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Did Shakespeare invent Gollum?

Gollum (poster)Was Gollum inspired by one of Shakespeare’s villains? Martin Freeman, star of The Hobbit, thinks it’s a distinct possibility.

In an Interview with The Telegraph, where he is explaining how he sees and will play the character of Richard III, in the famous play of the same name, Freeman explains that: “I’ve just been rehearsing a scene where Richard is having a little diatribe to himself, where his schizophrenic personality comes out. And it’s absolutely Gollum, it’s totally Gollum. It’s like Shakespeare invented Gollum 400 years ago.”

I believe the scene Freeman is referring to is this one:

KING RICHARD III
Give me another horse: bind up my wounds.
Have mercy, Jesu!–Soft! I did but dream.
O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!
The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What do I fear? myself? there’s none else by:
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O, no! alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself!
I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
Perjury, perjury, in the high’st degree
Murder, stem murder, in the direst degree;
All several sins, all used in each degree,
Throng to the bar, crying all, Guilty! guilty!
I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die, no soul shall pity me:
Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself?
Methought the souls of all that I had murder’d
Came to my tent; and every one did threat
To-morrow’s vengeance on the head of Richard.

If I am correct (or even if I am not, I guess), I can see what Freeman means. Richard is battling with himself, blaming and then defending himself, showing and being award of realising two personalities that contrast against one another – the soliloquy used is also very similar to how Tolkien used it too.

In addition to the above passage where Richard III is seen to argue with himself, in the original text Richard is an ugly hunchback who is “rudely stamp’d”, “deformed, unfinish’d”, and cannot “strut before a wanton ambling nymph.” So there is certainly a bit of Gollum-ness there too.

It is worth noting that this isn’t the first time the similarity has been noted. In a number of academic publications and reviews of performances the similarities have been commented upon… That said, I don’t think anyone is accusing Tolkien of ‘ripping off’ Shakespeare or anything like that. I think the question people are raising is could Tolkien have used Richard III as a starting point (consciously or unconsciously)?

What do you guys think? Could there be a link between Shakespeare’s character and Tolkien’s?

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4 Comments

  1. I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s possible. I’ve always assumed that the Witch King’s “no living man” was inspired by the “none of woman born” prophecy about Macbeth.

  2. Leigh Anne says:

    I can definitely see parallels, and I think it’s great. Richard III was one of the plays I read in a Shakespeare course, while in university, that really stuck with me, mostly because the performance we watched of it was set in a futuristic world which was completely unexpected. I can certainly see a connection between Gollum and Richard personality-wise. If Tolkien did draw inspiration from Shakespeare, or any other literary sources, he must never have admitted it (That I’ve read or seen so far. I recall hearing that he had no intention of his work mirroring or reflecting others’ pieces, but people can always make connections or point out similarities when they see them.)

    This is something I had never considered and a fun thought to have pertaining to two very memorable characters. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  3. Elisabeth says:

    I think that literature recreates itself all the time… Everyone borrows from somewhere. Tolkein was well-versed in British Literature. It’s certain that the best parts crept into his mind, were re-imagined, and then emerged on the pages of his epic fantasy. More than certain, I think it’s expected.

  4. Mia says:

    I believe I read somewhere that Tolkien himself said he felt cheated by the lack of actual walking trees at the end of Macbeth – hence the army of trees showing up at Helm’s Deep. That means Shakespeare influenced LOTR by being such a disappointment.

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