The Power and Paranoia of the People

Just from reading the first two acts of the play, it’s already easy to see just how much power the normal people/citizens in Julius Caesar can potentially have. Within the first scene of the play, small hints are given in the form of Flavius and Murellus scolding “mechanicals” and their lack of proper work attire simply because Caesar has returned from the successful defeat of Pompey, which Flavius is disgusted by. “And do you now put on your best attire? And do you now cull out a holiday? And do you now strew flowers in his way that comes in triumph of Pompey’s blood” (1.1 46-50)? In Flavius’ eyes, this is only made worse of an insult when it is discovered that Caesar’s supporters have been adorning his statues with imperial crowns, implying that they want him as a monarch, to which Flavius is quick to tell Murellus, “Disrobe the images if you do find them decked with ceremonies” (1.1 63-64).

No one is more concerned about the people of Rome than Cassius who tries to understand the logic behind why they would be so quick to create an exalted and god like figure in Caesar when he is just an ordinary man that required the help of another, being Cassius himself.  “But ere we could arrive the point proposed, Caesar cried “Help me, Cassius, or I sink!” Ay, as Aeneas our great ancestor did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder the old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber did I tried Caesar (1.2. 112-127). Cassius also laments or at least points out the fact that despite what he did for Caesar, Caesar is the one to rise up to obtain power, despite how he was the one saved. “And this man is now become a god, and Cassius is a wretched creature, and must bend his body if Caesar carelessly but nod on him (1.2. 117-120). While not directly aimed at the people of Rome, it is important to note that Cassius is attempting to understand how they could let someone who needed to be rescued to be the one who will rule them all.

Most scathing and important of all of Cassius’ logic directed towards the people of Rome comes in his convincing of Casca to join his cause against Caesar when he says “Poor man, I know he would not be a wolf but that he sees the Romans are but sheep. He were no lion, were not Romans hinds. Those that with haste will make a mighty fire begin it with weak straws. What trash is Rome. What rubbish, and what offal, when it serves for the base matter to illuminate so a vile a thing as Caesar” (1.3. 103-110). Compare this sort of mentality seen with Richard III where a want to be ruler has to actively win the people over who are to some degree do not fully trust Richard and do not afford him much power to a sheep like mentality that Cassius describes leaves the people clamoring for a strong leader that they will follow without question and even if Caesar did not start out a tyrant with those types of factors around him, it would only be a matter of time.

Richard’s Ironic Sense of Evil

While I risk sounding redundant after having talked about it a lot as is, I still want to bring up Richard’s opening monologue, or at least the specific language that Richard and by extension, Shakespeare, utilities. Often under quoted, many know that Richard’s first lines begin with “Now is the winter of our discontent” with many more forgetting that Richard goes on to say “Made glorious summer by this son of York (1.1 1-2). From these opening lines, we can already see that there is some type of danger or sense of ominous intent hanging over Richard’s family, or so that he claims, and he continues to claim that he is the only one who can fix it. Despite this, Richard’s reliability comes into question when he mentions that his family now lives in a time a peace after the War of the Roses where Our bruisèd arms hung up for monuments, Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings, Our dreadful marches to delightful measures (1.1 6-9). While the word choice Richard chooses here is not the most enthusiastic or nostalgic, the way he describes when compared to what comes after makes him seem that much more bitter towards how life currently is and leaves a desire for times gone by. Ultimately, Richard’s monologue takes a turn and begins to lean on a more villainous route when he makes mention of himself in this new life. “But I, that am not shaped for sporative tricks Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass” (1.1 14-15).

After his self-admitting of not being suited for this life, Richard lists a rather extensive set of qualities about himself that in his way of thinking, help to justify why he is not suited for the new comfortable life full of romanticism, making numerous remarks of his deformity and being cheated by nature. Finally, near the end, Richard makes the declaration, “And therefore since I cannot prove a love to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days (1.1 28-30). With this declaration comes the brilliance in Richard’s speech. Initially he appears to want to bring glory back to his family name and house but the way he believes that can be done is to play the role of an evil man to bring death and war back into a life that just finished a bloody civil war. Richard fully admits that he will be the villain, but the ultimate irony is that a reader can see Richard as a tragic figure who believes that the only way to save those he cares about is to sacrifice himself to darkness so that others may still live in the light. Normally this would be ruined by the fact that Richard truly is an evil bastard that only cares about himself and the potential power and opportunity that he can take for himself, it is still engaging and fun to read because while many fully acknowledge Richard’s black heart, they still managed to be swayed by his intelligent choices in words. Thus, making him more fun to read.

