Richard III Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
O Lord, methought what pain it was to drown,
What dreadful noise of waters in my ears,
What sights of ugly death within my eyes!
Methoughts I saw a thousand fearful wrecks,
A thousand men that fishes gnaw'd upon,
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,
All scatt'red in the bottom of the sea;
Some lay in dead men's skulls, and in the holes
Where eyes did once inhabit there were crept,
As 'twere in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems,
That woo'd the slimy bottom of the deep
And mock'd the dead bones that lay scatt'red by. (1.4.2)
Shakespeare does some of his best writing when echoing the beauty of nature. Clarence's dreams extol both the wonder and dread of the ocean. It's rich with the goods of jewels and profit of men, which represent the inevitability of death. All the stuff we amass in life turns into nothing but food for the fish, or the worms (as in Hamlet). Human mortality is contrasted with boundless, unconcerned nature. A man's life amounts to nothing but what he was. Clarence fears death, and Richard has yet to face it. This poetic passage is a precursor to Shakespeare's later writing. The mortality theme is reminiscent of the "full fathoms give thy father lies" speech of The Tempest, and the richness of the imagery suggests the scene where Cleopatra descends down the Nile in Antony and Cleopatra.
Sorrow breaks seasons and reposing hours,
Makes the night morning and the noontide night.
Princes have but their titles for their glories,
An outward honour for an inward toil;
And for unfelt imaginations
They often feel a world of restless cares,
So that between their tides and low name
There's nothing differs but the outward fame. (1.4.6)
The toils of man are contrasted with nature, which creeps steadily along, night and day, regardless of whether man lives or dies. Men are nothing special to the natural world. Their status in society may lead to nothing but heartache. Their titles mean nothing when faced with the great equalizer, death.
When clouds are seen, wise men put on
When great leaves fall, then winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?
Untimely storms make men expect a dearth.
All may be well; but, if God sort it so,
'Tis more than we deserve or I expect. (2.3.7)
The citizens make sense of the political events of the play with reference to the predictable events of nature. Men are just a part of nature, no more impenetrable than the simplest facts of the natural world. In the end, nature is the mysterious work of God. No matter what the men fear or hope, God will decide how things turn out, both for nature and men.