A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Richard III and Ugly Criminals


The Richard III presented to the world by Shakespeare suffered from certain physical imperfections which he allowed to deform his spirit. He complains in his opening speech that the recent conclusion of a war has changed the cultural atmosphere in a way that is not to the advantage of someone with his appearance:

"Grim-visaged War hath smoothed his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barbed steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers numbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking glass;
I, that am rudely stamped, and want love's majesty
To trut before a wanton ambling nymph,
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up…"

Wartime with its test of valor and manly company suited Richard much better. Now that peace can no longer be avoided he knows that the action will shift from the battlefield to the boudoir where his "unfinished" body (Lawrence Olivier played him with a club foot and a stunted hand, but each Richard is free to improvise a preferred flaw – perhaps today he would be the victim of bad plastic surgery) makes it difficult for him to compete.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado and Georgia State determined that ugly people commit more crimes than attractive people. (Cut to Oscar Wilde loftily opining that being ugly is in itself blah blah blah. Shakespeare's humor at 400 years of age has retained its mirth better than Wilde's at 100).

"Mocan and Tekin analyzed data from a federally sponsored survey of 15,000 high-schoolers who were interviewed in 1994 and again in 1996 and 2002.

"We find that unattractive individuals commit more crime in comparison to average-looking ones, and very attractive individuals commit less crime in comparison to those who are average-looking."

Rich: "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,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity."

Mocan and Tekin aren't sure why criminals tend to be ugly. They do note that other studies have shown that unattractive men and women are less likely to be hired, and that they earn less money, than the better-looking. They then speculate that "such inferior circumstances may steer some to crime." Richard III sees the matter differently:

Rich: "And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid……………..

Presumably because that's about all he can expect to. Ahem. Richard is no victim, but the conscious captain of his fate, staking out a niche in treachery and deception because that's the field in which he feels he can excel.

"Mocan and Tekin also report that more attractive students have better grades and more polished social skills, which means they graduate with a greater chance of staying out of trouble."

Rich: "…………..inductions dangerous
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the King
In deadly hate the one against the other…".

One of my favorite quotes in Shakespeare comes from Twelfth Night, when Antonio feels himself betrayed by Sebastian (actually he has mistaken Viola, Sebastian's sister, dressed as a man, for Sebastian, and all end's well later). Antonio curses Sebastian thus:

Ant: "In nature there's no blemish but the mind;
None can be called deformed but the unkind."

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