What are some elements of humor in Richard III?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Given that Shakespeare's play Richard III is a very dark play, readers can only see flashes of humor and only when paying very close attention to the details of the dialogue.

In Act I (scene 5), the murderers are speaking about killing Clarence. When discussing the murder, one asks the other if they should kill him while he sleeps or not. The other murderer sates that Clarence would call him a coward if he were to kill him while Clarence is sleeping.

This can be seen as humorous given the fact that the murderers are worried that Clarence will call them cowards if they kill him while sleeping. Instead of being concerned with being called cowards, the murderers should be worried about committing the murder itself.

Outside of this example, sarcasm runs rampant throughout the play.

sk8terboi8160 | Student

Richard's ability to laugh and make fun of himself, but also there are various examples of how he ridicules those who foolishly place confidence in him.

For example, you might like to consider the way in which dramatic irony adds to the humour of the play. For example, in Act I scene 1, Richard makes many kind and caring comments to his brother Clarence as he is being taken to prison, even though we know that Richard is actually the one responsible for Clarence being locked up in the first place.

Secondly, parody is used by Richard at various stages to poke fun at someone or something that is meant to be treated with a serious attitude. This is perhaps most clearly seen when Richard parodies both himself and Anne following the success of his romantic overtures. Note how he makes fun of himself in the following lines from Act I scene 2:

I'll be at charges for a looking-glass,

And entertain a score or two of tailors

To study fashions to adorn my body.

Richard, therefore, although he is a figure of evil, is nonetheless somebody who manages to present an often grimly humorous take on what happens in the play and his own conduct, even being willing to make fun of himself to add to the comedy.

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