Study Guide

Richard III Manipulation

By William Shakespeare


Even so; an't please your worship, Brackenbury,
You may partake of any thing we say:
We speak no treason, man; we say the king
Is wise and virtuous, and his noble queen
Well struck in years, fair, and not jealous;
We say that Shore's wife hath a pretty foot,
A cherry lip, a bonny eye, a passing pleasing tongue;
And that the queen's kindred are made gentlefolks.
How say you, sir? Can you deny all this? (1.1.6)

Richard knows exactly what to say to manipulate his listeners. Brackenbury has walked in on Richard treasonously maligning the queen (and, implicitly, the king). Here Richard covers his tracks. His honeyed words about the queen are a bit over the top – and almost the exact opposite of what he's just said to Clarence. His final question to Brackenbury throws the ball back in his court. For Brackenbury the question is no longer whether Richard is defaming the queen. Instead, he's been distracted into answering whether he agrees with Richard's glowing assessment. By using language and deception, Richard has shifted Brackenbury from being the suspicious interrogator to the suspiciously interrogated. This tactic of flipping the accusation back on the accuser is one Richard will use often, and to good effect.

Well, your imprisonment shall not be long;
I will deliver or else lie for you. (1.1.10)

Richard is tricky as he manipulates Clarence and the language here. It's true that Clarence's imprisonment won't be long – either because he'll be freed or because he'll be killed. Superficially, Richard promises to deliver Clarence from jail, or else "lie" on the chopping block in his place. But in fact Richard means he will deliver Clarence to his maker, and lie (as in deceive) in order to do so. Richard is the master of the double meaning, which is not so difficult when you're surrounded by people who don't question the precision of your language.

Is not the causer of the timeless deaths
Of these Plantagenets, Henry and Edward,
As blameful as the executioner?
Thou wast the cause and most accurs'd effect.
Your beauty was the cause of that effect
Your beauty that did haunt me in my sleep
To undertake the death of all the world
So I might live one hour in your sweet bosom. (1.2.36)

Richard is trying to manipulate Anne by selling her <em>the</em> cheesiest (and perhaps the most inappropriate) line ever. At first it seems like Anne sees right through him and might therefore be able to withstand the pressure of manipulation.

If thy revengeful heart cannot forgive,
Lo here I lend thee this sharp-pointed sword;
Which if thou please to hide in this true breast
And let the soul forth that adoreth thee,
I lay it naked to the deadly stroke,
And humbly beg the death upon my knee.
[He lays his breast open; she offers at it with his sword] (1.2.48)

Richard masterfully manipulates Anne here. Up to this point, she's been entirely impervious to his words. Here he changes his tactic, inviting her to make good on her words. Still, we know there's no way he would allow Anne to stab him if he thought she would really do it.  Again, he's finding her weakness and playing on it, all while seeming like he's repentant and a good guy.

I do the wrong, and first begin to brawl.
The secret mischiefs that I set abroach
I lay unto the grievous charge of others.
Clarence, who I indeed have cast in darkness,
I do beweep to many simple gulls;
Namely, to Derby, Hastings, Buckingham;
And tell them 'tis the queen and her allies
That stir the king against the Duke my brother.
Now they believe it, and withal whet me
To be reveng'd on Rivers, Dorset, Gray;
But then I sigh and, with a piece of Scripture,
Tell them that God bids us do good for evil.
And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With odd old ends stol'n forth of holy writ,
And seem a saint when most I play the devil. (1.3.28)

Richard hits on an important aspect of manipulation here. People have to <em>want</em> to believe him, or have some reason to set aside their skepticism. In this case, Richard will set everyone against each other by playing on preexisting tensions. Also, Richard says he's doing everything under the cloak of the Scripture, and people hardly want to disbelieve a holy man. (Think of when he will later surround himself with priests.) Richard is taking advantage of people by making a phony appeal to God.

But he, poor man, by your first order died,
And that a winged Mercury did bear;
Some tardy cripple bare the countermand
That came too lag to see him buried.
God grant that some, less noble and less loyal,
Nearer in bloody thoughts, an not in blood,
Deserve not worse than wretched Clarence did,
And yet go current from suspicion! (2.1.4)

Richard essentially points out that Edward's condemnation of Clarence, and his tardiness in issuing a pardon, are responsible for Clarence's death. Richard voices hope that others who deserved much worse than Clarence don't run free while the innocent Clarence was so wrongfully killed. Basically, Richard is needling Edward by implying that the blame for Clarence's death is his.

GLOUCESTER. This is the fruits of rashness. Mark'd you not
How that the guilty kindred of the queen
Look'd pale when they did hear of Clarence' death?
O, they did urge it still unto the king!
God will revenge it. Come, lords, will you go
To comfort Edward with our company? (2.1.5)

It has literally only been minutes since the dying King Edward IV was able to seal up all the familial rifts with what will be his dying breaths. As soon as the news of Clarence's death comes out, Richard is able to undo all of Edward's good by casting aspersions on the queen's kin, suggesting that they were at the root of Edward's death. The irony is that the queen was the one who suggested that King Edward forgive Clarence. She wouldn't have done that if she'd been behind his death...though that's the kind of thing Richard might do.

