The Choice of Evil

In the evening of November second in the year 2014 a young Shakespearean student read the meditation of what November second in the year 1592 meant to the character Buckingham in Richard III. Shakespeare connected All Soul’s Day to Buckingham’s realization of his own execution. The November second of 1592 to the November second of 2014 still carries the same electric power of the supernatural.

As I read “Why, then All Souls’ Day is my body’s doomsday,” I half believed a rising thrill of spirits to dance about my room and show me how fear has similar dynamics in 1592 as it does today (5.1. 12). Fear. Fear and evil. How is fear related to evil in Richard III? The dynamics of the relationship between fear and evil are jostled around in Act V.

Richard is feared because he is evil. He is feared by those who understand how easily he can murder. At this point in the play he has murdered more than ten characters. Yet, Richard is not immune to his own evilness. Richard himself feels fear because he is evil. He feels fear during scene three of Act V. He wakes up from an awful nightmare and acknowledges that he does feel fear; “What do I fear? Myself?” (5.3. 194). Richard is tapping in on the connection between feeling fear as a result of his own choice of evilness.

Richard is aware of his own evilness, he chooses evil over good in the opening soliloquy of the play. His stream of consciousness towards his fear and why he fears in scene three of Act V is exquisite. He sees how false his idea of love is towards himself. He asks himself if he did any good towards himself? No. He has harmed himself by harming others. With this thought he stays; Richard remains with hate. With this hate he feels alone. And so the choice of evil builds…

From the darkness of Richard the audience sees the contrast of the light within Richmond. The preparation of the battle between the two reminded me of the epic scale of battle in Paradise Lost. The second question to deepen the exploration between fear and evilness is; Why is there such a clear distinction between good and evil?

Reading the final Act of Richard III gave me the same sensations as Paradise Lost did. Henry Earl of Richmond echoed the characters of Michael and Gabriel. All three characters spoke to their armies with grace and with honor. They focused on restoring goodness with a valiant energy. They tended to their army with appreciation and care. Richmond’s speech to his army was supported by goodness; “God and our good cause fight upon our side. The prayers of holy saints and wrongèd souls, Like high-reared bulwarks, stand before our faces” (5.3. 254-256). His words were supported by the ghosts of the ones who died as a result of Richard’s wishes. The intentions of good that the spirits bestowed on Richmond were meant to protect his army. Satan’s speech compares to the speech Richard gives his impending army. There is no mention of gratitude. There are only horrific images of a bloody battle, slaughter, and rape. He lessens the enemy instead of building up his own men.

This play functions on a clear sense good and clear evil. Richard is only evil. We have no empathy for him because we see through him. He acts victimized by his disability; however, it does not actually disable him from doing anything. Shakespeare creates Richard to give the audience a sense of his power. Richard has the power to choose between evil and good. He chooses evil. He is motivated by his own fear of his own choice.

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