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Lansky, M.R. (2015). “O, coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me”: Ruthlessness and the Struggle Against Conscience in Richard III. Psychoanal. Inq., 35(1):117-135.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 35(1):117-135

“O, coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me”: Ruthlessness and the Struggle Against Conscience in Richard III

Melvin R. Lansky, M.D.

Richard III contains many instances of the sidestepping of the dictates of conscience. The play explores the dynamics of ruthlessness and of the consequences of opposition to, or evasion of, conscience by almost all of the major characters. Richard justifies his ruthlessness and envy because he has been rendered unlovable by his physical deformities and, therefore, feels himself entitled to disregard the usual dictates of conscience. Others of the major characters act as though they could avoid conscience actively by direct repudiation, or passively by allowing themselves to be seduced. Richard’s enviousness works against the dictates of the conscience that he did not acknowledge that he had. The role of unacknowledged shame is central in the instigation of envy, which requires the splitting off of the influence of conscience. Until Act V, it appears as though Richard has sidestepped his conscience altogether. Each major character in the play, except Richmond, undergoes a loss of innocence. Richard’s loss of innocence occurs when, in a nightmare, he is confronted and condemned by his slain victims for his murderous actions—clearly a reproach from his conscience. Powerful, albeit hitherto repressed guilt emerges unmistakably in that dream.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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