Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Queens of Richard III

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Margaret of Anjou
Richard iii may very well be my favorite play to have read so far this semester. It is very clever in its use of wordplay and plot development.  The theme of conscience is huge and brought together through so many character’s interactions.  There's a lot I could write about, but what I think particularly strikes me as something that I might want explore further is the place of women in this play. There's a surprising number of women portrayed, and yet, when you google women in Shakespeare’s play, these characters are almost never mentioned. 
Shelby and I noticed and discussed the role of these women right away.  At first, I didn’t think it was really that significant because I didn’t think the women of the play would have an important role.  However, but the end of the play I saw the women characters to actually be the stronger ones. 
The entire of the tragic events of the play are laid out in curse originally by Queen Margaret showing that women’s words have power, although most people think of her as mad and do not take her seriously until the end, when her curses come to pass.  She has receive a lot of attention, but a less acknowledged and yet very powerful character is Queen Elizabeth, the wife of one the Edwards whom Richard kills. She proves to be a strong-willed character in the play and is one of the few that actually calls Richard out on his villainy.  When he asks her how to woo her daughter, after he’s killed many innocent people, she responds boldly,
“Send to her, by the man that slew her brothers,
A pair of bleeding-hearts; thereon engrave
Edward and York; then haply she will weep:
Therefore present to her--as sometime Margaret
Did to thy father, steep'd in Rutland's blood,--
A handkerchief; which, say to her, did drain
The purple sap from her sweet brother's body
And bid her dry her weeping eyes therewith.
If this inducement force her not to love,
Send her a story of thy noble acts;
Tell her thou madest away her uncle Clarence,
Her uncle Rivers; yea, and, for her sake,
Madest quick conveyance with her good aunt Anne.” (4.4.284-296)

She could easily have been killed for words like this, but she has had enough of standing by while Richard destroys her and everyone else’s lives.  This is just one selection of her bitter remarks.  Most readers, however, don’t seem to look into the strength of her character. 
I did find one interesting discussion reading the comments here that does explore women's roles a little, but could really be expanded.  There are so many views on Shakespeare and feminism or his portrayal of women and so many opinions on this play that I feel like this topic could really flesh out well in a paper.


  1. I love this! I was thinking the same thing about the play I read, Antony and Cleopatra. At first I thought she was an obnoxious teenage girl, but she turned out to be a powerful, manipulative queen who was able to sacrifice when needed but also felt passionate love. She has the chance to live at the end, but refuses, saying, "Show me, my women, like a queen. Go fetch / My best attires... / I'll give thee leave / To play till Doomsday." She decides to die like a queen instead of live a mocked slave. Shakespeare actually has a lot of dynamic, intelligent, devious female characters that need more appreciation.

    1. That would be interesting to look into and compare. I actually read a blogpost the ither day about how Romans tried to dumb down Cleopatra's image when, in reality, she was a feirce queen.

  2. I really like your idea, and I found an article titled "Freedom of Speech and Shakespeare's Women Characters" By Eve Horwitz. It doesn't talk specifically about Richard iii, but it discusses it across other Shakespeare plays, such as "the taming of the shrew" and "othello" it could bring some interesting ideas into your paper.

  3. heres the url, if you can't get to it through that I found it on the MLA International Bibliography so you should be able to find it there.

    1. Thanks! That definitely sounds like it could add to this idea.