"Why should calamity be full of words?" asks the Duchess of York. Indeed, though Richard III contains plenty of bloodshed, it's most insidious violence occurs in language. Orchestrating his rise to power with his tongue, Richard can be seen as a kind of director: he describes his plot to gain power to the audience in the first scene, then quickly begins to turn his words into reality. As the play goes on, Richard makes a pattern of this, privately articulating his plots to the audience before he renders them onstage. In so doing, he seems to simultaneously privilege and implicate the audience. By letting playgoers in on information the actors on stage are ignorant of, Richard entices the audience and allows them to share his bird's eye view on the action. Still, this shared vantage point often feels uncomfortable as it positions audience members on equal footing with the cruel, sadistic Richard. The language Richard uses among his fellow characters proves equally two-faced and manipulative. He dissembles, flatters, and feigns love without concern for truth or pity. He hires assassins to do the dirty work of murder and lies prodigiously to distance himself from the deaths. He makes promises he will not fulfill and sugarcoats requests for favors. His tactics work on many, who take Richard at his word and think him a friend: Clarence believes Richard is on his side, even as Richard plots to kill him. Lady Anne is successfully wooed by Richard's sweet-talking, even though Richard has murdered her husband and father. Hastings' trusts Richard's show of gentleness and is eventually beheaded when he fails to perceive the true, ruthless Richard lurking behind the kind language. Even Buckingham, who is wise to Richard's schemes, believes Richard's promise of reward and doesn't realize that he himself is just another of Richard's victims until too late. Queen Elizabeth's wittily furious rejoinders to Richard's coaxing in Act 4 are significant in showing her immune to Richard's tongue – her grief is more powerful than Richard's eloquence. Though Richard believes his words have convinced her to give him her daughter's hand in marriage, Stanley soon reveals that she has in fact offered that hand to Richmond.
The curse language spoken by women in the play counters Richard's manipulative language and channels the powers of destiny, fate, and prophecy through words. Though everyone initially ignores Queen Margaret's curses and calls her crazy, the curses she casts against them end up coming true, and Hastings, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan all lament the fulfillment of Margaret's curse as they are executed. The Duchess and Queen Elizabeth, too, regret not taking Margaret more seriously after Richard murders the young princes and leaves the women in the devastated state Margaret's curse prophesied. "O thou well skilled in curses, stay awhile," Elizabeth begs Margaret, "And teach me how to curse mine enemies." Richard's downfall, too, fulfills Margaret's curse while also fulfilling the curse cast on him by his mother the Duchess. Meanwhile, Margaret's own miserable banishment is the result of a curse cast against her by Richard's father for killing his son Rutland. Cousin to curse language is prophetic language, which proves similarly powerful throughout the play. The futures described to Clarence and Stanley by their dreams are realized soon after they dream them. Richard tries to brush off the prophecy he heard from an Irish bard but it comes true anyway: "I should not live long after I saw Richmond," he was told, and he doesn't.
Language Quotes in Richard III
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun,
And descant on mine own deformity;
And therefore,--since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,--
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams…
Cannot a plain man live, and think no harm,
But thus his simple truth must be abus'd
With silken, sly, insinuating Jacks?
Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven? –
Why, then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses!
Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog,
Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell.
And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With odd old ends stol'n forth of Holy Writ;
And seem a saint when most I play the devil.
Indeed, I am no mourner for that news,
Because they have been still my adversaries;
But that I'll give my voice on Richard's side
To bar my master's heirs in true descent,
God knows I will not do it to the death.
Tut, I can counterfeit the deep tragedian;
Speak and look back, and pry on every side,
Tremble and start at wagging of a straw,
Intending deep suspicion. Ghastly looks
Are at my service, like enforced smiles;
And both are ready in their offices
At any time to grace my strategems.
What! think you we are Turks or Infidels?
Or that we would, against the form of law,
Proceed thus rashly in the villain's death
But that the extreme peril of the case,
The peace of England and our person's safety,
Enforc'd us to this execution?
Who is so gross
That cannot see this palpable device?
Yet who's so bold but says he sees it not?
Bad is the world; and all will come to nought,
When such ill dealing must be seen in thought.
No, so God help me, they spake not a word;
But, like dumb statues or breathing stones,
Star'd each on other, and look'd deadly pale.
Which when I saw, I reprehended them,
And ask'd the mayor what meant this willful silence.
My woman's heart
Grossly grew captive to his honey words
And proved the subject of my own soul's curse,
Which ever since hath kept my eyes from rest
Ah, my poor princes! ah, my tender babes!
My unblown flowers, new-appearing sweets!
If yet your gentle souls fly in the air
And be not fix'd in doom perpetual,
Hover about me with your airy wings
And hear your mother's lamentation!
I had an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him;
I had a Harry, till a Richard kill'd him:
Thou hadst an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him;
Thou hadst a Richard, till a Richard kill'd him.
Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days;
Compare dead happiness with living woe;
Think that thy babes were fairer than they were,
And he that slew them fouler than he is:
Bettering thy loss makes the bad causer worse:
Revolving this will teach thee how to curse.
Bear her my true love's kiss; and so, farewell.
[Exit QUEEN ELIZABETH]
Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!
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 deed committed by myself!
I am a villain; yet I lie, I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter.
And then, as we have ta'en the sacrament,
We will unite the white rose and the red:
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown'd upon their enmity!
What traitor hears me, and says not amen?
England hath long been mad, and scarr'd herself