Can you please comment on the visitation of the ghosts on Richard and Richmond in "Richard III"?

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Noelle Matteson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ghosts and prophecies appear throughout Richard III, a play which signals the end of a lengthy power struggle that began with the Wars of the Roses. The duke of Clarence dreams of death before he is murdered, and his young nephew fears his “uncle Clarence' angry ghost.” Queen Margaret curses Richard and those who have usurped her power:

Long mayst thou live to wail thy children's loss;
And see another, as I see thee now,
Deck'd in thy rights, as thou art stall'd in mine!

Ghosts play a particularly important role the night before the final battle of Bosworth. Richard’s many victims bless Richmond and curse Richard. Richmond wakes up refreshed and joyful, recounting that “their souls, whose bodies Richard murder'd, / Came to my tent, and cried on victory.” Meanwhile, Richard has a restless night, tormented by these same ghosts. Edward, Henry VI, Clarence, and numerous others condemn Richard to “despair, therefore, and die!”

These phantoms also seem to represent Richard’s anguished soul. Richmond gains hope, knowing that he is right to depose such a wicked leader. Richard loses confidence and suffers a crisis of conscience. His guilt is catching up with him. He fights against his conscience, but does ultimately despair:

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
……….

I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die, no soul shall pity me:

Richard realizes that his evil deeds have left him completely alone. Even he no longer loves himself. He loses heart and the battle of Bosworth. In this way, the ghosts of the dead are able to find a kind of justice.