As the play opens, Richard announces his evil intent: since his deformity will not let him be a lover, he will be a villain. In spite of his villainy, however, there is an ingenuity and bravado in Richard that compels the audience’s admiration.
In order to take over the throne from his brother, Edward IV, and his rightful heirs, Richard has one other brother killed; woos and marries Anne, the Earl of Warwick’s daughter (even though he had earlier killed her husband and father); and, after Edward’s death, has his two young nephews murdered. Toward the play’s close, after Anne has died, Richard is trying to arrange a marriage with his niece, Edward’s daughter, so that there will be no rival claims to the throne. Before Richard can achieve this goal, however, Henry of Richmond defeats him in battle.
Throughout this play, an Elizabethan audience would have been aware of the Wars of the Roses, an event of comparatively recent history. In that bloody dispute between the houses of York and Lancaster for the throne, Edward IV’s reign was a triumph for the house of York, but Henry, Earl of Richmond, was a Lancastrian, and his defeat of Richard and later marriage with Elizabeth of York finally united the families in peace. Richmond ushered in the Tudor dynasty culminating in the rule of Elizabeth I. On this level, the play, with its closing speech promising prosperity and an end to civil strife, is Shakespeare’s compliment to his queen.
The melodramatic events of this play are complemented by Shakespeare’s early, highly theatrical style. There is an abundance of wordplay, for example, a style Shakespeare would later abandon for more natural speech. Touches of the supernatural also add to the theatricality of this play: The last act shows Richard and Richmond on the eve of battle, being visited by the ghosts of Richard’s victims, each of whom blesses Richmond and damns Richard. Such theatrical scenes make this play one of Shakespeare’s most arresting character studies.
Farrell, Kirby. “Prophetic Behavior in Shakespeare’s Histories.” Shakespeare Studies 19 (1987): 17-40. Refers to historical prophecies in examining various kinds of prophecy in the play, both conscious and unconscious.
Hamel, Guy. “Time in Richard III.” Shakespeare Survey 40 (1988): 41-49. Examines how time is used in the play and how Shakespeare constructs relationships between various references to time.
Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. Songs of Death: Performance, Interpretation, and the Text of “Richard III.” Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987. Examines the play from various angles, including the theatrical and acting history of the play, the role of Providence, and the characters and their motives.
Miner, Madonne M. “‘Neither Mother, Wife, nor England’s Queen’: The Roles of Women in Richard III.” In William Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. The three sections of the essay examine the depth of characterization given to the women and their interactions. Also discusses the imagery of femaleness in the play.
Neill, Michael. “Shakespeare’s Halle of Mirrors: Play, Politics, and Psychology in Richard III.” In William Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Examines the idea of theatricality in the play. Neill argues that Richard, like Hamlet, is an actor in the dramatic events that surround him.
Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Richard III by William Shakespeare that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in Richard III and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Richard III by William Shakespeare in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Richard III at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Relationship Between the Monarch and the People
From the beginning of Richard III's reign, his relationship with the people of England is strained. This Shakespeare play first investigates the public’s feelings for him after the death of Edward, in Act II, Scene III where the citizens are worriedly gossiping about who will become the new King—they fear Richard’s presence at the throne. As Shakespeare's play progresses, the noblemen’s feelings are shown to be growing negative as well. However, Richard continues on, believing that his quest for King will be won, and that his people will grow to love him. In what ways does the relationship between Richard III and his subjects foreshadow the future of the King and his country? For more ideas on this subject, this article on divine right in the other king plays by Shakespeare will be of great help.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Richard III and the Role of Ambition
Throughout Richard III, Richard is consumed by the notion of taking the crown as his own. His primary ambition is to rule England, and he will use any means necessary to obtain that goal. From the murder of his brother Clarence, to the plot of Edward’s death, and the assassination of the princes in the tower, Richard’s deeds grow more and more deplorable. Although Richard’s mind gradually grows more clouded with the desire to fulfill his ambition, do you think that his lofty aspirations can be wholly to blame for the acts that he commits? If it’s not pure ambition that drives him to these deeds, what causes him to act this way? Resentment because of his deformity? Genuine evil?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Role of Intelligence, Wit and Wordplay in Richard III
