Is Fate to Blame?

Although I am not particularly well-versed in how England’s royal hierarchies work, I find that Shakespeare is calling into question what it means to live in a society where the royal families rule.  The tone in Act I suggests that Shakespeare is skeptical of this predetermined fate of who will rule.

Beginning with Richard’s speech, he raises question about predetermination when it comes to his looks.  Richard goes on about how he was “rudely stamped” and “cheated of feature” (1.1.16-19).  The words “stamped” and “cheated” suggest that Richard has adverse feelings toward the idea of predetermined reality because he did not receive the same gift of good looks at the rest of his family.  Richard resents that he was not born with good looks, and resents the fact that his brother is in line for the throne before he is.  By putting into motion a plan to kills his brother, it’s as if Richard is compensating for his lot in life—he’s trying to gain a sense of agency in this world of predetermined fate.

After he discusses his looks, he takes the idea of predestination even further when he says “I am determined to prove a villain” (1.1.30).  On the side of the Norton we see that determined in this context might also mean resolved or fated.  Richard is lonely and feels that because of the way he looks—he does not fit in.  Therefore, he believes he’s destined for villainy.  Here I find the text raising questions about what it means to be different from other people (not only in physical attributes—this can extend to race, gender, etc.).   Did Richard’s sense of otherness lead to his malicious demeanor?  How does being othered affect life more generally?  In addition, is fate the blame for otherness?

Shakespeare also asks us to consider fate during 1.3 when Queen Elizabeth, Queen Margaret, and Richard are in disagreement.  Their clashing of beliefs humanizes the royals, but also asks us to question who we want ruling the country.  Elizabeth and Margaret are both characterized as self-centered in that they’re both very worried about what life is like for them without their husbands and children.  Elizabeth is especially overtly worried about her own affairs, even though her husband is on his deathbed; her first line in the play is: “If he were dead, what would betide on me?” (1.3.6).   Her self serving attitude suggests that she is not looking out for the people or country as a whole; rather, she is too wrapped up in herself to think of anyone else.  The banter between Elizabeth, Margaret, and Richard feels very trivial in the sense that they do not seem competent to rule.

By  considering the predetermination and hierarchical structures, questions will be raised about whether the text is exposing, critiquing, or reinforcing these ideas about life that we still discuss contemporarily.

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2 thoughts on “Is Fate to Blame?

  1. jacobic1

    Reblogged this on Shakespeare I and commented:

    Your question if fate is to blame for Richard’s behavior is interesting. It appears that he turned into the beast everybody is seeing in his deformed body. How Richard is perceived is illustrated well in Margaret’s speech in 1.3.225-230 when she curses Richard:
    Though elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog,
    Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity
    The slave of nature and the son of hell,
    Thou slander of thy heavy mother’s womb,
    Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins,
    Thou rag of honor, thou detested—

    It appears as if he had internalized this image long before it was outspoken. He decided to live up to it and fulfill what everybody seemed to expect from him. Only his transformed body allows him to switch to such an evil nature that he embodies over the course of the play. I wonder if he had decided on becoming such a ruthless villain if his body were shaped normally, or if he would have solved his problem differently.

    Reply
  2. David Young

    I think you’re on to something with this idea of fate, especially in regards to Richard himself. He knows its his fate to stay out of the limelight, to be second best. Or third. Or maybe fourth. He knows he’s stuck. So what does he do? He fights the system, fights fate itself. For a moment you can almost admire him. Then you remember that this guy has some serious issues and a major lack of morals. Its a shame really. We’re only one act in and its obvious that Richard is brilliant. Imagine what he could do if he wasn’t trying to kill or undermine everyone. I think I’d be willing to join the group which says Shakespeare is speaking against the system of leadership through Richard.

    Reply

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