In voice-over, Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) speaks, as the film cuts to La Motta, alone in his dressing room where he rehearses for his nightclub appearance reciting bits of Shakespearean tragedy, wearing a tuxedo and open shirt.
His fantasy of disrobing in the ring presents the film’s recurrent theme of sexual anxiety, violence, fear, and confusion :
I remember those cheers
They still ring in my ears
And for years they’ll remain in my thoughts
Cuz one night I took off my robe
And what’d I do
I forgot to wear shorts.
I recall every fall, every hook, every jab
The worst way a guy could get rid of his flab
As you know, my life was a jab…
Though I’d rather hear you cheer
When I delve into Shakespeare
“A Horse, a Horse, my Kingdom for a Horse,”
I haven’t had a winner in six months (he lights his cigar)…
I know I’m no Olivier
But if he fought Sugar Ray
He would say
That the thing ain’t the ring
It’s the play.
So gimme a stage
Where this bull here can rage
And though I can fight
I’d much rather recite
That’s entertainment !
– From Raging Bull