How does Shakespeare represent female characters in Richard the third?
In Richard the third, there are many different female characters that are put in contrast to men. The audience is aware of their presence and effect on the men in the play.
In this essay the four main female characters will have a character analysis and viewing scenes when women overcome men or either the men make them look vulnerable. The traditional view of men was that they were Dominant, strong, brave, owner and Lord of all that he possessed. The traditional view of women was the object of possession, weak, obedient and homely. They were taught to stay at home, cook for the husband and bring up the children, also to generally do everything in her power to look beautiful for her husband. Men were expected to go out and work, to bring in money to bring up his family, to treat his wife as he saw fit and to be the master of the house. Shakespeare’s time is actually different to Richard the thirds time, however the view on women is still the same. However, ironically some of the strongest monarchs that England has seen have been women. This shows that although times change, women can still prove to be just as strong as the men. Such as, Bodica who lead her Viking troops into war and defeated the Romans many times. Elizabeth the first was also a very strong monarch in Shakespeare’s time. That time was a patriarchal society, so men, who could influence the characters in Richard the third, dominated it. Women are seen as the victims. However, the longest reigning monarch is Victoria who reigned for 60 years. This demonstrates long life, strength in war and battle, and also strength of mind in many situations.
Shakespeare’s female characters have been demonstrated as weak. Such as Lady Macbeth. When she knows she has to murder another human, she calls “unsex me now”, which would demonstrate her needing to lose her traditional feminine self and caring characteristics to enable her to do such a deed. She has been subverted to the patriarchal society. Another female character that Shakespeare’s written of, is Hero in Much ado about nothing. She plays a weak character that the male villains set up a plot against her in front of her betrothed and other male witnesses. The plot is then announced in front of her whole family and household. She is disgraced and Claudio will not marry her. In order to prove her innocence, she has to deceive all of her household until her innocence is found when she can truly step back into society. However, a very strong character is shown in the same play. Beatrice is a strong minded, outspoken and somewhat swaggering. Especially in her responses when Benedict challenges her, a male character that mirrors her perfectly. If the play were not set in such a loving family environment, she would not be accepted as an honorable wife or possession. How the story ends is her strong character is just a front, and she loses it when she falls in love with her reflective character, as she does not feel threatened anymore.
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In Richard the third, there are many female characters that reflect Shakespeare’s views on females. The first character analysis is of Lady Anne: She is a woman in control and shows this in the first sexual scene when Richard seduces her. She is shown up at first as weak. She is walking behind the coffin of her dead father; this shows that the strong male in her life is no longer there to support her. She is also in mourning and very vulnerable as she could be bewildered about her emotions. Richard knows this and so he makes sure it is used to his advantage. Everything he says to try and woe her though, she throws back at him. Line 50 Act 1 scene2 “Foul devil […] trouble us not” and on Line 70 “villain, […] no beast so fierce. These are insults thrown at Richard to make it seem like she does not care for his compliments and this male character will not knock her down. She represents female characters as strong in this scene, even if it is just a front to protect her from the exposed position she finds herself in. However, Richard always replies with a compliment in order to woe her and targets her vanity. This works and she shows that she is helpless when she is flattered by comments like…Line 49 act 1 scene 2 “Sweet saint […] be not so curst.” Here, Richard is deluding her whilst aiming at her weakness as he does with each of his victims in different ways. The significance that she is a woman is important because it demonstrates her as being a specific target that he is weakening. A particular group that he exerts his power over as he says at the start, “if I do not prove a lover, then I am determined to prove a villain”. This is where his bitterness lies that he cannot prove a lover so he must wield his authority.
Lady Anne is a widow of Edward. This means she is very vulnerable and considered being “low class” in society because of her position. Richard knows this and as he needs a queen to be king, so he uses this weakness and her need for another husband to reclaim respect, to persuade her to marry him. Both can achieve their destinies, however unhappy the situation may prove to be. Lady Anne knows she needs to improve her position and this is shown on Line 51 act 1 scene 2. “ Thou hast made the happy earth thy hell”. Not only has Richard killed her husband but also he has made her life horrid now because she is a widow. Richard slowly weakens Lady Anne so when she accuses him of killing her husband, he denies it and steers the point onto her being the one to blame. Lines 121 act 1 scene 2 “Your beauty was the cause of that effect.”(Of his actions.) In this quote Richard is slowly weakening her defense against him. Line 124 Act 1 scene 2 “So I might live one hour in your sweet bosom.” Richard is displaying a want for Lady Anne and fooling her to believe that the reason he killed her husband was because Richard wanted Anne for himself and this appeals to her. So this is exactly what Richard desires! Richard is a very sly character and he slowly gets Lady Anne to forgive him by justifying himself. Richard works a lot with the physiological view.
