Influence Of Behavior On Outcome In Richard III And Looking For Riichard

Intertextuality, in the case of King Richard III and Looking for Richard, deepens a modern audience’s understanding of the mutual human desire for power. Exploration of these two texts provide insights into the contextual values and attitudes of each texts, allowing the audience to understand how society and perhaps, humanity, have changed since 1593. Shakespeare’s 1594 tragedy King Richard III explores the Tudor myth, the divine right of kinds, the Chain of being, deformity and humanism. Pacino’s 1996 docudrama Looking for Richard is a post-modern text which was influenced by a media driven and image obsessed culture. Shakespeare and Pacino both show within their pieces a protagonist who is on a quest; Richard for the Crown King Richard III and Pacino for popular recognition as the man who returned Shakespeare to the limelight, thus delving into how texts influence each other and in effect provide a deeper understanding of the authors meaning. In comparing the two texts both composers use theatricality in the exploration of the respective quests for power.

Shakespeare’s King Richard III explores the idea that acquiring and withstanding political power requires a series of sly, subtle performances designed to win trust and support from individuals and crowds. Society in the Elizabethan era obsessed over how humans created their public identity, as theorised in academic Stephen Greenblatt’s 1980 book Renaissance Self-Fashioning; which questions church authority and increases authorisation of individualism and free will. In Act 1, the chameleon-like Richard is masterful at playing roles, exhibiting whatever identity will suit the situation. With Clarence he plays the devoted brother, deceptively claiming “this deep disgrace in brotherhood/Touches me deeper than you can imagine”, in which dramatic irony of fraternal love conveys Richard’s manipulative nature. Similarly, with Lady Anne he plays the romantic courter. He brushes off her insults with flattery to play on her vulnerable emotions, claiming he killed her husband out of jealousy, arguing “your beauty was the cause of that effect.” In the soliloquy after the scene between Richard and Anne, like the theatrical stock character Vice, Richard gloats over his duplicity with anaphora and self-congratulatory tone, “Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?” Therefore, theatricality helps to shape the central value, the quest for political power in King Richard III, as Richard must ensure George is eliminated as a rival for the throne and that marriage to Anne will persuade the Lancaster house to support his monarchy.

Looking for Richard was made in 1996, the post-Cold War era, where individualism was a rising ideology. Pacino’s film resonates with Shakespeare’s idea of theatricality to gain support, however, his docudrama differs from the play by representing efforts to educate society and promote classic literature. In the first ten minutes of the docudrama, Pacino reimagines the play with Ricardian role-playing. For vox populi interviews on New York city streets, Pacino dresses like people he meets; baggy black clothes and backwards baseball caps. He puts his arms around strangers, wooing them into open confessions about Shakespeare. One man states, ‘It’s boring’, yet Pacino’s film focuses more specifically on an African-American man whose views resonate with Looking For Richard’s values, “When we speak without feeling, we get nothing from our society. We should speak like Shakespeare…We have no feelings. That's why it's easy for us to get a gun and shoot each other...”. With Ricardian asides, Pacino also empathises with us over plot’s complexity, “I can imagine how you must feel hearing me talk. It’s very confusing. I don’t know why we even bother doing this at all. But we’re gonna give it a little try.” Pacino’s aim is to create a greater appreciation of Shakespeare’s work; achieving cultural power, whereas, Shakespeare’s aim is to convey a pursuit or political power, thus the dissonance is clear in each respective quest. However, Pacino demonstrates a similarity to Shakespeare’s values as they both use the theatrical device of role-playing to capture audiences graces.

Shakespeare suggests that there are limits to what is acceptable with self-fashioning and reaffirming the Tudor dynasty’s view of English history. England during the Elizabethan era was a highly religious and pre-deterministic state, they believed in fate and that people’s lives were already planned out by God. There was no acceptance of free will or ambition, so anyone who challenged God’s plan could expect to suffer his retribution. Richard’s devious role-playing leading to Machiavellian murders is condemned in Act 4 & 5, with Richard losing the kingdoms respect and all subsequent control. His rhetorical questions foreshadow his demise, “Is the chair empty? Is the sword unswayed?/ Is the king dead? The empire unpossessed?/What heir of York is there alive but we?/And who is England’s king but great York’s heir?” The ghosts of Richard’s victims echo a fateful imperative to Richard of “Despair and die.” After Richmond defeats Richard in battle, in a dramatic climax he shouts, “The day is ours, the bloody dog is dead.” The play’s return to peace restores moral order and reminded the Elizabethan audiences of the risks which come with humans desire to self-fashion and determine their own destiny. The Tudor Myth is the belief that the defeat of Richard was God’s doing, thus, the Tudor family was put on the crown by God. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s tragedy depicts God’s retribution to those who challenge his will through Richard’s downfall and it is demonstrated as a consequence of his theatrical manipulative role-playing nature.

Similar to Shakespeare’s play, Looking For Richard depicts Richard III’s downfall as an inevitable consequence of his manipulative theatricality. However, in Pacino’s postmodern era of late 20th Century America, there was an increased understanding of the human psyche compared to the Elizabethan era. The dissonance is clear in the docudrama’s reimagining of Richard’s downfall. Pacino’s dramatized scenes reduce the appearance of ghosts, downplaying the original supernatural elements and the murder of the twins has a focus on the murderer’s emotions. Resonating with Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, the film portrays Richard’s attack of conscience as a psychological conflict, his inner voices represent his inability to know who he is anymore apart from his pretended identities. Kimball gives the evaluation, “he’s let the pursuit of power corrupt him,” and “he does not have humanity he’s lost it.” Barbara Everett claims, “everybody may have a price. But for a lot of people, there is a fundamental decency.” Method acting – acting sick before Richard’s actual death. Audiences during the 1600s would view Richard’s downfall as God’s retribution, because they lived in a society that was highly religious and had limited understanding of human psychology. However, audiences the 21st century would recognise that his downfall is a result of his inner conflict and guilty conscience, because modern society is secular and has a better understanding of the human psyche. Thus, Pacino demonstrates Richard’s downfall through theatrical aspects, such as method acting, with an emphasis on his conflicting mind, instead of religious and supernatural justice and retribution.

Shakespeare and Pacino both show within their respective pieces a protagonist who is on a quest, and how their behaviours shaped the outcomes, even in two different contexts. Richard gaining and losing his crown and Pacino striving for popular recognition as the man who returned Shakespeare to the limelight demonstrate a comparison of how both composers use theatricality and the power of narrative to explore and determine outcomes of the quest for power.  

07 July 2022
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