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In his excellent study of history vs. Shakespeare entitled SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLISH KINGS, Peter Saccio meticulously separates truth from the Tudor myth. When turning to Richard, however, he writes, "The Tudor imagination revelled in Richard III. Archvillain and devil incarnate, he supposedly started his infamous career by lingering sullenly in the womb for two years, finally coming to terms with teeth and shoulder-length hair. Having thus discommoded his mother, he murdered his way through the royal house, slaughtering his cousin, the last Lancastrian king Henry VI, Henry's son Prince Edward, his own brother the duke of Clarence, his nephews the child -king Edward V and Richard duke of York, and finally his wife Anne...He was a criminal so appalling that his own death was not a further crime requiring still more retribution, but a purgation of England...This lurid king, hunchbacked, clad in blood-splattered black velvet, forever gnawing his nether lip or grasping for his dagger, has an enduring place in English mythology...As myth, the Tutor Richard is indestructible, nor should one try to destroy him. This demonic jester and archetypal wicked uncle is far too satisfying a creation..." (SEK, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1978, pp. 157-159).

Although Saccio goes on to argue that this Richard cannot be acceptable as history--he did not, for example, woo Anne in the manner Shakespeare describes; nor did he set out to murder Clarence, his mythic presence indeed dominates, and the following remarks will accept the myth--the truth of poetry and drama--as a given.


Both electronic and print sources abound for Richard III. The following should be consulted, and were used in the preparation of this page:


Allen, G, and Harry Clark. Literary Criticism: Pope to Croce. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962

Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.

Fromm Eric. Escape from Freedom. N.Y.: Avon Books, 1966.

Kendall. Paul. Richard The Third. N.Y.; W.W. Norton, 1983.

Sacco, Peter. Shakespeare's English Kings. New York: Oxford University PRess, 1978.

Shakespeare, William. King Richard III. (Arden Edition, Antony Hammond, ed.), Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, 1981.

Spurgeon, Caroline. Shakespeare's Imagery and What it Tells Us. Boston: Beacon Press, 1934.


Click here for the best web sites for Shakespeare. Several are devoted to Richard III as a literary character and historical figure.

Return to my Index Page for background summaries of the War of the Roses.



Harold Bloom's thesis that Shakespeare invented personality can hardly be challenged. More than any writer, he understood what humanity with all its "hopes and fears" aspired to, and what those aspirations could become when the dark side peaked through "the blanket of the night." We have Rosaline and Lady Macbeth, and Hamlet and Richard III.

Bloom's chapter on Richard offers a perspective that merits investigation, On page 71, he asks, "What, then, is Richard's peculiar charm, that alone rescues Shakespeare's perpetually popular melodrama? Sadomasochistic sexuality is certainly a crucial component: to surmise Richard III's bedroom behavior with Anne is to indulge one's unhealthiest fantasies...but kinkiness alone cannot account for Richard's exuberant appeal: endless gusto appears to be his secret, energy that delights and terrifies. He is like a Panurge turned from mischief to malevolence, vitalism transmogrified into the death drive. All of us, his audience, require periodical rest and recharging; Richard incessantly surges on, from victim to victim, in quest of more power to hurt."

Meditating on Bloom's comments invites us to stand in awe of Shakespeare's universality that transcends time and place. Directors face a dilemma with the histories. Shakespeare's first tetrology was begun by 1590, and concluded with Richard III late in 1591 (Arden edition, p. 61). He, through various chroniclers, including Hall and Holinshed, dramatized events in the great English civil war fought between 1400 (the deposing and murdering of Richard II) and 1485 (the death of Richard III at Bosworth Field). Of these plays, 1 Henry IV, Bloom's favorite due to Falstaff, and Henry V (Winston Churchill's favorite in World War II) have enjoyed continued success on stage and film: Churchill asked Olivier to direct and star in Henry V during the world war to bolster English spirits against Nazi terror.

So then what is the dilemma? By 1591, the War of the Roses had been over for more than one hundred years. One must wonder how much the average Elizabethan playgoer (who indeed new and cared more of history than Americans do) was able to recall the confusing maze of Lancastrian and Yorkist family trees. For Americans establishing relevance creates more challenges. Our lack of knowledge of our own revolutionary and civil war is appalling, so how much less do we know or care about a medieval English civil war--Edward who, we ask?

Audiences will not take a course in Medieval history prior to attending a play. Director Richard Loncraine and Ian McKellen who had done Richard on the stage for The Royal National Theater had a superb plan: DO RICHARD AS ADOLF HITLER CLAWING HIS WAY TO POWER IN THE 1930'S.:

I had the pleasure of seeing McKellen perform the role at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. as well as viewing the film of course, and the performances more than validated Bloom's thesis. The War of the Roses became World War II, and Richard's / Hitler's personality emerged as the dominate focus, which of course is what Shakespeare intended all along. The character of the totalitarian mind has not changed. Shakespeare knew Hitler very well. It's too bad the Allies didn't in 1924, but as Bloom reminds us, we are just catching up to Shakespeare.



