Tricky Dicky, Part 5: By Dissembling
This should be read as, in some ways, a continuation of the previous instalment.
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me, as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time.
Richard III, I, I
Used as the epigraph to Ben Aaronovitch’s novelisation of ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’
In Richard III, as I started to talk about last time (in Part 4), Richard draws upon his ‘deformity’ for an identity. As noted in a previous instalment, Richard is a narcissist (hardly an original observation) and a vital part of his narcissism is expressed in his concentration upon what he sees – or spins to us, the audience – as his own physical monstrosity. He concentrates on his physical ‘defects’, talking them up, poetically riffing on them and exaggerating them (if he were as monstrous as he says he is nobody would be able to look at him let alone accept him as colleague or husband) until he turns the idea of himself as a monster into a source of strength. It motivates him because he makes it motivate him. It imbues him with power. Moreover, it imbues him with shapelessness which allows him to become protean. He becomes a shapeless mess, thus able to shift his shape to fit any and all occasions plausibly. (He’s almost very-proto-Weird… which is interesting in terms of what I said about him being constructed in a way similar to race-making, and thus also potentially of a different race, considering that the idea of race is a preoccupation of the haute Weird.) This is linked to his narcissism in that it stems from the instability of his core self. Narcissism is an attempt to compensate for a great gaping hole at the centre of the being where one’s ability to connect with others should be, where one’s ability to construct a sense of self from your relationships should be. “I am like no brother,” he says, “I am myself alone.” Richard is able to become anyone and anything he needs to be at any given moment because there is no real inner self that anchors him to one state of being. Like other great Shakespearean villains, particularly Iago, he does what he does because he is essentially empty, and is able to do what he does for the same reason. “I am not what I am,” says Iago. Richard never says as much, but he talks at length about his own instability of self via his boasting about his ability to change to fit any circumstance… about his ability to act, essentially. Iago spends the play Othello spinning various contradictory stories about why he’s doing what he’s doing, attempting to work it out himself, or to happen upon an explanation of his own behaviour that makes sense to him.…