The construction of Richard in Laurence Olivier’s Richard III(1955)

Richard The Third is a character of multiple interpretations and theories about his true intentions. In the text, Richard often invites the idea that he is a persecuted man who tries to win over the sympathy of the audience through his monologues, and of the other characters of the play through his interactions. At the same time, his actions such as his seduction of Anne and his astute manipulation of other characters shows him as more competent and influential then he purports himself to be. While any portrayal of Richard must show him as conniving, his actual nature as a wronged victim, a conniving prince or a hardened psychopath depends upon interpretation. From the calculated yet subtlely insincere way that Olivier delivered Richard’s first monologue, to the way he played his skilled and authoritative seduction of Anne and Richard’s manipulation of the coronation ceremony, Olivier plays Richard as the conniving, power hungry prince first. We are  left doubting whether Richard is truthful in his monologues and if his handicaps are as severe as he makes them seem. However, his passionate desire for the crown allows us to understand his motives, unlike McKellan’s Richard, who is insensitive and withered inside and out, and seems to enjoy “villainy” without any need for it.

In Richard introductory monologue, he gives his account as to why he is miserable and why he seeks power over people. His motives seem quite straight forward. Richard is handicapped, as he says he is “deformed, unfinished, sent befoe my time into this breathing world, scarce half made up, And that so lamely and unfashionably That dogs bark at me as I halt by them”(Act 1, Scene 1 line 23). He also laments his inability to find the love of a woman,” I that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majestry to strut before a wanton ambling nymph”(Act 1, Scene 1, line 16-17). Due to his loneliness and lack of occupation, he says that “To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain”(Act 1, Scene 1, Line 30). It is evident that Richard says he is power hungry due to being unloved, and because his plots and treachery will be able to sabotage peoples’ happiness that he was unable to receive himself. However, because Richard is inherently manipulative and untruthful, the authenticity of this monologue can be brought into question. Laurence Olivier alludes to this in his version of the monologue.Richard does not come across as the self-pitying outcast he purports to be in his lines. He is standing straight, his voice is quite self-assured and he delivers the lines with forcefulness and tact rather than with pain and a sense of unworthiness. The only time Richard seems manic or emotional in Olivier’s version is when he is talking about the throne. He breaks into a grin when he says “I know not how to get the crown” (see clip: Olivier, “Now is the Winter of Our Discontent”, 2:49-3:10)and he starts yelling and staggering in almost a drunken way when he states “I will torment myself to catch the English crown!”(Clip:3:20-3:25). It is also significant that Richard is not speaking to himself in the monologue but clearly speaking to the audience, so the Act is much more like a speech than like a meditation;he is aiming to manipulate the listener to support him rather than to confess or reflect to himself.

Loncraine’s Richard provides a notable contrast to Olivier’s. Richard, as played by Ian McKellan gives the same speech in a urinal, talking to himself after addressing a crowd. The scene begins with McKellen addressing what appears to be a state dinner, and giving what seems like a rousing speech that is eagerly attended to. He starts the first few lines of the monologue addressed to the Son of York in Public. The first few lines start cheerfully and seemingly admiringly “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by the son of York”(Act I, Scene 1, Line 1-2) and the transition to the private urinal is made at “He capers nimbly in a ladies chamber”.(1:1:12) Mckellen then mutters the rest of the lines about his disfigured appearance and seeking revenge while he painfully urinates and later as he fixes his moustache in the mirror(See Clip). He delivers the line “I that am not shaped for sportive tricks”(1:1:14) with a cynical sigh and defeated self loathing. He only addresses the camera at the very end, and with familiar surprise, as if he has found an old friend or an accomplice who is “in” with his plans of villainy. Evidently, this Richard is far different to Olivier’s. Olivier’s Richard was the ambitious yet dissatisfied prince eager to manipulate the invisible audience to sympathise with his goals. McKellen’s Richard is not isolated, but is seen as important and celebrated. This Richard is not the outcast prince looking for an audience because he already has an attentive audience in the movie. This Richard is genuinely world-weary and bitter, someone who utters the lines about revenge and murder to himself because he genuinely has no regard for the world. In a way, Olivier’s Richard is the more sympathizable of the two. His evil springs from a genuine isolation, he feels he deserves the throne and is trying to win the audience over to his cause. McKellen’s Richard is already powerful, already celebrated, but plots evil to himself in a jaded and hardened manner. Olivier’s Richard is angry, greedy and manipulative, but his evil springs from an identifiable cause, whereas McKellen’s Richard is decayed and impenetrable.He seems purely motivated by a hatred of life, which makes him more dangerous.

