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Every text is a confluence of other texts, containing parallels and fragments that give meaning and timelessness through prevalent themes that transcend generations. An exploration of explicit and implicit connections between a pair of texts enhances an individual’s understanding of the ideas, values and attitudes pronounced. This alters the way an audience may interpret the original text and validates common themes of power, duplicity and morality in a contemporary light. This relationship is evident in a critical analysis of Shakespeare’s 1591 historical play King Richard III and Al Pacino’s 1996 docudrama Looking for Richard. The context of each text is reflective of the respective time periods in which they were made and elucidate the cultural issues and philosophical paradigms of humanity as a whole.
Religious paradigms that underpin society shape texts. The purpose of the manifestation of metaphysical evil elucidated through deformity of the body is easily understood by an Elizabethan audience, due to the supernatural and religious context of the time. This personification of evil was employed by Shakespeare to construe Richard III as not merely a conniving villain, but the embodiment of a Machiavellian character, shrouded in duplicity. “I clothe my naked villainy…and seem a saint when most I play the devil.” Allegorical representations force us to recognize the Machiavellian qualities of Richard as he metaphorically connects himself to the devil towards the end of Act 1. The themes of duplicity and moral complexity evident throughout King Richard III can be found in contemporary society through political figures seeking power by any means regardless of consequence. This indicates the modern relevance of the themes prevalent in Shakespeare’s work as they timelessly transcend beyond the Elizabethan era. The issue of political manipulation, achieved through deception is further explored by Pacino in his docudrama Looking for Richard.
Al Pacino utilizes Looking for Richard to portray his interpretation of appearance versus reality explicitly through a contemporary medium of production, that is relevant to his audience in the 1990s. Pacino aims to educate the American populous on the value of Shakespeare’s play King Richard III and the enduring relevance of the playwrights themes. The use of documentary techniques, such as street interviews, communicates the actors desire to intimately include the audience’s opinions in his modernized rendition of the play. Pacino conveys the power of manipulative language, skilfully employed irony and flattery in the deception of others and the audience. This is particularly evident in the scene of wooing Lady Anne. Pacino emphasizes the moral weakness of Lady Anne and strongly victimizes her character by choosing a young actress. This is further conveyed through stichomythia dialogue and the cinematic technique of dissolving close-ups which highlight the trance like state Lady Anne falls into as she is seduced by Richard. The audience is reminded of Richard’s villainy through his soliloquy where he states, “Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?” This is supported by Pacino’s implementation of low key lighting to symbolize evil. The use of a docudrama makes Shakespeare’s play more accessible to a modern audience and enhances an individual’s understanding of the themes, values and attitudes pronounced.
Providentialism dictates that King Richard’s acquisition for power will result in his downfall, as he is not truly deserving of power and his methods break the chain of being that forms the basis of all aspects of Elizabethan England. Queen Margaret reminds the personas and the audience of Gods will and the detrimental ramifications that are to follow King Richards devious acts. She does so by bitterly cursing the members of the House of York, particularly King Richard: ‘If heaven have any grievous plague in store…then hurl down their indignation on thee…’ In doing this Margaret foreshadows the downfall of King Richard after he has wrongfully attained the throne through murder. The strict hierarchy of Elizabethan society means that Shakespeare’s audience would have been very familiar with the repercussions of breaking this order. Shakespeare would have included this theme in his play to create tension to entrance the audience and to increase entertainment value. In Act Four, Elizabeth reinforces King Richard’s doomed destiny as she joins Margaret in cursing him: ‘Help me curse that bottled spider, that foul bunch-backed toad.’ This strong metaphor highlights to the audience the true nature of King Richard behind his mask of lies. The context of Shakespeare and his target audience had a huge impact on how the play was written.
The significance of context is further reflected in Pacino’s choice to modernize the play to make it understandable and interesting to a contemporary audience. Conversely, Al Pacino down plays the supernatural element of the chain of being in his docudrama, as this theme is not hugely relevant to a modern audience. Instead Pacino focuses on the idea that King Richard is not fit for power as he used villainous methods and deception in its attainment. This is presented through King Richard’s only explicit display of conscience before the final battle. Pacino elucidates the humanity of King Richard and the many flawed characteristics in his personality through deeply emotive close-ups of the King’s face, laced with fear and possible regret as he realizes that his short reign is about to come to an end. The low key lighting used in this scene displays how the doomed character’s mask of lies that protected him previously has been shattered and his evil nature now shows itself and surrounds him in a cloak of darkness. This cinematic technique was used by Pacino as it would captivate the audience and cause them to consider the repercussions of moral evil. The context of Pacino has therefore heavily influenced the presentation of power and its consequences through his contemporary docudrama Looking for Richard.
A critical, comparative analysis of the texts King Richard III and Looking for Richard has revealed the significance of the context of the time period in which each text was written; through the representation of ideas about power. The religious and philosophical paradigms that fabricate society change over time; however, the themes addressed by Shakespeare and Pacino have effectively transcended generations to be relevant to both audiences.
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