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.
Yet, while women in the play lack political influence and independence, they wield intense emotional force and speak a vigorous, powerful language. The future-shaping curse language described in the "Language" theme is spoken exclusively by the female characters Queen Margaret, the Duchess, and Queen Elizabeth. Further, the play's female characters form the emotional core of the play. While male characters mostly negotiate political action, the women articulate the emotional tolls those actions take and thus bring the play to life for the audience. "I had an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him; I had a Henry, till a Richard kill'd him; Thou hadst an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him; Thou hadst a Richard, till a Richard kill'd him" explains Queen Margaret to Queen Elizabeth, and her repetitions illuminate the parallels between each woman's grief, not only for Queen Elizabeth but for the Duchess and the play-goers watching. Likewise, nearly every moving lament in the play comes from the mouth of Anne, Queen Margaret, the Duchess, or Queen Elizabeth. By contrast, Richard tries to curtail the force of the women's speeches. Interrupting the Duchess and Queen Elizabeth's furious expressions of grief after the princes' murder, Richard says: "Let not the heavens hear these tell-tale women rail on the Lord's anointed." When the Duchess cries in agony, "O, let me speak!" Richard responds, "Do, then; but I'll not hear." Yet whether or not Richard listens, the women are heard and their words ring powerfully through the air of the play long after they are spoken.
Women Quotes in Richard III
Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven? –
Why, then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses!
Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog,
Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell.
Ay me, I see the ruin of my house!
The tiger now hath seiz'd the gentle hind;
Insulting tyranny begins to jet
Upon the innocent and aweless throne.
Welcome, destruction, blood, and massacre!
I see, as in a map, the end of all.
My woman's heart
Grossly grew captive to his honey words
And proved the subject of my own soul's curse,
Which ever since hath kept my eyes from rest
Ah, my poor princes! ah, my tender babes!
My unblown flowers, new-appearing sweets!
If yet your gentle souls fly in the air
And be not fix'd in doom perpetual,
Hover about me with your airy wings
And hear your mother's lamentation!
I had an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him;
I had a Harry, till a Richard kill'd him:
Thou hadst an Edward, till a Richard kill'd him;
Thou hadst a Richard, till a Richard kill'd him.
Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days;
Compare dead happiness with living woe;
Think that thy babes were fairer than they were,
And he that slew them fouler than he is:
Bettering thy loss makes the bad causer worse:
Revolving this will teach thee how to curse.
Bear her my true love's kiss; and so, farewell.
[Exit QUEEN ELIZABETH]
Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!