Comment on and analyse the role of women in the King Richard 3rd?
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,
For Edward our son, that was Prince of Wales,
Die in his youth by like untimely violence.”
As this is the only power that Shakespeare let women have they used it to their ability and cursed people who did harm whenever they could especially if they had hurt them or their families like in this case when Margaret says that like her son died, the King’s son will do so as well. She does this because it’s the only thing that she can say against the others and they and she know that she cannot do anything else no matter what happens or is said. The language in this quote that Shakespeare uses is very interesting as to start with he uses repetition of Prince of Wales which could be to show how much power the Prince had until he died and then the fact that there is another Prince of Wales already who is also going to die. The fact that the two people are named the same thing and now have the same life as each other or will have makes sense with the repetition that is used. It is as if the repetition of the words represents the life that one of them has had which will then be repeated for the other one. Both parents named their son Edward, they knew they were both going to be or eventually become the Prince of Wales so once again the repetition of son and Edward can represent the life that they have/had and the fact that they are already so much alike. The fact that Shakespeare has let women have the power of curses and that is it shows a little sexism but it portrays the women as witches as curses is what witches are said to of used to punish people. The women do exactly that but to the men in their lives and who have hurt them. They also use them against each other to try and make themselves better and put each other down.
Another role for the women in the play is to mourn the dead. Everyone that is killed during the play has something to do with one or more of the four women. Elizabeth loses her husband and mourns his death very badly, she is the one that has to tell his children and the Duchess. For example, (2:2, lines 1-88) are full of references to death, loss and grief.
“Elizabeth: To make an act of tragic violence.
Edward, my lord, thy son, our king, is dead.”
This shows that women are powerless without a man as she has no idea of what to do and even contemplates the thoughts of going with him “To his new kingdom of ne’er-changing night.” as she cannot tolerate the thought of being without him. The language that Shakespeare uses in this quote can be seen as though Elizabeth is dragging the fact that the King is dead out even further as though she cannot really believe it. However, it can be said that Elizabeth says what Edward was to others to show how guilty she is of something and even possibly to show the audience how much Edward was thought of and how important he was to not only society but his family as well. The words “tragic violence” are a little strange here though as her husband has just died and all she can say about it is that it was a tragic violence. These words seem a little light for death and although it is a tragic to her, it is her husband so she should in one sense be going mad, not thinking about violence but the fact that her husband is dead. Shakespeare does this to show how much the women rely on men as now Edward has died someone else will become King so Elizabeth will no longer be Queen. In addition, where everything that Elizabeth has is to do with being married to Edward she will now have nothing and mean less to other people. This shows vulnerability on Elizabeth’s behalf, as she does not really know what is going to become of her now and what is going to happen to her life without a man being with her.
Duchess (Richard, King Edward and Clarence’s mother) also is involved in the grieving, as it is her two sons that have been killed by her Richard. The Duchess of York realises that she is in the same position and that she has no one. For example, (lines 51-54)
“Duchess: But now two mirrors of his princely semblance
Are cracked in pieces by malignant death,
And I for comfort have but one false glass,
That grieves me when I see my shame in him.”
This can show that women have no power without men even if it is their sons but more than that is the fact that they see themselves as victims. This also brings across the role of mourning as not only is she a widower but has now lost her two sons that she loved dearly and the only way she can get around this is to mourn their deaths and to grieve as there is nothing that can be done about what has happened. However, with what the Duchess says there is a message about Richard included. This is because throughout the play Shakespeare has made references to shadows, windows and glasses and now he is comparing them to people in the play. The “two mirrors” are Duchess sons, Edward and Clarence, who were always lovely and kind to others and the way he uses the word “cracked” can represent Richard as he is then referred to as a “false glass” which basically means that she has to perfect sons and then an evil one who has broken his mirror of being perfect. Also “comfort” and “grief” are complete opposites and the fact that now the Duchess has her evil son left to help her makes her feel really down. The way Shakespeare puts this across is by saying “grief” as he is saying that she cannot bear to look at him for the simple reason of he makes her feel shameful and she can see that in her own son. The words that are used make Duchess seem weaker than ever as she says herself that she needs support and help of her sons, but now she is going to get none due to her last and only son left being a vicious person that she cannot stand the sight of.
Carrying messages is a role that the women have in the play, as in much of what they say there is another meaning or more of a meaning that none of the men pick up. All the women know things especially the Duchess, which no one else knows and they find out more then what they are meant to know. One of the messages that the Duchess gives is that when she grieves for her two dead sons and for Richard’s false character, she lets others know that she has known what Richard was like for a while. For example, (2:2, lines 47-61)
“Duchess: …plucked two crutches from my feeble hands…”
This carries a message as here she is only talking about her two sons who are dead and has not said anything about her only family left, Richard. This shows what she really thinks about him and knows what he has done and what he is capable of doing. As the Duchess says this in front of her grandchildren (Clarence’s children) and Queen Elizabeth it is as though she wants them to know that it was all Richards’ fault and to turn round and blame him as she does know the truth.
The roles of blame, curses, grief and power all come up together as Queen Margaret, Elizabeth and The Duchess of York unite to grieve. For example, (4:4, lines 1-135)
“Margaret: To watch the waning of mine enemies.”
“”Elizabeth: Ah, my poor princes! Ah, my tender babes!”