Returning to Olivier’s Richard, a scene which strengthens Richard’s true nature as a seducer and manipulator rather than a genuine victim is his woo-ing of Lady Anne. He makes it known to the audience that he wants to wed the widow of the Prince of Wales. He initially meets her on the funeral procession of her husband, where he obnoxiously stops the procession of the casket and threatens the priests. Anne was naturally enraged but he tries to pacify her telling her that a man of her husband’s character belongs in heaven more than earth. He then says that he belongs in her bed chamber. While Anne spits at him, she responds to this absurd advance by lustily gazing at him up and down and she walks away. The absurd flirtation with Anne is continued when he meets her at her husband’s grave. He confesses that he killed her husband out of his love for her, and after making a few insincere gestures threatening to kill himself if she doesn’t accept him as her new husband, Anne yields herself to him and kisses him. The most obvious extraction from this strange courtship was voiced by Richard himself when he said “Was ever woman in this humour wooed, was ever woman in this humour won?”(Act 2, Scene 2, 222-224). While the courtship doesn’t make any sense, perhaps Olivier is endorsing the possible viewpoint by Shakespeare that a powerful and competent man can win over any woman, even a grieving, recently widowed one. The idea that a woman can be swept up by any man with the social standing and the confidence to woo her is mirrored in Hamlet, where Cladius married his brother’s wife within a month of his brothers funeral. This also supports the idea that Richard is not the neglected,unaccepted,virgin that he makes us feel he is in his monologue. Richard is brash and overconfident with women, it is unlikely that someone with a broken self-image would proposition a woman at her husband’s funeral. More so, the fact that Anne accepted him speaks volumes for his likely status. Anne was portrayed as a weak and shallow woman but even then, she probably accepted him because he was a prince and an eligible bachelor, rather than a freak. This makes us think that his monologue in the beginning about “Dogs bark at me as I halt by them” was probably a ploy for him to stoke up our sympathy rather than a genuine sense of persecution.

Richard iii

The tactic of Richard as tyrant playing a victim is made evident at the scene of his coronation. At the scene where Richard is ripe for the throne, he is shown marching in a procession of priests, singing holy hymns in the robes of a monk. At this point, no-one knows that Richard intends to take the English crown, and him being seen in public as a holy man deflects any suspicion that he may be ambitious. The cloaking of Richard in Monks robes also plays on the handicapped card, as it was known that in medieval times and even today in some countries, that the disabled are often reliant on the Church. The setting is perfect for Richard to deliver rehearsed lines, fed by a co-conspirator, in order to deliver his seemingly-reluctant ascension. He makes sure his accomplice Catesby calls the whole village to hear his lament about him becoming king, as he dramatizes “Will you enforce me to a world of cares?”(Act 3, Scene 7, 222) He also once again invokes his handicap to invite sympathy ” Yet so much is my poverty of spirit, So mighty and so many my defects That I would rather hide me from my greatness”(Act 3, Scene 7, 158-159). Unique to the Olivier version is how Olivier deploys the line “call them again” as a sharp order to Catesby to rally up the villagers who had dispersed, which created the effect of rehearsed scene. The interpretive choice of the director to priestly procession complements the monologue of Richard as a master of appearances. He introduced himself to us as the outcast cripple to disarm us and he portrays himself as the humble, disabled monk to disarm the peasantry. Through these two false appearances, we infer that Olivier created Richard not only as a schemer but someone who has created the persona of a victim, and uses his disability as a tool to achieve his aims rather than have it serve as an impediment to them.

