The Vengeful Villain and the Guilt Ridden Tyrant: A Comparison between Shakespeare’s Richard III and Pushkin’s Boris Gudunov

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Boris, the protagonist of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov and Richard of Shakespeare’s Richard III are vastly different characters despite their similar aspirations.  Both wish to occupy a throne that is not rightfully theirs and both succeed by killing those people who are obstacles to that goal.  Although parallels can be drawn from their actions, their characters greatly differ in their emotional state.  While Boris is racked with guilt and haunted by visions of his victims, Richard is cool and calculated and feels justified in his evil acts.  These character traits are particularly visible in their soliloquies.

In Boris Godunov’s soliloquy, he complains how although he is Tsar, he is still unhappy. “This is the sixth year of my peaceful reign. But my heart has had no happiness.” (Line 2-3) He is not satisfied with his reign, because he is plagued by guilt.  His conscience will not let him rest.  He is despondent and says, “Nothing can assuage our sorrows in this world; nothing, nothing…except perhaps our conscience. When healthy, it triumphs over evil.” (Line 39-42) He is completely unable to be satisfied with his position that he sacrificed so much for.  He is haunted by his past evils, especially the murder of the young Dimitry, “Bloody little boys before your eyes…” (Line 50)  He concludes that, “He’s pitiful whose conscience is not clean.” (Line 52) In can be inferred that Boris finds the atrocities committed not worth the position he has gained.  He now realizes that a clean conscience is more valuable.

In contrast with Boris’ guilt, Richard feels his evil deeds are completely justified. He feels he is entitled to a bit of revenge because of his deformity.  “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, /deformed, unfinished, sent before my time/ into this breathing world scarce made half made up.” (Line (19-21) He feels that because he was deformed, his killings allow for a wicked sort of justice.  He chooses wickedness, in a calculated decision.  “I am determined to play a villain.” (Line 30)  He knows his actions are wrong and evil, however he feels no remorse whatsoever.  In his mind, the evil he is responsible for is justified because he was forced to bear his deformity.  He is well aware that he is evil, “And if King Edward be as true and just/ As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,” (Line 36-37) yet he feels no remorse.  He takes odd pleasure in his knowledge that he is evil and cunning, not good.  He is hardly haunted by his guilt as Boris is.

Although Boris and Richard are similar in that they usurp the throne by killing innocent people, their feelings about these actions are vastly different.  Boris feels guilt and regret at his actions and therefore cannot enjoy his position. Richard in contrast feels his actions were justified.  Because of his disfigurement, he feels he has the right to be evil.  He is comfortable with his role as the villain while Boris struggles with it.  Richard revels in his poisoned character and Boris is destroyed by his.  Although there are certainly parallels between the two characters, their emotional state is vastly different.

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