Since Richard III follows Othello in our reading, it is difficult to tell if similarities present themselves because of that fact, or if we would have noticed them regardless; but, as did several of my fellow-bloggers, I also immediately noticed similarities between Richard III and Othello. One of the ways that this comparison sets up from the beginning is the fact that Richard III opens with Richard’s heavy, melancholy monologue about his “evil plan.” In Othello, this revelation of ill-will and malicious intent takes the form of a discussion between Iago and Roderigo, and it is not until the end of the first act ( 1.3.365-386) that we are given Iago’s private exposition on the matter (which is also comparatively shorter than Richard’s). In light of those differences, some might wonder why the openings of these two plays seem similar to me, but the villain’s declaration of purpose as the first thing a reader/audience encounters is bold in both, and strikingly distinct from the two comedies we have read. I do not know if this form of opening is a facet of the genre, or if it was Shakespeare’s personal decision, but regardless of the differences between the styles of presentation, both Iago’s and Richard’s malice are clearly and even chillingly stated by both, right from the start.
I also noticed similarities between Richard III and Othello in Richard’s persuasive speech abilities. At the beginning of Act I, Scene II, Lady Anne blatantly displays her hatred of Richard, bestowing such epithets upon him as “dreadful minister of hell” (1.2.46) and declaring, “thou canst make/No excuse current but to hang thyself” (1.2.83-84). However, just a short while later, she agrees to take his ring, and happily grants his plea that she meet him at Crosby House. How could such a change occur? At first glance, it appears that Richard has inherited the same silver tongue as Iago—but upon closer examination, perhaps Iago is not the Othellian character to whom Richard is most similar. As I read back over Richard’s speech in 188.8.131.52—154.12, I found myself reminded more of Othello’s storytelling capabilities. At the conclusion of the speech, when Richard says, “I never sued to friend nor enemy;/ My tongue could never learn sweet smoothing word;/ But now thy beauty is my proposed fee,/ My proud heart sues and prompts my tongue to speak” (1.2.155-158), we can almost hear the echo of Othello’s words to the Venetian senate “Rude am I in my speech,/ And little blessed in the soft phrase of peace,/…And little of this great world can I speak/…Yet, by your gracious patience,/I will a round, unvarnished tale deliver/ Of my whole course of love” (Othello 1.3.81-91). Rather than taking Iago’s approach of dropping hints and phrases and letting the subject join them together, both Richard and Othello attempt to persuade others by their blunt forthrightness and arousal of sympathy.
As I pursued this idea further, I was shocked to discover that the similarities I found between the two plays lay more in the possibility of Richard as a twisted Othello than as another Iago. Richard’s lament in his opening speech “I that am rudely stamped and want love’s majesty/…I that am curtailed of this fair proportion,/Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,/Deformed, unfinished…” (1.1.16-20) is almost a shadow of what Othello’s more optimistic but still doubtful “Haply for I am black,/ And have not those soft parts of conversation/ That chamberers have; or for I am declined/ Into the vale of years—yet that’s not much—”(Othello 3.3.267—270) could eventually become. Richard does bear some similarities to Iago, but I find the ones he shares with Othello to be more troubling and thought-provoking—which seems to be an example of just what Shakespeare does best.