Success is a commodity; something that every person strives for. There is a formula for people to be successful, and most people follow this formula to accomplish what they need to do. There are some however who hold no reverence for this formula and instead do whatever they have to do to get what they want even if that means hurting others mentally, emotionally and physically in the process. What is notable is the attraction we hold for characters who are true villains and don’t play by the rules, as seen in Richard III or Tony Soprano in The television series The Sopranos. What is interesting with both of these characters is how closely they parallel each other; both men will lie, cheat, murder, steal, and sleep with whomever they want in order to satisfy their personal needs. As a result, one could argue that Richard III is the Shakespearian era forerunner to modern mafia drama such as The Sopranos. This criminal climb to the top of each of their respective social ladder, and subsequent fall is what makes them so similar and interesting to compare.
First it is important to outline how both of these characters conduct their business. Richard III is in pursuit of the crown for himself and puts together a group of people who will support him in this quest. He collects The Duke of Buckingham, Sir William Catesby, The Duke of Norfolk, The Earl of Surrey, Sir Richard Ratcliffe, Sir James Tyrrell, and Lord Lovel and together they plot Richards’s coup to take the throne. All of these men help with different activities for Richard, notably organizing marriages and killing people who are a threat to Richard’s kingship. Tony is the boss of an Italian American crime family in New Jersey, which operates by performing illicit businesses dealings including illegal gambling, money laundering, prostitution, drugs, and racketeering. Likewise Tony has a crew of “captains” who work for him consisting of Christopher Moltisanti, “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, Silvio Dante, Paulie Gualtieri, Bobby Baccalieri, and Ralph Cifaretto. These men each carry out different segments of Tony’s business, and Tony personally takes a cut from each of their profit margins. The true parallel here is that Tony and Richard III are both leaders who delegate work to others and profit from them and as time goes on they each lose members of their respective groups due to death, insurrection, and disloyalty. In the end both are left with few or no confidants, since in both plots things fell apart for their respective stratagems.
It is interesting to note the amoral behavior of each character towards their own families as they progress through their individual lives. Richard III almost never tells the truth to members of his own family, or if he does it is often because he is using them for something of an underhanded nature. A great example of this type of behavior is how Richard has his wife, Queen Anne murdered and then is able to convince Elizabeth, the wife of the late King Edward IV to allow Richard to marry her daughter the young Elizabeth (of who’s brothers Richard has just had murdered as well). What really makes this ridiculous is that Richard claims that he has committed all of these murders for her, so that she would have a seat of power. Similarly, in The Sopranos, Tony constantly lies to members of his family. What is truly interesting is how often he cheats on his wife. In almost every episode Tony has a different “goomah” or girlfriend who he sees on the side, in fact there is rarely an intimate scene with Tony and his wife Carmela. Tony exhibits very selfish desires, and stops at nothing to satisfy them even if that means hurting his marriage by constantly lying to his wife.
The real meat and potatoes here is that both Richard and Tony have no problem committing murder. Both of these men have to kill people for a living. For Richard there are people whose lives are physically in the way of him getting to the crown, and the only way for him to remove them is by murdering them. There is a perfect example of this when he sends the princes off to The Tower of London, presumably to be murdered, when he says; “My lord, will't please you pass along?/ Myself and my good cousin Buckingham/ Will to your mother, to entreat of her/ To meet you at the Tower and welcome you.” What Richard really means here is that he is going to send them away to The Tower and then later “disappear”. The fact that he claims they are being sent there for protection is very far from the truth. Richard has to do this because since their father Edward has passes they are next in line for the crown before Richard, therefore Richard must kill them quickly to ensure his spot on the throne.
Tony on the other hand is involved with organized crime and his crew makes their money from illicit business practices. With this kind of business comes the territory of having to occasionally gain leverage by physically assaulting people or sometimes even killing them. There are many examples of Tony killing people but probably the most vicious was the murder of Ralph Cifaretto in the episode entitled “Whoever Did This.” Ralph’s character is strongly disliked. As one of the “captains” in Tony’s crew, he makes a lot of money for the crew, however Ralph kills a horse he and Tony owned together so that Ralph could collect insurance money for his son’s medical bills. Tony approaches Ralph about the horse and they have the following exchange:
Anthony 'Tony' Soprano Sr.: Jesus Christ, you did it. You cooked that fuckin' horse alive!
