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“How Much Sympathy do You Have for the Executed Hastings?”

This essay assesses how much sympathy the na�ve and harmless Hastings deserves after being fooled by the cunning Richard III and falling into his trap of trusting him. In Act I Scene I, Richard plays the loving, faithful and devoted brother when Clarence arrives at the tower and sympathizes greatly with Hastings. He pretends to be worried by the news of Edward’s poor health, suggesting not simply his family loyalty but also his concern for the nation. In his conversations with both Clarence and Hastings, Richard slanders Queen Elizabeth and her relatives, blaming them for all of the ills that have befallen both Clarence and Hastings, claiming that it was she that convinced the king to have them sent to the tower in the first place.

Throughout the conversation with Hastings, Richard flatters his victim, telling him what he wants to hear. As Hastings does not like Queen Elizabeth due to previous events, he is taken in by what Richard tells him. ‘More pity that eagles should be mew’d While kites and buzzards prey at liberty (1.1.line132-3). In this quotation, Hastings is using a metaphor describing his opinion on the matter of being sent to the tower by claiming that the eagles are he and Clarence who are trapped, whilst the kites and buzzards are the followers of the Queen’s court, who are allowed to do as they please. The shared dislike of Queen Elizabeth between Hastings and Richard kindles a friendship between them. As the audience, we aren’t taken in by his false concern and know that this technique Richard has used to intrigue Hastings is extremely effective, and Hastings has fallen into the trap of trusting Richard.

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In this scene, some empathy is directed towards Hastings because in only the first scene, we have seen Richard cast Hastings under his spell and Hastings becomes captivated, oblivious to Richard’s apparent corrupt and depraved qualities. However, as the audience, from the outside looking in, we know a lot more about the sinister Richard than the character of Hastings due to the revelations in the opening soliloquy delivered powerfully by Richard, confessing his plans and motives to become king of England. In Act I Scene III, Old Queen Margaret, widow to the murdered King Henry and mother to the murdered Prince Edward, enters a courtroom where persons such as Richard, Hastings, Buckingham and Queen Elizabeth are already present. She opens by reminding those attending of Richards earlier crimes interrupting the dispute to threaten and blame the assembled company for overthrowing her husband, Henry IV.

She is then accused of playing a part in the death of Richard’s brother, Rutland. Although attacked with allegations, Margaret is not deterred from her aim and proceeds to curse each character in turn and prophesies their destruction. After cursing most of those surrounding her, when she reaches Hastings, she predicts, ‘And so wast thou, Lord Hastings, when my son Was stabb’d with bloody daggers. God, I pray him, That none of you may live his natural age, But by some unlooked accident cut off’ (1.3.line 210-213). By saying this, she foresees that Hastings will not live his life to a natural age and will be beheaded. This curse comes true, and Hastings happens to remember her prophecy in his last speech before his death. Finally, Margaret warns the company against Richard, ‘Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog, Thou that was sealed in thy nativity The slave of nature and son of hell’ (1.3.line 227-229).

Margaret continues to argue with Richard, cursing him continually and then leaves. Rivers and Buckingham seem disturbed by her heavy-handed words but by way of contrast, Richard remains calm and pretends to repent the wrongs that he did Margaret. When Hastings is cursed, he seems displaced by Margaret’s words as he doesn’t reply, but later shakes it off by remarking, ‘False-boding woman, end thy frantic curse, Lest to thy harm thou move our patience.’ (1.3. line 246-7) and seemingly does so to prove to the others that he is not worried about the denunciation by overtly putting on a bravado.

In this scene, not much sympathy is inflicted towards Hastings. Although he seems to be deterred by the curse, he puts it to the back of his mind, attempting to impress those surrounding him, especially Richard, after striking up a friendship and therefore appears arrogant. Act II Scene I begins with the ailing Kind Edward attempting to make peace between his friends and family, endeavouring to tie up all ends before he soon dies. He asks Hastings, Rivers, Dorset and Buckingham to profess their loyalty to each other, and for the sake of one of the last wishes of a dying man, they pretend to do so. King Edward, on his deathbed, is attempting to reunite his friends and family, trying to make sure that he can die in peace, knowing that his family is content.