Let us look at the gothic potential of Richard and Hitler. What sources do we need? If you are studying gothic fiction, the notes and sites you have examined thus fair should have helped you define (at least potentially) those classical and Romantic period sources that shaped gothic sensibilities:

  • why do the horrid and the grotesque exist?
  • what epistemological constructs define the supernatural?
  • what is the relationship between nominalism and realism?
  • where are we when we "cross the line" in "Rime of the Ancient Mariner?"
  • what are the "caverns measureless to man" and why do we like to go there?
  • what archetypes are involved?
  • what does "willing suspension of disbelief" mean?
  • does the dialectic play a role in defining the gothic temperament?
  • why are dreams so important to the gothic temperament?
  • what limits does the gothic test, and why is excess so important?
  • what defines the Byronic hero (and Richard):
    • the secret sin
    • temptation
    • sexual excesses?
    • a heart formed for...
    • alienation

May we use these ideas to define Richard, Hitler, and the gothic temperament?



In THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY , Nietzsche defines two polar archetypes that are essential for the gothic personality: the cults of Apollo and Dionysus. [Excerpts are from Allen, Volume II cited above, pp. 513 ff. ]

For additional background to Greek tragedy, click here.


We shall do a great deal for the science of aesthetics, once we perceive not merely by logical inference, but with the immediate certainty of intuition, that the continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollonian and Dionysian duality: just as procreation depends on the duality of the sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations. The terms Dionysian and Apollonian we borrow from the Greeks, who disclose to the discerning mind the profound mysteries of their view of art, not, to be sure, in concepts, but in the impressively clear figures of their gods. Through Apollo and Dionysus, the two art-deities of the Greeks, we come to recognize that in the Greek world there existed a sharp opposition, in origin and aims, between the Apollonian art of sculpture, and the non-plastic, Dionysian, art of music. These two distinct tendencies run parallel to each other, for the most part openly at variance; and they continually incite each other to new and more powerful births, which perpetuate an antagonism, only superficially reconciled by the common term "Art"; till at last, by a metaphysical miracle of the Hellenic will, they appear coupled with each other, and through this coupling eventually generate the art-product, equally Dionysian and Apollonian, of Attic tragedy.

In order to grasp these two tendencies, let us first conceive of them as the separate art-worlds of dreams and drunkenness. These physiological phenomena present a contrast analogous to that existing between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. It was in dreams, says Lucretius, that the glorious divine figures first appeared to the souls of men; in dreams the great shaper beheld the splendid corporeal structure of superhuman beings; and the Hellenic poet, if questioned about the mysteries of poetic inspiration, would likewise have suggested dreams and he might have given an explanation like that of Hans Sachs in the Mastersingers: "My friend, that is exactly the poet's task, to mark his dreams and to attach meanings to them. Believe me, man's most profound illusions are revealed to him in dreams; and all versifying and poetizing is nothing but an interpretation of them" [Clifton P. Fadiman's translation from the original German]

The beautiful appearance of the dream-worlds, in creating which every man is a perfect artist, is the prerequisite of all plastic art, and in fact, as we shall see, of an important part of poetry also. In our dreams we delight in the immediate apprehension of form; all forms speak to us; none are unimportant, none are superfluous. But, when this dream-reality is most intense, we also have, glimmering through it, the sensation of its appearance: at least this is my experience, as to whose frequency, aye normality, I could adduce many proofs, in addition to the sayings of the poets. Indeed, the man of philosophic mind has a presentiment that underneath this reality in which we live and have our being, is concealed another and quite different reality, which, like the first, is an appearance; and Schopenhauer actually indicates as the criterion of philosophical ability the occasional ability to view men and things as mere phantoms or dream-pictures. Thus the aesthetically sensitive man stands in the same relation to the reality of dreams as the philosopher does to the reality of existence; he is a close and willing observer, for these pictures afford him an interpretation of life, and it is by these processes that he trains himself for life. . . .

This joyful necessity of the dream-experience has been embodied by the Greeks in their Apollo; for Apollo, the god of all plastic energies, is at the same time the soothsaying god. He, who (as the etymology of the name indicates) is the "shining one," the deity of light, is also ruler over the fair appearance of the inner world of fantasy. The higher truth, the perfection of these states in contrast to the incompletely intelligible everyday world, this deep consciousness of nature, healing and helping in sleep and dreams, is at the same time the symbolical analogue of the soothsaying faculty and of the arts generally, which make life possible and worth living. But we must also include in our picture of Apollo that delicate boundary, which the dream-picture must not overstep--lest it act pathologically (in which case appearance would impose upon us as pure reality). We must keep in mind that measured restraint, that freedom from the wilder emotions, that philosophical calm of the sculptor god. His eye must be "sunlike," as befits his origin; even when his glance is angry and distempered, the sacredness of his beautiful appearance must still be there. And so, in one sense, we might apply to Apollo the words of Schopenhauer when he speaks of the man wrapped in the veil of Maya:

"Just as in a stormy sea, unbounded in every direction, rising and falling with howling mountainous waves, a sailor sits in a boat and trusts in his frail barque: so in the midst of a world of sorrows the individual sits quietly, supported by and trusting in his principium individuationis." In fact, we might say of Apollo, that in him the unshaken faith in this principium and the calm repose of the man wrapped therein receive their sublimest expression; and we might consider Apollo himself as the glorious divine image
of the principium individuationis, whose gestures and expression tell us of all the joy and wisdom of "appearance," together with its beauty.

In the same work Schopenhauer has depicted for us the terrible awe which seizes upon man when he is suddenly unable to account for the cognitive forms of a phenomenon, when the principle of reason in some one of its manifestations seems to admit of an exception. If we add to this awe the blissful ecstasy which rises from the innermost depths of man, aye, of nature, at this very collapse of the principium individuationis, we shall gain an insight into the nature of the Dionysian, which is brought home to us most intimately perhaps by the analogy of drunkenness. It is either under the influence of the narcotic draught, which we hear of in the songs of all primitive men and peoples, or with the potent coming of spring penetrating all nature with joy, that these Dionysian emotions awake, which, as they intensify, cause the subjective to vanish into complete self-forgetfulness.

