded ways in which many of them devote themselves to justice. The best part was always the villains, the bad guys, the ones who for whatever purpose, rhyme, reason, or explanation desire to purge the world of light and envelop it in darkness. Shakespeare, to me, was really a 16th/17th century version of a pulp writer, the ones who creates our favorite heroes and villains of the 20th century. Some of the same archetypes made their way from he pages of Shakespeare to the panels of comic book infamy. None stand out quite like the villains.

Of course, in Othello, we have Iago, everyone’s favorite sadistic rogue, that is a master of malicious manipulation. In Julius Caesar, there is Cassius, the cool and collected usurper of Caesar’s power as well as King Lear’s “base” offspring, Edmund. But no other villain, save possibly Iago, comes close to the kind of lechery brought upon by Shakespeare greatest villain, Richard Glouscester of the house of York.

This man (?) is what many would define as “pure evil”. And he exhibits this evil in so many sadistic and frightening ways. First of all, he manipulates literally everyone he comes in contact with for his own personal gain and to topple the establishment of his family’s infrastructure from the inside. He has his brother taken prisoner and eventually murdered at his own command, manipulates and seduces the widow of a man he brutally massacred on the battlefield and revels in the death of his other brother the king. The best example of his evil is in Act I.II, his initial confrontation with Lady Anne over the body of her fallen husband. From early in the scene, Lady Anne’s hatred for Richard is apparent but he never wavers from his underlying malice. He begins to praise her amid her anger. In reaction to her rendering him Henry’s “accursed effect” he responds: “Your beauty was the cause of that effect–Your beauty did haunt me in my sleep to undertake the death of all the world so I might live one hour in your sweet bosom (I.II, 121-124).” With this line he does what all good psychopaths are apt to do. He begins to tug upon her emotions, taking them and twisting them to his own favor. He was not in the wrong. A psychopath never is. It is the other person who is misinterpreting the situation. And in this case it is Anne. Richard’s love for her was so great that he could not help himself but slay the man who stood in the way of said love. He says this after he already tries to lie about the killing of Henry. He announces to her initially that it is Edward that kills Henry. But of course, when she sees through his lie, he uses another tactic: sympathy. All of this is in the realm of emotional manipulation. And by the end of the scene he entreats her to grant him another meeting with her to let him further explain his actions and “intentions”: “…repair to Crosby house, where…I will with all expedient duty see you…grant me this boon (203-206).” She then replies with a “With all my heart”. He successfully swayed her toward his side by getting her to entertain the notion. Richard III is like the Joker of the Shakespearean cannon. He is the ultimate villain who innately understands how to manipulate to get what he wants. He doesn’t just manipulate, he destroys people from the inside out, often without them even knowing. And then he basks in his glories.

Richard III’s Success

by Dana Weintraub (Circle 4)

We talked a little bit about how Richard III and Iago differ from one another in class. Iago is a well liked character in Othello. He has many allies, who believe that he is genuine and supportive of their causes, including Othello himself. Richard, on the other hand, is universally hated despite anything that the York family gained from Richard’s prowess in battle during the Wars of the Roses. Why, then, is Richard so successful in his ruthless plots to attain the throne? Shakespeare’s characters know that Richard is willing to do whatever it takes to become king and it appears that Richard is destined to have this coveted seat of power.

One of Richard’s successes is in the wooing of Lady Anne; he manages to convince her to marry him even though at the beginning of the scene she is clearly in favor of his death. Anne calls out her men and says that Richard is the devil, “What, do you tremble? Are you all afraid? Alas, I blame you not, for you are mortal, And mortal eyes cannot endure the devil.— Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell. Thou hadst but power over his mortal body; His soul thou canst not have. Therefore begone” (1.2.44-49). Anne says that Richard is not a mortal, that he cannot be completely killed because his spirit would live on even after his mortal body is gone. On top of his “devil-hood”, Anne even has proof of Richard’s murderous actions: “In thy foul throat thou liest. Queen Margaret saw Thy murd’rous falchion smoking in his blood” (1.2.99-102). Queen Margaret is aware of exactly what Richard has done, and Lady Anne does not seem to be wavering AT ALL from Richard’s begging. At this point in the scene, it appears as though Anne is very strong and aware of what sort of “devil” Richard is. However, when Richard pleads with Anne to kill him, she cannot do it. Richard continues: “Nay, do not pause, for I did kill King Henry— But ’twas thy beauty that provokèd me. Nay, now dispatch; ’twas I that stabbed young Edward— But ’twas thy heavenly face that set me on” (1.2.196-200). This is when Jane drops the sword that could have been used to slay Richard and she agrees to marry him. I do not think that Jane is tempted because she is suddenly in love with Richard. My belief is that Lady Anne is aware of how much Richard is willing to do to gain power. Marrying Richard is almost a sure plan to get her closer to the security of being queen.

