The tone of Richard III is layered and complex, reflecting the way Shakespeare depicts the characters' many-faceted personalities. There’s a huge amount going on in the plot, and its dramatic events are echoed by a solemn, uneasy, and sometimes unnerving tone.
Initially, the play’s general attitude is sinister and knowing. Richard’s many soliloquies reveal his dark ambitions and cunning nature to the audience. They aren’t subtle: he’s evil and he knows it. The play presents a dark view of the human psyche, suggesting that underneath a polite surface, anyone could be a schemer like the soon-to-be King. The audience is invited into his plots and manipulations through his soliloquies, creating an atmosphere taut with dramatic irony.
As the plot develops, the tone becomes dramatic and foreboding. The intense character interactions Shakespeare depicts—coupled with ghosts, prophecies, and dark visual imagery—contribute to an atmosphere that’s deeply ominous. There’s an air of impending doom as events unfold, and the atmosphere is charged with tension and violence. As Richard III’s death toll rises, the tone becomes increasingly mournful. The expressions of grief, the funerals, and the lamentations of those who have lost loved ones saturate the play with sadness and mourning. Its portrayal of politics is world-weary and cynical, implying that many powerful people will use their influence for bad purposes.
However, the tone undergoes a significant shift towards the end. With the defeat of Richard and the crowning of Richmond, the tone becomes abruptly triumphant. Open discussions of power and the future of England replace the furtive confessions Richard engaged in. The gloomy tone surrounding the trickster King rapidly fades, and the audience leaves with a sense of qualified relief.