EN3535 Fall/Winter 2011/2012 Elizabeth Pentland Lecture 4 Richard III part 1 Oct 04

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EN3535 – Fall/Winter 2011/2012 – Elizabeth Pentland

Lecture 4 – Richard III – Part 1 – Oct 04
Timeline of History Plays

  • First Tetralogy:

    • 1589 Henry IV, Part I (1422-1461).

    • 1590 Henry IV, Part II & III

    • 1592 Richard III (1483-1485)

  • Second Tetralogy:

    • 1595 Richard II (1377-1399)

    • 1596 Henry IV, Part I (1399-1413)

    • 1596 Henry IV, Part II

    • 1599 Henry V (1413-1422)

  • Tetralogy – group of four plays.

Wars of the Roses

  • Backdrop to this play is a period of civil war in England (roughly 1455-1487).

  • The ‘War of the Roses’, named for the emblems used by the warring factions, each with a claim to the English throne.

  • The Yorkists represented by a white rose and the Lancastrians by a red rose.

  • Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI (married to Margaret of Anjou) all belonged to the House of Lancaster.

  • Henry VI’s kinship challenged by Richard, Duke of York (not Shakespeare’s Richard).

  • Edward IV is York’s eldest son; Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) is his younger brother.

Sources of Richard III Story

  • Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia (ordered by Henry VII and published in 1555).

  • Edward Hall’s Union (written under Henry VIII, it celebrates the reconciliation of England under the Tudors).

  • Thomas More’s history of King Richard III (posthumously publiushed in 1543; likely main source).

  • More described Richard as ‘little of stature, ill-featured of limb, crook-backed…hard-favoured of visage’ – his physical appearance produced a character that is deceptive and cruel.

  • Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577).

Shakespeare’s Cultural Power and the Tudor Myth

  • Shakespeare’s Richard III – deformed, monstrous, tyrannical, Machiavellian, ruthless, unworthy to rule.

  • Historical Richard of Gloucester … not a hunchback, did not have a withered arm, was not born with a full set of teeth, was not in his mother’s womb for 2 years.

  • Which Richard II do people know?

  • What’s the purpose of Shakespeare’s Richard III?

The Tudor Myth – Rewriting History?

  • Constructing Richard III as monster allows Richard (Elizabeth I’s grandfather, later Henry VIII) to save England – justification for the usurpation, it becomes an honourable ‘legitimate’ act.

  • Purpose of Elizabeth’s time: san ction Elizabeth’s reign, allay her subjects and remove dissension.

  • This is important because her reign was threatened on multiple occasions, i.e. famous plot to put Mary, Queen of Scots (Elizabeth’s cousin) on the throne after she was dethroned in Scotland and escaped to England in 1568.

Save Richard

  • Richard III society – founded in 1924 in England.

    • www.richardiii.net

  • Friends of Richard III, incorporated – American counterpart.

    • www.r3.org/onstage/friend1.html

  • Famous members: Helen Hayes (actress), Tallulah Bankhead (actress) and Salvador Dali.

  • Importance of Richard’s soliloquies – his hypocrisy is revealed and we have an avenue into his thoughts.

  • His two voices: public and private.

  • Opening soliloquy: themes of sun and shadow, war and love, virtue and villainy, proportion and deformity, men and women, body and character that is present in the acts that follow.

  • Long speech – 40 lines – but it is only 5 sentences.

    • Structured into 3 sections: ‘Now’ (line 1); ‘But’ (line 14); ‘And therefore’ (line 28).

    • Speech culminates in the conclusion that since he cannot ‘prove a lover’ – he is ‘determined to prove a villain’.

  • Double meaning of first sentence ‘now’ as in former ‘winter of discontent’ when Henry VI was in power; but also ‘now’ as in present: Richard is discontent even though or perhaps because his brother Edward is on the throne.

  • 3 part structure of speech:

    • ‘Now…’ from war to dance.

    • ‘But I…’ not made for love.

    • ‘And therefore…’ villainy.

  • Edward, House of York in the sun – he resides in the shadows.

  • Richard uses the soliloquy to darkly charm the audience; opening scene opens and closes with his address to the audience.

Wooing for Anne

  • Richard proves a lover?

