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Richard III Justice Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.

Quote #7

Look what is done cannot be now amended.
Men shall deal unadvisedly sometimes,
Which after-hours gives leisure to repent.
If I did take the kingdom from your sons,
To make amends I'll give it to your daughter.
If I have kill'd the issue of your womb,
To quicken your increase I will beget
Mine issue of your blood upon your daughter. (4.4.30)

First of all, this is gross. Vile Richard is offering to impregnate a young lady to make up for murdering her brothers – and he's talking about it to her mom. (Sorry, we just had to get that out of the way.) Anyway, Richard again seems to view justice as eye-for-an-eye.  He figures he can make up for everything he's done by giving what he considers "equal payback." He took the kingdom from Elizabeth's sons, so he'll give it back to Elizabeth's daughter. He took Elizabeth's sons from her, but he'll have children with her daughter to keep the bloodline going. Because he lacks real moral faculties, Richard sees things as fairly tit-for-tat. He has an aberrant sense of justice.

Quote #8

Bear with me; I am hungry for revenge,
And now I cloy me with beholding it.
Thy Edward he is dead, that kill'd my Edward;
The other Edward dead, to quit my Edward;
Young York he is but boot, because both they
Match'd not the high perfection of my loss.
Thy Clarence he is dead that stabb'd my Edward;
And the beholders of this frantic play,
Th' adulterate Hastings, Rivers, Vaughan, Gray,
Untimely smother'd in their dusky graves.
Richard yet lives, hell's black intelligencer;
Only reserv'd their factor to buy souls
And send them thither. But at hand, at hand,
Ensues his piteous and unpitied end.
Earth gapes, hell burns, fiends roar, saints pray,
To have him suddenly convey'd from hence.
Cancel his bond of life, dear God, I pray,
That I may live and say 'The dog is dead.' (4.4.7)

Margaret also has a tit-for-tat sense of justice. Maybe she's already lamented her losses enough, because it seems like all she lives for is revenge. She matches up the dead on either side like they're chess pieces instead of treating them like children and men. What irritates her the most, though, is that all the deaths aren't avenged fully until Richard is dead. Only once pretty much all the children of the women in the room are dead does Margaret think everyone will be even. (More important, Margaret's cool cruelty here gives us a look at a kind of villainy that's different from the passionate villainy we've seen in Richard.)

Quote #9

Stanley, what news with you?
None good, my liege, to please you with
the hearing;
Nor none so bad but well may be reported.
Hoyday, a riddle! neither good nor bad! (4.4.60)

This has the seed of the important line from Shakespeare's Hamlet, "For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" (Hamlet 2.2). This might be totally inadvertent, but it seems the entire ethos of Richard III is summed up here: moral relativism is at the heart of the play. Choosing moral stances depends on one's perspective, and having been led along by Richard as our protagonist, we can hardly tell the good from the bad anymore. This is why we can feel almost delighted with Richard, and why it's hard to relate to his victims (at least in the beginning). This moral relativism will plague Hamlet in that later, more refined play, but to Richard, the idea of moral relativism is a mere riddle to be puzzled out, not a paralyzing metaphysical quandary.

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