In Act 1, Scene 4, the First Murderer uses a simile to mock and ironize the Duke of Clarence’s faith in Richard’s kindness. Clarence believes that Richard cares for him, but the Murderer knows otherwise:
O, do not slander him, for he is kind.
Right, as snow in harvest.
Come, you deceive yourself.
The First Murderer's response employs a simile, comparing Richard's alleged kindness to snow during a harvest. Snow at harvest time would be disastrous for crops, as it would make them wither and freeze. This is the murderer’s way of saying that Richard’s "kindness" is both deadly and non-existent. It’s also a roundabout way of saying that Richard being kind would be impossible or wildly unlikely, just as “snow in harvest” would be.
Shakespeare is also using situational irony in this moment. Clarence is blindly defending Richard’s kindness. He can’t fathom that it is precisely Richard’s malevolence that has brought the Murderers to his door. The audience, privy to Richard’s plotting, perceives the grave danger Clarence is in. Where they might expect Clarence to be suspicious of his younger brother’s actions, the Duke remains steadfast in his belief in Richard’s goodness. This ironic simile serves to highlight how naïve Clarence is, and to show how effective Richard’s plotting and manipulations have been.
It’s also interesting to note here that history has revealed George, Duke of Clarence, to have been a traitor himself. He switched sides many times in the battles between York and Lancaster, and was eventually sentenced to die for treason against his older brother, Edward VI. It’s rumored that—instead of the conventional beheading—he asked to be drowned in a barrel of malmsey, a sweet wine.
Richard professes to Hastings that he believes that Queen Elizabeth has cursed him. He uses tactile imagery and a simile comparing his arm to a withered tree to paint a picture of weakness and rot:
Look how I am bewitched; behold, mine arm
Is like a blasted sapling withered up.
Richard's description of his arm as "withered" provides tactile imagery that is central to this passage. The word "withered" suggests a sensation of dryness, fragility, and a lack of vitality. The audience can almost feel the torsion and weakness of the arm, as Shakespeare intends. This perceived physical decay deepens the audience's understanding of Richard's sense of personal plight and misfortune. He’s not a very sympathetic character, but this is a moment of physical delicacy and vulnerability where the audience is invited to feel empathy for him.
Further, Richard uses a simile here, likening his arm to a "blasted sapling." This comparison invokes a vivid image of his arm as a young tree, meant to grow tall and robust, now stunted and damaged. It also extends beyond his arm: this simile serves as a metaphor for Richard himself. He is the youngest son, perceived as the weakest and least consequential among his taller, handsomer, more powerful brothers. He’s like a "blasted sapling" among towering trees, unable to grow to his full potential. Richard's life and ambitions, much like the sapling's growth, seem initially thwarted and "blasted” by his circumstances.