Why is Queen Margaret so important in Richard III?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Queen Margaret has a small role in the play, but she is important in representing all the powerless people who have been hurt by Richard III and in general by the bloodshed and disruption caused by the War of the Roses. She has no real say in what happens and...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Queen Margaret has a small role in the play, but she is important in representing all the powerless people who have been hurt by Richard III and in general by the bloodshed and disruption caused by the War of the Roses. She has no real say in what happens and is dependent on those who killed her relatives and put her in this powerless position, but she does have a voice—and she uses it.

Her curses in act 1 are famous, both for being so venomous and also for coming true. If Margaret is the stand-in or proxy for all the powerless people in England who have been wronged by abusers they can't fight back against, Shakespeare seems to be saying that God is listening to their complaints and poetic justice will be done.

Margaret is a one-dimensional character, defined by her bitter and relentless anger, but we also sympathize with her. She has every right to be consumed with rage. As she says to Richard III:

Out, devil! I remember them too well:
Thou slewest my husband Henry in the Tower,
And Edward, my poor son, at Tewksbury.

When a woman's husband and son are killed, it is hard to tell her just to "get over it." Margaret's anger isn't going to go away, and her curses are aimed at anyone who has caused her pain. For example, she lashes out at Elizabeth, who complains that Richard III is making her life as queen a misery, saying:

lessen'd be that small [joy you have], God, I beseech thee!
Thy honour, state and seat is due to me.

At least, Margaret is saying to her, you get to be queen—a position you stole from me.

Margaret is an important reminder of the "collateral damage" that accrues when leadership is in turmoil.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Although she appears in just two scenes, her influence is evident throughout the play."  She foreshadows events in the play.  Queen Margaret curses her fellow royals, as the wife of the dead King Henry VI, she is left without a husband to protect her, she is at the mercy of her family for charity in order to survive. Queen Margaret speaks the rage that she feels toward Richard as a spokesperson for other characters he has wronged. She draws our focus to Richard's evil.   

First she reminds us why she hates Richard. 

"Out, devil! I remember
them too well:
Thou kill'dst my husband Henry in the Tower,
And Edward, my poor son, at Tewksbury." (Act I, Scene III) 

Then she curses him for his grabbing desire of power, wishing on him the inability of knowing his friends from his enemies.  

"On thee, the troubler of the poor world's peace.
The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul!
Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou liv'st
And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends!
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be while some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils!
Thou elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal'd in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother's heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father's loins!
Thou rag of honour! thou detested" Act I, Scene III)

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Historically, Margaret was the widow of Henry VI, who died while in the custody of Edward IV. In the civil war between the Lancasters and the Yorks, Henry VI was a Lancaster, and Edward IV was a York. Poor Henry was the son of the great warrior king Henry V, but he inherited the mental illness that many of his mother's relatives (most notably her father) suffered from. Most scholars believe that he was murdered, but there is no evidence that Richard III was the killer.

Historically, Margaret returned to France after Henry's death. In Shakespeare's play, however, she stays in England and represents the Lancaster cause. As the eNotes study guide tells us, she acts as the "chorus" in the play, "offering her opinion on the play's action, and prophesying doom and misery on Richard and his supporters."

By keeping the Lancaster memory front and center, Margaret also lays the basis for the Tudor claim to the throne. Henry VII, the first Tudor king and grandfather of Shakespeare's patron Elizabeth I, was the grandson of Henry VI's mother, Katherine of Valois.

Visit the links below for more information.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team