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What roles do women play in Richard III?

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davidsoul22 | Honors

Posted April 29, 2013 at 1:34 AM via web

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What roles do women play in Richard III?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:04 AM (Answer #1)

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Women in this play are particularly interesting in the way that they can be viewed in a number of different ways. For example, Anne is viewed as both inconstant and an example of the pervasive influence of evil. Queen Elizabeth is viewed by Richard as an enemy because she is the mother of the twins and she is intelligent and strong-willed. However, by far the most fascinating female character in the play is Margaret, who spends most of her time wandering around the castle and cursing those she comes into contact with. In a sense, Margaret is an example of how female characters are somehow empowered by Shakespeare, as Margaret's rage stands for the anger of all of those who have fallen foul of Richard. Also, her curses in Act I are used to foreshadow important events in the play, and she has an important role in teaching the duchess and Elizabeth how to curse in Act IV scene 4, demonstrating how language can be used in defiance of victimisation:

Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days;
Compare dead happiness with living woe;
Think that thy babes were sweeter than they were,
And he that slew them fouler than he is.
Bett’ring thy loss makes the bad causer worse.
Revolving this will teach thee how to curse.

Margaret's advice is a little extreme, as she says they must steep themselves so utterly in their misery in order to be able to curse effectively, but she is presented as an empowered woman who uses her rage and sense of injustice against her enemies, and she influences the other female characters in the play in this regard. Women then in this play are presented in a number of different ways, with Margaret being a particularly memorable character used to demonstrate the agency that women--even when they are at their most helpless and defenceless--can possess.


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