Centre for Continuing Education

HSC English Advanced Preparation Course - Module A: 'King Richard III' and 'Looking for Richard'

HSC English. The smart way to prepare for your HSC.

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This HSC English preparation course focuses on Shakespeare’s King Richard III (circa 1593-4) and Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard (1996) for Advanced Module A: Textual Conversations.

This two-day course begins with Richard III followed by Looking for Richard as a film about making a production of Richard III.

Analysis of Richard III explores Richard III as a history play and tragedy in its context; the Tudor account of English history and Richard III; Machiavelli and Shakespeare’s Richard as a stage Machiavellian villain; the form of Shakespearean poetic drama for performance; Shakespeare’s dramatic combination of poetic eloquence, wit, conversation and events; the history play with behind the scenes history, including realism and horror such as the murders; history and comedy; history as theatrical event – for example, as satiric dramatic irony, performance and comedy in Act Three with Hastings, and Richard’s acceptance of the crown; women and children; and Richard’s finally ambiguous identity as villain and tragic hero.

Analysis of Looking for Richard explores the medium, the genre and Pacino’s approach to Richard III. The focus includes the behind the scenes film documentary about an approach to a performance; Pacino’s strengths and weaknesses as a Hollywood film star with a background in realistic (Method) acting and crime films; his use of academic experts and their contributions; his film star persona and his appropriation of a Richard-like persona with his team and cast; his awareness of the differences between American tradition and the English theatre tradition; his combination of self-doubt and ambition.

Comparative study of the texts explores the complexity of Richard III and Pacino’s strengths and limitations as an interpreter of Shakespeare. The emphasis with Richard III includes Shakespeare’s focus on poetic eloquence and wit; and how context such as the Machiavel figure adds to analysis of selected scenes. Comparison focuses Looking for Richard as a journey by a leading American actor and film star to bridge the differences and gaps between the American cultural, theatrical and cinematic tradition and the English Shakespearean tradition. Viewing of selected scenes from the film and the play focuses how Pacino is confronted by a double challenge about how to read Shakespeare and how to perform Richard.

The final focus explores the particular and general issues raised by a comparison of the two texts including the similarities and differences between theatre and film; Shakespeare’s Machiavel versus Hollywood Mafia and crime films; and literature and the representation of history. The focus here and throughout is on individual responses to the texts and the issues. Related critical material and exam material provided by NESA further support individual student responses.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • analyse and discuss the relations between King Richard III and Looking for Richard in relation to context, medium and genre, narrative, structure, themes, style, and motifs
  • analyse and discuss Richard III as evidence of Shakespeare’s art early in his career: his development of a form of poetic drama with eloquence and wit within the London playhouse; Richard III as a hybrid text of English history and tragedy; Machiavelli and Richard as a stage Machiavellian villain; the stage Machiavellian combination of villainy including crime and horror with hypocritical cleverness and wit; the combination of comedy and history with a focus on Richard; children and the chorus of women; Richard’s finally ambiguous identity as villain and tragic hero
  • analyse and discuss Looking for Richard as a cinema documentary about Pacino’s ambition to perform Richard and negotiate the gap between the English Shakespearean tradition and American theatre and film: in particular, the significance of the title; the context of Pacino’s career and his strengths as an American actor; his use of experts to learn about Shakespeare and the English tradition; his cast and his relationship with the cast; the aspects of the play that work for Pacino such as romance and crime; the challenge of English history and culture, Englishness in general, the Machiavelli tradition and Shakespeare’s wit, eloquence and theatricality for Pacino and his American tradition
  • analyse and discuss the relations between Richard III and Looking for Richard to explore critical issues about Richard III as a text; film documentary and Shakespearean drama; the identity of Pacino as an actor; the connections and gaps between Pacino as an American actor and Shakespeare’s text and English society and culture.


  • Critical study of Richard III and Looking for Richard to explore context; the medium of Elizabethan theatre and Shakespearean poetic drama versus American film; genre and style in both texts; and the essential issue that Looking for Richard is a film documentary about work in progress for a proposed production of Richard III starring Al Pacino.
  • Critical study of Richard III in relation to medium, genre, context, structure and style: in relation to the London playhouse in the early and mid-1590s; Shakespeare’s development of the history play as entertainment, English political history and tragedy; the hybrid form that includes behind the scenes history, horror, comedy and tragedy; Shakespeare’s focus on poetic eloquence and wit; the context of Tudor revisions of English history; the context of Machiavelli The Prince and Richard as a stage Machiavellian villain; the range that includes Machiavellian politics, romance and a chorus of women; Richard’s final identity as villain and tragic hero.
  • An analysis of Looking for Richard in relation to context, style and meaning in order to explore the medium of film; the cinematic documentary genre; the context of Pacino’s career; the focus on a work in progress towards a production; his use of experts; Pacino’s cast and his relationship with his team including his theatrical persona; his aim to translate Shakespeare for America and his difficulties with gaps and differences between the American and English traditions; his strengths and limitations as an interpreter and performer of Richard III.
  • Extended analysis that focuses relations between the two texts including discussion of particular scenes from both texts to establish the poetic eloquence, wit and entertainment of Richard III; Pacino’s strengths and limitations in relation to the text and the identity of Shakespeare’s Richard; Pacino’s view of America and American culture; the range of Shakespeare’s view of society, including the murderers; Pacino’s women and Shakespeare’s women; the similarities and differences between performance for film and performance for the Elizabethan playhouse; in general, how cultural context shapes meaning.

Intended audience

HSC English Advanced students studying Shakespeare’s King Richard III and Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard for the Advanced Module A: Textual Conversations.

Delivery style

A combination of lecture and group discussion with selected passages and selected criticism used as a basis for interactive exploration of the texts and informed personal student responses.


You will be provided with a course booklet (electronic copy).

Bring your own device

You are required to bring your own device (Windows or Mac) and a power chord. Please ensure your device is fully charged as access to power is limited.

Please note that University does not carry any responsibility for your lost, stolen, or damaged devices whilst on the University premises.


NESA English Advanced Stage 6 Syllabus (2017)
EA 12-1, EA 12-2, EA 12-3, EA 12-4, EA 12-5, EA 12-6, EA 12-7, EA 12-8

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For tips on staying motivated and keeping focused, dealing with anxiety, keeping healthy, relaxation, pre-study exercise and more, read our article Getting Through Your HSC: A Practical Guide.


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