My steed, my steed, how do you plead? Richard III’s devolution

Horse, oh horses, the greatest steed to get people of the 1400’s from one side of town to the other. To go off into battle, the ally of man living aside him through strife and struggle. And a constant symbolic usage in Richard III. One of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays, Richard III is not a tragic hero, but the destroyer of his own story.

As he crumbles, he crumbles that which exists in his sphere with him. Pitied for his deformities, and cast aside, forgotten as the last born often is. He did not have a human ally, like a horse to man. Anyone who has been the youngest sibling can attest to having to live in the shadow of their siblings sun.

“I am not shaped for sportive tricks… cheated of feature, disassembling nature, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world scarce half made up… that dogs bark at me as I halt…”

A stirring pot for insecurity. We are given insight as to why he may feel this way, how he views the world. He is surrounded by shame for existing, the peaceful world around him is the world that does not accept him. When met with the optimal state of the world, when even in that you are not accepted, and in the happiest state of the world, you’re life remains meager, what difference does hurting it make? To someone who feels as hopeless as Richard, where not even the sun shines on him.
“Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, have no delight to pass away the time unless to spy my shadow in the sun and descant on mine own deformity.”
We are both forced to feel appalled, and a reluctant compassion for Richard’s slow devolution into madness. He is to be pitied, but he seems not to want the reader to pity him. He has not known a normal experience in upbringing, where he is loved naturally, by parents, brothers, or lovers. Achieving and obtaining the most basic needs and wants of humanity, are difficult, when he is at, in societies eyes, and his own, a disadvantage, someone lesser. He likely developed from an inferiority complex with the belief that he must manipulate. In which he proceeds to, we get the beginning inclinations that he wishes to manipulate Clarence and the King into killing each other.

“But yet I run before my horse to market.” [1.2, 158]

He means he is getting ahead of himself, again utilizing the horse metaphor. He is already thinking about marrying warricks youngest daughter. He has yet to set down all his puzzle pieces for power. There is foreshadowing for the end scene, where he has no horse and must fight on foot. The horse, perhaps represents his manipulation, hiding behind the use of murder rather then through honor and accepting his position in life.

“Clarence still breathes; edward still lives and reigns
When they are gone, then I must count my gains.” [1.2, 158-162]

A desperation at this point to achieve and obtain what he has always longed for. Jealously looking at from afar, power, superiority, just as his brothers where superior to him. He resorts to control, in his impulsive impatience. Deep down he likely feels he does not deserve basic human needs, that the only way to ever experience what is human is to grab it by force. Those needs revolving love, respect, understanding. Or at least, what he in his warped mind believes that should look like. Clarence and the king who have always been superior to him had always had those things, so why can’t he take it for himself?


“Instead of mounting barbed steeds to frighten the souls of adversaries…” [1.1 line 10-11]
We see the duality of Richard in the symbolism of the horse. Perhaps Richard prefers animals over humans, or perhaps the horse is a symbol of a crux he must depend on. If he rides upon the horse he depends on the horse for his power and momentum, but if he stands with his own two feet, he has only his own strength to guide him. The horse represents his imagination for the future, and what he can achieve if he only were to reach for it. Though, in Richards case, reaching for his dream of being respected and loved includes killing two boys, and his brother for the crown and the lady. Pretty extreme way to experience human acceptance you would think. I mean, I do not think of killing my family members in order to obtain acceptance.
But, think about it, he denied any love he had and chose to view the world in the worst way possible. He feels that he never will have love, so he acts out of hopelessness, and it is only because he is hopeless that he resorts to force and control. If there is no point anyway, why not act in the most extreme way to obtain the crown, to finally sit in superiority, it is the last resort before you die. It is here that he represents a dark side of ourselves.

In psychology there is a term called our shadow self, it is the part of us that we grew up being shamed over. When our parents told us that being upset was bad. We then, as adults, would feel annoyed at seeing someone expressing high volatility. Why can’t they be normal? Yet at the same time, when we repress our own anger, in some ways we are relieved when that friend with zero impulse control spills like an open cannister of worms every hidden angry thought we secretly were harvesting. We then pretend to be upset with that friend for going off the rattle, while secretly admiring the vulnerability that we are too afraid to replicate.

Having been in a position where he was expected to be more evil due to his appearance, was it that what was condemned was not his badness but his goodness? His love and compassion? Therefore, bringing what was evil to the forefront, because that was what was expected from him? What he was comfortable with showing? Hiding his weak feelings of being inferior, and incapable. True kindness a weakness that he cannot afford? Pride hiding his shadow.

“Five have I slain today instead of him,
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”

Richard III’s horse had died during battle, he had sought for another horse when he met Richmond in battle, perishing at the sword. The horse that was alluded with the imagination of power, died after he obtained everything he had dreamed of. That dream dying as soon as the horse died. All the manipulation, falsehoods and lies, the allusion of the ‘horse’ the superiority in which he envisioned himself in his impulsive and cruel actions.
Perhaps, the horse was all that he loved, and all that truly loved him.