10 Great Shakespeare Soliloquies: Macbeth
9 Nov 2021
Compiled by Andy McLean
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8. Richard Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) (Henry VI Part III, Act 5 Scene 6)
Near the end of the Henry VI trilogy, Shakespeare gives us a soliloquy like no other. Richard Duke of Gloucester murders a defenceless King Henry in cold blood and then turns to the audience.
“The soliloquy that follows is basically Richard’s origin story,” says James Evans, Bell Shakespeare Associate Director. “He talks about how he was born with his legs forward, how people have been repelled by his appearance ever since, and he lays out the reasons why he plans more treachery.”
Dramaturg and actor Kate Mulvany was so taken with this soliloquy that she transferred part of it to the end of Bell Shakespeare’s 2017 production of Richard 3. “This soliloquy has everything,” enthuses Evans. “It shows us Richard’s deep psychological trauma and contains four of the saddest lines Shakespeare ever wrote, ending with I am myself alone. In that moment of introspection, your heart breaks for Richard. But then he quickly picks himself back up again and says he’s going to destroy everyone around him!”
Here's Richard’s words in full:
What, will the aspiring blood of Lancaster
Sink in the ground? I thought it would have mounted.
See how my sword weeps for the poor king’s death!
O, may such purple tears be always shed
From those that wish the downfall of our house!
If any spark of life be yet remaining,
Down, down to hell; and say I sent thee thither:
I, that have neither pity, love, nor fear.
Indeed, ’tis true that Henry told me of;
For I have often heard my mother say
I came into the world with my legs forward.
Had I not reason, think ye, to make haste,
And seek their ruin that usurped our right?
The midwife wondered and the women cried,
‘O, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!’
And so I was, which plainly signified
That I should snarl and bite and play the dog.
Then, since the heavens have shaped my body so,
Let hell make crook’d my mind to answer it.
I have no brother, I am like no brother,
And this word ‘love’, which greybeards call divine,
Be resident in men like one another
And not in me: I am myself alone.
Clarence, beware: thou keep’st me from the light.
But I will sort a pitchy day for thee,
For I will buzz abroad such prophecies
That Edward shall be fearful of his life,
And then, to purge his fear, I’ll be thy death.
King Henry and the prince his son are gone:
Clarence, thy turn is next, and then the rest,
Counting myself but bad till I be best.
I’ll throw thy body in another room
And triumph, Henry, in thy day of doom.
To read about other soliloquies in our series, see the Bell Shakespeare blog.
Hear James Evans discuss Richard III with actor Kate Mulvany in the Speak The Speech podcast.