13. Were the Elizabethans more bloodthirsty or tolerant ofviolence on stage than we are? In addition to the visible bloodletting, there is endless discussion of past gory deeds. Offstage violence is even brought into view in the form of a severed head. It’salmost as though such over-exposure is designed to make it ordinary.At the same time, consider the basic topic of the play, the usurpationof the crown of England and its consequences. These are dramaticevents. They can support the highly charged atmosphere of bloodyactions on stage as well as off. By witnessing Clarence’s murder,which has been carefully set up, we develop a greater revulsion forits instigator. And even though we are spared the sight of the slayingof the young princes in the Tower, Richard’s involvement before andafter is carefully exploited. Every drop of blood referred to on stageor in the speeches helps build the effect Shakespeare wishes toachieve. The peace which comes after Richard’s death is both arelief and a reward.-

14. The Elizabethan audience knew from the start that Richmond wasto become Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England and thegrandfather of their own queen, Elizabeth I. As such, he had only toappear victorious at the play’s conclusion. By the time he shows up,matters have progressed to a point where Richard’s downfall isinevitable. But what good would victory be if the opposition hadmerely caved in? Shakespeare had to build Richmond’s importance notonly to satisfy history but to fulfill the dramatic development of theplot. By sprinkling his name into the preceding scenes, Shakespearemakes Richmond’s arrival a matter of importance. Once Richmond appears on stage, he never makes a false step or says the wrong thing. Ifhis dialogue sounds slightly flat, it may be a deliberate contrastto that of the fiery, passionate Richard. Here is a man of reasonwho makes his mark with heroic action rather than words. In the duelscene, Richmond has an opportunity to achieve the stature denied himin speech.-

TEST 2-1. B 2. A 3. B 4. A 5. B 6. B 7. C8. A 9. C 10. B-

11. From the start, Buckingham is only too willing to provide hissupport for Richard’s schemes. He immediately allies himself withRichard by scorning his exemption from Margaret’s curse. From then on,he willingly shares the risk for his share of the spoils. Remember,patronage is an important issue. During Edward IV’s reign, QueenElizabeth saw to it that her relatives and supporters were takencare of. Buckingham saw Richard as his key to prosperity. Hisinsistence on his reward in the face of his hesitation toparticipate in the killing of the princes leads to his loss ofRichard’s trust- and to his final destiny.-

12. The actor playing the role of Richard must have great strengthto endure the demands of being on stage in so many differentsituations and for such a long time. But what of the characterRichard? Could he have been the successful warrior he is credited withbeing in the past if he were seriously crippled? Could he haveperformed the physical demands required by the battle in the finalscenes? If he is “unhorsed,” surely he is capable of riding. Andwhat about his rapid, sudden turns throughout the play? Review thephysical action that must accompany so much of his dialogue and see ifyou think his deformity was as much a handicap as a convenient excuse.The judgment of Hastings is one place where he certainly exploitsit, but see if you can find others.-

13. From the beginning, Richard develops an intimate associationwith the audience as he shares his innermost thoughts. Couched as asort of “confessional,” he confides that he is going to behavewickedly. As such, he virtually invites the audience to come alongwith him as he proceeds with his business. Periodically, he reviewsand recaptures that spirit. Margaret, on the other hand, treats theaudience as more of a witness than a partner. She speaks less insoliloquies than in choral recitations. Because so much ofMargaret’s presence is a symbolic as well as an actual reminder ofpast events, she is less involved in the action. Her power restsmainly in her ability to witness the past and predict the future.Those on stage may choose to ignore her, but those out front cannot.-

14. Stanley walks a narrow line throughout the play. Although aneasy answer might be that he never actually did anything to opposeRichard, wasn’t his act of withholding support just as harmful? Thisis how Richard saw things when he ordered George Stanley to bebeheaded. But can you accept Richard’s judgment? Stanley, more thanany other, represents the middle road, or at least a firm commitmentto neutrality. Some may find his professed loyalty to Richard andsecret meeting with Richmond enough to condemn him as a traitor.Others may find him the victim of a conscience that allows him to makeno open choice. Remember the Stanley who dreamed of impendingdisaster? Contrast him with the hasty, naive Hastings.


