The secret plan of Richard III


What does Richard really want? For Richard wants -completely- from the get-go. He expresses his absolute desire to the audience. From prologue to monologues, from asides to confessions, he is pure project, "deep intent", deployed in so many “plots” he can now only swear by "the time to come". 

This evil hero is a theatre monster who presents himself, in flashes, as a freak: he shapes himself through declarations of intent -his actions are but their dazzling execution. To himself and to us, he becomes the oracle of his fate, the author of his universe, the director of his prowess. Richard promises the impossible and keeps it; he wants the unthinkable and gets it. But what does he really want? Beneath the display of desire –conquest and power- and his love of the show, deep down, another aspiration is hidden -"another secret close intent" evoked by Shakespeare yet never revealed.

Power certainly acts as a bright object of desire and becomes all the more desirable as it proves massive and forbidden. It wasn’t his to claim, yet Richard snatched the crown of England from the hands of fate by removing its legitimate heirs from his own bloodline -brothers and nephews on his York side- letting them kill one another where necessary. Still, his Machiavellian enjoyment does not end with obtaining the throne, proving that the coveted prize -royalty- accessed through force, manipulation, deceit and crime, can only withstand a literal reading.

Revenge emerges as the underlying motivation. Revenge against his family, in whose eyes Richard is the monstrous, deformed and defamed offspring: cursed by his mother at birth, rejected by his brothers, and reviled by all. Revenge against a world that spat him out without giving him any space, so much so that this pariah now wants to claim the whole world as his personal space, though it might entail removing everything in it.

Consequently, evil rises within Richard as a negative project: it is a backlash against the affront the world has inflicted upon him. From the outset, the protagonist declares himself "determined to be a villain”. Is it the inescapable determinism of a transcendent destiny ("determined" = predestined) or the intentional decision of a free conscience ("determined" = resolved)? His delving into evil can be interpreted both ways -an ambivalence Shakespeare’s genius keeps unanswered. The exacting purity (alchemically speaking) required by evil remains: this "naked villany", with its fiendish radicalism and sadistic perversion, aims, through its “mischiefs", to provoke hatred, death and universal ruin.

Destruction proves to be the end pursued by Richard. His coronation, far from quenching his thirst for crime, seems instead to speed up his intoxication. As pretender to the throne, Richard Gloucester could perhaps justify his crimes (realistically, albeit weakly) through ambition. Once he is king, Richard III does not even have that excuse:  as he slides from dynastic fratricide to familial infanticide, the gratuitousness of his act shocks even his cousin Buckingham, the damned soul that had supported him onto the throne. He is destroying his own people, and everything else –an unfounded destruction whose only purpose is itself- as if Richard yearned for the end of the world; for nothingness. It’s as if the “traditional” political project  - usurping the crown and keeping it despotically (also Macbeth’s project, although this evil hero is but  “young in crime")- only serves to mask an altogether more radical project, a metaphysical one: total annihilation. Beneath an urge to accumulate lies a rage for destruction. Beneath tyrannical ambition lies nihilistic fury. And self-annihilation is, inevitably, down the road.

His own destruction proves the fatal outcome, and is perhaps Richard’s secret yeaning. Left hollow by an essential emptiness that cannot be filled, burdened by an ontological gap that leaves him forever "curtail’d", "unfinish'd", "scarce half made up", Richard is haunted by the nothingness within him and strives to make up for it by annihilating the world, never managing to caulk nor shrink this emptiness which ends up swallowing him. It is as if he’d only swallowed the world as punishment for this fundamental gash, this metaphysical flaw- to the point of imploding. 

Richard III - a black hole.

All he is left with is performance, i.e. theatre. This is perhaps his last and primordial will. Shortly before his death, desperate and tormented by the ghosts of his victims, Richard sinks from his masterful mastery of the I to the tragic rupture of the Self, from duplicity to splitting. "Me" is now powerless to save "Myself" since "I myself find in myself no pity to myself". The polymorphous reigning actor has degenerated into a puppet, broken down and torn apart. He who could speak to all, firstly to the audience, can no longer talk to himself. However, throughout his dazzling trajectory and up to this point, Richard will have shone as an actor king: boundless power of performance, supreme art of metamorphosis, unlimited plasticity, rhetorical excellence, mastery of double speech, improvisation genius, dramatic invention, brilliance of masks, range of registers, feel for twists...

A majestic self -he delivers more lines in the first act alone than Macbeth throughout his tragedy- Richard III fascinates his audience, captivating them at every turn and address, as well as his prey, whom he plays by rebuffing them (his nephews, Buckingham), by overthrowing them (Clarence, Hastings, Edward) or by turning them around (Lady Anne, the Mayor). To the irresistible appeal of Vice -an allegory inherited from the Middle Ages- he adds the devastating humour of the Joker, which, in one stroke, can bestow a touch of the comical even on pathos. This magnificent "villain", with perverse humorousness and cruelty, is the unmistakable game master. It is therefore no wonder that viewers see him leave the limelight with a mix of relief and regret and a guilty sympathy for the dazzling demon king of the theatre - the a hero who tricked everyone and played games with everything.


Gérald Garutti