  • Stichomythia – A rhetorical pattern, verbal duel: ‘Lady’ – ‘Villain’; ‘Vouchsafe, divine perfection’ – ‘Vouchsafe, diffused infection’ – strong parallels in opposition.

  • Why does she consent?

    • Possible reasons for Anne’s consent:

      • Lone woman needs a protector.

      • Succumbed to the passion and flattery. i.e. her beauty provoked him to kill her husband.

      • Allure of the bad boy – she can be the good girl who redeems him.

  • ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know’ (Byron on Richard III).

  • Soliloquy at end of 1.2: return to the images of mirror and shadow.

  • ‘I’ll be at charges for a looking-glass…’ (255).

  • ‘Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass / That I may see my shadow as I pass’ (262-263).

  • Mirror – symbol of instruction and order; functions as a positive example.

  • Books for conduct and statecraft: Mirror of the world (1481) and a mirror for magistrates (1559).

  • Richard as ‘one false mirror’ – a distorted reflection of his father, Richard of York whereas his brothers are true mirrors.

  • Sun – symbol of King of England; Shakespeare likes to pun on sun/son.

  • Shadow in the sun – Richard’s desire to overshadow his brother, Edward IV.

  • Fails to ‘woo’ Queen Elizabeth in 4.4 but does not realize it; instead is contemptuous of her: ‘Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman’ (431). Contrasting outcomes of the twinned wooing scenes highlight his position – in 4.4 we see that his fortune is declining.

  • History plays explore the nature of monarchy: what does it mean to be king? What are the qualities of a good king?

  • The plays depict the connection between monarchy and performance – kingship is a performance.

  • Doubling effect of performing kingship on the stage.

  • Staging politics and monarchy:

    • 2.1 – Edward IV tries to reconcile warring factions within his own court, i.e. ‘Hastings and Rivers, take each other’s hand / Dissemble not your hatred; swear your love’ (8-9); stage of enemies.

    • 1.3 – Richard makes a dramatic entrance and presents himself as the one who needs to be appeased, i.e. ‘They do me wrong, and I will not endure it’ (42).

    • 3.5 – Richard trains Buckingham for his role as orator, i.e. ‘Come, cousin, canst though quake and change thy colour?’.

    • 3.7 – Richard takes control, present a tableau of piety, i.e. ‘See where his grace stands, ‘Tween two clergymen’ (95).

    • 4.2 – Actors/noblemen rebel against the director/king – foreshadowing.

Who’s a Tyrant? The Signs…

  • Rules puts own interest before the interests of the state or the people.

  • Power concentrated in the hands of single rules; people are disenfranchised.

  • Rule is irrational, led by emotions, desires, lust, and anger rather than by reason; ruler is unpredictable, volatile; weak, selfish rules – violent, lacking self-discipline.

  • Cruelty or indifference toward people (including those closest to him or her).

  • Justice/laws ignored instead there is excess and decadence.

  • Men dominated or ruled by their wives, mistresses or mothers.

Women’s Functions in Richard III

  • Act as victims lamenting their dead to reinforce Richard as antagonist:

    • Margaret tells the Duchess of York, ‘From forth the kennel of they womb hate crept a hellhound that doth hunt us all to death’ (4.4.47-48).

  • Act as tolls to advance plot; pawns in Richard’s political stratagems.

    • ‘I mean that with my soul I love thy daughter / And do intend to make her Queen of England’ (4.4.263-264).

  • Act as scapegoats of guilt; usurpers of power.

    • ‘This it is when men are ruled by women. ‘Tis not the King that sent you to the Tower. My Lady Grey his wife, Clarence, ‘tis she…’ (1.1.62-64).

  • Act as ‘avengers’ using curses; facilitate divine justice.

    • Anne (speaking of Henry VI): ‘O God, which this blood mad’st, revenge his death!’ (1.2.62).

  • Nina Levine’s book ‘Women’s Matters: Politics, Gender and Nation in Shakespeare’s Early History Plays’ argues for the following functions: Margaret (foil for Richard), Anne (symbol of power/dependency paradox), and Elizabeth (maternal hero).

Female Lamentations

  • One significant literary source of female lamentation is Seneca’s ‘Troades’ (The Trojan Women); Recalls women mourning the fallen city of Troy and its dead. The two main mourners are Hecuba and Andromache (the mothers of victims).