Under the charm of the Dionysian not only is the union between man and man reaffirmed, but Nature which has become estranged, hostile, or subjugated celebrates once more her reconciliation with her prodigal son, man. Freely earth proffers her gifts, and peacefully the beasts of prey approach from desert and mountain. The chariot of Dionysus is bedecked with flowers and garlands; panthers and tigers pass beneath his yoke....


Thus far we have considered the Apollonian and its antithesis, the Dionysian, as artistic energies which burst forth from nature herself, without the mediation of the human artist; energies in which nature's art impulses are satisfied in the most immediate and direct way: first, on the one hand, in the pictorial world of dreams, whose completeness is not dependent upon the intellectual attitude or the artistic culture of any single being; and, on the other hand, as drunken reality, which likewise does not heed the single unit, but even seeks to destroy the individual and redeem him by a mystic feeling of Oneness. With reference to these immediate art-states of nature, every artist is an "imitator," that is to say, either an Apollonian artist in dreams, or a Dionysian artist in ecstasies, or finally--as for example in Greek tragedy--at once artist in both dreams and ecstasies: so we may perhaps picture him sinking down in his Dionysian drunkenness and mystical self-abnegation, alone, and apart from the singing revelers, and we may imagine how now, through Apollonian dream-inspiration, his own state, i.e., his oneness with the primal nature of the universe, is revealed to him in a symbolical dream-picture. . .


The Greek knew and felt the terror and horror of existence. That he might endure this terror at all, he had to interpose between himself and life the radiant dream-birth of the Olympians. That overwhelming dismay in the face of the titanic powers of nature, the Moira enthroned inexorably over all knowledge, the vulture of the great lover of mankind, Prometheus, the terrible fate of the wise Oedipus, ...all this was again and again overcome by the Greeks with the aid of the Olympian middle world of art; or at any rate it was veiled and withdrawn from sight. It was out of the direst necessity to live that the Greeks created these gods. Perhaps we may picture the process to ourselves somewhat as follows: out of the original Titan thearchy of terror the Olympian thearchy of joy gradually evolved through the Apollonian impulse towards beauty, just as roses bud from thorny bushes. How else could this people, so sensitive, so vehement in its desires, so singularly constituted for suffering, how could they have endured existence if it had not been revealed to them in their gods, surrounded with a higher glory? The same impulse which calls art into being, as the complement and consummation of existence, seducing one to a continuation of life, was also the cause of the Olympian world which the Hellenic "will" made use of as a transfiguring mirror. Thus do the gods justify the life of man, in that they themselves live it--the only satisfactory theodicy! Existence under the bright sunshine of such gods is regarded as desirable in itself, and the real grief of the Homeric men is caused by parting from it, especially by early parting: so that now... we might say of the Greeks that "to die early is worst of all for them, the next worst--some day to die at all." Once heard, it will ring out again; forget not the lament of the short-lived Achilles, mourning the leaflike change and vicissitude of the race of men and the decline of the heroic age. It is not unworthy of the greatest hero to long for a continuation of life, aye, even though he live as a slave. At the Apollonian stage of development, the "will" longs so vehemently for this existence, the Homeric man feels himself so completely at one with it, that lamentation itself becomes a song of praise.

Here we should note that this harmony which is contemplated with such longing by modern man, in fact, this oneness of man with by no means a simple condition, resulting naturally, and as if inevitably. it is not a condition which, like a terrestrial paradise, must necessarily be found at the gate of every culture. Only a romantic age could believe this, an age which conceived of the artist in terms of Rousseau's Emile and imagined that in Homer it had found such an artist Emile, reared in Nature's bosom. Wherever we meet with the "naive" in art, we recognize the highest effect of the Apollonian culture, which in the first place has always to overthrow some Titanic empire and slay monsters, and which, through its potent dazzling representations and its pleasurable illusions, must have triumphed over a terrible depth of world-contemplation and a most keen sensitivity to suffering. But how seldom do we attain to the naive--that complete absorption in the beauty of appearance ! And hence how inexpressibly sublime is Homer, who, as individual being, bears the same relation to this Apollonian folk-culture as the individual dream-artist does to the dream faculty of the people and of nature in general. The Homeric "naivety" can be understood only as the complete victory of the Apollonian illusion: an illusion similar to those which Nature so frequently employs to achieve her own ends. The true goal is veiled by a phantasm: and while we stretch out our hands for the latter, Nature attains the former by means of your illusion. In the Greeks the "will" wished to contemplate itself in the transfiguration of genius and the world of art; in order to glorify themselves, its creatures had to feel themselves worthy of glory; they had to behold themselves again in a higher sphere, without this perfect world of contemplation acting as a command or a reproach. Such is the sphere of beauty, in which they saw their mirrored images, the Olympians. With this mirroring of beauty the Hellenic will combated its artistically correlative talent for suffering and for the wisdom of suffering: and, as a monument of its victory, we have Homer, the naive artist.

