Richard III as Tragedy #
Some critics challenge the acceptance of Richard as a tragedy. It differs in many ways from a classic concept of what constitutes a tragedy.
Aristotle’s Definition: #
Tragedy is an imitation of characters above the level of the world; high action, sad and catastrophic.
The bare facts of alone should make us shudder so the dramatist must elevate the audience’s fear, terror and pity (Pathos) into a higher level creating Katharsis, (Catharsis) transforming and cleansing us so that we feel emotionally purged.
The hero’s suffering leads to Disclosure, (Anagnorisis) or self-recognition as they become aware of their true predicament, puncturing all their illusions of themselves.
The anti-hero Richard III introduces himself not as a noble character, rather a disreputable rogue in an introductory monologue. This fundamental alienating device simultaneously engages us and yet detaches us from him. We feel close to him, admire his candour, yet ambivalently despise him for his naked aggressive machinations and treachery.
Throughout the play we seldom identify with, or relate to Richard and his schemes and feel more sympathy, empathy and pathos for his victims. In this sense the play is not a classical tragedy; rather an historical tragedy as we watch heads roll at the whim of a crazed power mongering madman who happens to wear the heavy crown.
Besides the young defenceless princes, we feel the most empathy or pathos for Hastings, a loyal subject of the York’s who though he does his best to demonstrate his dutiful service, haplessly loses his head to a paranoid capricious tyrant.
There is no evidence that at any time Richard experiences any crises of conscience or self revelation puncturing his self illusions. Richard is very much a product of his environment or conditioning; he has seen all his uncles and cousins claw their way to the top to grasp the crown and has no compunctions in doing the same. At the end we feel no remorse for the deserved death of this tyrant.
[Shakespeare’s “Histories”: Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy]by Lily B. Campbell
The central argument of this book is that the historical play must be studied as a genre separate from tragedy and comedy. Just as there is in Shakespearean tragedies a dominant ethical pattern of passion opposed to reason, so there is in the history plays a dominant political pattern characteristic of the political philosophy of the age. From the ’troublesome reign’ of King John to the ’tragical doings’ of Richard III, Shakespeare wove the events of English history into plots of universal interest.
From Atom; Australian Teachers of Media Study Guide.