Margarette is the character that most obviously predicts Richard’s rise to power. It seems as though Margaret is one of the “fates” from ancient Greek mythology; she speaks about Richard’s destiny in terms of who will be hurt and, quite obviously, points out that it will be by Richard’s hand. Margaret predicts that history is about to repeat itself: “Edward thy son, that now is Prince of Wales, For Edward our son, that was Prince of Wales, Die in his youth by like untimely violence. Thyself a queen, for me that was a queen, Outlive thy glory, like my wretched self.” (1.3.208-213). This foretelling of “past will be future” is equivalent to the predictions of the Soothsayer in Julius Caesar and the 3 Witches in Macbeth. The otherworldly-ness of Richard’s success is illuminated by Margret’s curses: “Why then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses! Though not by war, by surfeit die your king, As ours by murder to make him a king” (1.3.204-207). This line makes me think of Margret as a sort of ominous, supernatural weather-woman. She tells the characters that even though the war is over, the death, destruction and fight for the throne has not quite run its course. Richard is the perpetuator of the “dull clouds”.

Persuasion and Desperation: A Beautiful & Effective Dynamic

by Lauren Branigan (Circle 7)

In my reading of Richard III, I have found myself having a hard time understanding how the title character’s plans of deception and evil play unravel without a hitch. Absolutely astounded – and admittedly a bit impressed – by the masterful moves executed by Richard, I made the conscious decision to examine what tools he employs to accomplish these horrible deeds. After reviewing a few keys scenes in the first three acts of Richard III, I began to uncover a general pattern of circumstance and language which leads to Richard being successful in all of his malicious endeavors (the man has an excellent track record – I’ll give him that). Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that Richard is able to accomplish his ascent to the throne with relative ease due to his understanding of the efficacy of persuasion and pathos in times of desperation. By pinpointing the desperate desires and weaknesses of the other characters, Richard is able to deploy his arsenal of sticky persuasive sentences and actions to secure the most powerful position in the world.

Richard’s first victim to be confronted with the powerful persuasion is the freshly widowed Lady Anne. With the War of the Roses finally ended, Lady Anne is thrust into a position of extreme disadvantage: her husband, Edward Prince of Wales has been slain by Richard himself, the entire Lancaster house has fallen out of power, and she is rendered a woman without a home, position, or livelihood. Richard, knowing how vulnerable she is at present due to the circumstances, deems this an opportune moment to bombard the grieving and homeless woman with a proposal of marriage. When Richard approaches Lady Anne, she initially sticks to her guns and verbally demolishes Richard’s physical appearance, his personal character, and then finally slanders him as the murderer of her husband:

Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity,

For ‘tis thy presence that ex-hales this blood

From cold and empty veins where no blood dwells.

Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural,

Provokes this deluge supernatural.


Thou wast provoked by thy bloody mind,

That never dream’st on aught but butcheries.

Didst thou not kill this king? (1.2.57-61, 99-101)

Despite this bold and heartfelt commentary about Richard’s evil nature, Lady Anne is methodically seduced by Richard’s calculated words to the point where she agrees to take his hand in marriage. After admitting to the murder of her husband, Richard bizarrely tries to empathize with Lady Anne after she declares her husband has a worthy place in heaven: “Let him thank me that holp to send him thither, / For he was fitter for that place than earth.” (1.2.107-8). Expanding upon this call to female sentiment, Richard glosses over Lady Anne’s mourning by claiming her too beautiful to express such sorrow, and even appeases her desire to put her into a position of power over him:

Teach not thy lop such scorn, for it was made

For kissing, lady, not for such contempt.

If thy revengeful heart cannot forgive,

Lo, here I lend thee this sharp-pointed sword,

Which if thou please to hide in this true breast

And let the soul forth that adoreth thee,

I lay it naked to the deadly stroke

And humbly beg the death upon my knee.


But ‘twas thy heavenly face that set me on. (1.2.159-66, 170)

Here, Richard appeals to the typical woman’s emotions by proclaiming her beauty as overwhelming, but he also touches upon her inherently personal desire to pass judgment on him by offering her his own sword to do as she sees fit. Falling for Richard’s meticulously rendered pleas, Lady Anne begrudgingly agrees to take Richard’s hand in marriage. So convincing are his words, dripping with an earnest and compelling passion, Lady Anne quickly makes the decision that Richard is a viable spouse and she suppresses her true feelings for the man because she is truly seeking asylum from the way of life she lost.

Fortunately for Richard, Lady Anne isn’t the only character successfully seduced by circumstance, desperation, and Richard’s perfect speeches. Following her footsteps are the Lancaster cousins, Lord Buckingham, the young Prince of Wales, the Mayor of London, and finally the very people who need to be convinced in order for Richard to become king. It is truly amazing how smoothly Richard takes advantage of the disadvantaged and uses his understanding of powerful oration to accomplish his goals. In the following acts, I am curious to see if a character appears that is able to match Richard’s gift for persuasion and perhaps undermine him.

