Richard III


William Shakespeare

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Richard III Themes

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Richard III tracks Richard's bloodthirsty ascent to power. The play is almost all action – it contains less meditation and soliloquy than many of Shakespeare's plays – and nearly every action is orchestrated by Richard to facilitate his own rise to the crown. The play begins right after King Henry VI's death vacates the throne and ends as soon as Richard is slain by Richmond at the end of Act V, its dramatic…

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The Throne and the State

The seat of power Richard so ruthlessly seeks is the English throne, whose rightful holder, the play suggests, will be worthy because of both blood and character. The blood claim to the throne derives from England's tradition of royal lineage. At the time the play opens, this tradition is embroiled in dispute: Richard's brother King Edward has just taken the throne after the Wars of the Roses, a drawn-out series of civil wars between two…

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"Why should calamity be full of words?" asks the Duchess of York. Indeed, though Richard III contains plenty of bloodshed, it's most insidious violence occurs in language. Orchestrating his rise to power with his tongue, Richard can be seen as a kind of director: he describes his plot to gain power to the audience in the first scene, then quickly begins to turn his words into reality. As the play goes on, Richard makes…

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The women in Richard III are, on the surface, as disempowered as they usually were in the historical 15th century society that the play depicts. Men preside over the nation and over their wives, as the crown passes from Edward to Richard to Richmond and as Anne follows her husband Richard's orders even when it breaks her heart to do so and King Edward's daughter's wedding is arranged for her by Richmond and Queen Elizabeth

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Richard III compresses fourteen years of British history into a five-act play whose action takes place over about a month. The effect of this compression is palpable and the drama seems to race by, even though it is, line for line, one of Shakespeare's longest plays. The plot takes place at breakneck speed and the terrifying spectacle of Richard's behavior is made to feel more terrifying because it happens so quickly, his violent scheme…

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