  • Medieval cultural tradition of female lamenting/mourning for dead; practice became seen as a sacrilegious denial of the continuity with the dead in afterlife.

  • Female lamentation in 4.4.34-48. ‘Till a Richard killed him…’ leads to curses.

Defining Curses & Their Power


  • An utterance consigning, or supposed or intended to consign, (a person or thing) to spiritual and temporal evil, the vengeance of the deity, the blasting of malignant fate, etc. It may be uttered by the deity, or by persons supposed to speak in his name, or to be listed to by him.

  • The evil infected by divine (or supernatural) power in response to an imprecation, or in the way of retributive punishment.

  • A great evil (regarded more or less vaguely as inflicted or resting upon a person, community, etc.); a thing which blights or blasts; a blasting affliction, a bane.


  • Who/what is the ‘curse’ of the play?

  • ‘England’s lawful earth, / Unlawfully made drunk with innocents’ blood’ (4.4.30)

  • How do characters’ views of divine punishment compare with those in Titus?

The ‘Wailing Queens’: Female Agency & Witchcraft

  • Cursing bonds these women together; female agency in otherwise disempowered positions.

  • The women form a coven of sorts.

  • Richard accuses Elizabeth of Mistress Shore of being witches, and of causing his deformity. (3.4.68-72)

  • Witch: A female magician, sorceress; in later use esp. a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or evil spirits and to be able by their co-operation to perform supernatural acts.

  • Cursing: A How-To Guide from Queen Margaret. (4.4.116-125)


  • ‘Forebear to sleep the nights, and fast the days; / Compare dead happiness with living woe’ (4.4.118-119).

  • Does the advice that Margaret gives seem to align her further with Richard?

  • ‘Think he that slew them [Richard] fouler than he is’ (4.4.121).

  • Does it seem that Shakespeare ‘heeded’ Margaret’s advice while writing the play?

Curse Words:

  • Margaret 1.3.195-232.

Margaret’s Curses: Prophecy and Divinity

  • Margaret’s prophetic ‘to be done’ list in 1.3…

    • Elizabeth will want Margaret to help her curse Richard.

    • The King will die of surfeit (excess).

    • Young Edward will die an untimely death.

    • Queen Elizabeth will outlive her children and glory.

    • Rivers, Dorset, Hastings will die unnatural (presumably violent) deaths.

    • Richard will have insomnia and a gnawing conscience.

    • Richard will mistake friends for traitors and vice versa.

    • Buckingham will be betrayed by Richard.


  • Which of Margaret’s prophecies come to fruition? Which could be the denouement of the play?

  • Does the fulfillment of the prophecies seem to confirm a ‘Tudor Myth’?

Self-Awareness and Curses: Anne, Margaret and Richard

  • Anne’s curse 1.2.14-28

    • ‘If ever he have child… [be it] untimely brought to light’.

    • ‘If ever he have a wife, let her be made more miserable by the life of him…’

  • Margaret’s acknowledgement of the curse upon her own head 1.3.190-195.

    • ‘Did York’s dread curse prevail so much with heaven…’

  • Richard’s ‘prediction’ regarding a curse to King Edward 1.1.33-40, implicating George, Duke of Clarence.

    • ‘Plots have I laid… about a prophecy which says that G of Edward’s heirs the murdered shall be.’ How is this ironic?


  • Richard implicates women in his own prophecies, either attributing their valuation to women (Lady Grey) or making prophecies to them. Why? Do his prophecies come true?

Women and Historical Inaccuracies

  • Anne’s timeline is altered. She was actually married to Richard for 13 years and had a child with him (Edward, died age 10). She was not poisoned by Richard either, but died of TB.

  • Shakespeare wrote Margaret as the only character appearing in all plays of the tetralogy. She provided structural coherence and thematic relevance.

  • Yet to do this, Shakespeare must also alter Margaret’s historical timeline. She was in fact dead in France (d. 1482) when Edward IV died in 1483. She had been imprisoned after her husband (Henry VI) and son (Edward, Prince of Wales) were killed and was later exiled to France. It follows that she could not have been wandering around the castle cursing her enemies. Richard draws attention to this ‘inaccuracy’: ‘Were not thou banished on pain of death? (1.3.166)


  • How do these ‘creative’ changes affect your understanding of the play?

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