Curses as Prophesies in Richard III

One thing that really interested me in the first act was the usage of curses by the women, and the ironic and prophetic nature that they take on as the play moves forward. The first of these is spoken by Lady Anne in the opening of 1.2. At first, she begins just lamenting King Henry and Prince Edward, but at line 14, she switches her shift to the murderer, Richard. She rains curses upon the hand, blood, and heart that killed King Henry, and likens him to a “creeping venomed thing.” From lines 21-25 she curses any child that he might have to be ‘abortive’ and ‘untimely brought’ into the world. While the historical Richard and Anne’s child, Edward, does not appear in the play, what little historical information exists on him implies that he was often sick, and died at barely 10 years old. Anne then curses any wife that Richard might take and says “let her be made / more miserable by the death of him / than I am made by my young lord and thee.” In 4.1, she misremembers this as “more miserable made by the life of thee / than thou hast made me by my dear lord’s death.” Anne realizes that she has inadvertently cursed herself to this misery. This is the last we see of her. In the next scene we hear Richard ask Stanely to create a rumour that Anne is “grievous sick,” and at 4.3.39 Richard says “Anne, my wife, hath bid this world goodnight.” So Anne’s curse becomes a sort of prophecy, one that will only be fully fulfilled after her own death. Margaret’s curses from 1.3 also become like prophetic speeches. She wishes a young death upon the current Prince Edward as retribution for her own lost Edward (1.3.196-197). She curses Elizabeth to ‘outlive her glory,’ or position as queen, and that she should die ‘neither mother, wife, nor England’s queen” (1.3.200-206). Her curse finishes with a long section on Richard. She heaps on him that he should live to perform the worst of his sins, and doubt the loyalty of his followers, before he suffers the “plague” that heaven should have in store for him (1.3.213-230). All of these curses are later fulfilled, making Margret feel less like someone just hanging about the current royal family, and more like a Cassandra-figure. Handing out warnings that none listen to, all of which should have been heeded.  

Richard III’s Success

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”.

Political Dimensions in Richard III

Picking a theme or point to analyze in Shakespeare’s Richard III is, reasonably, difficult. As far as this course is concerned, Richard III offers Shakespeare’s most heinous villian yet (it seems that each antagonizing figure has come into our readings in order of their rising maliciousness: thinking Malvolio, Iago, and now Richard III), and in that there’s already an intricate historical context associated with the families, as well as the voices of the female characters. So, there’s a lot here. For this post, however, it seems best to rein in on the female characters, and how their involvement in the play contributes a significant depth in understanding how the plays politics affect more than just those involved in the politically driven actions.

The male characters in Richard III serve as the plot’s primary points of development. Richard manipulates, or ends, the lives of the other men around him in order to receive false inheritance of the crown. The death of Clarence and the death of Edward, and the subject of the crown are altogether politically driven. Now, Richard is arguably acting out of pure desire for the crown, making an emotional perspective in his pursuit viably the driving force. However, his motives are still forced from his political position and ineptitude: he’s last in line for the crown.

With only this characteristic of the political undercurrents that dictate the plays, and Richards, actions, Richard III would be notably one sided. It would also emphasize the period’s cultural dismissal of women’s involvement in the political system. However, Shakespeare offers the perspectives of the play’s important female characters (historically and contextually): Queen Elizabeth, Queen Margaret, and even lady Ann. Looking specifically at 2.2, where Queen Elizabeth and the duchess of York, and even the children in the scene, lament the deaths of Edward and Clarence. Their combined lamentation is important not only as a tool for Shakespeare to move the plot, or a necessity to please any expectation of human grieving the audience might have, but important for the emotional depth it consequently adds to the play. The political dealings of the male characters are characteristically flat, driven by one motive (Richards political drive for the crown.) The repercussions of the actions are only understood outside of the political sphere as Shakespeare offers the moment of lamentation in 2.2, and further dialogue, as window scenes. This adds a depth to the plot that transforms it from being solely political, and male oriented.

Furthermore, the way in which Shakespeare uses the women in Richard III decisively as window characters highlights the effects of the play’s politics, doesn’t only add dimension dramatically. This also develops, though fictionalized, a sense of how the women (as well as other bystanders to the madness) may have been affected historically, and also how the emotional effects of historical rents ought to be considered. Shakespeare obviously takes liberty in portraying the historical figures he’s writing the historic plays around, but with that liberty an opportunity to connect with history.

Shakespeare’s Rogues Gallery

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.