You are too senseless-obstinate, my lord,
Too ceremonious and traditional.
Weigh it but with the grossness of this age,
You break not sanctuary in seizing him.
The benefit thereof is always granted
To those whose dealings have deserv'd the place
And those who have the wit to claim the place.
This Prince hath neither claim'd it nor deserv'd it,
And therefore, in mine opinion, cannot have it.
Then, taking him from thence that is not there,
You break no privilege nor charter there.
Oft have I heard of sanctuary men;
But sanctuary children never till now. (3.1.4)

Like Richard, Buckingham is a master of manipulation. Here he argues about breaking the sanctity of sanctuary in a church. He even sounds pretty earnest about it, which makes you wonder to what extent Buckingham is aware of Richard's evil. By the logic he uses here, it seems Buckingham has learned how to justify anything. Also, the fact that Buckingham takes the time to rationalize and justify things makes him different from Richard, who never needs an excuse to do the unthinkable.

I say, without characters, fame lives long.
[Aside]  Thus, like the formal vice, Iniquity,
I moralize two meanings in one word. (3.1.6)

Richard compares himself to the theatrical device "Iniquity," which was a stock character in 16th century morality plays to encompass all of the vices. This is an explicit hint that Richard views himself as a talented actor who can play many roles. He approaches his life as a play, and he is both actor and narrator. Perhaps this is why he doesn't anticipate his miserable end.

O momentary grace of mortal men,
Which we more hunt for than the grace of God!
Who builds his hope in air of your good looks
Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast,
Ready with every nod to tumble down
Into the fatal bowels of the deep. (3.4.96)

Hastings realizes that he has been used by Richard, and he has no one to blame but himself. He curried favor with men rather than embracing the graciousness demanded of a Christian. (Think of how he delighted in the deaths of his enemies at Pomfret.) Here Hastings realizes that he was walking a fatal line with Richard, and he's just stumbled to his death.

We live to tell it-that the subtle traitor
This day had plotted, in the council-house,
To murder me and my good Lord of Gloucester.
Had he done so?
What! think you we are Turks or Infidels?
Or that we would, against the form of law,
Proceed thus rashly in the villain's death
But that the extreme peril of the case,
The peace of England and our persons' safety,
Enforc'd us to this execution?
Now, fair befall you! He deserv'd his death;
And your good Graces both have well proceeded
To warn false traitors from the like attempts.
I never look'd for better at his hands
After he once fell in with Mistress Shore. (3.5.6)

The mayor of London is all that stands in the way of the common people coming to realize that Richard is tyrannically killing people. So the mayor's sanction on Richard and Buckingham's hasty execution of Hastings is important. Buckingham outright lies to the mayor, and the mayor is somewhat skeptical.

What changes the mayor's tune is Richard's manipulation. Here Richard doesn't insist that Buckingham is right and bolster their story. Instead, he asks in feigned outrage whether the mayor is calling him a liar, suggesting that the mayor's skepticism is preposterous. Again, it's that tactic of asserting one's power over the situation and making the accuser answer for himself, thereby deflecting the question from the punk who's actually guilty.

The mayor quickly corrects his position, insists that he never trusted Hastings once the guy took up with a hooker, and seems satisfied to fall into Richard's manipulation. It's almost like Richard is the leader of a club (called the royalty) and if you want to stay cool, you better believe what he says, no matter how ridiculous it seems.

Yet know, whe'er you accept our suit or no,
Your brother's son shall never reign our king;
But we will plant some other in the throne
To the disgrace and downfall of your house;
And in this resolution here we leave you.
Come, citizens. Zounds, I'll entreat no more.
GLOUCESTER. O, do not swear, my lord of Buckingham.
Exeunt BUCKINGHAM, MAYOR, and citizens
CATESBY. Call him again, sweet Prince, accept their suit.
If you deny them, all the land will rue it.
GLOUCESTER. Will you enforce me to a world of cares?
Call them again. I am not made of stones,
But penetrable to your kind entreaties,
Albeit against my conscience and my soul. (3.7.12)

Buckingham manipulates the people by making it seem like he has to twist Richard's arm to take the crown. Richard can't seem too eager, or the people will suspect him of ambition. So he has Buckingham put on a really big show, and the people are made to feel like Richard's done them a favor by usurping the throne. (On the other hand, Richard may be less powerful than he thinks, as this little scheme is pretty transparent – to us, at least.)

Shall I go win my daughter to thy will?
And be a happy mother by the deed.
I go. Write to me very shortly,
And you shall understand from me her mind.
Bear her my true love's kiss; and so, farewell.
<em>[He kisses her.]</em> and so, farewell.
<em>Exit Elizabeth</em>
Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman! (4.4.50)

Here Richard is so sure of his magic with words that he doesn't for a moment suspect he might be the one being manipulated. Queen Elizabeth has really stuck it to him – she's left him feeling terribly smug, not realizing that the marriage she's about to make (not with Richard, after all) will lead to his downfall.