Essay: Shakespeare’s King Richard III and Al Pachino’s Looking for Richard

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  • Subject area(s): English literature essays
  • Reading time: 4 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published on: July 15, 2019
  • File format: Text
  • Number of pages: 2
  • Tags: Shakespeare
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Through the study of two distinct texts composed centuries apart, it is evident that an exploration of context and intertextual connections provide a deepened understanding of the shared human struggle as individuals search for their identity and a meaningful purpose in life. Subsequently, human frailty is illuminated through one’s misguided pursuit of power, and unwillingness to change one’s perspective of themselves, others and the world around them. William Shakespeare’s historical tragedy King Richard III (1592) warns of the dire consequences of a disruption to the divine order through the titular character’s struggle for power. As a result of a shift in social and cultural context, Al Pacino’s meta-documentary Looking for Richard (1996) reshapes Richard’s struggle for power to ultimately portray the fragile human condition and invite reflection through the questioning of what dictates a meaningful existence. Hence, both texts together deepen our understanding of the complexities of human nature as individuals face the challenge of finding their purpose in life whilst retaining a sense of compassion and humanity.

The search for one’s identity is underpinned by frailty and vulnerability, especially when individuals exceed the boundaries of their own morality in order to fulfil that search. Shakespeare’s King Richard III depicts Richard’s struggle to attain his desired identity, which results in his duplicitous acts to usurp the throne. Comparatively, the challenge to realise one’s identity is reshaped in Looking for Richard where Pacino’s deconstruction of Richard’s nuanced character is implied by the title itself in “looking”. In the opening soliloquy, Shakespeare’s characterisation of Richard as “deformed, unfinished, sent before [his] time” encompasses Richard’s dissatisfaction with his identity so he is “determined to prove a villain” in order to gain what he deems a meaningful existence. In doing so, Shakespeare allows Richard to embody the tension that existed between providentialism and emerging Renaissance humanism that suggested individuals could shape their own destiny. Further, the duplicitous nature of those pursuing power is exemplified in Act 1 Scene 2 through the stichomythia between Richard and Lady Anne. Here, Shakespeare’s construction of Richard’s sardonic humour through the ironic dialogue “your beauty did haunt me…to undertake the death of the world” encapsulates his ability to manipulate her insults to gain her affection. Similarly, Pacino’s re-enactment of Act 3 Scene 4 reinforces the mainstream portrayal of Richard’s two faced nature and skill in obfuscation through the use of chiaroscuro lighting with the shadows obscuring a part of Richard’s face. In addition, an individual’s acceptance of their identity as a villain makes one vulnerable to the continuance of unscrupulous acts, epitomised through Richard’s order for the murder of his nephews, whereby Shakespeare’s portrayal of Tyrell’s guilt towards “the tyrannous and bloody act” is juxtaposed with Richard’s ignorance and disregard of morality. Thus, a yearning for purpose in one’s life can prompt the execution of psychological manipulations for personal gain, highlighting one’s frailty in the failure to realise that they have sacrificed their integrity and decency. In contrast, the structure of the docudrama incorporates rehearsal scenes where the actors converse through modern vernacular with idioms such as “rubber stamp” and “losing side” so that modern audiences can better engage with the poignant representation of the corrupt nature of power, stripping individuals of their own morality. Moreover, the confluence between Pacino’s persona as actor and director of the film is established through cuts of Pacino in modern attire andshots of him as Richard. By inducing the resonance of Richard’s character within all people, Pacino depicts that humans are inherently flawed; rife with self doubt so people struggle to discover their identity whilst retaining their humanity, reflective of modern existential ideologies. Thus, the desire for a purposeful life influencing one’s decision to perform immoral acts, deepens our awareness of the shared human struggle and one’s inherent vulnerability in the search for identity.

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