Othello And Iago: Masters of Persuasion

In Othello, Shakespeare has concocted a story, centered around two incredible personalities in Othello and Iago. Unlike many other plays written by the Bard, Othello’s and Iago’s statuses are evenly matched. Both characters are the leads of the play, in their own right. Usually, even though the antagonist is incredibly important, he or she is usually given less stage time than the lead, especially a title character like Hamlet or Macbeth. But here, we see that there are really two main characters: both protagonist and antagonist. Both characters are equally as alluring, manipulative and persuasive in their own rights. But the difference between Iago’s persuasion and Othello’s persuasion is worth exploring and contrasting by analyzing each of their speeches in Act I.III.

Othello, upon returning to Venice, is brought to speak to the senate regarding his elopement with Brabanzio’s daughter, Desdemona. He then proceeds to deliver a speech for the ages regarding both love and war. He is very honest and forward in his approach in this speech. He uses experience to justify his involvement withDesdemona. He first explains that “little of this great world can I speak more than pertains to feats of broils and battle (I.III, 86-87).” He is explaining in this section that he does not speak the language of love, per se, but he can still feel it. And he even speaks of his love for Desdemona in military terms: “I won his daughter (I.III, 94).” That statement came after his exclamation tha he will not try to soften his speech with any tales of love-making and wooing. This is a very effective way to begin a speech. Othello, rather than Iago, relies on the power of his voice and experience to gain favor with the senate. Whereas Iago, is quite a different entity. Othello then proceeds to tell the senate of how Desdemona listened to his many tales of war and distress. He manipulates them in a much different and less malicious way than Iago, but he still plays to the emotional sentiments of the senate by using Desdemona’s impact on him to his advantage. He speaks of “slavery”, “cannibals”, and “anthropophagi” leading into an explanation of the joy that Desdemona brought him: “She gave me for my pains a world of kisses (I.III, 158).” He is baiting the senate to sway with him. And through the use of the antitheses of war and love, spoken in such an honest, truthful, and rhetorical way, he is able to manipulate them in his favor. Iago, however, when speaking to the pathetic Roderigo, later in the scene, uses different tactics of manipulation to achieve his ends.

Roderigo is the definition of down on his luck when Iago finds him and  begins to use him for his own amusement and self-empowerment. Distraught over Desdemona’s love for Othello, Roderigo, no longer wants to live. Iago being the cunning, sadistic lecher that he is, decides, in order to stir up controversy, to empower Roderigo. He tells him that he is at his service and to stop letting his “raging motions” get the best of him. He can prove he is as great as Othello. He just has to invest. That is where “put money in thy purse” becomes essential. Desdemona, Iago insists, will see her error in marrying Othello. So, when that time comes, Roderigo had better have money enough to woo Desdemona a different way. The interesting thing about this manipulation by Iago is that, ultimately, he cares very little about Roderigo, or anyone else, for that matter. It really doesn’t matter to him if Roderigo lives or dies. But Iago decides it would be more profitable to have him live a but longer and see how he might be able to play a part in the inevitable troubles of the moor. This is the classic, villainous form of persuasion. However, Iago is such an enormous character, that comparing him and his many nuances to classic villains is almost a disservice to this monster. But either way, Iago and Othello are both very skilled manipulators and orators, just for very different causes.

 

Richard’s Joys of Ironic Evil

While I risk sounding redundant after having talked about it in class today, I still want to bring up Richard’s opening monologue, or at least the specific language that Richard and by extension, Shakespeare, utilities. Often under quoted, many know that Richard’s first lines begin with “Now is the winter of our discontent” with many more forgetting that Richard goes on to say “Made glorious summer by this son of York (1.1 1-2). From these opening lines, we can already see that there is some type of danger or sense of ominous intent hanging over Richard’s family, or so that he claims, and he continues to claim that he is the only one who can fix it. Despite this, Richard’s reliability comes into question when he mentions that his family now lives in a time a peace after the War of the Roses where Our bruisèd arms hung up for monuments, Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings, Our dreadful marches to delightful measures (1.1 6-9). While the word choice Richard chooses here is not the most enthusiastic or nostalgic, the way he describes when compared to what comes after makes him seem that much more bitter towards how life currently is and leaves a desire for times gone by. Ultimately, Richard’s monologue takes a turn and begins to lean on a more villainous route when he makes mention of himself in this new life. “But I, that am not shaped for sporative tricks Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass” (1.1 14-15).

After his self-admitting of not being suited for this life, Richard lists a rather extensive set of qualities about himself that in his way of thinking, help to justify why he is not suited for the new comfortable life full of romanticism, making numerous remarks of his deformity and being cheated by nature. Finally, near the end, Richard makes the declaration, “And therefore since I cannot prove a love to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days (1.1 28-30). With this declaration comes the brilliance in Richard’s speech. Initially he appears to want to bring glory back to his family name and house but the way he believes that can be done is to play the role of an evil man to bring death and war back into a life that just finished a bloody civil war. Richard fully admits that he will be the villain, but the ultimate irony is that a reader can see Richard as a tragic figure who believes that the only way to save those he cares about is to sacrifice himself to darkness so that others may still live in the light. Normally this would be ruined by the fact that Richard truly is an evil bastard that only cares about himself and the potential power and opportunity that he can take for himself, it is still engaging and fun to read because while many fully acknowledge Richard’s black heart, they still managed to be swayed by his intelligent choices in words. Thus, making him more fun to read.

