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.