Comment on and analyse the role of women in the King Richard 3rd?

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Stephanie Eaton

King Richard III

Comment on and analyse the role of women in the play?

King Richard III is a play that has many roles for each character. Shakespeare uses these roles as a way of giving reasons for characters doing what they do along with explaining why things are happening throughout the play. Shakespeare gives the women a number of roles in the play although the play is not about women as such. The women’s roles include; power, conscience, fate, grief and revealing the truth about Richard. The societal roles women would have had at that time are also reflected in their dramatic roles.

Shakespeare uses women as scapegoats mainly for Richard so that no one will blame him for the trouble that has happened or for the wrong doings like the imprisonments and murders. In this case Richard is blaming the queen for her husband and his brother, King Edward for imprisoning their brother, Clarence. For example, (1:1, lines 62-64)

“Richard: Why, this is when men are rules by women,

            ‘Tis not the king that sends you to the Tower,

            My Lady Grey, his wife, Clarence, ‘tis she…”

This shows that Richard does not think very highly of women, as he mocks their positions especially Elizabeth as she is Queen and blames them for things that couldn’t possible be their fault like in this case Clarence’s death. Shakespeare does this to show that men, especially ones that are in power, think that women shouldn’t have any power or authority over themselves or anyone else because society was a very sexist place at this time. Here Shakespeare uses Elizabeth as a way out for Richard as he has just caused King Edward his oldest brother to imprison their middle brother, Clarence.

Shakespeare makes one of the roles of women in the play exactly how it was when he wrote it, as women never had any power or status in the society, which is what he has created in his play. The women in the play, Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth, The Duchess of York and Lady Anne Neville are all victims of the misogyny in society where men have all the power. This is shown in a number of scenes during the play one of which is, Act 1 Scene 2, where Richard is trying to get Anne to marry him even though he has just killed her proposed husband, Edward, and his father, Henry VI. To start with, Anne curses Richard for everything he has done as she cannot do anything about it except let him knows that she hates him and wishes him to be “damned for that wicked deed”. However, Richard uses word play and twists everything she says and reverses her insults. For example, (1:2, lines 150-151)

“Anne: Would it were mortal poison for thy sake.

Richard: Never came poison from so sweet a place.”

This shows that he has more power as whenever she insults him he makes her words into something good. Richard ends up blaming her beauty for the killings that he has done. In the end, Richard is triumphant in winning Anne over and she agrees to marry him. This is one way in how Shakespeare puts across that women did not have any power, as no one would agree to marry a man that had just killed the man they were in love with. This also shows this as the only thing that Anne could do to him was use words against him to create a curse. The language that Shakespeare uses here is very strong as the way he twists what Anne says with Richards’ words is very good as he just reverses what she says. He also uses the repetition of the word poison to put the point across even more that Anne wants him to die. Shakespeare does not use the fact that women have less power than men as one of his aims in the play, however he does use it in the way that Richard has and wants more political power whereas the women have none although what they do have is moral power which Richard has none of either. This does balance the genders out in one sense but Richard can use his power more and with greater effect as far as everyone is concerned as to the society women can do nothing which is something that Shakespeare wanted to create.

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The role of the women is to curse and to make prophecies, as this is the only thing that they can use against each other and the men that have hurt them or were involved in hurting the ones that they loved. Queen Margaret (wife of the late Henry VI and mother of the late Edward) curses everyone because Richard and others will not let her return to ‘her’ throne and she thinks it is time that the house of York is hurt. For example, (1:3, lines 197-199)

“Margaret: Edward thy son, that now is Prince of Wales,


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