Secondly I will do a character analysis of the Duchess of York. She is the mother of King Edward and his brothers. Shakespeare represents this female character by showing her strength in front of her two cousins. This is when we first realize her character and she silences them. Line 17 acts 2 scene 2, “Peace children, Peace!” She seems pre-occupied and bored with the children’s consistent moaning, which is understandable, as they have lost their father.
The Duchess shows signs of weakness too when she speaks of death but this is to another female adult and does not show her venerability to males. Line 57 act 11 scene 2, “But death hath snatched my husband from mine arms!” She obviously still misses her husband and is bitter for his death.
The significance that she is telling this to another female character shows her strength, as she would not let her vulnerable emotions out in front of men so that she is strongly looked upon.
However she is rather weak when she is self-seeking and always leads back to her situation and losses that she has suffered. Line 80 acts 2 scene 2, “Alas! I am the mother of grief’s.” This shows she is feeling sympathy for herself as she uses the phrase “Alas!” She repeatedly mentions her situation of being a broken mother, her grief has been displayed on Lines 82 to 85 when she talks about how when Edward and Clarence died, she wept but others did not. Lines 82 act 2 scene 2 “Edward weeps, and so do I”, she is showing her signs of weakness in front of a female character and feeling sorry for herself. Also she seems to be taking glory for being humble and mourning for the dead.
Queen Elizabeth is the wife of King Edward. She leads a powerful role amongst the women but is threatened inside from what could happen to her. Lines 49 act 2 scene 4. “Ay me! I see the ruin of my house.” This quote shows she is depressed and she is cautious of her world falling in around her.
Queen Elizabeth displays an offense when Richard is referred to as a king. Lines 19 act 4 scene 1 “The lord protect him from that kingly title!” She means that she does not want God to ever have Richard as king; she obviously does not like him at this point. He is keeping her from seeing her children and she is angry with Richard for doing so. She does not believe he deserves such an honorable title. In Queen Elizabeth’s point of view, one of Richard’s schemes could be to break down communication with his soon to be victims and he wanted to break the love she had for her children. This could be his way of showing that he is in charge.
When Queen Elizabeth tells the Duchess of York to “ look back with me unto the tower” Line 97 act 4 scene 1, and then says “those tender babies”…Line 98, She says this as though she can predict what is going to happen to her children. She knows that Richard will not be just or merciful. This could be seen as a weakness on Richard’s part as he can be seen as predictable. However he can deal with this because his power can let the future be his own way.
Queen Margaret is also familiar with prophesying things and they come true. She is the last female character analysis. She is discussing how Richard has abused her family and made her lose out on loved ones with the Duchess of York on Line 30 act 4 scene4. “I had an Edward, till a Richard killed him […] thou hadst a Richard, till a Richard killed him. She is applying that Richard was not always this evil-minded and it is his lust for power that drives him on. The quote is also saying that she is also feeling upset because Richard has taken all the people she cared about away from her.
Queen Margaret is very blunt and directs all the murders at Richard and she is right. However she is rising above her “level” in society when judging males, she is a widow. She is the widow of King Henry the fourth. Now she has not got an important role in society but instead of keeping to her “corner”, she tells everyone that will listen, the future and accuses Richard of being a murderer.
Her husband was also on a different side to the rulers at the time in the play so this could have been a bigger reason why she should not have been involved.
All Through this scene, there are only female characters present so this could display Queen Margaret as weak. She might only be able to express her opinion to a less “lively” audience.
However she does tell Richard what she thinks of him Line 117 act 1 scene 3, “ out devil” and then on Line 113, “A murderous villain and so still thou art.” These quotes show Queen Margaret rising up to Richard’s level and telling him what she thinks.
In most scenes she should be demonstrating her feminine state but instead she acts like a careless, opinionated woman that freely declares her cryptic statements and influences upon others.
To conclude, Shakespeare represents female characters as weak, possessions and obedient. Women who do not fit into this stereotype would be outcast as they would be seen as unladylike and their father’s would not find a suitable match for their daughters. Such characters are shown in “Much ado about nothing”, “Macbeth” and in the play “Richard the third”. Each female character is shown with their weakness, and as the story progresses, Richard uses each weakness to his advantage. The main weakness demonstrated by females is vanity and Richard uses his charms to get himself into power by targeting his victim’s vanity. The traditional view of women is shown to be the second class citizens and Shakespeare uses information like this to characterize each one of his characters in each play that represents feminine involvement.