  • “King Edward: ‘And now in peace my soul shall part to heaven,
  • Since I have set my friends at peace on earth.
  • Rivers and Hastings take each other’s hand;
  • Dissemble not your hatred, swear your love.’
  • Rivers: ‘By heaven, my heart is purged from grudging hate:
  • And with my hand, I seal my true heart’s love.’
  • Hastings: ‘So thrive I, as I truly swear the like’ “

In Act II, Scene II, the Duchess of York and Elizabeth mourn the death of King Edward, and there is a discussion over how and when Edward, Prince of Wales, is to be brought to London to be crowned king. Unfortunately, the plot develops little in this scene, and Hastings only makes a brief appearance. In this fleeting semblance, Hastings only says ‘And so say I’ (2.2 line 140), with which he agrees to Richard’s and Buckingham’s plan to fetch the soon-to-be King, Prince Edward. This plan is that only Buckingham and Richard meet the Prince alone when he arrives in London; Buckingham argues this point shrewdly by claiming that the Prince should be met by a small troop of attendants to not upset too many people.

When Rivers becomes suspicious and questions this motive, Buckingham fights back, almost pressurizes Rivers into agreeing with him and ends with it being agreed that he and Richard should be those to go to Ludlow. When Buckingham is alone with Richard, it becomes clear that Buckingham is in Richard’s confidence, with which their friendship will come into play later on when setting up Hastings, and that the two are plotting to ‘Part the Queen’s proud kindred from the Prince’ (2.2.line150) All Hastings does in this scene is agree with the majority. So not much empathy is inflicted toward him as he seems to be playing up to Richard and Buckingham, so to be approved by Richard. We, as the audience, are those that can see all that Hastings is doing is getting more and more tangled up in Richard’s web rather than impress him, which is what he is attempting to achieve.

In Act III, Scene I, Prince Edward arrives in London, and Richard and Buckingham send Catesby to sound out Hastings and detect whether Hastings will support Richard in his bid for the throne. After the two young princes are led off to the tower, Richard and Buckingham discuss their plans with Catesby, who is then asked to sound out Hastings, ‘sound thou Lord Hastings How he doth stand affected by our purpose’ (3.1.line 171-2). Richard and Buckingham wish to know whether Hastings will support Richard when he seizes the throne; Richard tells his confidant that Hastings must die if he refuses to service him. He promises Buckingham the Earldom of Hereford when he succeeds to the throne. ‘Buckingham: “Now, my Lord, what shall we do if we perceive Lord Hastings will not yield to our complots?”

Richard: “Chop off his head – something he will determine. And, look when I am King, claim thou of me The earldom of Hereford and all of the movables Whereof the King, my brother was possessed”‘ By using Catesby, who professes to be a dear friend of Hastings, it seems appropriate that the two schemers use him as a double agent. However, Buckingham’s self-confidence is misplaced – Richard’s startling words confirm his brutal control of events when Buckingham ponders on how they should deal with Hastings if he refuses to support their plan. Act III, Scene II opens with a scene of urgency as a messenger from Lord Stanley knocks on Hastings door at four o’clock in the morning. This time seems to set a sense of indigence amongst the characters.

The messenger has come to report the portentous dream his master has had, believing that Richard is treacherous and means to harm both Hastings and Stanley. He tells Hastings of the dream, claiming that a boar, the boar is Richard’s emblem, will cut off Hastings’s head ‘he dreamt that the boar had razed off his helm.’ (3.2. line 11). Hastings dismisses the dream, telling the messenger that they should proceed to the tower where they will participate in a council meeting. No sympathy is projected onto Hastings as he mocks Stanley’s dream, claiming that the dream is groundless, without motive and says, ‘I wonder he’s so simple To trust the mockery of unquiet slumbers’ (3.2.line 26-7).

The messenger exits, and Catesby then arrives to discover whether Hastings will support Richards’s bid for the throne. Catesby informs Hastings enemies, Queen Elizabeth’s relatives, are to be executed at Pomfret castle, of which Hastings is glad to hear. When telling Hastings of the news, he says that there is great turbulence and will continue until Richard comes to the throne. Hastings says that he would have his head chopped off before he sees Richard succeed to the throne. This is all the information that Catesby needs. Ironically, Hastings is pleased to hear of the execution of Rivers, Vaughan and Grey after being asked what he felt if Richard were to become king – does he not see the danger that he is in? His logic seems foolish as he nonchalantly believes that ‘the boar will use’ him ‘kindly’ (3.2.line 32) even though he rashly comments that he believes the crown would be ‘foul misplaced’ (3.2.line 43) on Richards’s head.

