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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: September ::
Determined to Be a Villain
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1802  Wednesday, 17 September 2003

From:           Clifford Stetner <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Sep 2003 10:06:13 -0400
Subject: 14.1799 Determined to Be a Villain
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1799 Determined to Be a Villain

>A late note for this thread.  I was watching Ian McKellen in Richard III
>last night.  When he said he was determined to be a villain, well, he
>persuaded me of his single-minded resolve.  I can't imagine how he could
>mean the fault was in his stars.
>
>Al Magary

After trying to follow various of Terence Hawkes' arguments in other
contexts, I'm prepared to state that neither nurture nor nature can have
"determined" Richard to be a villain, as he is only words on paper. If
the ambiguity of the passive verb "determine" is read as including
determinism as well as the existentialism played by Ian McKellen, then
Richard was determined to be a villain by Thomas More, Hall, and
Holinshed, who turned the character into a Machiavel. If anyone has
pointed it out in this thread, I missed it, but the soliloquy really
continues the one in 3 Henry VI 3.2:

. . . .
Well, say there is no kingdom then for Richard;
What other pleasure can the world afford?
I'll make my heaven in a lady's lap,
And deck my body in gay ornaments,
And witch sweet ladies with my words and looks.
O miserable thought! and more unlikely
Than to accomplish twenty golden crowns!
Why, love forswore me in my mother's womb:
And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,
She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe,
To shrink mine arm up like a wither'd shrub;
To make an envious mountain on my back,
Where sits deformity to mock my body;
To shape my legs of an unequal size;
To disproportion me in every part,
Like to a chaos, or an unlick'd bear-whelp
That carries no impression like the dam.
And am I then a man to be beloved?
O monstrous fault, to harbour such a thought!
Then, since this earth affords no joy to me,
But to command, to cheque, to o'erbear such
As are of better person than myself,
I'll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,
And, whiles I live, to account this world but hell,
Until my mis-shaped trunk that bears this head
Be round impaled with a glorious crown.
And yet I know not how to get the crown,
For many lives stand between me and home:
And I,--like one lost in a thorny wood,
That rends the thorns and is rent with the thorns,
Seeking a way and straying from the way;
Not knowing how to find the open air,
But toiling desperately to find it out,--
Torment myself to catch the English crown:
And from that torment I will free myself,
Or hew my way out with a bloody axe.
Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,
And cry 'Content' to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.
I'll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall;
I'll slay more gazers than the basilisk;
I'll play the orator as well as Nestor,
Deceive more slily than Ulysses could,
And, like a Sinon, take another Troy.
I can add colours to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
Tut, were it farther off, I'll pluck it down.
[Exit]

I think the active voice in: "I'll make my heaven to dream upon the
crown" not the passive "my heaven is made to dream upon the crown" puts
the "determined" completely on the existentialist side. Henry VI is, of
course, the later play. Did Shakespeare perhaps note his earlier
ambiguity and write these lines to remove it? (It would be interesting
to know, incidentally, why "to be determined" and "to be resolved" are
used as passive verbs when "to determine" and "to resolve" are
available.)

In Henry VI, Richard is determined by nature to by ugly; to think
himself worthy nevertheless of being loved seems to him hubris, but it
is he who determines therefore to "torment myself to catch the English
crown" or "hew my way out with a bloody axe." The image of the bear cub
turns an old myth that bears are born shapeless until their mothers lick
their bear form into them (truly "to be resolved" in its passive sense)
into a metaphor for existentialist self-fashioning.

Witness Whitney's Choice of Emblems 92:
. . . .
Even so, the man on whome dothe Nature froune,
Whereby, he lives despis'd of everie wighte,
Industrie yet, maie bringe him to renoume,
And diligence, maie make the crooked righte:
   Then have no doubt, for arte maie nature helpe.
   Thinke howe the beare doth forme her uglye whelpe.

p.s. There is more to deconstruction than ambiguity, but Derrida should
have been a poet and not a philosopher.

Clifford Stetner
CUNY
http://phoenixandturtle.net

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