Richard III versus Iago, EVIL and its many faces…

by Kristin Ludwig (Circle 2)

In the opening scene of the play Richard III provides the audience with a speech that tells us a series of battles has ended and his family was victorious. As his family is celebrating he is lamenting with his “piss-poor” attitude. Instead of being preoccupied with the celebration he is too busy fretting over his appearance. He claims “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—/ Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,/ Have no delight to pass away the time,/ Unless to see my shadow in the sun/ And descant on mine own deformity” (18-27). Richard has a deformity this makes him feel like he is “unfinished” he also mentions that because of his deformity dogs won’t even obey him, let alone people. He admits he has no interest in this glorious celebration because the sun is shining and creating a shadow, reminding him he is different. He would rather it be winter and wartime where the focus is not on his appearance but his ability to fight, which he does well. During wartime Richard feels as though he fits in maybe even feels confident. Yet, the war has ended but this doesn’t stop Richard from creating a war amongst his family members to gain the throne and rule the kingdom.

On the contrary, in Othello the character of Iago does not start off by stating his motives nor does he tell us much about who he is. He tries to start some trouble by waking Desdamona’s father and tattling on her and Othello for having sex. We later learn that Iago is upset with Othello and that is why is trying to cause a rift between him and his wife. He claims “… I hate the Moor, / And it is thought abroad that ’twixt my sheets, /He’s done my office. I know not if ’t be true, / But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, / Will do as if for surety. He holds me well. / The better shall my purpose work on him. / Cassio’s a proper man. Let me see now, / To get his place and to plume up my will In double knavery. / How? How? Let’s see. /After some time, to abuse Othello’s ear/ That he is too familiar with his wife.” (323-333). It seems as though Iago’s motivation for causing problems is more external compared to the internal motivation of Richard III. Iago claims that he heard a rumor that Othello is sleeping with his wife. He also mentions he wants to gain Cassio’s position, yet he believes it should have been his in the first place. His plan is to convince Othello that Desdamona and Cassio are intimate and that Othello’s wife is unfaithful.

Both men are social climbers and believe they are untitled. In my opinion, it seems as though Iago’s motivation seems more justifiable than Richard’s. Richard just seems to be miserable for a reason that goes beyond not being in control of his kingdom. Both of these characters are interesting in the sense that they are evil and intend invoke physical and emotional harm on others. I can see Iago’s motivation more than I can see Richard’s. I don’t see Richard’s at all, quite frankly. Thus far I believe that Richard strives to be a villain because of his inner unhappiness rather than Iago who has a justifiable reason to be upset and seems to be acting on that reason.

Women in Shakespeare

by Danielle Lown (Circle 1)

From the very beginning of the semester A Midsummer Night’s Dream left readers wondering if women would ever not get the short end of the stick. We were introduced Hippolyta, an Amazon warrior who turned to love after Theseus won her in battle. We witnessed an epic love triangle between Hermia, Helena, Lysander, and Demetrius. Also, the fairies even were treated poorly as Oberon put Titania under a spell to take the boy she cared for away from her. The end of the play left me sure that women would never find true love and that they were not taken seriously all within Shakespeare’s plays.

In Twelfth Night we meet Viola, who remains a female character for only a minimal amount of time throughout the play. Viola decided to change her identity to a male servant named Cesario, which proves that once again women do not hold much power because even as a woman Viola was a woman of high class, yet she decided to change into a male of lower class to get anywhere in the world. We also met Olivia, a woman who was mourning the death of her brother, who had decided she wanted her suitor to be of a lower class just so she could still hold power. Olivia was left with the decision to pick her suitor, which was rare for a woman in Shakespeare’s time, but that was because Olivia had been faced with the death of not only her brother, but also her father.

Othello brings yet more sorrow and disrespect towards its women of the play. Desdemona was a woman who was true to her husband, yet the villain of the play, Iago, was able to convince her husband otherwise. As punishment, Othello murders his wife in their bed, a place where they should be conceiving children. Othello believing Iago’s lies and not thinking twice about it shows how disrespected women were during that time. These three plays left me with no hope for the female characters within any Shakespeare play.

Along comes Lady Anne… 

Just when I thought that it couldn’t get any worse for a female character within a Shakespeare play Lady Anne is thrust upon us. Lady Anne was persuaded by Richard Gloucester to marry him, even though he killed both her father and her husband. Richard is trying to marry Lady Anne to be closer to the heir of the throne. Lady Anne once tells Richard “Villain, though know’st no law of God nor man. / No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity” (1.2.70-71). Lady Anne is basically telling Richard that he is not a man, yet somehow Richard is able to convince Lady Anne to marry him. Richard hands Lady Anne is sword and tells her to kill him, which she refuses. He then says that he will do it himself, but this she too does not allow. Richard knew that Lady Anne would never allow this, and she falls right into their trap. Which in turn leads to them actually getting married.

Shakespeare portrayed Lady Anne as naïve and as an unrealistic female character. It is totally unrealistic for a woman to turn around and marry the man that murdered both her father and her husband. A woman would be in mourning, much like Olivia, for the deaths of two very important male figures in her life. Instead, Shakespeare created Lady Anne who falls right into the trap of Richard. This is just the smallest steppingstone of what Richard is willing to do to become king.

I can only hope that a female character comes along in a Shakespeare play that proves me wrong that not all his female characters are naïve and fall into any trap set in front of them by a male character, but so far, I don’t predict that this will happen.