Richard III


William Shakespeare

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Richard III: Alliteration 3 key examples

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Definition of Alliteration
Alliteration is a figure of speech in which the same sound repeats in a group of words, such as the “b” sound in: “Bob brought the box of bricks to... read full definition
Alliteration is a figure of speech in which the same sound repeats in a group of words, such as the “b” sound in: “Bob brought... read full definition
Alliteration is a figure of speech in which the same sound repeats in a group of words, such as the... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Key-Cold Figure:

Lady Anne’s mourning over the corpse of King Henry VI in Act 1 is imbued with powerful visual and tactile imagery and several poignant uses of alliteration:

Poor key-cold figure of a holy king,
Pale ashes of the house of Lancaster,
Thou bloodless remnant of that royal blood,
Be it lawful that I invocate thy ghost
To hear the lamentations of poor Anne,
Wife to thy Edward, to thy slaughtered son,
Stabbed by the selfsame hand that made these wounds.

The visual imagery in this passage is striking. The use of “pale ashes” paints a haunting picture of the lifelessness and decay that has befallen the once-great house of Lancaster. This phrase contrasts with the later mention of “blood” and “royal blood,” which evoke the sense of aggression and violence around Henry VI's murder. The colors of this scene are one of the play’s many references to the warring houses of York and Lancaster. Lancaster’s house color is red. Henry, the Lancaster king, is dead, and so the red “blood” of Lancaster has been replaced by the ashy paleness of York "white." The king is a “bloodless remnant” of what he once was, as is the Lancaster dynasty which has been replaced by a York king, Edward IV.

Shakespeare uses tactile imagery here to evoke a physical sense of coldness and death. Anne’s mention of a “[p]oor key-cold figure” brings to mind the chill of a corpse. It also makes the audience think of metal and imprisonment, as if the king’s body has grown chilly and metallic from lack of life and energy. This sensory language of cold replacing warmth accentuates the somber tone of the scene. Everything is cool, hard, and lifeless.

This passage's alliteration also adds depth to the melancholy atmosphere. The repetitive, hard consonants in phrases like "Poor key-cold figure," "bloodless remnant of that royal blood," and "stabbed by the selfsame hand" produce a rhythm that reinforces the dismal tone and sense of despair. The repeating, cyclical sounds reinforce Lady Anne’s sense of hopeless grief, and emphasize the self-perpetuating nature of the violence and betrayal of civil war.

Act 4, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Thy Edwards, My Edward:

In this monologue, Queen Margaret uses alliteration and allusion to detail her despair and hatred of Richard, death, and war. She’s trying to calm a disagreement between Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York, and offers up some grim perspective:

Thy Edward he is dead, that killed my Edward,
Thy other Edward dead, to quit my Edward;
Young York, he is but boot, because both they
Matched not the high perfection of my loss.
Thy Clarence he is dead that stabbed my Edward,
And the beholders of this frantic play,
Th’ adulterate Hastings, Rivers, Vaughan, Grey,
Untimely smothered in their dusky graves.

Margaret uses the repetition of the name "Edward" here to drive home the devastation of the civil war. The constant use of "Edward" not only emphasizes the name but also the weight of its meaning. It’s associated with the death and conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York because of all the "Edwards" these families contained. It’s a common English boy’s name, so it also stands in for the idea of the needless death of all the other men and boys Richard has murdered or executed. In addition, Margaret uses the "a" sound in “play," “grey,” and “grave” to create a sense of mournful harmony, linking these words together and reinforcing her sorrowful tone.

The allusion Margaret’s making here is to the tragic history of the Lancaster and York families. "Edwards" don’t have very good luck in either of these groups: both York and Lancaster have seen multiple people named Edward meet violent ends. This allusion to the civil wars between the families underscores the ruthless and unrelenting nature of the political struggles in Richard III. Elizabeth acknowledges her own family’s crimes, but reminds the other women, too, of her own losses and affiliations. It's a reference to the turbulent and bloody history that binds their families together. It’s also an effective means of evoking empathy, shared sorrow, and a sense of unity between the women against Richard’s ongoing chaos.

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Act 5, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Despair and Die:

Richard is visited by the ghosts of those he has wronged on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth Field. The Ghost of Henry VI gives a chilling prediction, using alliteration and tactile imagery to drive his point home:

When I was mortal my anointed body
By thee was punchèd full of deadly holes.
Think on the Tower and me. Despair, and die!
Harry the Sixth bids thee despair and die.

The phrase "punchèd full of deadly holes" presents the audience with visceral tactile sensations. The word "punchèd" evokes an aggressive, forceful feeling, creating a sense of violent intrusion and violation. This brings the brutality of the murder Richard ordered back to life, making it tangible to the audience. Furthermore, the description of "deadly holes" conjures a sense of extreme physical pain and suffering. By emphasizing the physical aspect of the act that killed him, the dead Henry VI makes the scene even more intense and harrowing than a ghost’s visit might otherwise be.

 The line "Despair, and die!" as it appears here also makes significant use of alliteration. The repetition of the "d" sound emphasizes the relentlessness of the ghost's message, and adds to the somber, ominous tone of his words. This alliteration serves to highlight the inevitability of Richard's downfall. It's as if the harsh "d" sound is pounding into Richard, much like the "deadly holes" he inflicted on Henry VI. The repetition of the phrase "[d]espair, and die!” is also frightening, especially as the other ghosts then take it up. They do so a total of eight times, making “[d]espair, and die!” a haunting mantra that underscores Richard's isolation at the end of the play.

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