The tradition is undisputed that Greek tragedy in its earliest form had for its sole theme the sufferings of Dionysus, and that for a long time the only stage hero was simply Dionysus himself. With equal confidence, however, we can assert that, until Euripides, Dionysus never once ceased to be the tragic hero; that in fact all the celebrated figures of the Greek stage-- Prometheus, Oedipus, etc.--are but masks of this original hero, Dionysus. There is a godhead behind all these masks; and that is the one essential cause of the typical "ideality," so often wondered at, of these celebrated characters. I know not who it was maintained that all individuals as such are comic and consequently untragic: whence we might infer that the Greeks in general could not endure individuals on the tragic stage. And they really seem to have felt this: as, in general, we may note in the Platonic distinction, so deeply rooted in the Hellenic nature, of the "idea" in contrast to the...image. Using Plato's terms, we should have to speak of the tragic figures of the Hellenic stage somewhat as follows: the one truly real Dionysus appears in a variety of forms, in the mask of a fighting hero and entangled, as it were, in the net of the individual will. In the latter case the visible god talks and acts so as to resemble an erring, striving, suffering individual. .. In reality, however, and behind this appearance, the hero is the suffering Dionysus of the mysteries, the god experiencing in himself the agonies of individuation... From the smile of this Dionysus sprang the Olympic gods, from his tears sprang man. In this existence as a dismembered god, Dionysus possesses the dual nature of a cruel barbarized demon and a mild, gentle-hearted ruler... This view of things already provides us with all the elements of a profound and pessimistic contemplation of the world, together with the mystery doctrine of tragedy: the fundamental knowledge of the oneness of everything existent, the conception of individuation the prime cause of evil, and of art as the joyous hope that the bonds of individuation may be broken in augury of a restore oneness. . . .


[From Fromm (listed above). Fromm cites Mein Kampf (N.Y.: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1940) ]

...Hitler's personality, his teachings and the Nazi system express an extreme form of the character structure which we have called "authoritarian" and that by this very fact he made a powerful appeal to those parts of the population which were-more or less-of the same character structure. Hitler's autobiography is as good an illustration of the authoritarian character as any, and since in addition to that it is the most representative document of Nazi literature I shall use it as the main source for analyzing the psychology of Nazism.

The essence of the authoritarian character has been described as the simultaneous presence of sadistic and masochistic drives. Sadism was understood as aiming at unrestricted power over another person more or less mixed with destructiveness; masochism as aiming at dissolving oneself in an overwhelmingly strong power and participating in its strength and glory. Both the sadistic and the masochistic trends are caused by the inability of the isolated individual to stand alone and his need for a symbiotic relationship that overcomes this aloneness.

The sadistic craving for power finds manifold expressions in Mein Kampf. It is characteristic of Hitler's relationship to the German masses whom he despises and "loves" in the typically sadistic manner, as well as to his political enemies towards whom he evidences those destructive elements that are an important component of his sadism. He speaks of the satisfaction the masses have in domination. "What they want is the victory of the stronger and the annihilation or the unconditional surrender of the weaker." "Like a woman, who will submit to the strong man rather than dominate the weakling, thus the masses love the ruler rather than the suppliant, and inwardly they are far more satisfied by a doctrine which tolerates no rival than by the grant of liberal freedom; they often feel at a loss what to do with it, and even easily feel themselves deserted. They neither realize the impudence with which they are spiritually terrorized, nor the outrageous curtailment of their human liberties for in no way does the delusion of this doctrine dawn on them." (from Mein Kampf)

He describes the breaking of the will of the audience by the superior strength of the speaker as the essential factor in propaganda. He does not even hesitate to admit that physical tiredness of his audience is a most welcome condition for their suggestibility. Discussing the question which hour of the day is most suited for political mass meetings he says: 'It seems that in the morning and even during the day men's will power revolts with highest energy against an attempt at being forced under another's will and another's opinion. In the evening, however, they succumb more easily to the dominating force of a stronger will. For truly every such meeting presents a wrestling match between two opposed forces. The superior oratorical talent of a domineering apostolic nature will now succeed more easily in winning for the new will people who themselves have in turn experienced a weakening of their force of resistance in the most natural way, than people who still have full command of the energies of their minds and their will power. (from Mein Kampf)

Hitler himself is very much aware of the conditions which make for the longing for submission and gives an excellent description of the situation of the individual attending a mass meeting: "The mass meeting is necessary if only for the reason that in it the individual, who is becoming an adherent of a new movement feels lonely and is easily seized with the fear of being alone, receives for the first time the pictures of a greater community, something that has a strengthening and encouraging effect on most people.... If he steps for the first time out of his small workshop or out of the big enterprise, in which he feels very small, into the mass meeting and is now surrounded by thousands and thousands of people with the same conviction ... he himself succumbs to the magic influence of what we call mass suggestion..." (from Mein Kampf)

The same emphasis on power is also present in Hitler's formulation of the aims of education. He says that the pupil's "entire education and development has to be directed at giving him the conviction of being absolutely superior to the others." (from Mein Kampf)

...Usually Hitler tries to rationalize and justify his wish for power. The main justifications are the following: his domination of other peoples is for their own good and for the good of the culture of the world; the wish for power is rooted in the eternal laws of nature and he recognizes and follows only these laws; he himself acts under the command of a higher power-God, Fate, History, Nature; his attempts for domination are only a defense against the attempts of others to dominate him and the German people. He wants only peace and freedom.

An example of the first kind of rationalization is the following paragraph from Mein Kampf: "If, in its historical development, the German people had possessed this group unity as it was enjoyed by other peoples, then the German Reich would today probably be the mistress of this globe." German domination of the world could lead, Hitler assumes, to a "peace, supported not by the palm branches of tearful pacifist professional female mourners, but founded by the victorious sword of a people of overlords which puts the world into the service of a higher culture."...

