What do the female characters contribute in Richard III?

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Much of the play focuses on the power struggles between Richard and his brother Clarence, who is one of the main protagonists. Clarence has been betrayed by Richard and has been incarcerated in a castle as a result. His wife, Gertrude, tries to persuade Richard to release her husband; however she fails to do so because she does not want to jeopardize her position as queen and risk losing her own children. Eventually she pretends to forgive Richard and attempts to gain his favor by the use of flattery.

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The female characters in Richard III are mainly members of the royalty and nobility. The queens in particular are extremely important for their functions as wives and mothers of current and future kings. While this was true in British history, these functions become especially important in the way William Shakespeare tells the story of Richard's ruthless rise to power. The characters of Margaret and Anne show distinct personalities that help explain how they helped thwart and enable Richard's ascent.

Margaret, as the dowager, offers an example to the others, about loss, love, and revenge over the princes' deaths. Herself stymied and of limited power, she nonetheless tries to influence palace politics.

As Edward's wife and then widow, Anne tries in vain to resist her own fate and to keep Richard off the throne. Her anger and frustration accomplish no permanent impediment, however. Anne's fate is ultimately poignant as well as tragic, as she falls victim to her own curse that she called down on Richard's bride before marrying him herself.

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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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There are several female characters, but Margaret is one I would like to discuss specifically. Elements of her character can be seen in the others, although they all add to the play.

Margaret represents all of those who have been victimized by Richard's power. She is the voice for all those who wish they can say the things she is saying. Margaret's character is also illustrating the typical role women have in that society. Her husband's social status is the only reason she had any social standing; without him she has to rely on others for survival.

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