Richard III has an unusually large cast of female characters: ‘women are assigned over 22 percent of the lines in this play, by far the greatest number in any of Shakespeare’s English histories.’ However, Nicholas Brooke has observed that ‘the flexibility of private speech in this play is almost entirely confined to Richard’. This is through the power of his language. In the patriarchal society of the Renaissance period men were allowed freedom of speech, where as women were supposed ot be chaste, silent and obedient. During the Renaissance;

Femininity… was presented as no more than a set of negatives. The requirement of chastity was the overriding measure of female gender. Woman not only had to be chaste but had to be seen chaste: silence, humility and modesty were the signifiers so.

This means that if women were to be silent, then men would have total control; and therefore, language is gendered.

None of the female characters have a soliloquy, even Margaret who is the most powerful female character. Jean E. Howard & Phyllis Rackin describe the women as the ‘direct antitheses’ of the men in the play, and that ‘all of the female characters …are highborn English women who speak in undifferentiated language, formal blank verse that constitutes the standard language of the playscript’. I disagree with this, as both Lady Anne and Elizabeth use Richard’s style of prose to try and overcome him.  This prose is the pattern of language in which ‘one speaker appropriates and reapplies the word of another,’which results in the dialogue reiterating the action of the historical narrative, as one character takes the verbal or political authority from the other. This is displayed in the opening scene when Richard is talking to Brakenbury:

Rich:         How say you, sir? Can you deny all this?

Brak:         With this, my lord, myself have nought to do.

Rich:        Naught with Mistress Shore? I tell thee, fellow,

         He that doth naught with her (excepting one)

Were best to do it secretly, alone.

(I.i. 96-100)

There are a lot of exchanges like this between Richard and other characters, which portray to the audience the power that Richard has verbally by using this type of rhetoric language. However, Lady Anne does attempt to use this strategy when trying to defend herself against him:

Rich:        Vouchsafe, divine perfection of a woman,

Of these supposed crimes, to give me leave

By circumstance but t’acquit myself.

Anne:        Vouchsafe, defus’d infection of a man,

        Of these known evils, but to give me leave

        By circumstance t’accuse thy cursed self


She seeks to ‘neutralize his attack by appropriating his syntactic and rhythmic patterns and transforming his meanings with antonymous verbal substitutes.’ Lady Anne is actually using Richard’s way of speaking to try and surpass him. Not only is she won over by Richard, but as she is using his technique, it suggests that she believes his way is the right way, and as the conversation develops she spits at him, which could suggest that she believes her words are no longer sufficient to triumph over Richard.  This again reinforces the idea that Richard maintains his power through speech.         

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Richard continues in his pursuit to seduce Anne by using the discourses of erotic pleasure by subordinating them entirely to his desire for power. During the seduction he ‘skilfully employs the language of affection, sexual desire, and physical obsession (a language he despises as an indication of effeminate weakness) to achieve specific political ends.’ He is thinking in terms of the political as he wants to win the throne; therefore will use the power of his language to get what he wants. This does not work for the women in the play, as when they ask for something they are ignored ...

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