13. Were The Elizabethans More Bloodthirsty Or Tolerant Of Essay

violence on stage than we are? In addition to the visible
bloodletting, there is endless discussion of past gory deeds. Offstage
violence is even brought into view in the form of a severed head. It’s
almost as though such over-exposure is designed to make it ordinary.
At the same time, consider the basic topic of the play, the usurpation
of the crown of England and its consequences. These are dramatic
events. They can support the highly charged atmosphere of bloody
actions on stage as well as off. By witnessing Clarence’s murder,
which has been carefully set up, we develop a greater revulsion for
its instigator. And even though we are spared the sight of the slaying
of the young princes in the Tower, Richard’s involvement before and
after is carefully exploited. Every drop of blood referred to on stage
or in the speeches helps build the effect Shakespeare wishes to
achieve. The peace which comes after Richard’s death is both a
relief and a reward.

14. The Elizabethan audience knew from the start that Richmond was
to become Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England and the
grandfather of their own queen, Elizabeth I. As such, he had only to
appear victorious at the play’s conclusion. By the time he shows up,
matters have progressed to a point where Richard’s downfall is
inevitable. But what good would victory be if the opposition had
merely caved in? Shakespeare had to build Richmond’s importance not
only to satisfy history but to fulfill the dramatic development of the
plot. By sprinkling his name into the preceding scenes, Shakespeare
makes Richmond’s arrival a matter of importance. Once Richmond appears on stage, he never makes a false step or says the wrong thing. If
his dialogue sounds slightly flat, it may be a deliberate contrast
to that of the fiery, passionate Richard. Here is a man of reason
who makes his mark with heroic action rather than words. In the duel
scene, Richmond has an opportunity to achieve the stature denied him
in speech.


1. B2. A3. B4. A5. B6. B7. C
8. A9. C10. B

11. From the start, Buckingham is only too willing to provide his
support for Richard’s schemes. He immediately allies himself with
Richard by scorning his exemption from Margaret’s curse. From then on,
he willingly shares the risk for his share of the spoils. Remember,
patronage is an important issue. During Edward IV’s reign, Queen
Elizabeth saw to it that her relatives and supporters were taken
care of. Buckingham saw Richard as his key to prosperity. His
insistence on his reward in the face of his hesitation to
participate in the killing of the princes leads to his loss of
Richard’s trust- and to his final destiny.

12. The actor playing the role of Richard must have great strength
to endure the demands of being on stage in so many different
situations and for such a long time. But what of the character
Richard? Could he have been the successful warrior he is credited with
being in the past if he were seriously crippled? Could he have
performed the physical demands required by the battle in the final
scenes? If he is “unhorsed,” surely he is capable of riding. And
what about his rapid, sudden turns throughout the play? Review the
physical action that must accompany so much of his dialogue and see if
you think his deformity was as much a handicap as a convenient excuse.
The judgment of Hastings is one place where he certainly exploits
it, but see if you can find others.

13. From the beginning, Richard develops an intimate association
with the audience as he shares his innermost thoughts. Couched as a
sort of “confessional,” he confides that he is going to behave
wickedly. As such, he virtually invites the audience to come along
with him as he proceeds with his business. Periodically, he reviews
and recaptures that spirit. Margaret, on the other hand, treats the
audience as more of a witness than a partner. She speaks less in
soliloquies than in choral recitations. Because so much of
Margaret’s presence is a symbolic as well as an actual reminder of
past events, she is less involved in the action. Her power rests
mainly in her ability to witness the past and predict the future.
Those on stage may choose to ignore her, but those out front cannot.

14. Stanley walks a narrow line throughout the play. Although an
easy answer might be that he never actually did anything to oppose
Richard, wasn’t his act of withholding support just as harmful? This
is how Richard saw things when he ordered George Stanley to be
beheaded. But can you accept Richard’s judgment? Stanley, more than
any other, represents the middle road, or at least a firm commitment
to neutrality. Some may find his professed loyalty to Richard and
secret meeting with Richmond enough to condemn him as a traitor.
Others may find him the victim of a conscience that allows him to make
no open choice. Remember the Stanley who dreamed of impending
disaster? Contrast him with the hasty, naive Hastings.

