Richard’s Seduction of Anne and Manthara’s Brainwashing of Kaikeyi

Richard’s Seduction of Anne and Manthara’s Brainwashing of Kaikeyi

The episode of Richard III's seduction of Anne and Manthara's slow and effective poisoning of Kaikeyi's mind offers a brilliant comparative analysis of the genius level grasp of literary Masters over human impulses and their real life operation.

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Manthara and the Winter of Our Discontent
Richard’s Seduction of Anne and Manthara’s Brainwashing of Kaikeyi

AS FINELY HONED EMBODIMENTS OF SPITE, both Manthara and Richard are adept in the dark art of deceit, concealment, and crafty speech. Persuasive speech is indeed their most potent and devastating weapon because it is so effective. 

Richard first ensnares and disarms Clarence — his own brother — through guileful speech before eventually getting him murdered. Next, he seduces and then marries Anne. She is the daughter-in-law of King Henry VI and wife of Edward IV, the heir apparent. Richard murders both of them. He executes the seduction of Anne through the infallible magical power of his speech. And the scene where the seduction occurs only heightens the macabre nature of Richard: she is grieving over the corpse of Henry VI. Indeed, the whole scene is a masterclass of a genius playwright who was also an unparalleled master of human impulses. Anne begins by mournfully extolling her father-in-law, 


Set down, set down your honorable load [corpse of the king]

If honor may be shrouded in a hearse,

Whilst I awhile obsequiously lament…

Poor key-cold figure of a holy king…

Stabbed by the selfsame hand that made these


O, cursèd be the hand that made these holes;

Cursèd the heart that had the heart to do it;”

That is when the murderer Richard arrives on the scene and unapologetically confesses to his foul crime. Anne unleashes a string of curses at him and spits at him. However, he is not only dogged in his shamelessness but justifies it in the language of a nonchalant charlatan: 


Why dost thou spit at me?


Would it were mortal poison for thy sake.


Never came poison from so sweet a place... Teach not thy lip such scorn, for it was made for kissing, lady, not for such contempt.” 

The extended back-and-forth between them culminates in Richard’s triumph — a triumph he had foreseen. Anne succumbs and agrees to marry him. Her great respect for her father-in-law whom she has just described as “honour shrouded in a hearse,” vaporises in the heat lit by Richard’s artful words appealing to her womanly vanity. Here, Shakespeare delivers to us that other timeless lesson: of how vacillating people convince themselves into supporting evil because they are too weak to resist the temptation that evil offers them. This is how Richard gloats about his victory: 

“Was ever woman in this humor wooed?

Was ever woman in this humor won?

I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long.

What, I that killed her husband and his father…

Having God, her conscience, and these bars against


And I no friends to back my suit…

And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!


Hath she forgot already that brave prince,

Edward, her lord…?”

DVG couches this phenomenon in just four devastating words of caution: pāśagaḻu horage konḍigaḻu nammoḻage — the fetters are outside, the hooks that bind them to us are within us.

IN ITS OPERATIVE ESSENTIALS, Manthara’s slow poisoning of Kaikeyi’s mind is similar. Its trigger is different. Manthara is upset and furious at the anointment of Rama as the crown prince and his impending coronation as king. It is noteworthy that Maharshi Valmiki does not mention the reason for her anger. His silence is also his genius. Rama has never been rude to Manthara, has never ill-treated her or humiliated her. Thus, the anger is rootless. However, in our literary annals, a common reason attributed to her malice against Rama is her fondness and loyalty to Kaikeyi. Even if that were true or not, the simplest explanation is one word: jealousy. As an end in itself.    

Manthara’s manipulation of Kaikeyi is sprawled over three sargas in the Ayodhya Kanda and in many places, is definitely superior to that of Shakespeare as we shall see. Just as how Anne had genuine esteem for her father-in-law and husband, Kaikeyi too, had true motherly love and affection for Rama. Despite Manthara’s tenacious mind-poisoning efforts throughout Sargas 7 and 8, Kaikeyi refuses to be swayed. Au contraire, she splashes cold water against Manthara’s designs when she declares with emphatic finality:  

“sā tvamabhyudaye prāpte vartamāne ca manthare |

bhaviṣyati ca kalyāṇe kimarthaṃ paritapyase || 

Oh, Manthara! When we have an occasion for rejoicing as at present and when a festive occasion is to ensue in the future (in the form of Bharata's coronation), why do you feel agonized like this as though burning (with jealousy)?

“yathā ne bharato mānyastathā bhūyo'pi rāghāvaḥ |

kausalyāto'riktaṃ ca so hi śuśrūṣate hi mām ||

For me, Rama is as lovable as Bharata and even more. Is he not doing more service to me than he does to Kausalya?

“rājyaṃ yadi hi rāmasya bharatasyāpi tattadā |

manyate hi yathātmānaṃ tathā bhrātrāṃśca rāghavaḥ ||

If Rama has the kingdom, then Bharata has it as well. Rama esteems his brothers just as his own self."

IT IS AT THIS POINT that Manthara plays her trump card. She constructs a stark, doomsday scenario in which Rama as king, would inflict physical misery and even death upon Kaikeyi’s dear son Bharata. 

“asāvatyantanirbhagna stavaputro bhaviṣyati |

anāthavatsukhebhyaśca rājavaṃśācca vatsale ||

Oh, Kaikeyi you affectionate one! Your son will be completely distant from comforts and even from the royal clan; like an orphan.

“dhruvaṃ tu bharataṃ rāmaḥ prāpya rājyamakaṇṭakam |

deśāntaraṃ vāsayitā lokāntaramathāpi va ||

Rama, ascending the throne without hindrance, will either send away Bharata to some other country or have him put to death. This is certain.

“tasmānna lakṣmaṇe rāmaḥ pāpaṃ kiñcitkariṣyati |

rāmastu bharate pāpaṃ kuryāditi na saṃśayaḥ ||

Rama will not do a sinful act of killing Lakshmana. However there is no doubt that he will do so in the case of Bharata. 

“sa te sukhocito bālo rāmasya sahajo ripuḥ |


abhidrutamivāraṇye siṃhena gajayūthapam |

pracchādyamānaṃ rāmeṇa bharataṃ trātumarhasi ||

Your youthful son, habituated to comforts, is a natural enemy to Rama…Rama is chasing and bringing down Bharata as a lion chases an elephant-king in forest. You ought to protect Bharata."

“yadā hi rāmaḥ pṛthivīmavāpsyati |

dhruvaṃ praṇaṣṭo bharato bhaviṣyati |

ato hi saṃcintaya rājyamātmaje |

parsya caivādya vivāsakāraṇam ||

When Rama gets power of the kingdom, Bharata will certainly be ruined. And so, think of a solution to obtain the kingdom for your son Bharata and to send Rama, your enemy, to exile."

Manthara’s brainwashing of Kaikeyi primarily occurs on the planes of instilling dread and sowing discord. And it succeeds with aplomb. Kaikeyi who has such unflinching love for Rama just minutes ago, now sees him as an enemy to be vanquished. Her motherly love which had an expansive quality to it so far has now dramatically shrunken into grotesque selfishness. 

To be continued   

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