The second rationalization, that his wish for power is rooted in the laws of nature, is more than a mere rationalization; it also springs from the wish for submission to a power outside of oneself, as expressed particularly in Hitler's crude popularization of Darwinism. "In the instinct of preserving the species," Hitler sees "the first cause of the formation of human communities." (Mein Kampf)

This instinct of self-preservation leads to the fight of the stronger for the domination of the weaker and economically, eventually, to the survival of the fittest. The identification of the instinct of self-preservation with power over others finds a particularly striking expression in Hitler's assumption that "the first culture of mankind certainly depended less on the tamed animal, lout rather on the use of inferior people." He projects his own sadism upon Nature who is "the cruel Queen of all Wisdom," "l and her law of preservation is "bound to the brazen law of necessity and of the right of the victory of the best and the strongest in this world." (from Mein Kampf)

..To be sure, Darwin's theory as such was not an expression of the feelings of a sado-masochistic character. On the contrary, for many of its adherents it appealed to the hope of a further evolution of mankind to higher stages of culture. For Hitler, however, it was an expression of and simultaneously a justification for his own sadism. He reveals quite naively the psychological significance which the Darwinian theory had for him. When he lived in Munich, still an unknown man, he used to awake at 5 o'clock in the morning. He had "gotten into the habit of throwing pieces of bread or hard crusts to the little mice which spent their time in the small room, and then of watching these droll little animals romp and scuffle for these few delicacies."' (Mein Kampf). This "game" was the Darwinian "struggle for life" on a small scale...

A great deal of this propaganda consists of deliberate, conscious Lies. Partly, however, it has the same emotional "sincerity" which paranoid accusations have. These accusations always have the function of a defense against being found out with regard to one's own sadism or destructiveness. They run according to the formula: It is you who have sadistic intention. Therefore I am innocent. With Hitler this defensive mechanism is irrational to the extreme, since he accuses his enemies of the very things he quite frankly admits to be his own aims. Thus he accuses the Jews, the Communists, and the French of the very things that he says are the most legitimate aims of his own actions. He scarcely bothers to cover this contradiction by rationalizations. He accuses the Jews of bringing the French African troops to the Rhine with the intention to destroy...the white race and thus "in turn to rise personally to the position of master." (from Mein Kampf)...

Hitler's contempt for the powerless ones becomes particularly apparent when he speaks of people whose political aims-the fight for national freedom -were similar to those which he himself professed to have. Perhaps nowhere is the insincerity of Hitler's interest in national freedom more blatant than in his scorn for powerless revolutionaries... The love for the powerful and the hatred for the powerless which is so typical for the sado-masochistic character explains a great deal of Hitler's and his followers' political actions. While the Republican government thought they could "appease" the Nazis by treating them leniently, they not only failed to appease them but aroused their hatred by the very lack of power and firmness they showed. Hitler hated the Weimar Republic because it was weak and he admired the industrial and military leaders because they had power...

So far we have spoken of the sadistic side in Hitler's ideology. However, as we have seen in the discussion of the authoritarian character, there is the masochistic side as well as the sadistic one. There is the wish to submit to an overwhelmingly strong power, to annihilate the self, besides the wish to have power over helpless beings. This masochistic side of the Nazi ideology and practice is most obvious with respect to the masses. They are told again and again: the: individual is nothing and does not count. The individual should accept this personal insignificance, dissolve himself in a higher power, and then feel proud in participating in the strength and glory of this higher power.

Hitler expresses this idea clearly in his definition of idealism: "Ideals alone leads men to voluntary acknowledgment of the privilege of force and strength and thus makes them become a dust particle of that order which forms and shapes the entire universe." (from Mein Kampf)...Sacrificing the individual and reducing it to a bit of dust, to an atom, implies, according to Hitler, the renunciation of the right to assert one's individual opinion, interests, and happiness. This renunciation is the essence of a political organization in which "the individual renounces representing his personal opinion and his interests ..." (from Mein Kampf). He praises "unselfishness" and teaches that "in the hunt for their own happiness, people fall all the more out of heaven into hell." It is the aim of education to teach the individual not to assert his self. Already the boy in school must learn "to be silent, not only when he is blamed justly but he has also to learn, if necessary, to bear injustice in silence." "In the folkish State the folkish view of life has finally to succeed in bringing about that nobler era when men see their care no longer in the better breeding of dogs, horses and cats, but rather in the uplifting of mankind itself, an era in which the one knowingly and silently renounces, and the other gladly gives and sacrifices." (from Mein Kampf)

..Hitler recognizes clearly that his philosophy of self-denial and sacrifice is meant for those whose economic situation does not allow them any happiness. He does not want to bring about a social order which would make personal happiness possible for every individual; he wants to exploit the very poverty of the masses in order to make them believe in his evangelism of self-annihilation...The power which impresses Hitler probably more than God, Providence, and Fate, is Nature. While it was the trend of the historical development of the last four hundred years to replace the domination over men by the domination over Nature, Hitler insists that one can and should rule over men but that one cannot rule over Nature... He ridicules the idea that man could conquer Nature... Nature is the great power we have to submit to, but living beings are the ones we should dominate.