“Duchess: So many miseries have crazed my voice
That my woe-wearied tongue is still and mute.”
Margaret does not grieve the same as the others as she is more interested in the destruction of her enemies. She sees the others mourning their families’ deaths as justice for her own losses. Margaret in this scene gains some power but over the women as she blames the Duchess for giving birth to Richard and then the Duchess asks for sympathy from her as if what Richard has done is all her fault due to coming from her womb. Margaret even then turns out to have a little power over Elizabeth as she asks her to teach her how to curse just as Margaret said she would do earlier on in the play in her prophesies. The women all realise that the only weapon that they have are words and they start to attack Richard verbally as soon as he walks in.
The Duchess of York then catalogues all his faults.
For example, (4:4, lines 168-173)
“Duchess: A grievous burden was thy birth to me.
Tetchy and wayward was thy infancy;
Thy schooldays frightful, desperate, wild, and furious;
Thy prime of manhood, daring, bold, and venturous;
Thy age confirmed, proud, subtle, sly, and bloody:
More mild, but yet more harmful, kind in hatred.
The Duchess tells Richard that he was bad-tempered and disobedient, rebellious, always taking risks, cunning and untrustworthy and that he has been like this through his whole life. She says that that is what made “the earth my hell”. Richard however takes no notice and just says “Strike up the drum!”, as he does not want to listen and wants to act as though his mothers’ words have no effect or meaning to him at all. The Duchess’ final words to Richard also show the power of words but the role of not having any actual power. For example, (4:4, line 183)
“Duchess: For I shall never speak to thee again.”
This demonstrates that it is the last straw and that she cannot handle Richard and his vicious ways any longer. She realises that he has no conscience and no matter what she says he does not even care about his own mother (which she knew deep down in the first place from the fact that he made up rumours about her earlier in the play).
Fate is also a role of the women as they tell the audience what is going to happen but not deliberately as they either do it by curses or when they are talking to another character. For example, (4:4, line 195)
“Duchess: Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end.”
This is when she is telling her son, Richard that he is going to have a bloody death which is basically what she wants to happen as she cannot forgive him but at the end of the play this is exactly what happens. The repetition of “bloody” also shows how much she really means it and that she wants him to die as the way she sees it is that he deserves it.
Ann also shows the audience fate but in a curse which she puts on Richard and his next wife which is ironic as it is her. Shakespeare does this not only to show that the women do actually have power from their curses as they do work but also to create a dramatic part in the play as not only does Ann wish that his next wife will have “timorous dreams” and she wants to “let sorrow haunt thy bed” which is exactly what happens to her but other than that she then predicts that Richard “will, no doubt, shortly be rid of me”. And this once again happens to her.
Shakespeare makes nature versus nurture a role for the women to argue about as it gives them curiosity as to why Richard is the way he is and if it is due to the Duchess or nature. For example, (4:4, line 47)
“Margaret: From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept.”
This shows that Margaret blames the Duchess for the way Richard is as he came from her womb. Shakespeare does this as it makes the Duchess feel guilty and it is the way he lets Margaret get her revenge on the family. The way Shakespeare uses language here is interesting as he says “forth the kennel” which say that Richard came from a kennel referring him to a dog. Also the word “crept” makes Richard seem as though he is an animal or even a rodent which no one likes and everyone thinks very low of. This is the sort of image that Shakespeare is trying to create as from this quote you can imagine Richard creeping around like he has been, lying and deceiving everyone around him and is a way being a low life cheating rat.
On the whole, women in the play have many roles and near enough, all of them relate to the fact that men have more power and status then them. Although, in reality the women have more power but Shakespeare does not let them use it as much as Richard as they have to show how Richard really is and the way that he treats women along with what is morally right and wrong. This is because Richard generally has no concept of this due to how much power he has. Shakespeare did this because not only was it the way it was when he wrote the play but also because it gives the play more meaning in the sense that if the women had as much power as Richard, then they could just overrule him and there would be no point in the play. Another aspect is that if Richard wasn’t the way he was then the play would not show how much women actually mean to society and how they keep a balance between right and wrong. Although the women are not a major part in the play they do have certain parts in it that are crucial to show things that cannot been seen by the other men in the play. The women also let the audience know the real meaning of things that have happened and the true affects that they have, especially the emotional side which is what the women carry. In a way women are like that even in these days, not so much with the power but with emotions as they are more likely to cry and grieve more openly as men often see it as being too vulnerable. Shakespeare does take this to the next level in the play though, as not only does he make the character of Richard show no remorse but also he still blames the women in his life for the things that he does and also for the things that happen to him. Shakespeare created the role of blaming women because Richard could not seem as bad as he really was in the play to the other characters, as he would never have become King if they did. Shakespeare lets women be the target of blame as they are the weaker ones to Richard in the play, however to most of the women in the play, Richard was the weaker one due to his deformity which in the beginning was the reason why he was doing all these ghastly things. This was due to the fact that Richard said as he could not “prove a lover” so he was “determined to prove a villain”. Shakespeare made the women in the above ways but they can also be seen as the conscience of Richard and all his bad doing, along with carrying messages to the audience about what has happened and who has done what. If the women did not have this role then half of the story and truth about Richard would not been seen or heard as they are everything that Richard isn’t. The women in the play also show us that as much as we like to think we are in control, unfortunately none of us really are.
Word Count – 3,526