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Directing Richard III

Shakespeare’s King Richard the Third deals with the theme of corruption by ambition. The play is designed to depict the tragic and rapid downfall of an evil manipulator who murders, lies, and deceives in order to further his lust for power. Due to the fact that Elizabethan drama moves at a decidedly slower place than most modern stories, any modern director of King Richard the Third, who wanted to hold the interest of contemporary audiences might choose to trim or even eliminate some of the long monologues that are a part of the original play.

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A good example of where a monologue might be cut is the opening monologue of the play, which is both rhetorically sublime and deservedly famous. In the opening monologue, Richard, who is still the Duke of Gloster, and not yet King, delivers a haunting, expository soliloquy to the audience where he reveals the deep-seated motives for the terrible crimes he will soon commit. After lamenting peace and proclaiming that he is not a lover, Richard says “”And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover/ To entertain these fair well-spoken days/ I am determined to prove a villain/ And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” (Richard III, 1-1)

However, for a modern audience, this exposition is completely unnecessary and, in fact, the suspense of the play would seem to build in an even more starling fashion if Richard did not so overtly express his motives and the audience was made to determine the motives as best they could for themselves as the play develops. The following scene between Richard and Anne, one of the most intense and moving scenes in all of literature, in my opinion, forwards enough of Richard’s essentially sociopathic personality and delivers enough information concerning his motives to power as the opening scene.

Due to the erotic element of the Richard and Anne scene, the deletion of the opening monologue would foster a very powerful sense of acceleration and suspense. Another scene which might be beneficial to cut would be the scene between Richard and Queen Elizabeth here Richard admits to having killed her sons. This scene mirrors the earlier scene between Richard and Anne and is meant to reveal Richard as being as manipulative and persuasive as the devil himself.

However, I feel that the scene is somewhat redundant and, again, the information about Richard and aspects of his character development which are integral to this scene are expressed elsewhere, most clearly in those scenes which seem to intimate that Richard is — if not the devil — literally in league with the devil. To further accelerate the plot and to further heighten suspense, these subtle references to black-magic, devils, and the black arts could be magnified.

These elements are part of Shakespeare’s original play, but they were originally created with a feeling for the sensibilities of an Elizabethan audience. For a modern audience the elements of deviltry and black magic would have to be exaggerated. One way to do this would be to literally include obvious elements of the supernatural: ghosts, demons, and perhaps even succubi and phantoms who haunt Richard and who inhabit his macabre England.

Such a portrayal would also forward the play’s theme of raging, damning ambition by demonstrating how a single person’s dark-vision could unleash terrible, in fact, supernatural power over an entire nation. In cases of the cult-of-personality, such a dynamic is present even if it is not literally based in the supernatural. The supernatural, however, offers a great way to symbolize the power of demagogues and ambitious leaders that make stark and dramatic statements possible. All in all, if I were directing King Richard the Third I would change very little from Shakespeare’s original play.

The reason that I would choose to keep the play as close to the original as possible is because I feel the play is already a single, harmonious whole which can be rightly considered one of the greatest tragedies in the English language. I am willing to concede that modern audiences may need a swifter-moving plot and a few embellishments like obvious black magic and devils, but in the long run, Shakespeare’s original vision and his original language would still probably prove to be very compelling, memorable, and cathartic for any audience.