I have tried to show in Hitler's writings the two trends that we have already described as fundamental for the authoritarian character: the craving for power over men and the longing for submission to an overwhelmingly strong outside power... This ideology results from his personality which, with its inferiority feeling, hatred against life, asceticism, and envy of those who enjoy life, is the soil of sado-masochistic strivings; it was addressed to people who, on account of their similar character structure, felt attracted and excited by these teachings and became ardent followers of the man who expressed what they felt. But it was not only the Nazi ideology that satisfied the lower middle class; the political practice realized what the ideology promised. A hierarchy was created in which everyone has somebody above him to submit to and somebody beneath him to feel power over; the man at the top, the leader, has Fate, History, Nature above him as the power in which to submerge himself. Thus the Nazi ideology and practice satisfies the desires springing from the character structure of one part of the population and gives direction and orientation to those who, though not enjoying domination and submission, were resigned and had given up faith in life, in their own decisions, in everything.

[Instructor Note: pay careful attention to what Fromm has regarding the Medieval order and the industrial revolution. Correlate with when Richard III was written, and what was happening.]

The fact of human individuation, of the destruction of all "primary bonds," cannot be reversed. The process of the destruction of the medieval world has taken four hundred years and is being completed in our era. Unless the whole industrial system, the whole mode of production, should be destroyed and changed to the preindustrial level, man will remain an individual who has completely emerged from the world surrounding him. We have seen that man cannot endure this negative freedom; that he tries to escape into new bondage which is to be a substitute for the primary bonds which he has given up. But these new bonds do not constitute real union with the world. He pays for the new security by giving up the integrity of his self. The factual dichotomy between him and these authorities does not disappear. They thwart and cripple his life even though consciously he may submit voluntarily. At the same time he lives in a world in which he has not only developed into being an "atom" but which also provides him with every potentiality for becoming an individual.

..The function of an authoritarian ideology and practice can be compared to the function of neurotic symptoms. Such symptoms result from unbearable psychological conditions and at the same time offer a solution that makes life possible. Yet they are not a solution that leads to happiness or growth of personality. They leave unchanged the conditions that necessitate the neurotic solution. The dynamism of man's nature is an important factor that tends to seek for more satisfying solutions if there is a possibility of attaining them. The aloneness and powerlessness of the individual, his quest for the realization of potentialities which developed in him, the objective fact of the increasing productive capacity of modern industry, are dynamic factors, which constitute the basis for a growing quest for freedom and happiness. The escape into symbiosis can alleviate the suffering for a time but it does not eliminate it. The history of mankind is the history of growing individuation, but it is also the history of growing freedom. The quest for freedom is not a metaphysical force and cannot be explained by natural law; it is the necessary result of the process of individuation and of the growth of culture. The authoritarian systems cannot do away with basic conditions that make for the quest for freedom; neither can they exterminate the quest for freedom that springs from these conditions.


Certainly Richard III is a play for the stage or film. Unlike Hamlet which may be contemplated at leisure in the study, we need to see Richard qua Hitler "strut and fret his hour." ENJOY THE FILM. As you watch, make mental notes which may be catalysts for the comparisons we will make. It would be useful to view a documentary on Hitler as well:

Recommended films:

  • Triumph of the Will (directed by Leni Riefenstah)
  • The World at War (BBC series)


1--Develop a profile of the gothic personality by comparing the sources on this site with the play. Use your notes and Romantic period materials, especially for the Byronic hero. To see how Shakespeare first develops Richard's character, consult 3 Henry VI as well. When you review the play, pay careful attention to the following scenes / passages:

