Richard III


William Shakespeare

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Richard III makes teaching easy.

Richard III: Hyperbole 5 key examples

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Hyperbole
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations intended to emphasize a point... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements are usually quite obvious exaggerations... read full definition
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Cheated of Feature:

In the first scene of the play, Richard delivers a soliloquy in which he hyperbolizes his own physical ugliness and personifies the abstract concepts of “nature” and “peace”:

 I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
 Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
 Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
[...] Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
 Have no delight to pass away the time,
 Unless to see 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 determinèd to prove a villain
 And hate the idle pleasures of these days

In this passage, Richard uses hyperbole to exaggerate his physical deformities. Because he’s so ugly, he implies, he has all the excuses he could possibly need for his bad behavior and sinister disposition. By stating he was "cheated of feature by dissembling nature," and is “deformed, unfinished [and] sent before my time,” he dramatizes his appearance in order to paint himself as a victim. 

Moreover, her employs personification to make nature itself seem deceptive and cruel. If “dissembling nature” has cheated him out of the “fair proportion” of beauty he feels he deserves, Richard can feel justified in acting immorally. Ascribing malevolent intentions to “nature” allows Richard to frame his evil doings a reactions to the injustice, rather than selfish choices. He depicts nature as an antagonist, personifying it as something that has denied him his rightful form. He also mentions “peace” as if it is an entity with the ability to “pipe.” In this context, “pipe” means to sing or play an instrument weakly and plaintively. He’s implying that “peace” is fragile and weak. Because he can’t “prove a lover” of this time of happiness, he leans into his “own deformity” and resolves to ruin everything, destroying "peace" and subverting "nature."

This soliloquy sets the stage for Richard’s ruthless ambition and the lengths he is willing to go to achieve power. The hyperbolic exaggerations of his physical “deformity” serve as his twisted justification for the villainous path he chooses. 

Act 3, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Cheerfully and Smooth:

In Act 3, Lord Hastings makes a fatal error in judgment regarding Richard’s demeanor. He tells a group of gathered lords and the Bishop of Ely that Richard is easy to read, in the most hyperbolic of language. This is an instance of dramatic irony and also displays Hastings's blithe innocence. He says:

His Grace looks cheerfully and smooth this morning.
There’s some conceit or other likes him well
When that he bids good morrow with such spirit.
I think there’s never a man in Christendom
Can lesser hide his love or hate than he,
For by his face straight shall you know his heart.

This statement is a clear example of dramatic irony. The audience knows all about Richard’s plotting and ability to fool people, thanks to his soliloquies. Hastings, however, has no idea of his king's true nature as a master manipulator who can hide his intentions behind a mask of being pleasant and modest. He thinks Richard is just happy because there's a "conceit" or plan that the monarch likes. He has no idea what's actually happening in Richard's mind. 

Hastings's belief in Richard’s transparency is emphasized by the hyperbole in this passage. He tells his assembled company that “never a man in Christendom can lesser hide his love or hate” than Richard. The phrase “in Christendom” here means “in the entire world.” This exaggerated praise shows that Hastings is naïve, and blinds him to the impending danger posed by the youngest Plantagenet brother. Hastings asserts that it’s possible to know Richard’s “heart,” or how he truly feels, by his “face.” Hastings's inability to see through Richard’s deceit ultimately leads to his downfall, as he fails to recognize the sinister intentions lurking behind Richard’s affable exterior. As almost no one is able to see through Richard’s pretense of goodness, this blustering explanation seems almost painfully ironic to an audience by this late point in the play. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 3, Scene 7
Explanation and Analysis—Unfit for State :

In Act 3, Scene 7, Richard "protests" against being given the responsibilities of the kingship. In a speech full of hyperbole and dramatic and verbal irony, he fakes humility to the Mayor of London:

Alas, why would you heap this care on me?
I am unfit for state and majesty;
I do beseech you, take it not amiss;
I cannot, nor I will not, yield to you.

