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In Shakespeares Richard III (1592) and the docudrama Looking for Richard

(1996) by Al Pacino, imperialism and the role of women are explored, a


comparative study between the two texts emphasising their starkly
dissimilar contextual zeitgeists. Shakespeares play follows the tyranny of
Richard III, its content greatly influenced by both the newly crowned Queen
Elizabeth and the heavily religious and patriarchal Elizabethan society while
Pacinos film focuses on superiority expressed by British people and
scholars in a modern American context; feminist views profoundly influence
the role of women in the film, giving them a prominent voice.
In Richard III Richards imperialism is indicative of the political influences
and religious views of Shakespeares context. Shakespeares portrait of
Richard as deformed [and] unfinished as well as an ethically monstrous
tyrant is significantly shaped by the Tudor Myth, a narrative created by the
ruling Tudor family to legitimise their reign by demonising Richard. This is
established early in the play, Richard stating in his opening soliloquy that
he is determined to prove a villain, his manipulative intention and
Machiavellian nature made clear by breaking the fourth wall, accentuating
the distinctive Tudor influences during Shakespeares time. Furthermore,
the repetition of despair and die declared by characters who have been
wronged by Richard foreshadows his downfall, the reestablishment of order
and the Great Chain of Being after his consequent death underlining the
strong religious ideals of Elizabethan times. Shakespeares firm belief in the
Divine Right of Kings is indicated in these statements as well as their
antithesis with the repeated phrase live and flourish directed at
Richmond; Richards political manipulation and imperialism illegitimates his
claim to the throne while Richmonds virtue and honour symbolises the
morality of the Tudor family. Therefore, through the imperialism displayed
by Richard in the play, Shakespeares Elizabethan values, and thus context,
become evident.
Looking for Richard explores the cultural imperialism expressed by British
people and academics in relation to the performance of Richard III, the shift
from the political oppression in the play to cultural and interpretive
dominance clearly expressing the distinctive contexts of each text. Pacino
utilises vox populi to emphasise the prevalent modern ideal that
Shakespeare is a text intended only to be performed by the British. This is
demonstrated when a scene of a Scotsman shouting What the f*ck do you
know about Shakespeare? is included in Pacinos pastiche of public
opinions, his cursing emphasising the imperialistic idea expressed strongly
by many people in a post-modern context. The negative light in which
Pacino places people who believe this, however, alludes to the globalisation
that is gradually occurring, causing society to question cultural imperialist
assumptions. Additionally, Pacino attempts to deconstruct the societal

notion that opinions of scholars are the most valuable when interpreting
Shakespeare. When an academic is consulted to deduce Richards
motivations for marrying Anne, he responds with I dont really know why
he needed to marry her, the deliberate close up on his comical expression
revealing Pacinos contempt for numerous academic interpretations.
Consequently, by opposing the imperialistic beliefs of post-modern society,
Pacino emphasises his progressive contextual values in comparison to
Shakespeare.
The role of women in Richard III is a clear indicator of the patriarchal values
possessed by those in Shakespeares Elizabethan context. Women are often
objectified within the play, being portrayed as weak-willed and easily
manipulated; Richard refers to Lady Anne as a wench in a soliloquy while
also describing Queen Elizabeth as a relenting fool and shallow, changing
woman, the deprecating terms alluding to the wider opinions held by the
general populace concerning women in Shakespeares context. Likewise, in
the wooing scene between Richard and Anne, stichomythic exchanges
occur when Richard states never came poison from so sweet a place,
rebutted by Annes parallel syntactical remark never hung poison on a
fouler toad, metaphor further empowering their statements. Although she
initially resists his flattery, she eventually submits to his manipulations,
thus highlighting her fundamental weakness as a female in the play and
ultimately Elizabethan society, reinforcing that although women are given
some voice, they are ultimately oppressed by Richard. Therefore, through
the unfavourable portrayal of women in Richard III, the misogynistic
attitudes characterising Shakespeares context are made apparent.
Despite the prominence of various feminist movements, Looking for Richard
nevertheless diminishes the role of women, however unlike Richard III does
not openly scorn or criticize them, thus illustrating a clear shift in context
between Pacino and Shakespeare. In the casting of Winona Ryder as Lady
Anne, someone young enough to believe in Richards rap, Pacino
deliberately emphasises her vulnerability and weakness, further
highlighting this by giving her a limited input in all processes barring the
performance of her scenes. The opinion of actress Penelope Allen is also
disregarded, the scene in which she argues her viewpoint edited to appear
as if she is overdramatizing the situation thus ridiculing her to an extent
and indicating the inequalities experienced by women in Pacinos
docudrama. However, the interpretations of Richard III by female scholars
such as Lynn Redgrave are highly valued within the film. While expressing
her view of the play, cross cuts are utilised, and consequently her opinion
becomes a voiceover. Being the only person except Pacino himself to have
this, her opinion thus becomes privileged, demonstrating the vital role
performed by women in the film. Therefore, although Pacinos Looking for

Richard does not wholly express the increasingly feminist views of postmodern society, the noticeable shift in values between the two composers
is adequate to indicate a significant change to an increasingly modern
context.
In conclusion, through a comparative study of imperialism and feminine
roles within Richard III and Looking for Richard the distinctive Elizabethan
and modern American contexts of Shakespeare and Al Pacino become
manifest.