1. Richard III has been called Shakespeare’s first fully
developed character in that we see many sides of his personality. Do
any other characters in this play show more than one side? If so, who?
And how?

2. What part do children play in Richard III? Are they believable?

3. How important are clergymen, the archbishops, bishops, and
priests in Richard III? Are they different from other members of the
court? Discuss.

4. Discuss the role of Buckingham. Is he better or worse, wiser
or more foolish than Richard’s other victims?

5. Revenge and the quest for justice dominate the action in Richard
III. Discuss individual examples and their relevance to this major

6. Discuss the attitude toward adultery in Richard III.

7. How successful is the use of stychomythia, the short staccato
dialogue used frequently by Richard and others? What effect does it
create in the courtship scenes?

8. Animal imagery is used repeatedly. What dramatic function does
it fulfill?

9. Discuss the importance of the scenes involving common people
such as murderers, the scrivener, and the pursuivant?

10. Richard is a brother, a husband, an uncle, and a son to
various characters in the play. Analyze his behavior in each case.

11. We often hear the lamentations of mothers in Richard III, but
there are fathers in the play too. Discuss their relationships to
their children.

12. One objective of Richard III is to conclude the events set in
motion by the first usurpation, the overthrow of Richard II. Do you
feel this play explains and wraps it all up successfully?

13. Compare your own knowledge of the historic Richard with
Shakespeare’s Richard. What obvious changes in history did Shakespeare
make? Why did he do so?

14. Corrupt governments can be found in all historical periods.
Compare the corrupt administration of either Richard III or Edward
IV with a 20th-century example.

15. Although political executions take place throughout Richard III,
there is some concern for due process. Cite various examples and
discuss their significance to the play as a whole.

If Richard is something like the Renaissance will incarnate, he is
equally, in his total, eager submission to it, evil incarnate.
Whatever his lusty attractiveness, we cannot deny that he treats all
men, even himself finally, as mere objects. Too late he discovers,
to his amazement and confusion, that he too has feelings, is
subjective and subjected, in more than will and conscious
self-control. Herein lies his repulsiveness. His is a Dionysianism
so passionately self-serving, so deliberate if not cold-blooded, that,
corrosive rather than life-giving like the Dionysian at its best, it
turns all not only to destruction but to cheapness, ignominy,
-Theodore Weiss, The Breath of Clowns and Kings, 1974

The great stories of murder are about men who could not have done it
but who did. They are not murderers, they are men. And their stories
will be better still when they are excellent men; not merely brilliant
and admirable, but also, in portions of themselves which we infer
rather than see. Richard is never quite human enough. The spectacle
over which he presides with his bent back and his forked tongue can
take us by storm, and it does. It cannot move our innermost minds with
the conviction that in such a hero’s death the world has lost what
once had been or might have been the most precious part of itself.
Richard is never precious as a man. He is only stunning in his
craft, a serpent whose movements we follow for their own sake, because in themselves they have strength and beauty.
-Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare, 1939

The astonishing thing about this play is that until almost the
end, there is no sign of a possible antagonist, no visible secular
force that can bring the tyrant down. Richmond is not even mentioned
until Act IV, and appears in only the last three scenes. He is
little more than a deus ex machina let down from above to provide a
resolution both for the immediate action of this play and for the
long-continued drama of conflict between York and Lancaster.
-George J. Becker, Shakespeare’s Histories, 1977

Thus Shakespeare pictured the dominating sins in the play as perjury
and murder, sins against the moral order. He portrayed and analyzed
the passion of ambition that caused Richard to sin and the passion
of fear that at the same time punished him for his sins and forced him
to wade still further in blood. He inserted non-historical scenes
developing the Elizabethan philosophy of revenge. He used the
supernatural to enhance the horror of the play and to contribute to
the impression of a divine vengeance meting out punishment for sin. He
showed God’s revenge exacted through the agency of the evil Richard,
who was nevertheless to be held to account for his evil-doing. He made
use of the pathos of the death of the royal children. These are the
common methods of Shakespearean tragedy, and they justify those who
hold Richard III to be a tragedy.
-Lily B. Campbell, Shakespeare’s “Histories:”
Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy, 1968.

