Richard III as a Machiavellian Villain
Richard the Third craved power as a predator craves its prey. He was willing to do
anything to advance himself and sought after power, using others to try to legitimize his claim
to the throne. Richard had a need to rule, and he felt no remorse for his decisions simply
because he never acted directly, and was therefore able to achieve successful murders while
still hiding behind a veil to safeguard himself. Richard III was a Machiavellian villain because
he controlled others, taking on the role of a puppet master.
Richard was a villain at a distance. For example, he did not often deal with problems
head-on or even on his own. He had a habit of allowing others to do his “dirty work” for him
and would not admit to anything he was doing or directly interact with any of his intended
victims. “Machiavellinism describes the subordination of ethics to political power” and
Richard's regards for a standard of ethics was quite low. (“Richard III The Machiavellian
Villain”). Richard also uses others to further his own position of power and ultimately get
closer to ascending the throne. As he instills fear in others, he abuses this fear they have for
him in such a way that it grants him authority. With this authority, Richard is able advance
himself by making others look much worse than him through a combination of influence and
confusion. In act three, scene four of Shakespeare's history, Richard uses his false authority
to accuse Hastings of treachery and have him executed. He hires many to do this work for
him, and bribes murderers when necessary.
Richard is willing to do anything for power, and he has no sense of pride to hold him
back. He will eliminate anyone who stands in his way, Richard's lack of pride is what allows
him to hire murderers and set them on his own brother, all the while trying to claim allegiance
to him. “Clarence is totally deceived by Richard's pretended concern and compassion for his
plight.” (Libuda.) Richard seems to be willing to do anything for power but does he? This is a
question a reader might ask themselves while reading through Richard III. The answer
comes a bit later in the play when Richard marries Anne. He had no feelings for her and she
was in mourning after he had killed her previous husband, but that didn't stop Richard from
seducing her and getting her to agree to a marriage. Any reader could see that honor and
pride were foreign concepts to him as he married her only to try to gain a more legitimate
ownership of the throne. He kills her shortly thereafter, realizing that he had no further use for
her. Richard also continues to kill several of Edward's children and all just so that he may
destroy any and all who could possibly threaten his position if he were to usurp the throne.
Since Richard does not act directly, being the Machiavellian villain that he is, almost all who
oppose him die and his blade is never bloodied. Clearly, Richard has a thirst for power and
nothing to hold him back from doing whatever it may take.
Shakespeare's work was influenced by Machiavelli, and Shakespeare was also a great
scholar and historian. Shakespeare wrote Richard III for a Tudor Queen and therefore tried
to project some of the details with a bit more bias so as to appease the queen. Shakespeare
was very interested in history, and wrote many plays about history. In fact, Richard III is one
of Shakespeare’s histories. Machiavelli's book, Il Principe (The Prince), was commonly
known and referenced in Shakespeare's time and Shakespeare was most definitely familiar
with its contents. Shakespeare created many Machiavellian characters, and not all were
villains. A few of these characters include Lago (Othello), Edmund (King Lear), Claudius
(Hamlet), and Augustus Caesar (Antony and Cleopatra). Of course, “Shakespeare’s most
infamous Machiavellian character is Richard III, the model of the political schemer out to
secure his own position” (McLean). As a reader could plainly see, Machiavelli influenced
several of Shakespeare's works. Richard III was hated by his people and feared by them, an
important Machiavellian characteristic that ofttimes gets him mistaken for a Machiavellian
hero. Simply because he is feared by his people is what seems to spark this dispute but it is
much clearer that Richard instills hate in his people rather than fear as can be noted in act
four, scene four when Queen Elizabeth and Queen Margaret are expressing their hatred for
Richard. “Queen Margaret: Thou hadst an Edward, till a Richard killed him;/ Thou hadst a
Richard, till a Richard killed him ... Thou hadst a Clarence too, till a Richard killed him” (R3
4.4.50-54). Richard was hated by his people which is an important defining characteristic for
a Machiavellian villain.
Richard III controlled others at a distance, acting as a puppet master. He was hated
by his people, and willing to do anything to raise his own power and legitimize his claim to the
throne. Shakespeare was greatly influenced by Machiavelli's work, and Richard was
Shakespeare's most infamous Machiavellian character.
"Richard the Machiavellian Villain?" ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation. Web Article.
“What is meant by a Machiavellian villain?” Yahoo Answers. Web.
“What is a Machiavellian villain?” Wiki Answers. Answers Corporation. Web.
Libuda, Patrick. Richard III, the Machiavellian Villain. Grin Publishing. 2008. eBook.
McLean, Ralph. “The Influence of Machiavelli on Shakespeare.” Britain Print Study Tools.
Web Article. <http://www.britaininprint.net/shakespeare/study_tools/machiavelli.html>