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The Invocation of Moral Codes in Richard III Essay

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Shakespeare's Richard III is from the outset a very moral play. It opens with an introduction to the character of Richard in his "Now is the winter..." speech. In this we are first introduced to the idea of a man becoming evil from his own free will, excused (by him) on the grounds of his inability to fit in with the physical ideals of society, saying, "And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover... I am determined to prove a villain." Although we are not, at this point, given a definite indication of Shakespeare's opinion on this moral position, it is the opening for a discussion on what is morally acceptable, which is continued quite decisively throughout the play.

The character of Richard is the ideal tool for this purpose. He is
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Buckingham indeed becomes resigned to his impending doom, saying, as he is lead off to the block, "Come, sirs, convey me to the block of shame. /Wrong hath but wrong, and blame the due of blame." This calmness and resignation upon the point of his death show that Buckingham at least is not so caught up in immorality as to take his death as other than just punishment for his crimes. Hastings, too, goes quietly to the block, regretting his ignoble triumphing over his slain enemies, Lords Rivers, Grey and Vaughan. Of these three, Vaughan is silent, Grey believes his death to be in retribution "For standing by when Richard stabbed her [Margaret's] son", and Rivers prays "for my sister and her princely sons, Be satisfied, dear God, with our true bloods...Which, as thou knowest, unjustly must be spilt." From these, we see both a recognition of some past misdeed for which they are being punished, and a touching request that they may be the sacrifice to keep the grieving queen and the heir safe. This last minute resignation and remembrance of others who may be in danger indicates a last-ditch courage, and an acceptance of what the world's moral judgement (spoken through Margaret) would be.

Retribution is a key issue throughout the play. All those who commit crimes are eventually punished, and Richard can be seen as the tool of retribution, as it is through his scheming
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