Welcome back to the CLEAR Education blog. In this post we will take a close look at the two HSC texts: Shakespeare’s play King Richard III and Al Pacino’s ‘drama’ documentary Looking For Richard. We will take a closer look at the contexts of these two texts, along with some quotes, techniques and analysis from each. Specifically, we will be examining how studying the differences and parallels between the texts shows how the key values of the Shakespeare’s texts are universal, and still relevant to society today.
The play is thought to be written in approximately 1592, and was born into a period of time in England named the Elizabethan Era. This era of history involved a significant amount of religious and political tension in the country, specifically between Catholics and Protestants. Furthermore, there was a growing movement in society towards secularism and the belief in the free will of the individual, and a growing critique of traditional Christian ideology of morality and spiritual order. It seems that Shakespeare comments on these tensions occurring in society at the time.
Al Pacino’s Postmodern docudrama, on the other hand, was written in 1996, and is both a performance of scenes from scenes of Shakespeare’s play and an exploration of Shakespeare’s continuing relevance in contemporary society. Society at this time does not have such a blind faith in religion and other institutions, and instead is growingly secular.
Quotes and Examples:
Richard’s initial soliloquy immediately suggests to the audience that the historic Richard’s deformity is far beyond a physical abnormality. His physiognomy “deformed, unfinished, sent beyond my time” acts as a metaphor to define his devilish nature, affirming the Tudor myth of an evil appearance indicating an evil and immoral nature. In this way, a Tudor audience can effectively conceptualise Richard’s Machiavellian nature through his accentuated deformity - making known his central place in the play as the conniving villain whose innate evil is far beyond an immorality and desire for power. Richard is thoroughly acquainted with his deformity and its connotations, and uses what he believes to be an iniquitous neglect of nature to validate his revenge against a society that excludes him and justify his pursuit of the crown. The verb ‘determined’ in his declaration “I am determined to be proved a villain” highlights his dedication to appropriating the public perception of his deformity for his Humanist agenda.
Pacino similarly explores the complexity of villainy, valuing Richard III’s ability to be duplicitous. This extends the emphasis upon performance in Richard III where performance is for political reasons, whereas for Pacino performance is utilised for entertainment reasons. Through his docudrama form, Pacino manipulates himself into a position of both actor and director of his play, aligning Richard’s duplicity to his own megalomania and the way in which he performs the character of Richard III. To his modern 20th Century audience whom do not value moral scruples of the Tudor period, Pacino’s representation of Richard does not attempt to portray the social chaos caused by Richard’s duplicity and deception, instead offering a new insight into moral relativism and Richard’s deceit. Pacino’s choice to open and close the film with an intertextual reference to Prospero’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest “These our actors… were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air… all which it inherit, shall dissolve; And, like this insubstantial pageant faded… and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.” conveys a contemporary ambiguity, blurring the boundaries between performance and reality. In this sense, the film is less concerned with the moral aspect of ‘truth’ and ‘deceit’, and more taken with the skilful manipulation of appearance and reality.
Need HSC style questions for Richard III and Looking for Richard? Navigate to our English past papers.
*Please note that while this information is a great starting point for these texts, relying solely on the information in this post will not be enough to get a result in the top bands.