1. Richard III has been called Shakespeare’s first fullydeveloped character in that we see many sides of his personality. Doany other characters in this play show more than one side? If so, who?And how?-

2. What part do children play in Richard III? Are they believable?-

3. How important are clergymen, the archbishops, bishops, andpriests in Richard III? Are they different from other members of thecourt? Discuss.-

4. Discuss the role of Buckingham. Is he better or worse, wiseror more foolish than Richard’s other victims?-

5. Revenge and the quest for justice dominate the action in RichardIII. Discuss individual examples and their relevance to this majortheme.-

6. Discuss the attitude toward adultery in Richard III.-

7. How successful is the use of stychomythia, the short staccatodialogue used frequently by Richard and others? What effect does itcreate in the courtship scenes?-

8. Animal imagery is used repeatedly. What dramatic function doesit fulfill?-

9. Discuss the importance of the scenes involving common peoplesuch as murderers, the scrivener, and the pursuivant?-

10. Richard is a brother, a husband, an uncle, and a son tovarious characters in the play. Analyze his behavior in each case.-

11. We often hear the lamentations of mothers in Richard III, butthere are fathers in the play too. Discuss their relationships totheir children.-

12. One objective of Richard III is to conclude the events set inmotion by the first usurpation, the overthrow of Richard II. Do youfeel this play explains and wraps it all up successfully?-

13. Compare your own knowledge of the historic Richard withShakespeare’s Richard. What obvious changes in history did Shakespearemake? Why did he do so?-

14. Corrupt governments can be found in all historical periods.Compare the corrupt administration of either Richard III or EdwardIV with a 20th-century example.-

15. Although political executions take place throughout Richard III,there is some concern for due process. Cite various examples anddiscuss their significance to the play as a whole.



If Richard is something like the Renaissance will incarnate, he isequally, in his total, eager submission to it, evil incarnate.Whatever his lusty attractiveness, we cannot deny that he treats allmen, even himself finally, as mere objects. Too late he discovers,to his amazement and confusion, that he too has feelings, issubjective and subjected, in more than will and consciousself-control. Herein lies his repulsiveness. His is a Dionysianismso passionately self-serving, so deliberate if not cold-blooded, that,corrosive rather than life-giving like the Dionysian at its best, itturns all not only to destruction but to cheapness, ignominy,pointlessness.-Theodore Weiss, The Breath of Clowns and Kings, 1974-

The great stories of murder are about men who could not have done itbut who did. They are not murderers, they are men. And their storieswill be better still when they are excellent men; not merely brilliantand admirable, but also, in portions of themselves which we inferrather than see. Richard is never quite human enough. The spectacleover which he presides with his bent back and his forked tongue cantake us by storm, and it does. It cannot move our innermost minds withthe conviction that in such a hero’s death the world has lost whatonce had been or might have been the most precious part of itself.Richard is never precious as a man. He is only stunning in hiscraft, a serpent whose movements we follow for their own sake, because in themselves they have strength and beauty.-Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare, 1939-


The astonishing thing about this play is that until almost theend, there is no sign of a possible antagonist, no visible secularforce that can bring the tyrant down. Richmond is not even mentioneduntil Act IV, and appears in only the last three scenes. He islittle more than a deus ex machina let down from above to provide aresolution both for the immediate action of this play and for thelong-continued drama of conflict between York and Lancaster.-George J. Becker, Shakespeare’s Histories, 1977-


Thus Shakespeare pictured the dominating sins in the play as perjuryand murder, sins against the moral order. He portrayed and analyzedthe passion of ambition that caused Richard to sin and the passionof fear that at the same time punished him for his sins and forced himto wade still further in blood. He inserted non-historical scenesdeveloping the Elizabethan philosophy of revenge. He used thesupernatural to enhance the horror of the play and to contribute tothe impression of a divine vengeance meting out punishment for sin. Heshowed God’s revenge exacted through the agency of the evil Richard,who was nevertheless to be held to account for his evil-doing. He madeuse of the pathos of the death of the royal children. These are thecommon methods of Shakespearean tragedy, and they justify those whohold Richard III to be a tragedy.-Lily B. Campbell, Shakespeare’s “Histories:”Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy, 1968.-