What to notice in Film and Text and how to convert that into knowledge

What to notice in Film and Text and how to convert that into knowledge Film and text are very different mediums and what these mediums will bring out or emphasize in a literary work will vary. Film has the strength of being highly descriptive due to its ability to use video and sound to convey its message. However, film tends to be static and one-dimensional, it doesn’t have the fluidity to capture contradiction or change radically as the story goes along. Text on the other hand can be endlessly rich, full of multiple meanings and our interpretation of the text can change as we change. Therefore, annotation of film and text differs, in film one should notice what has been done and what meaning the directors and actors have extracted from the text.The limitations of film are also important, noticing what has been left out also deepens our understanding of the message. Reading on the other hand is a creative exercise, we build the story according to ourselves and our experiences, and we are can annotate what appears important to us individually. Film as a genre allows the text-based work it was based on(as most films are) to become

Film as a genre allows the text-based work it was based on(as most films are) to become more alive and highly explanatory through non-verbal indicators. Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet was rife with the use of symbolism to explain Hamlet’s predicament. The castle at Elsinore was a castle with mirrors covered all four corners of the interior. The mirrors were used in scenes like “To Be or Not to Be” where Hamlet reckoned with his reflection. A house of mirrors is a place of confusion, of entrapment and one gets a sense of endless complexity when stuck in one;most of us visited one at amusement parks when we were children. Elsinore plays on this familiar oddity, it too is a place of complex relationships, of many dimensions of confusion, and a place from where the Wittenberg bound Hamlet cannot find a way to truly leave from. It is also a play on Hamlets mind, which itself resembles a house of mirrors, illusion reflecting other illusions, where the correct path forward is hardly found. This kind of allegory was only implied in the text but Branagh’s use of props and the set to build on this theme added depth and power to Hamlet’s reality. Understanding themes through the construction of the environment is rich ground for good note taking. In addition to this, an effective note taker will take into account music, light and shadow, tone of voice, as well as the perspective of the camera as tools that may enhance meaning.

Film also has the limitations of being one interpretation of a text, and one that cannot change and grow. Kenneth Branagh’s Henry provides an image of King Henry as a good and popular English king. In his “Saint Crispin’s Day” speech, Henry has a gentle and understanding voice, pleading with his soldiers. Even when talking about deserters, he waves his hand magnanimously and turns around to say “That he which hath no stomach to this fight,let him depart; his passport shall be made”(see youtube clip 1:15). However was it not the same Henry that earlier threatened rape? “What is’t to me,when you yourselves are cause,If your maidens fall into the hand Of hot and forcing violation?(3.319-3.321). It would also seem strange for the same king who invaded a foreign land due to a technicality in ‘salic law’ or one who asked his soldiers to “dishonour not your mothers”(3.122) so they would fight bravely. This Henry would not easily send his soldiers home on the eve of the most important battle. However, Branagh de-emphasized this Henry and focused on Henry the national hero. As our understanding of the text grows, our notions of who the characters are also changes, but films do not change as our concepts change. Therefore we have to appreciate a film like literary criticism, it is one directors take on a story at one point in time. However, We can annotate the strengths and causes of this interpretation to deepen our understanding of the text , and argue for and against the take of the film.



Ernest Hemingway one wrote to a young writer “It is your object to convey everything to the reader, so that he remembers it not as a story but something that happened to himself” (Maria Popova “Hemingway’s Advice on Writing, ambition and the Art of Revision, and his reading list for aspiring writers”). Rich text is usually pumped full of multiple meanings and implicit notions. A close reading of “Once More Unto the Breach” in King Henry V will generate ideas and opinions depending on the person reading it. One can detect subtle manipulations, from throwing down challenges “Now attest that those whom you call fathers did beget you”(3.123), to elevating their pride “For there is none of you so mean and base, That hath not noble lustre in your eyes”(3.1.30) to subtle betrayals of a peaceful nature: “In peace, there is nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility”(3.14). Weather we pick up on Henry the machiavellian manipulator of crowds, or a gentle king urging reluctant peasants to fight, or a war hero rallying before a sure-defeat of the French will depend upon us.As Hemingway says, a true story is one that happened to ourselves. Conversely, we can only detect within books what we ourselves are able to relate to or have the consciousness to understand. While watching film is mostly the subtle art of detection, reading is a highly personal experience. We summon our own wisdom and experiences and use them to generate a feeling for what the text is trying to portray. Annotation is a creative exercise, we jot down what comes to mind and what intuitively feels significant. While the success of annotating film depends on our ability to spot subtle messages and detect symbolism, our success in annotating literature often comes down to our own sensibilities-how meaning in text corresponds with our intuition about what is happening.

