Richard III Context

Richard III Context

Original title:
The Tragedy of King Richard the Third

Richard III by William Shakespeare is the fourth and the last part of the tetralogy called Henriade by some of the critics. It tells us about the short but bright reign of King Richard III, who is described as a ruthless ruler, ready to do anything and everything to get his power. The play is the one of the longest in the First Folio and can compete only with Hamlet. In the full variant, with added secondary characters and scenes that better reveal the identity of the rest of the cast, it is the longest.

Unlike Richard II here the main character is made to be repulsive. He is described as deformed and ugly, and we know that his plans include using everyone and scheming around. Richard’s plan to woo Lady Anne and marry her is explicitly described to us. We know that Anne, a widow, has all the reasons to hate Richard, but his persistence and eloquence finally allow him to win her heart. Then we see his own confession that Anne is just a tool that should be used and then discarded.

Throughout the play we understand that Richard’s intrigues can’t be hidden from the rest of the poisonous court. He is a biggest schemer and the most powerful man there, but the hatred to him grows and finally causes his downfall and murder.

The scene before the murder – Richard’s dream - in highly allegorical, showing him drowning and joining the thousands of skeletons lying on the bottom of the sea with the treasures scattered around. Richard realizes that the greed, vanity and desire for power killed them and no wealth matters for the dead anymore.

Coming to end his life the murderers sarcastically answer to his pleas with his own words, showing him and the audience how the ruthless and cynical attitude to the people around can turn against the person and, symbolically, restoring the justice.

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