In this section:
- Shakespeare’s Language
- Shakespeare’s Sentences
- Shakespeare’s Words
- Shakespeare’s Wordplay
- Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
- Implied Stage Action
Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does, looking up and...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Westminster Palace. London residence of the rulers of England from the eleventh through sixteenth centuries (later used for the Houses of Parliament), alongside the River Thames, near Westminster Abbey. Built by William the Conqueror, the palace was long the central locus of both the home of the royal family and the royal court. In this play its dynamics are volatile, given the presence of the Yorkist king Edward IV and his kin, victorious but internally divided, and the widows of the defeated Lancastrian king Henry VI and his Prince of Wales. The palace as crucible of Richard’s power is compared metaphorically to his mother’s womb, which she herself calls “The bed of death” for nurturing her “damned son,” and to the womb of the Princess Elizabeth, where Richard expects to legitimize his reign.
*Tower of London
*Tower of London. Ancient, fearful edifice where King Henry VI, the last Lancastrian king, was imprisoned and killed. The prison threatens everyone who may stand in the way of Richard’s kingship. It sees the confinement and murder of Richard’s brother Clarence, the queen’s relatives and supporters (killed at Pomfret Castle), King Edward’s sons and heirs, and Lord Chamberlain Hastings, who calls the tower a “slaughterhouse.”
*Tewkesbury (TEWKS-behr-ee). Town on the Severn River in west-central England, north-northeast of...
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In Act II, scene iii, of Richard III a group of English citizens worries over what will become of the nation now that King Edward IV has died and his heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, is still a child. The citizens know that a Protector will be appointed to govern for Prince Edward until he is old enough to rule by himself. They also know that several of the child's uncles are vying with one another to be Protector, and the citizens are frightened that the inevitable power struggle will throw the country into turmoil. They have already endured chaotic years during the Wars of the Roses, as the Houses of York and Lancaster have fought back and forth for England's throne, and they long for peace and order. Unfortunately, they get Richard instead.
The question of succession, or the order according to which a person lawfully and rightfully becomes monarch, was of much concern to the citizens of England during Shakespeare's time since their aging queen—Elizabeth I—was unmarried and had no heirs. Further, although Elizabeth was England's lawful queen, she had already weathered several challenges to her power, including those from Philip II of Spain, who had sent his Armada in 1588 in hope of defeating her; and from Mary, Queen of t Scots, a relative whom Elizabeth finally had to execute in 1587. Thus a play about an ambitious nobleman determined to become king was very relevant to Shakespeare's audience.
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While Richard III works as a sequel to Shakespeare's trilogy, Henry VI, Part One, Two, and Three, it can be read and performed as an independent unit, and as such it remains one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. A key to the play's popularity is its title character, Richard, whose particular brand of wickedness has withstood the test of time. Elizabethan audiences went to the theater for the same reason that we attend movies— to be entertained. Unlike most people today, however, Elizabethans were very familiar with the history of the Wars of the Roses and of Richard's rise and fall from power. To keep his audience interested in what was otherwise a well-known and sometimes dry historical account, Shakespeare had to make Richard a fascinating character, one who speaks directly to the spectators and thus involves them in his own plots, and who jokes about both himself and his victims.
Another factor which might have contributed to Richard III's early popularity was that royal succession, or the order according to which a person lawfully and rightfully becomes monarch, was an issue that greatly concerned English citizens during Shakespeare's time because their aging queen— Elizabeth I—was unmarried and had no heirs. Additionally, the fact that Elizabeth was England's lawful queen did not prevent challenges to her power. In 1588 Philip II of Spain sent his Armada in hope of defeating Elizabeth; earlier, in...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
*If available, books are linked to Amazon.com
Becker, George J. Shakespeare's Histories. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1977.
Boris, Edna Z. Shakespeare's English Kings: The People and the Law. Rutherford, NJ: Farleigh Dickenson University Press, 1978.
Churchill,G.B. Richard the Third up to Shakespeare. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1900/1976.
Granville-Barker, Harley. Prefaces to Shakespeare. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965/1978.
Knights, Lionel Charles. William Shakespeare: The Histories. London: Longmans, Green & Company, 1962.
Leech, Clifford. William Shakespeare: The Chronicles. London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1962.
Richmond, Hugh M. Shakespeare's Political Plays. New York: Random House, 1967.
Spivack, Bernard. Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.
Tillyard, E.M.W. Shakespeare's History Plays. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1944.
Van Doren, Mark....
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Farrell, Kirby. “Prophetic Behavior in Shakespeare’s Histories.” Shakespeare Studies 19 (1987): 17-40. Refers to historical prophecies in examining various kinds of prophecy in the play, both conscious and unconscious.
Hamel, Guy. “Time in Richard III.” Shakespeare Survey 40 (1988): 41-49. Examines how time is used in the play and how Shakespeare constructs relationships between various references to time.
Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. Songs of Death: Performance, Interpretation, and the Text of “Richard III.” Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987. Examines the play from various angles, including the theatrical and acting history of the play, the role of Providence, and the characters and their motives.
Miner, Madonne M. “‘Neither Mother, Wife, nor England’s Queen’: The Roles of Women in Richard III.” In William Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. The three sections of the essay examine the depth of characterization given to the women and their interactions. Also discusses the imagery of femaleness in the play.
Neill, Michael. “Shakespeare’s Halle of Mirrors: Play, Politics, and Psychology in Richard III.” In William Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” edited by Harold...
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