In my learning process, the art of converting information to knowledge has three layers. Firstly, there is the level where we understand merely what we are required to know. Secondly, there is the level where we understand what we see as important in the text. The third level is what Harold bloom calls “reading with one nature”(Bloom, How to Read and Why, Schribner Touchstone 2000). The the first level we generally take notes on what we have been told to detect, there is no creativity involved and we understand a surface level of what we need to know. Knowledge is superficial and verbal. At the second level, we are reading(or watching film) because we are emotionally invested in the content, we store in our minds that which we find important and interesting. If its a good piece of work, it enriches our sensibilities and we have a fuller sense of what our chosen theme is about. Knowledge is not only verbal, but also abstract and intuitive,we have a sense of what is important and what causes things. At the deepest level, learning becomes an esoteric experience. We generally drop the analytical mind and become entirely receptive. We are almost in communion with the text and we have a deep understanding of the core of the work. Oftentimes, ‘the rest is silence’, and we cannot really explain it. A book I have had this kind of experience with was “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. I couldn’t really explain the content of the book or any of the themes, but it enveloped me in a certain silence, a freedom from banality and an appreciation for the tragic nobility of the human experience. The level of internalization directly translates into the kind of argument put forward. In my experience, a basic level of internalization usually gives way to a bland, unoriginal argument, like “Hamlet was angry because his mother married his uncle”. A second level argument could explore a theme and be more nuanced “King Henry was a megalomaniac rather than a righteous king”. A deep understanding of the text may give rise to a meta-theme, where a deep, core question is brought forward in light of a real understanding of a text.

Is Hamlet Mad, Possessed or Guided by His Fathers Spirit? Clues in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet(1996)

King Claudius remarks on Hamlets mental state that “what he spake, though it lacked form a little, Was not like Madness. There is something in his soul, O’er which melancholy sits to brood”(Act 3, Scene 1, 162-165). Claudius’s observation may be astute but it also could we woefully unaware considering that he has no knowledge of the supernatural experiences Hamlet has had. The true nature of Hamlets mental state remains a mystery, and wether Claudius is correct, partially correct or wrong is subject to interpretation.Kenneth Branaghs adaptation of Hamlet argues the partial view, Hamlet was a grieving young man who’s supernatural experiences eventually drove him mad.

Branagh sets the tone of the relationship between Cladius, Gerturde and Hamlet in the second scene of the first act.  Branagh shows the scene where Cladius and Getrude are hosting Laertes and Polonius at a vast public gathering. The whole palace hall is filled with adoring patrons and loyal military men. When Polonius asks for leave, King Cladius gives it most graciously, Polonius bows and the whole crowd claps. When the scene comes to address the grieving Hamlet, Cladius and Getrude kneel down and plead to him in private. Branagh also makes the decision to play heart-warming music in the background while the new couple gently plead with Hamlet. Only once Cladius makes an oath of loyalty to Hamlet “You are most immediate to our throne”( Act 1, Scene 2, 110) does Cladius project the conversation towards the crowd. In other film adaptations, King Cladius is shown as far less sympathetic. In Laurence Oliviers version, King Cladius delivers the speech mockingly,at a distance and in front of his guests, as if to weaken Hamlet.  In Branaghs version, Cladius’s in the first scene comes across as reasonable, concerned and a just king. There is also no overt kissing between Cladius and Getrude, and the physical distance between them shows the marriage as almost a formality. It is possible that their marriage is a Levirate marriage and perhaps Caldius was merely fulfilling a royal duty to marry his brothers widow. Hamlets persona in his subsequent soliloquy makes him come across as neurotic, bitter and isolated rather than someone confounded by a great crime.