  1. The soliloquy opening the play has gothic traits--what are they?
  2. Note how Richard treats Clarence and Anne; not historical but what does the scene reveal about his character? How evil is he? Why?--does the gothic deal with motivation or melodrama? If you know any other Shakespeare play, how do the "evil" characters behave as compared to Richard?
  3. What do think of Anne's words that open Act II, scene ii vs. what she says later in the scene to Richard. What are we to believe?
  4. Richard's soliloquy at the end of scene ii is an assessment; discuss its contents (motifs and ideas) from a psychological perspective.
  5. Richard has enemies in the play; both those who opposes his ambition initially (the Woodvilles--Rivers, Grey, Elizabeth, Margaret), and then those whose initial attraction later becomes horror (Hastings, Buckingham). See: I,iii, 325 ff, and IV,ii,24.
  6. Throughout the play Richard frequently recounts instances when he has been wronged, such as I,iii, 165 ff. Do these events (regardless of their historical accuracy), account for his behavior?
  7. Study the dream of Clarence (I,iv,43 ff), recalling what Nietzsche said in. What universals important to the gothic persona are herein dramatized--can the opposites of revenge vs. mercy be reconciled?
  8. In Act II, opposites appear to reconcile--how sincere is Richard?
  9. What do you think of the point of view expressed in II,iii,38 ff by the second citizen?
  10. Act III is the turning point of the play--Richard's conduct with his two nephews, the little princes: Edward V and Richard has long been the subject of controversy. Kendall's biography has an appendix on the subject--regardless of the historical facts, Shakespeare makes clear that Richard orders them killed: does the depravity of killing children completely nullify any sympathy for Richard as gothic 'anti-hero'? See: IV,ii,70 ff., and IV,iii.
  11. Notice the equivocation in III,i,81 ff.
  12. Richard does not hesitate to turn on those whom he fears will not help him--check a historical parallel to Hitler's "night of the long knives." (III,i,165 ff)
  13. The deformity / 'secret sin' is dramatized in III,iv. regarding Richard and Hastings--III,iv, 68 ff. Examine the references to witchcraft.
  14. Richard in III,v plots directly to become king--How? Correlate with his strategy in his opening soliloquy.
  15. Both Richard and Hitler understood the importance of ritual--recall the films of both men--what is ritual in a romantic sense? Why is it needed psychologically, morally, politically etc.? (V,vii,45). Read Byron's letters on the subject.
  16. Discuss Richard's psychology in III,vii,140 ff.
  17. See III,vii,223 by Richard
  18. What happens in IV,ii?
  19. Margaret's role (IV,iv,35 ff.) is to catalogue Richard's crimes....what are they?
  20. Byron's relationship with his mother (see letters) has an interesting parallel to Richard in Iv,iv. What do you notice?
  21. How does the Richard / Elizabeth scene of IV,iv parallel the Richard / Anne scene earlier? Check Byron's life for parallels?
  22. Richard's 'justifications' of IV,iv,290 ff, might be paralleled to Manfred's character. What do you think?
  23. Note the irony in Richard's lines, IV,iv,397 ff. The Arden edition notes that everything Richard says will come true in the last act.
  24. Act IV ends with reports that Richard's oppressed subjects are mounting rebellions.
  25. The gothic genre must have ghosts--we will see the 'bleeding nun' in The Monk, and the apparitions in The Turn of the Screw. Who appears to Richard in the last act and why? (See V,iii, 120 ff), It is debated in other Shakespeare plays (Hamlet and Macbeth, for example) whether ghosts are objectively there or projections meant to dramatize some psychological / moral horror. This issue will be important for the novels and plays in our Gothic course. (See V,iii, 179 ff)
  26. Buckingham sees the truth as he is led to execution--what truth is that? If the scene is too fantastic, recall that during the 'night of the long knives,' many SA men whom Hitler ordered executed went to their death saying, "Heil Hitler!"
  27. In the play if not history, Richmond (Henry VII) is the 'good - guy' (He wins the war!) who will marry young Elizabeth and thus grows the Tudor dynasty--Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Does his presence and the idealism which his character represents suggest a reconciliation of opposites that was important to Plato, Nietzsche, and the gothic genre?
  28. What do you think of Richard's reaction to the ghosts in V,iii,178? How much sympathy should we have? See: IV,ii,201 and look very carefully at the Arden editorial footnote on page 318, note for lines 178-179. Are there aspects of Byron's life that parallel Richard's?
  29. What do you think of Richard's address to his troops in V,iii,315?
  30. Examine the Arden note on page 329 concerning the manner of Richard's death and its moral and dramatic importance. How does Richard die? Look at McKellen's interpretation of the scene, and correlate with the text and Arden note.

2--Imagine some modern parallels--Hitler was the first politician to appreciate the importance of the radio and the motion picture. The sections of Mein Kampf (Chapter XI) dealing with propaganda are very important for Richard III; what do you think of the GOTH movement in some schools--recall what happened at Colimbine High School. As psychiatrists examined the backgrounds of the students involved, what did they discover that might parallel issues discussed regarding Richard? How mimetic is the gothic genre?

3--Note especially the coronation scene in Act III; Understanding Richard as actor is a necessary condition for understanding his character.

4--Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost (especially the soliloquy in Book IV) offers an instructive parallel to Richard.

5--Pay attention to Shakespeare's use of irony, and the following motifs:

  1. animal imagery--especially wild animals (Clemen: The Development of Shakespeare's Imagery, notes that this motif reminds us of Richard, even when he is not on stage.)
  2. imagery from demonology and witchcraft
  3. sun and light imagery
  4. trees and garden imagery
  5. sea imagery

6--The INTRODUCTION TO THE ARDEN EDITION contains valuable insights, often with a gothic perspective. See pages 71 to 119. The following ideas are important therein:

  • what is the persona of the dictator--Hitler?
  • recall the Tudor concept of history--Goering said that the Nuremberg trials occurred because Germany lost the war
  • what Apollo / Dionysus traits fit Richard and the gothic personality?
  • the Arden edition quotes Schiller (German romantic) as saying that Richard III is most like Greek tragedy (p.97). Recall Nietzsche's assessment
  • note the following: revenge, deformity, tyranny, suffering and punishment (p. 101). Does the gothic persona deserve to suffer? How would you compare Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton?
  • the Arden edition notes important gothic traits of Richard: the deformed personality (p. 101), ambition, depravity; yet attractive--Arden (footnote 2, p. 105) cites Jorgens' comments that Olivier's Richard has a "Byronic attractiveness"
  • is God at work in Richard?
  • Ubermensch? (p. 106)
  • Richard as the anti-Christ?
  • the role of ritual--note the McKellen performance especially
  • does the ending of the play, especially as dramatized by McKellen have a gothic flavor?
  • "RICHARD WAS A DEMON OF THE PAST THAT NEEDED REGULAR EXORCISM." (P. 119). What is most gothic about this?

7---Locate a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince. This "political science handbook" offers perspectives on how to acquire and maintain power. Note especially the following, and see the Arden edition, p. 104.

  • the role of fate and fortune
  • the metaphor of the lion and the fox
  • appearance vs. reality in a theo-political context

8--Richard III is a prototype character. Shakespeare in his mature tragedies will perfect the character, especially with IAGO in Othello. Return to the Shakespeare Table of Contents, and look at the exercises for how Shakespeare develops Iago. Note there are links to psychological-based web sites that should help you with this assignment.