Richard’s sense of humor, his function as clown, his comic
irreverences and sarcastic or sardonic appropriations of things to (at
any rate) his occasions: all those act as underminers of our assumed
naive and proper Tudor principles; and we are on his side much
rather because he makes us (as the Second Murderer put it) “take the
devil in [our] mind,” than for any “historical-philosophical-Christian-retributional” sort of motive.
In this respect a good third of the play is a kind of grisly comedy;
in which we meet the fools to be taken in on Richard’s terms, see them
with his mind, and rejoice with him in their stultification (in
which execution is the ultimate and unanswerable practical joke, the
absolutely final laugh this side of the Day of Judgment).
-A. P. Rossiter, “Angel With Horns: The Unity of Richard III,”
in Shakespeare, The Histories, ed. Eugene M. Waith, 1965

We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our
Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our
manuscripts to provide quality materials.

Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York

Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York

Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
State University of New York at Stony Brook

Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
National Council of Teachers of English Student Guide Series
Fort Morgan, Colorado

Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Tamalpais Union High School District
Mill Valley, California

Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
State University of New York College at Buffalo

Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
State University of New York College at Geneseo

Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
State University of New York at Buffalo

Frank O’Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member, Executive Committee
National Council of Teachers of English
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Guilderland Central School District, New York

Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois



Fraser, Antonia, ed. The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England.
London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980. Covers the reigns of Henry
VI, Edward IV, and Richard III.

Saccio, Peter. Shakespeare’s English Kings. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1977.

Seward, Desmond. Richard III, England’s Black Legend. New York:
Franklin Watts, 1984. A strong argument for the traditional view of
Richard as the evil murderer and usurper.


Becker, George J. Shakespeare’s Histories. New York: Unger, 1977.
A review of the ten history plays and their common themes.

Blankpied, John W. Time and the Artist in Shakespeare’s Early
Histories. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983.

Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare’s “Histories:” Mirrors of
Elizabethan Policy. San Marino, California: The Huntington Library,
1968. Detailed review of topical themes.

Rossiter, A. P. “Angel With Horns: The Unity of Richard III,” in
Shakespeare, The Histories, ed. Eugene M. Waith. Englewood Cliffs, New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965.

Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare’s History Plays. London: Chatto ;
Windus, 1964. A study of the underlying principles found in
Shakespeare’s history plays with emphasis on their origins.

Weiss, Theodore. The Breath of Clowns and Kings. New York: Atheneum,
1974. The use of language in Shakespeare’s early comedies and
history plays.

Van Doren, Mark. Shakespeare. New York: Henry Holt, 1939.


Shakespeare wrote 37 plays (38 if you include The Two Noble Kinsmen)
over a 20-year period, from about 1590 to 1610. It’s difficult to
determine the exact dates when many were written, but scholars have
made the following intelligent guesses about his plays and poems:


1588-93The Comedy of Errors
1588-94Love’s Labour’s Lost
1590-912 Henry VI
1590-913 Henry VI
1591-921 Henry VI
1592-93Richard III
1592-94Titus Andronicus
1593-94The Taming of the Shrew
1593-95The Two Gentlemen of Verona
1594-96Romeo and Juliet
1595 Richard II
1594-96A Midsummer Night’s Dream
1596-97King John
1596-97The Merchant of Venice
1597 1 Henry IV
1597-982 Henry IV
1598-1600 Much Ado About Nothing
1598-99Henry V
1599 Julius Caesar
1599-1600 As You Like It
1599-1600 Twelfth Night
1597-1601 The Merry Wives of Windsor
1601-02Troilus and Cressida
1602-04All’s Well That Ends Well
1604 Measure for Measure
1605-06King Lear
1606-07Antony and Cleopatra
1605-08Timon of Athens
1610-11The Winter’s Tale
1611-12The Tempest
1612-13Henry VIII

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