Hamlet expressed an ominous possibility in Act Two Scene Two when he said “May be the devil, and the devil hath power T’assume a pleasing shape” (Act Two, Scene Two, 561-562). In this speech Hamlet is expressing the possibility that the apparition of his father that he saw previously was in fact the devil and not his father.  I believe Branagh builds on this and suggests it was the devil, not King Hamlet that visited Hamlet in Act one Scene 5. In the scene, Branagh depicts the apparition of Hamlets father as a terrifying figure. The figure comes across not as a compassionate father figure but like a sinister being. Branagh makes constant visual references to Hell, as the ground opens to provide glimpses of fire while the father speaks. The Father also has frightening, cold, lifeless eyes and is floating above him in a domineering posture, as if to control rather than to talk to and comfort a sad and worried son. The focus of the camera on the father’s mouth lifelessly giving orders also adds to the suspicion that the father’s ghost is some other entity that the one it purports to be.

The idea that the devil “abuses me to damn me”(Act 2 Scene 2,164) can be supported by Hamlets gradual descent into madness after his first encounter with the apparition. Branagh plays on the fact that Hamlet is indeed being driven mad. The next time the film audience sees Hamlet after his meditation on the devil is in the “To Be Or Not To Be” speech. As we know, To Be or Not to Be is a meditation about suicide. Branagh’s Hamlet performs this soliloquy in a very odd manner. Unlike Olivier’s Hamlet, who performs it in despair alone sitting on a rock by the sea, Branagh’s Hamlet performs it confidently, staring menacingly at himself in the mirror. Towards the end of the speech he pulls out his dagger and points it at his reflection. The scene is also poignant as it shows the reflection talking to Hamlet rather than vice versa. My interpretation of what Branagh does with this scene is that the speech is delivered by the devil who has possessed Hamlet.  The speech itself represents a split personality,entirely divided by one part of the man who wants to end his life and one part of him who is afraid to so do. The mirror reflects the double-faced nature of the speech, as one dark part of Hamlet wants to end his life and the resilient part of Hamlet resists this part of himself by   argument “The undiscovered country from whos bourn no traveler ever returns,puzzles the will”(Act Three Scene 1,80-82)” and physically by drawing his sword at his reflection. The very metaphor of reflection is also important, as a reflection is ultimately an illusion, a distortion and unreal second self. The impression of diabolical possession also seems to take the form of a second self, an evil false self that clouds and distorts ones thoughts and actions. This false Hamlet, driven mad by illusion is the real guilty party according to Branagh, with Getrude, Ophelia and Cladius as unfortunate victims of a tormented prince in the throes of psychosis brought upon by possession.

ENGL 311 Blog: Jay Dhillon. Thoughts on Film,T.V, and Live Theatre

How does the medium effect Artistic Expression?

Out of the three mediums, the one that is least conducive to artistic freedom and genuine innovation probably is television. Television faces a variety of constraints that the other mediums do not. Firstly, T.V is a lot like advertising in that it needs to “hook” the audience. Television programs compete for airtime with numerous other programming, which is offered to the customer without recieving payment. The T.V watcher is free to browse and switch channels if what he is watching disturbs his sensibilities, or worse, if he is bored. Furthermore, Television programming is designed for longevity, a Darwinian fight for survival in an uncompromising market. Television writers want to be in a job for renewed seasons, and must keep the audience happy in the future, so everything they write and direct must be anticipitatory towards creating loyal watchers. They also have to content with the fact that they are produced and broadcasted by large cable companies, who have an interest in maximizing their profit through maximizing viewership and often have little or no investment in the quality of the production. This is why we often see television programming as  less authentic and less subtle in its dialogue or imagery than film or theatre. It must cater to the lowest common denominator, sensationalism, sex and violence is interesting to a very large number of people and is more secure economically than expressing ideas and visual interpretations that risk being misunderstood or not appreciated by many. Worryingly, the limitations of telivised productions applies to the news Media suprisingly accurately aswell.

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