Many of Shakespeare’s plays include a fair bit of word play, and Richard III is no exception. However, it seems that Richard’s intelligence and quick wit get him out of troublesome situations quite often. His discussion with Lady Anne at the side of her husband’s corpse especially displays this unnatural talent with words. In the course of a few moments, she goes from a distraught and angry widow to a woman wooed by Richard’s charms and considering taking his ring. In what other situations does Richard’s way with words get him out of trouble? Why is this especially important, especially considering that Shakespeare is himself, a wordsmith?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Richard III : Premonitions and the Significance of Dreams
While the supernatural is important throughout Richard III, the most important manifestation of the supernatural is found in the prophetic dreams. Both Clarence and Stanley have dreams that prophesize either their own death, or the death of someone close to them. Clarence dreams of drowning at sea, but is instead murdered by being thrown into a wine cask by Richard’s thugs. Stanley also foretells the execution of Hastings. What do you think is the purpose behind these divining dreams? It seems that the sequence of events occurs to quickly for the dreamers to stop them, however, the dreams must have a purpose.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: The Historical Impact of Richard III and Shakespeare’s Retelling
The historical figure of Richard III was very important, especially in Elizabethan England. With the defeat of Richard III came the end of the War of the Roses, and the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty. Considering these political implications and the influence that Elizabeth (who was also a Tudor) had over Shakespeare, how much of Richard’s tendency towards evil do you think was hyperbole? Of course, there is historical evidence that supports Shakespeare’s interpretation of Richard, however, his relationship with the Queen no doubt had influence over the writing of his play. In what ways do you think the portrayal of Richard III could have affected the current political climate in Shakespeare’s day?
* For articles on this and other plays by William Shakespeare, be sure to browse through the Literature Archives at ArticleMyriad.com as there are several to choose from to gain ideas *
This list of important quotations from Richard III by Shakespeare will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Shakespeare's “Richard III” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “Richard III” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Shakespeare they are referring to.
“The lights burn blue. It is now midnight. Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh. What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by. Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I. Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am. Then fly! What, from myself? Great reason. Why: Lest I revenge. Myself upon myself? Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good that I myself have done unto myself? O no, alas, I rather hate myself for hateful deeds committed by myself. I am a villain. (V.v.134-145)
“Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days; Compare dead happiness with living woe; Think that they 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." (IV.iv.118-123).
“Better it were they all came by his father, or by his father there were none at all. For emulation who shall now be near’st Will touch us all too near, if God prevent not. O full of danger is the Duke of Gloucester, And the Queen’s sons and brothers haughty and proud. And were they to be ruled, and not to rule, this sickly land might solace as before." (II.iii.23-30)
“O bloody Richard! Miserable England, I prophesy the fearful’st time to thee that ever wretched age hat looked upon.—Come lead me to the block, bear him my head. They smile at me, who shortly shall be dead." (III.iv.103-107)
“Nay, do not pause, for I did kill King Henry; But ‘twas thy beauty that provoked me. Nay, now dispatch: ‘twas I that stabbed young Edward; But ‘twas thy heavnly face that set me on. Take up the sword again, or take up me." (I.ii.167-170)
“Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won? I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long. What, I that killed her husband and his father, to take her inher heart’s extremest hate, with curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes, the bleeding witness of my hatred by…" (I.ii.215-221)
“O I have passed a miserable night, so full of fearful dreams, of ugly sights, that as I am a Christian faithful man, I would not spend another such a night though ‘twere to buy a world of happy days, so full of dismal terror was the time." (I.iv.2-7)
“Good lords, conduct him to his regiment. I’ll strive with troubled thoughts to take a nap, lest leaden slumber peise me down tomorrow, when I should mount with wings of victory. Once more, good night, kind lords and gentlemen." (V.v.56-60).
Source: Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare. 1. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.