In the play King Richard III by Shakespeare did King Richard III become a villain because of nature selected him to be a disabled person (if we look at the villainous plot of the villain from his circumstance and perspective)? And he became a villain as villainous can be.

Here in the soliloquy says:

Now is the winter of our discontent
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamped, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature, Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them--
Why I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determinèd to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.


3 Answers 3


Speaking purely of the play in itself, it's usually taken that a character does not lie in soliloquy. If he said that he is "determined to prove a villain" because he is "deformed", then that is taken as simply truth. Or at least, that he believes it to be the truth. While there are some exceptions and caveats to the rule, any interpretation of the play that takes a character as lying directly to the audience must have an extraordinary justification. After all, the whole point of a soliloquy is that there is nobody else around to hear them who can affect the action, and thus no reason to lie.

That said, it's worth looking closely at the text here, since the question asks if he is "disabled". He is not, in fact, said to be disabled. What he says primarily in this speech is that he is ugly. He will dwell on it while looking at a mirror, and will not be suited for seduction, but he suffers no loss of function.

Only a single word hints at any kind of handicap: "halt", which in this context means "limp". Even so, there's no indication that he cannot walk, or even that he requires a cane to walk with. Perhaps he has the handicap of not being able to run.

In Henry VI Part 3, Richard slays Clifford, in revenge for the death of Richard's brother Rutledge. That play, while not formally part of Richard III, may be be assumed to be in the minds of Shakespeare's contemporary audience. Clifford was himself a formidable adversary. Whatever disabilities Richard had, they did not prevent him from being a serious warrior.

This is in conflict with other things said about Richard elsewhere in the text of Richard III, which do include his hunch back and withered arm. These present serious questions for a director: unlike this text, they are not said in soliloquy, and should not be taken at face value. The withered arm, in particular, is made in the context of a false accusation, and may simply be a lie.

See how I am bewitch'd; behold mine arm
Is, like a blasted sapling, wither'd up:
And this is Edward's wife, that monstrous witch,
Consorted with that harlot strumpet Shore,
That by their witchcraft thus have marked me.

Here, he says that the withered arm is a recent occurrence: it's not something he was born with, and for all we know it may simply be a lie. An absurd one, if false, but hardly the most audacious of Richard's lies. Lying is his great gift.

So we may take it as truth that Richard sees his ugliness as a key motivator for his action in the play. But that ugliness itself is not disability.


The image of Richard III as having a hunchback is part of the Tudor myth. Henry VII, the first Tudor king, could only become Richard III's successor by having him killed. In order to make Richard III's killing legitimate, it was necessary to put him in a negative light. This included both portraying him as a bad king, accusing him of the murders of several members of noble families and the royal family (e.g. the princes in the tower) and representing him as having a hunchback.

Thomas More's History of King Richard III, which influenced Shakespeare, has often been cited as an example of Tudor propaganda. However, it appears that More was no mere propagandist; see for example, Sources Sunday: Thomas More’s History of King Richard III.

There is no evidence that Richard III had a hunchback or a disability. If the skeleton that was discovered in Leicester in 2012 is really Richard III's, then he would have had scoliosis, which is characterised by a sideways curve of the spine, which is different from a hunchback or kyphosis. One shoulder would have been a bit higher than the other, but he would not have had a withered arm. In the skeleton, both arms have the same length; the skeleton is also more gracile or feminine than most men's. (See the Smithsonian video The Truth About the Hunchback King.)

Shakespeare's play fits into the tradition of portraying Richard III as a tyrant and murderer with a deformed body. It uses the classic trick of conflating physical appearance with moral character (see also the concepts of physiognomy and the much more recent phrenology).

The opening monologue spends a lot of time on Richard's "deformity": lines 14 - 23 ("But I, that am not shaped ... That dogs bark at me ...") and lines 26 - 27. Lines 28 and following draw a number of conclusions from this: "I am determined to prove a villain / And hate the idle pleasures of these days." This is then followed by enumeration of his concrete plans.

When you ignore the first 13 lines, everything seems to follow from Richard's deformity. However, the beginning of line 14 ("But I ...") shows that Richard is also contrasting himself with his brother, king Edward IV, "this sun/son of York", who is now having a good time in a lady's bedroom. So there is an element of envy involved and this envy is not represented as a consequence of Richard's deformity.


It is worth pointing out that until fairly recently, it was believed that physical disability was a "punishment"; even in the West, a sort of karmic idea was prevalent. Modern ideas of compassion for the disabled might have seemed very foreign to many in the past. "Freak shows", for example, basically exhibited people with disabilities and I doubt if many visited these out of concern for those being exhibited -- such shows lasted well into the 20th century in the USA.

  • 1
    So is he a villain because of this, or not? Sep 22, 2018 at 21:29
  • @Gallifreyan: I think people of, say, Victorian England would have seen his appearance and character related. I would suggest that life as someone with a disability prior to modern times was very tough beyond the disability itself.
    – releseabe
    Sep 22, 2018 at 22:45
  • 1
    Richard III was written about 200 years before Victorian times. Plenty of time for attitudes to change.
    – Chenmunka
    Sep 23, 2018 at 17:30
  • Welcome to Literature Stack Exchange and thank you for your contribution. It is very important to realised that Richard III was written in the 1590s, so while the stigma of deformity or disability may be relevant, you should really focus on how it was relevant in Shakespeare's time.
    – Tsundoku
    Sep 23, 2018 at 17:46
  • @Chenmunka: I suspect but do not know that it was even worse the further back one goes -- I know that England was much more dangerous in the 1600s than the 1800s, for example.
    – releseabe
    Sep 23, 2018 at 17:47

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