Richard’s sense of humor, his function as clown, his comicirreverences and sarcastic or sardonic appropriations of things to (atany rate) his occasions: all those act as underminers of our assumednaive and proper Tudor principles; and we are on his side muchrather because he makes us (as the Second Murderer put it) “take thedevil in [our] mind,” than for any “historical-philosophical-Christian-retributional” sort of motive.In this respect a good third of the play is a kind of grisly comedy;in which we meet the fools to be taken in on Richard’s terms, see themwith his mind, and rejoice with him in their stultification (inwhich execution is the ultimate and unanswerable practical joke, theabsolutely final laugh this side of the Day of Judgment).-A. P. Rossiter, “Angel With Horns: The Unity of Richard III,”in Shakespeare, The Histories, ed. Eugene M. Waith, 1965

ADVISORY BOARD-We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus ourBook Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued ourmanuscripts to provide quality materials.-Sandra Dunn, English TeacherHempstead High School, Hempstead, New York-Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of EnglishSuffolk County Community College, Selden, New York-Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English DepartmentState University of New York at Stony Brook-Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory CommitteeNational Council of Teachers of English Student Guide SeriesFort Morgan, Colorado-Elaine C. Johnson, English TeacherTamalpais Union High School DistrictMill Valley, California-Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of EnglishState University of New York College at Buffalo-Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of EnglishMcGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada-David E. Manly, Professor of Educational StudiesState University of New York College at Geneseo-Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of EducationState University of New York at Buffalo-Frank O’Hare, Professor of English and Director of WritingOhio State University, Columbus, Ohio-Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member, Executive CommitteeNational Council of Teachers of EnglishDirector of Curriculum and InstructionGuilderland Central School District, New York-Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language ArtsChicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois–BIBLIOGRAPHY

FURTHER READING-HISTORICAL BACKGROUND-Fraser, Antonia, ed. The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England.London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980. Covers the reigns of HenryVI, Edward IV, and Richard III.-Saccio, Peter. Shakespeare’s English Kings. New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 1977.-Seward, Desmond. Richard III, England’s Black Legend. New York:Franklin Watts, 1984. A strong argument for the traditional view ofRichard as the evil murderer and usurper.-CRITICAL WORKS-Becker, George J. Shakespeare’s Histories. New York: Unger, 1977.A review of the ten history plays and their common themes.-Blankpied, John W. Time and the Artist in Shakespeare’s EarlyHistories. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983.-Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare’s “Histories:” Mirrors ofElizabethan Policy. San Marino, California: The Huntington Library,1968. Detailed review of topical themes.-Rossiter, A. P. “Angel With Horns: The Unity of Richard III,” inShakespeare, The Histories, ed. Eugene M. Waith. Englewood Cliffs, NewJersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965.-Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare’s History Plays. London: Chatto &Windus, 1964. A study of the underlying principles found inShakespeare’s history plays with emphasis on their origins.-Weiss, Theodore. The Breath of Clowns and Kings. New York: Atheneum,1974. The use of language in Shakespeare’s early comedies andhistory plays.-Van Doren, Mark. Shakespeare. New York: Henry Holt, 1939.-AUTHOR’S WORKS-Shakespeare wrote 37 plays (38 if you include The Two Noble Kinsmen)over a 20-year period, from about 1590 to 1610. It’s difficult todetermine the exact dates when many were written, but scholars havemade the following intelligent guesses about his plays and poems:-PLAYS-1588-93 The Comedy of Errors1588-94 Love’s Labour’s Lost1590-91 2 Henry VI1590-91 3 Henry VI1591-92 1 Henry VI1592-93 Richard III1592-94 Titus Andronicus1593-94 The Taming of the Shrew1593-95 The Two Gentlemen of Verona1594-96 Romeo and Juliet1595 Richard II1594-96 A Midsummer Night’s Dream1596-97 King John1596-97 The Merchant of Venice1597 1 Henry IV1597-98 2 Henry IV1598-1600 Much Ado About Nothing1598-99 Henry V1599 Julius Caesar1599-1600 As You Like It1599-1600 Twelfth Night1600-01 Hamlet1597-1601 The Merry Wives of Windsor1601-02 Troilus and Cressida1602-04 All’s Well That Ends Well1603-04 Othello1604 Measure for Measure1605-06 King Lear1605-06 Macbeth1606-07 Antony and Cleopatra1605-08 Timon of Athens1607-09 Coriolanus1608-09 Pericles1609-10 Cymbeline1610-11 The Winter’s Tale1611-12 The Tempest1612-13 Henry VIII


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