9-What did Nietzsche say about the history of tragedy that would fit Richard's personality--how is he "godlike" in character? Note especially the role of Dionysus, and the origin of evil...

(by Craig Harris ©1994)

At the very beginning of the play Richard expounds upon his deformity and then proclaims his intention for revenge..

        And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
        To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
        I am determined to prove a villain

                (Richard III, 1.1.32)

In Richard III Shakespeare pictured the dominating sins in the play as perjury and murder--sins against the moral order. He portrayed and analyzed the passion of ambition that caused Richard to sin and the passion of fear that at the same time punished him for his sins and forced him to wade still further in blood. He inserted non-historical scenes developing the Elizabethan philosophy of revenge. He used the supernatural to enhance the horror of the play, and to contribute to the impression of a divine vengeance giving punishment for sin. He showed God's revenge exacted through the agency of the evil Richard, who was nevertheless to be held to account for his evil-doing. The Elizabethan attitude toward nature, a holdover from medieval times, was as structured and formal as an organizational flow-chart is today. It was the Elizabethan concept of order which the villain threatened. Nature consisted of a universe in which there was an established hierarchy. One of the most fundamental views of order in the medieval consciousness was the concept of the Chain of Being. It held that the universe was a hierarchy in which certain aspects of creation held preeminence over others. For example, the sun was the greatest among stars, the king was the greatest among men, and gold the greatest among metals. The chain extended from God at the top, down to the lowest of elements, and all of creation had some position on the chain. When the natural order was upset, the bottom moved toward the top. As a result, chaos set in. In Elizabethan literature the villain performed the function of setting in motion the awesome and terrifying forces of chaos that threaten the existence of social order. With delighted candor Richard III takes the audience into his confidence, gleefully explaining his plan with which he, like Milton's Satan, intends to walk with us "hand in hand to hell" (Richard III, 5.3.312). His opening soliloquy provides us the clues to the motivation for his wickedness, as well as the revelation by the villain that he intends to upset the established order, or status quo. In Richard III the status quo is a well-defined system for the accession to the throne.

Amidst a fragile and precariously balanced order, the villain begins his efforts to unloose the demon chaos and disassemble, link by link, the entire Chain of Being. His ability to do so springs largely from to facets of his character. First is his total alienation from God, Community and man, which convinces him that he acts as a free agent, unaccountable to any of these. Second is his indomitable and unyielding will, which closely parallels that of Milton's Satan. Estrangement from God, man, and community enables the villain to view his own acts as if performed in a moral vacuum. Consequently, there is no limit to the amount of suffering and devastation he can inflict before the prick of conscience awakens him from his demonic trance. The reason the villain can achieve such startling power is due in large part to the ceaseless flow of energy that is characteristic of the villains will. As the villain rises in power, there is an undercurrent of fear that ripples through the plays and effects the characters of every class. We must remember that, while the government of Queen Elizabeth was one of strength and stability, there was no heir apparent to Elizabeth's throne. Thus, fears of an illegitimate or weak successor loomed over England. As John Palmer states, in The Political Characters of Shakespeare: All that the Englishman held most dear had found a satisfying symbol in the Tudor monarch, ruling by divine right, holding a sacred office, to question whose authority was treason, to trouble whose peace was an impiety. But the Tudor monarch was about to die childless. Was England to fall back into the old disorder, horror, fear and mutiny which had followed the usurpation of Bolingbroke? (Palmer, John. The Political Characters of Shakespeare. London: Macmillan, 1961, p. 119.) The memories of Bolingbroke, the Wars of the Roses, and the Tudor Myth were not fleeting ones. Unlike many presentations of historical subjects on stage, Shakespeare's plays explored a number of concerns that reflected current interests. Foremost among these was the fear of a return to the civil disorder of the 15th century that had preceded the accession to the throne of the Tudor monarchs. Many members of the great 15th century families were still prominent in Elizabeth's court. As a member of an acting company that frequently performed at court, and enjoyed the financial support of the nobility, Shakespeare had direct contact with these family descendants. Could their ambitions and lust for power and revenge rise up again? Would the fragile peace between domestic factions as well as foreign enemies remain secure after the death of Elizabeth? These were questions he had to confront when writing the drama of Richard III's rise to power and rapid downfall.

Many of Shakespeare's characters express the feeling that the villain's successes will open the way to imminent doom. In Richard III, just after Clarence has been killed by agents of Richard, it has been revealed that King Edward has died, and the throne is a mere stone's throw away from Richard. Three citizens assembled on the street reveal the fears and insecurities of the populace:

        Hear you the news abroad?

        Yes, that the King is dead.

        Ill news, by'r lady; seldom comes the better.

        I fear, I fear 'twill prove a giddy world.

        Neighbors, God speed!

        Give you good morrow, sir.

        Doth the news hold of good King Edward's death?

        Ay, sir, it is too true; God help the while!

        Then, masters, look to see a troublous world.

              (Richard III, 2.3.2-9)

The disintegration of social order is further marked by a succession of "unnatural occurrences, such as "untimely storms" (2.3.35), an eclipse, "sudden floods" (4.4.510), and hooting owls. It is the fear that, if the villain ultimately prevails (or goes unpunished for his deeds), chaos and disorder will reign forever; life thereafter will be rendered meaningless, and mankind will be doomed to an existence void of hope and purpose. It is this chaos, expressed by way of prophecy, soliloquy, and imagery of nature gone awry, which captures the fears of the Elizabethan audience.