Catesby then comments that ‘Tis a foul thing to die, my gracious Lord, When I am unprepared and look not for it’ (3.2.line 62-3), where he is warning Hastings, but Hastings seemingly does not understand – he misses the irony in Catesby’s prophetic words. He ignores Stanley’s further warning when Stanley arrives at his home shortly after his messenger and states to Stanley, ‘Think you, but I know our state secure, I would be so triumphant as I am?’ (3.2. line 80-1). He claims that Stanley thought he would be so confident if he didn’t know he was safe? Hastings continues to ignore threats, including Buckingham’s veiled warning later on in the scene. Thus, Catesby and Buckingham seal Hastings’s fate and foreshadow his end.

Little sympathy is cast upon Hastings in this scene due to his arrogance towards Stanley’s unknown premonition, appearing overly confident and trusting of Richard. The audience now learns of how na�ve and gullible Hastings is, and due to his sheer stupidity, he is to be executed. When he is asked of his opinion about Richard becoming king, he doesn’t take time to think and answers brashly, including a pun saying that he would rather have his own head chopped off rather than seeing the crown so offensively mislaid. In this answer, he shows his loyalty to the late King Edward. So due to his sheer simple-mindedness, the audience sympathizes with Hastings fate but still believes he was too trusting in his relationship with Richard and became arrogant.

Scene IV opens with a council meeting and Hastings asking when the new King shall be crowned. Due to his senseless confidence in Richard loving him, he speaks on Richard’s behalf. When Richard arrives, he seems relaxed and unusually friendly, asking the Bishop of Ely to send him some of his strawberries from his garden. However, it quickly becomes apparent that these are diversionary tactics, prepared beforehand. Richard takes Buckingham to the side to discuss Hastings’s fate and how they shall set him up, while the council discusses the coronation. When Richard returns, his tone has blatantly changed; he is angry and accuses Queen Elizabeth and Mistress Shore, Hastings’ lover, of using witchcraft against him.

Hastings foolishly questions this statement and is cut off by Richard and is accused of treason. Richard commands Lovell and Ratcliffe to execute Hastings immediately. This short but dramatic scene shows Richard’s power and affect on people, displaying his austere rising to the throne. Empathy is greatly cast upon Hastings in this scene as he was clearly set up. Whatever he had said, Richard would have twisted it to make it look treacherous, and so it was a hopeless cause. Hastings was unfairly deceived and fell into the trap of trusting Richard. After Richards’s exit, Hastings speaks on his downfall and how he could have prevented it to Ratcliffe and Lovell. After being accused of treason and sent to be executed, he realizes that he was too trusting.

He claims grief for England but not for himself as he realizes that he could have prevented his execution by not believing that Richard genuinely loved him. He recalls Stanley’s premonition and cries over how he scorned it and laughed at the irony that he was glad of his enemies’ deaths at Pomfret, which took place earlier that day, and now it is he who is next in line to be beheaded. He then remembers Margaret’s curse and cries, ‘O Margaret, Margaret, now thy heavy curse Is lighted on poor Hastings’ wretched head’ (3.4.line 91-2). Hastings’s destruction is dwelt on in a very focused way during this act – similar to Richard’s other victims, he realizes the truth too late and can only make wise prophecies about the future when he is close to death.

Richard’s inquiry for strawberries when he enters seems laughably insignificant, but the audience recognizes his manipulation methods, and he is lulling the council into a false sense of security. The fact that he succeeds in accomplishing Hastings’s execution displays his growing power, as does the swiftness of Hastings’ downfall, and therefore great sympathy is inflicted towards the helpless Hastings. A foolish man, Hastings believed that he could choose not to support Richard and still keep his head. Unlike Richard’s other adversaries, he doesn’t curse, distrust or dislike the Protector, but he doesn’t have the political wit to protect himself by supporting Richard’s idea of becoming king.

He was blind and complacent, believing that Richard ‘love’s me well’ up to the moment when he was accused of treason. Although similar to Anne, he chose to misinterpret the usurper’s words, paying the price with his life; Hastings should have heeded the warnings offered to him. It is ironic that Hastings, a na�ve and subtle man, should share the fate of execution, like other male victims in the play, simply because he failed to say what Richard wanted to hear.

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