To what extent and in what ways do the women in Richard III expose the limits of masculine authority in the play?
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This is a fascinating question, because on the one hand it is possible to argue that women show themselves to be fairly defenceless when it comes to standing up to male authority. Just consider Lady Anne, who allows herself to be seduced by Richard's rhetoric and changes her emotions completely from hatred to love towards him. However, at the same time, it is interesting to explore the character of Queen Margaret, the widow of King Henry VI. Her character, which is only minor, is nonetheless one of the most memorable in the entire play thanks to her rage and her lack of inhibition about expressing it. Note the curses she delivers to the royal family in Act I scene 3, and in particular the following words that she says to Richard:
Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou liv’st,
And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends.
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be while some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils.
Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog,
Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell.
Thou slander of thy heavy mother’s womb.
Thou loathèd issue of thy father’s loins.
Thou rag of honour, thou detested—
Whilst it is possible to view Queen Margaret as a minor character who does little but murmur from the sidelines, she can be seen as characterising the repressed anger and rage of the various victims of Richard and vocalising that rage. At the same time, she can actually be viewed as a tremendously powerful figure, for in her speech she foreshadows the deaths of all the major characters and in particular the precise details of Richard's death, for, as her curse suggests, he will mistake friends for traitors and vice versa, and he will be unable to sleep on the night before the battle when he dies. In a sense, the fact that Queen Margaret is allowed to remain throughout the play, muttering this rage and discontent, could be taken as a visible symbol of the limits of masculine authority. Richard is never able to silence her, and what she predicts comes to pass, demonstrating the impossibility of suppressing female authority completely in the play.
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