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Connections: Richard III and Looking for Richard and Their Relevance in the Modern World

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"The modern age is intrinsically linked to the world of the Elizabethans. Looking for Richard and Richard III both demonstrate this connectedness."

The world of Richard III is connected to our modern age intrinsically through universal themes that reflect and question what it means to be human. These themes include the impact of love, hate and lust on human actions. Also important are the issues of power and questioning ideas that "absolute power corrupts absolutely" and that "the end justifies the means". In the documentary Looking for Richard, these themes of Richard III are made to be relevant to a modern audience by Al Pacino. We find connections between an Elizabethan audience and the modern audience by analysing the connections which Pacino has made through the character of Richard, and his exploration of what it means to be human.

There are many differences between the context of the Elizabethans and our modern context. Because of these differences, to find meaning we must draw connections between aspects of each through power, history and common beliefs. There was a shared belief in the Christian faith for the most part through all members of society, though there are comments in Richard III about the rifts forming between the Church and the state "You are too senseless, obstinate, my lord, Too ceremonious and traditional. Weigh it but with the grossness of this age, You break not sanctuary in seizing him", as well as the growing question of free will versus providence. Despite this forming rift, the morals, values and superstitions of the Elizabethans would be based in those of the church at that time, so the values and superstitions in Richard III would have been very real to the Elizabethan audience.

Here Shakespeare is commenting here again on the split from church and state, and with it, also addressing the idea of providence versus free will. "Since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain and to hate the idle pleasures of these days." The word determined is a word that is associated with the notion of divine providence deciding our future for us. However, this idea that God determines our lives is questioned by the notion that Richard is determined to be a villain: a thing of evil which promotes and spreads evil and suffering. Whether he has free will or is predetermined to be evil, we can be sure of one thing; he is devoid of conscience and morals.

The Elizabethan context was one of Monarchial power. There was a constant fight over the throne, and Richard III was a historical story of the time after the War of the Roses. However, much of the reflection in this history is inaccurate. It was based on a history written by Sir Thomas More for the ruling family of Lancaster. The basis of Richard III in history would also be familiar to the audience, even in it's incorrect state, as it was written by a biased historian who was close to the Lancaster's at the time of its writing, even though he would eventually be sentenced to beheading by Henry VII. This is due to the fact that the play was actually written as propaganda for Lancaster's, as was the history behind it, of the house of Lancaster to affirm the legitimacy of her reign in favour of that of the house of York - Richard's family. Exploration of power is done through reaffirming the positive beliefs of the ruling monarchy of Shakespeare's time, the Lancaster's, as well as the mistrustful ones about the previous house of York. This is for a number of reasons, firstly because of the publication laws which disallowed any material which displayed Elizabeth I in a bad light. Also, Shakespeare was actually hired to write Richard III as propaganda against the house of York for the Lancaster's, and also to promote Elizabeth's political agenda favourably for its moral values.

Shakespeare uses recurring motifs of shadows and light, the sun, and also seasons to represent Richard's illegitimate rise to power and the peace of the world around him. Pacino picked up on this motif, and uses it as a dramatic technique, to give the audience an ominous feeling about Richard's character and his relationships, for example near the beginning where you see only the shadow of Richard, which gives the idea that you never see the whole picture of him. Also, how he is always coming out of shadows to converse with people makes the audience question what is really happening with him behind the scenes where they cannot see. When Shakespeare says "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York", he uses an analogy of the juxtaposition of winter and summer to convey Richards feelings towards peace; he is discontented by it, and intentionally sets out to change it, also using a pun of the word "Son" (sun) which he himself is. "Since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain and to hate the idle pleasures of these days." Richard is foretelling his intentions for the entire story, which is a dramatic technique used again throughout the play by Shakespeare.

The character Richard himself is based in a stereotype which was typical of Elizabethan called the Vice. Using stereotypical characters is a theatre technique which playwrights use to make their characters more immediately understandable to the audience before possibly taking them deeper. The 'Vice' - a word which means immoral or wicked behaviour - is the villain in Elizabethan theatre who was special from other characters. He was allowed to break the forth wall, often walking in and among the audience and talking with them, which Richard does to an extent during his soliloquies conspiring with them and making the audience accomplices in his plans. Though he does fit the typical mould of a Vice, he also goes beyond that, as he develops as a person and the audience are made to feel empathetic towards him, "Richard's cosy, intimate relationship with theatrical audience complicates any moral judgement and keeps us from entirely siding with his victims" (Warren Chernaik) which would not typically happen with the vice, who is a villain through and through.

Through Richard's rise to power and manipulation of those around him, it will become anarchy, which is what he considers to be "glorious summer". His actions show a lack of christian morality, which to an Elizabethan audience would make his claims to the throne less worthy as a man acting tho opposite of the will of god, and rather the "thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog" which Margaret proclaims him to be, and therefore something less than human. This is a connection with the modern context also,

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