In this lesson, our instructor Rebekah Hendershot teaches Richard III. Youll go over the complete background of the play, the setting, and the characters. Rebekah explains each character in detail, including Richard III, Edward, Lady Anne, Lord Buckingham, Edward IV, Queen Elizabeth, Margaret and everyone in between. Youll learn each element of the plot from Richards jealousy to Richmond assuming the throne. Themes, major passages, and essay topic jumping-off points are also covered. With Rebekah youll discuss topics such as whether Richard is a hero or a villain, the roles of men and women, the use of language in the play, and the various forms of evil. The lesson concludes with a few secrets to make understanding Shakespeare a lot easier.
This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
Taken from the short and bloody reign of Richard III of England, especially as recorded by Sir Thomas More
Contains many references to other Shakespeare plays, notably Henry IV
First published in 1597
England, late 1400s
Edward IV newly on the throne; Richard jealous
The Wars of the Roses
Richard III—Scheming prince who becomes king and acts as the antihero of the play
Edward, Prince of Wales, and Richard, Duke of York—Young sons of Edward IV, about to be murdered
Lady Anne—A noblewoman who marries Richard III, even though he killed her husband and father
Lord Buckingham—Richard’s chief advisor and right-hand man
Edward IV—Sickly king of England; brother of Richard
Clarence—Trusting brother of Richard and Edward
Queen Elizabeth—Wife of Edward, mother of the princes.
Dorset, Rivers and Gray—Kinsmen and allies of Elizabeth
Duchess of York—Grandmother of the princes, mother of Richard
Margaret—Widow of Henry VI, does a lot of cursing
Young Elizabeth—Daughter of Edward, pawn in various political games
Richmond—Founder of the Tudor dynasty
Hastings—A nobleman who maintains his integrity and dies for trusting Richard
Clarence in the Tower of London
Marriage to the Lady Anne
Queen Margaret warns the court about Richard
Clarence is killed, Edward is blamed
The Princes in the Tower
Seeing through Richard
Richard’s show of humility
Rumors of illegitimacy
James Tyrell doesn’t
Richard’s next marriage
Lady Anne poisoned
Courting his niece Elizabeth
The Queen demurs
Richard’s paranoia grows
The Earl of Richmond invades
The Battle of Bosworth Field
Richmond becomes King Henry VII, marries Elizabeth
Dichotomy and deception
Fate vs. free will
The allure of evil
The power of language
Hooray for the Tudors!
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York… …I am determined to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”
-Act I, Scene 1, 1-40
“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 …”
-Act I, Scene 3, 220-230
“Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days; Compare dead happiness with living woe; Think that thy 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.…”
-Act IV Scene 4, 118-123
“…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. …O no, alas, I rather hate myself For hateful deeds committed by myself. I am a villain.”
-Act V, Scene 5, 134-145
Examine the character of Richard. Is he a hero or a villain? How does he change over the course of the play? To what extent is he shaped by his circumstances, and to what extent is he using those circumstances as an excuse for evil?
Examine the use of language in the play. It is primarily Richard’s weapon, but others use it too—Margaret and the other women in their cursing, the princes as they turn Richard’s word games against him. How does Shakespeare portray the power of language?
Richard III is renowned for its portrayal of evil. What form does evil take in this play? How does it interact with the many supernatural elements in this portrayal of history?
The so-called “window scenes” showcase how the action in the palace affects the world outside it. How does Shakespeare portray the relationship between monarchs and those they rule?
How does the portrayal of Richard, the last king before the rise of the Tudor dynasty, play against English history at the time Shakespeare was writing (under a notably paranoid Tudor queen)?
How does Shakespeare portray the roles of men and women in this play? Who has power, and what kind?
Examine the concept of loyalty in this play, especially as it is displayed in the characters of Buckingham and Hastings. What does loyalty mean? Who deserves loyalty? Who displays it, and how?
The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
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