This is a clear instance of dramatic irony, as the audience has been witness for the entire play to Richard’s ruthless ambition for the crown. His fake reluctance is also a manifestation of verbal irony, as he says one thing and means another. At this point in the play, there's a large number of people around Richard who believe he's the best choice to rule the country. The audience can only watch in horror as his manipulations come to fruition.

Richard's false humility is masterful in its execution. In this passage, he portrays himself as the dutiful servant burdened with a responsibility he does not seek. He uses hyperbole to describe himself as "unfit" for the things he's been training his entire life for, and to make kingship seem like a weight that would be "heaped" on him. He begs the Lord Mayor not to be offended or "take it amiss" that he is refusing. He even treats the repeated requests and demands to become king he's being given as if they are annoying impositions, saying he won't "yield" to them. This is also a reference to his "reluctance" to be physically crowned, where he'd kneel or sit, "yielding" to the responsibility. Of course, this false modesty only serves to build his reputation for humility and self-effacement in the eyes of his subjects. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 4, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Loathèd Issue:

In this passage, Queen Margaret deploys hyperbole and vicious tactile imagery to express her loathing for King Richard. She is enraged by his treachery and doesn't hold back on her scathing insults:

Thou slander of thy heavy mother’s womb,
Thou loathèd issue of thy father’s loins,
Thou rag of honor, thou detested—

Margaret, the widow of Henry VI and mother of Prince Edward, confronts Richard with extreme bitterness and hostility. She is enraged by his treachery and doesn't hold back on her scathing insults. Margaret uses exaggerated, hyperbolic language to emphasize the depth of her contempt for Richard. Words like "slander," "loathèd," and "detested" display the intensity of her hatred and serve as a vehicle for her wrath.

When she calls Richard the "slander of thy heavy mother’s womb,” Margaret employs tactile imagery to add a physical dimension to her verbal assault. The word "heavy" suggests that even as a baby Richard was a trial, and as if being pregnant with him were a burden to his mother. When she calls him the "loathéd issue" of his father's "loins," she's using the convention of calling children their parents' "issue." An "issue" is something that comes from a body: in this case, a baby. However, she's also comparing Richard to feces or semen (other kinds of unclean "issue" that come from the "loins" or genitals).

This unpleasant sensory language of embodiment and touch continues with the unsavory image of a “rag of honor.” Margaret compares Richard to a dirty, worthless piece of cloth—an object that once held some value ("honor"), but is now soiled and ruined. All of her language is extreme and hyperbolic: she is saying the most hurtful things she can think of. Describing Richard as a "rag of honor" presents a pathetic image of something once honorable, but now dirty and disrespected. This comparison lays bare Margaret's view of Richard. She sees him as a man who has fundamentally debased his nobility and honor through his nefarious actions. He might have been something honorable once, but is now degraded to a "rag."

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 5, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Fairest-Boding Dreams:

Richmond speaks to one of his lords the night before the Battle of Bosworth Field, describing the quality of sleep and dreams he had:

How have you slept, my lord? 

The sweetest sleep and fairest-boding dreams 
That ever entered in a drowsy head
 Have I since your departure had, my lords [...]

Richmond uses hyperbole when he describes his sleep as “the sweetest sleep” and his dreams as the “fairest-boding dreams that ever entered in a drowsy head.” He’s doing so in order to comfort his men, who are nervous because of the upcoming battle. By exaggerating how well he slept, he is portraying himself as being at peace and confident, boosting the morale of his troops. By describing himself as being unworried about the violence swiftly approaching, Richmond aims to instill the same feelings in his men despite the terrible weather and overall grim circumstances. This is typical of Richmond, who is portrayed as being both a good leader and very confident that God is on his side in this fight. 

The reference to “fairest-boding dreams” also serves as foreshadowing for the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth Field. By emphasizing the positive nature of his dreams, Shakespeare hints at Richmond’s impending victory. This victory, of course, also signals the end of Richard’s tyrannical rule. The “dreams” Richmond has in this scene set the stage for the climax of the play and his establishment as a new, just ruler.

Unlock with LitCharts A+