Ralph Cifaretto: No, I did not! But so what?
Anthony 'Tony' Soprano Sr.: So what?
Ralph Cifaretto: It was a fucking animal! A hundred grand a piece! My kid's in a fuckin' hospital! I don't hear you complaining though, when I bring you a nice fat envelope, you don't give a shit where that comes from! Don't give me that look! It was a fucking horse! What are you, a vegetarian? You eat beef and sausage by the cartload!
Following this exchange, Tony flies off the handle and violently strangles Ralph to death. In reality Tony does this because of how Ralph Cifaretto has become a true burden for Tony’s crew due to his erratic and inappropriate behavior. What is notable in this instance is that Tony killed Ralph because of how Ralph put his personal interests, particularly money, above Tony’s. For Tony, this shows disloyalty and as a result a threat to his business endeavors so for Tony he had every reason to kill him.
Finally, we see the almost insane personalities that make them the characters they are. They are both under a lot of stress at any one given time. This is evidenced throughout both of the plots. The best example of this is when Richard proposes to Anne at the beginning of the play, where he professes his love to her and then when she resists he goes so far as to threaten to make her kill him if she will not accept his proposal as he says here:
“But now thy beauty is proposed my fee,/ My proud heart sues, and prompts my tongue to speak./ Teach not thy lips such scorn, for they were made/ For kissing, lady, not for such contempt./ If thy revengeful heart cannot forgive,/ Lo, here I lend thee this sharp-pointed sword;/ Which if thou please to hide in this true bosom./ And let the soul forth that adoreth thee,/ I lay it naked to the deadly stroke,/ And humbly beg the death upon my knee.”
Richard’s stress and subsequent absurd behavior might be linked to his compensation for his physical disability. Likewise throughout The Sopranos, Tony does things that are total irrational overreactions to anyone who gives him the slightest trouble. The perfect example here is when Tony’s uncle gets sick in the third season. Tony and Furio Giunta (a cousin from Italy) go physically harass and subsequently threaten the uncle’s doctor on a golf course after the doctor didn’t return his phone calls. Tony and Furio tell the doctor during their interaction, “There are worse things that can happen to a person than cancer” implying there are worse things that could happen to the doctor if he doesn’t comply. Tony’s manic behavior is probably linked to some psychological problems he has which include panic attacks. In both cases the characters take what would otherwise be a handicap and overcome these shortcomings with very intense personalities which make them overall far more powerful and interesting characters. Both characters also vent their problems to the audiance; Tony does it through reoccurring scenes with his psychiatrist Dr. Melfi, whereas Richard just explains his feelings and struggles to the audience directly. Having both characters verbalize their trials and tribulations allows the audience to get a better grasp and a deeper feel for each of the characters and their personalities.
Although both Richard III and Tony Soprano are villains, for some reason the audience falls in love with both of these characters. There is something exceptionally compelling about how these men pursue success, and about their ridiculous personalities. James Terminiello, a writer for the website nj.com wrote an article comparing the two, and made some very interesting observations particularly; “Perhaps, deep down inside, Tony and Richard are our dark heroes. Yes, they kill, maim, steal, and break commandments by the cartload with style! But they also bully their way through things in ways we only wish we could.” He claims that deep down we all wish we sometimes wish we could handle day to day life situations like these two in their own brand of taking no prisoners and getting a job done, not to mention the ability to have to the power and ability to instil fear in anyone we wanted to. Terminiello goes on to claim that although these men speak different languages they provide the same results, and it is the way they deliver these results that makes the audience fall in love with both of these men.
Shakespeare, William, and James R. Siemon. Richard III. London: Methuen Drama, 2009. Print.
The Sopranos. Dir. David Chase. Perf. James Gandolfini. 1999. DVD.
"The Sopranos." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.
Terminiello, James. "Opinion: Tony Soprano Is N.J.'s Richard III." South Jersey Newspapers -. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.
"Wikia." The Sopranos Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.