Richard, Duke of Gloucester, afterward Richard III
Richard is Shakespeare's first villain-hero. Self-acclaimed as one who will "outdo Machiavel," he possesses all of the traits of that Elizabethan stage villain. Primarily he is motivated by boundless ambition to gain and hold the crown, and by his pronounced egotism. Utterly heartless, he does not hesitate to move against his own brothers, arranging for the murder of Clarence, misleading and later slandering Edward IV, and putting to death his own nephews. It is implied in the text that he also poisoned his wife Anne so that the way would be clear for his political marriage to his niece, Elizabeth of York. A master of dissembling and a man obviously not without charm, despite his physical deformity, he deludes Edward IV, for a time convinces Queen Elizabeth and her family that he has no further quarrel with them, and manages to gain the support of the Lord Mayor of London, among others. Add to all this the energy with which he initiates and carries out every action necessary to his gaining the crown and, for a time, retaining it, and one can understand why he dominates the play to an extent to which no other Shakespearean tragic hero does. His soliloquies and asides reveal a Richard who is honest at least with himself. Courage and soldierly prowess also belong to him. Finally, he possesses an unexcelled sense of irony and a sardonic wit, which go far to explain his special attraction to audiences and readers.