Duplicity: Act IV, Scene IV


In Shakespeare’s political drama of Richard III, there are many reoccurring motifs that enhance the meaning of the play and the way it is critically read. Although possibly not easy to identify on the surface, the motif of duplicity and disguise is a really interesting concept to examine in light of Richard’s character and actions leading up to the pivotal occurrences in Act IV, scene 5. The concept of Richmond serving as a foil to King Richard, especially the juxtaposition of the two men sharing a dream on stage at the same time, sheds light on Shakespeare’s point of how bad of a villain Richard had become, and how far he had strayed off the path of a truly beloved King.

One of the most interesting things to look at in this scene in the context of duplicity or twinning is not merely the dialogue or action that takes place, but the way that Shakespeare physically set the scene through the stage directions he writes and implies for the actors. For example, after Richard demands wine and then eventually doses off to sleep, we see Stanley and Richmond enter, presumably on the opposite side of the stage, which sets up the stage to appear as almost a “split screen” for the audience. Now side-by-side, the audience has a chance to evaluate the two men and their motives, Richmond presumably acting as a foil for King Richard. This physical symmetry (of staging) and attributional divergence is evident by the contrast between both men’s actions before they sleep—Richard takes wine and gets drunk, while the other bows and prays, earnestly crying, “Make us thy ministers of chastisement/That we may praise the in the victory” (66-67). As the scene continues to unfold, the stage directions and dialogue jump back and forth between Richard and Richmond, and we see the same exact ghosts visiting them with two very different messages. While the ghosts speak nothing but terrible prophecies (“despair and die” [79]) over Richard, they wrap Richmond in comfort and assure him of “success and happy victory” (119). This paints a clear picture that although both men may be equal in standing, they are not equal in the eyes of God, or of the dead (murdered).

Overall, the motif of duplicity and things that are mirror images of one another actually serves to portray how different these two men really are from each other, and sets the scene for the final battle where their character, as well as their strength, dignity, and might, are finally put to the test; and only one earns the right to the future of England—the other, a knife to the heart.




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