Richard III


William Shakespeare

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Richard III: Style 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard III—like all of Shakespeare’s plays—is marked by the playwright’s signature poetic structure. The use of iambic pentameter (a rhythm of speech that mimics the rhythm of a heartbeat) gives the dialogues a dynamic, formal quality and allows for multi-layered wordplay. It is mostly nobly-born characters who speak in iambs, leaving the less structured option of "normal" speech to the poor and the ordinary. The rhythms of iambic pentameter accentuate the carefully-constructed nature of the things the nobles are saying. Nothing is casual when treachery’s around every corner, and the pentameter makes everything seem much more premeditated than conventional dialogue might.

Throughout the play, Shakespeare develops complex characters through intricate syntax and the use of soliloquies. Richard, as the central character, is developed in-depth through his long, intimate solo speeches to the audience. These offer “secret” insights into his motives and thoughts, however little the audience might sympathize with them. This gives Richard a psychological depth that is central to the drama: it's often considered the role of a lifetime for male Shakespearean actors. Other characters also have long, involved speeches, so the audience gets a lot of different perspectives on the same set of situations and events.

The play is also rich in figurative language. Dark and violent imagery, metaphors, and similes are abundant, often alluding to themes of death, brutality, and sexuality. This diction deepens the audience’s sense of place, and gives them a window into the characters’ states of mind. Richard III is also rich in allusions and facts from England’s past. By integrating historical references and using rhetorical techniques that often sound like historical accounts, Shakespeare lends authenticity and emphasis to the narrative. The use of idiom and allusion gives the audience a strong sense of what the aggression and insecurity of 15th century life might have actually been like.

This emotional intensity is also echoed in the play’s pacing. The swift progress of Richard III and its many twists and turns mirrors Richard's rapid and relentless ambitions. Scene transitions are often brisk, reflecting the urgency and impulsive nature of the actions taking place. At some points the play seems almost breathless, as events pile up one after another in Richard’s rabid scramble for power.