Iago’s Act I Scene iii Soliloquy

Iago’s soliloquy at the end of 1.3 is one of the most important moments in the show for Iago’s character as well as the overall plot. It is one of the few moments where we are seeing Iago as he is, with no other characters for him to have to act for. Through this monologue we find out that he has no relationships in which he’s not playing a part: for Othello he is an honest and loyal officer, for Roderigo he is a blunt, but caring, confidant, and for his wife he is the husband, who does not suspect infidelity.  Shakespeare foreshadows the first line of this soliloquy in the very beginning of the play. Roderigo’s opening lines, “thou, Iago, who hast had my purse / as if the strings were thine” preludes Iago’s line “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.” However, Iago takes the idea further than Roderigo. Roderigo still considers Iago a friend and a confidant of his feelings toward Desdemona and Othello, despite Iago using him for his money; however, Iago barely sees him as a person, calling him his “fool” and then his “purse.” Not only is Iago using him for his money, but he claims a possession of him, is constantly manipulating him, and say that if he genuinely spent time with Roderigo it would ‘profane’ his intellect (1.3.366). Iago then turns his focus to Othello. It’s a drastic, and dramatic, changed. His first words on Othello out of the sight of others are “I hate the Moor.” There can be no questions as to his feelings from here on out (1.3.368). He then says there are rumours that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia. He has no proof but says “I know not if’t be true / But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, / Will do for surety” (1.3.370-373). This is where his plan to destroy both Othello and Cassio comes from. At 377 we see the conception of the idea, “After some time to abuse Othello’s ears / that he is too familiar with his wife.” Again at line 384, Othello is compared to an animal, this time an ass because of this “open nature.” Iago shows himself to the audience in this soliloquy, he both tells us his motivations and sets up the plot of the rest of the show based on the decisions made within it.

Irony and Frenemies

In Shakespeare’s Othello the most interesting and dubious character is Iago. A master of manipulation, Iago is able to subtly convince each character to do exactly what he intends them to do. Iago is the driving force of the course of action in Othello; Shakespeare seems to have given this scheming character an almost devil-like presence in the play by giving him the uncanny ability to obtain trust and trick people into doing his bidding. The scene in which Iago’s treachery is most prevalent is when he convinces Othello that Desdemona is not a faithful wife; “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy./ It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss/ Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger./ But O, what damned minutes tells he o’er/ Who dotes yet doubts, suspects yet fondly loves!” (3.3.169-174). Iago never comes right out and says “your wife is cheating on you”, but rather implies, making Othello work for the answer he wants. Iago makes it seem that it was Othello’s idea all along by assuring Othello he has his best interest at heart. This speech leaves Othello, who claimed lines earlier that he had such passionate feelings for his wife, saying “I’ll tear her all to pieces,” (3.3.437) and “Damn her, lewd minx!” (3.3.478). Although this sudden shift of emotions reveals certain things about Othello’s character, the audience mostly gets a view of how good Iago is at manipulating others.

The audience becomes aware of the Iago’s bad intentions in the first scene in the play when it is revealed that Iago wishes to bring Othello down. It is, therefore, exceedingly ironic when Iago characterizes women as being tricksy and untrustworthy. Iago says, “Come on, come on. You are pictures out of door,/ Bells in your parlours; wildcats in your kitchens,/ Saints in your injuries; devils being offended,/ Players in your housewifery, and hussies in your beds,” (2.1.112-15). Iago’s point is that women are constantly playing whichever role suits their situation. Iago’s words would have been ironic despite the context of Iago’s character, because men would have been playing the role of a woman in this scene. On top of that, women were not allowed to be actors on the stage! Women are often characterized as having many different “faces”, but the irony in this case is alluding to the shady actions taken by the shady character that is saying these lines. The audience knows that Iago is two-faced, so the claims he makes about women’s inability to be genuine are further evidence of his incredible capabilities to manipulate. Iago’s words are almost confirmed by Desdemona when she says, “I am not merry, but I do beguile/ The thing I am by seeming otherwise,” (2.1.125-6). These two simple lines sum up all of Iago’s scheming and manipulating; Desdemona seems to be one of the more genuine characters in the play which makes the situation steeped in even more irony!