Language Richard Iii

Language of Richard III #

There is only one reason why Shakespeare’s plays are still alive and read 400 years after they were written; his mastery of clear, powerful visual language. As we have seen most of his plots are not original, but it is ability to revitalise old stories and histories, shape them into compelling dramas with syncopated plots and revitalise them with resonant forceful language that still appeals to us today.

It is interesting to note that in most transformations or adaptations to contemporary productions, directors may update everything except Shakespeare’s Language. Al Pacino admits that it is the appeal of Shakespeare’s language that convinced him to attempt to attract more people to his plays.

Features #

Some outstanding features of Shakespeare’s Language are:

  1. His powerful imagery which allows us to visualise his scenes without props or concrete backdrops.

  2. The use of nuances, the power of suggestion, implied meanings.

  3. His varied vocabulary, including the fact that he coined many new words and hundreds of new sayings that have become part of our argot.

  4. The lyricism of his verse and sometimes even his prose has a lightness and resonance or lingering effect on us.

  5. The wide range of his allusions to classical, religious and historical icons, stories and people.

  6. The play on words; he likes to use puns, oxymorons, s-xual innuendo, assonance, alliteration, ambiguity and any other tactics to engage and entertain his audiences.

Monologues #

The following self introduction by Gloucester (later to become Richard III) is a foretaste of what is to come; using the archetypal winter to describe hard times of the past we are presented a picture of good times (summer) due to the “sun” (pun for son) of York, his older brother Edward who had won victory over the Lancasters at the Battle of Teweskbury in 1471. Since he is alone on the stage, he levels with us in a confiding and self effacing manner Gloucester presents himself as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is not suited to these new times where – peace has broken out and love-making in lady’s chambers is in vogue, but prefers “Grim visaged war”. The personification of war creates a stark contrast with the peace he dreads.

While he may deceive others, to us he uses no guises.


Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York; And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings, Our dreadful marches to delightful measures. Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front; And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

He ends the soliloquy by dropping all pretence, informing us of how false and deceptive he is prepared to be to advance his own cause despite all his failings:

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them; ……

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days. Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,

The Pun #

A Pun is part of word play where the same word has the same sound but different meanings.

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

The play on “sun” refers to both the season of summer and the fact that the King Edward IV was the first born “son” of The House of York.

Today the pun is out of vogue, but during Medieval times it was very popular.

It is undeniable that the British, especially in Shakespeare’s time were fond of puns. But the pun may contain a very high form of wit, and may please either for its cleverness, or for its amusing quality, or for the combination of the two. Naturally, the really excellent pun has always been in favour with the wits of all countries.

The pun is of the sort that may be appreciated intellectually for its cleverness, while not calculated to cause laughter.

Language of Conflict #

Drama is driven by conflict and Shakespeare is a master at creating tension and high drama by dialectic language of argument from diametric opposites. Much of the play Richard III is driven by this vigorous repartee much of it derisive, scathing and contemptuous abuse.


And mortal eyes cannot endure the devil.*
Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell!
…….. defused infection of a man,

And thou unfit for any place but hell.* (*Act I, Scene 2)

Irony is used throughout the play

“Cursed the heart that had the heart to do it” (Act 1 Sc 2 by Anne)

This important scene exposes Richard’s seductive side. while he claims he is ‘rudely stamped’, Shakespeare exposes his ability to seduce simply through a tennis match of words between Anne and Richard with Richard twisting her words somewhat. He is actually most deceitful when he is really telling the truth, because the real truth is too unbelievable. “But since you teach me how to flatter you

Richard actually manages to turn a woman who starts off cursing him, to being persuaded into later becoming his wife (whom he kills, because he no longer needs her)

Useful quotes follow after she exits, which display to the audience Richard’s intentions for Anne and the future: *“Was ever woman in this humor wooed? Was ever woman in this humor won?” *and

“But I’ll not keep her long”


Out, devil! I remember them too well:
A murderous villain, and so still thou art.
Hie thee to hell for shame, and leave the world,*
Thou cacodemon! there thy kingdom is.

GLOUCESTER (To Former Queen Margaret)

Foul wrinkled witch,…….
,……….. thou hateful wither’d hag!


….. stay, dog, for thou shalt hear me.
On thee, the troubler of the poor world’s peace!
The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul!


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 _


O Buckingham, take heed of yonder dog!
Look, when he fawns, he bites; and when he bites,
His venom tooth will rankle to the death:


Stanley did dream the boar did raze his helm;

Language of Cant, #

deceit - duplicity – false piety - sanctimonious puritanical hypocrisy - spin


As I am subtle, false and treacherous (Act I, Scene i)

“O, do not swear, my Lord of Buckingham (Act III.vii. 219)

DUCHESS OF YORK (on Gloucester)

Oh, that deceit should steal such gentle shapes,*
And with a virtuous vizard hide foul guile!


Tut, I can counterfeit the deep tragedian;*
Speak and look back, and pry on every side,
…………………………to grace my stratagems.

GLOUCESTER (on seeing the Head of Hastings )

So dear I loved the man, that I must weep.
I took him for the plainest harmless creature
That breathed upon this earth a Christian;
So smooth he daub’d his vice with show of virtue,
That, his apparent open guilt omitted,

GLOUCESTER (Instructions to Buckingham spreading rumours to discredit King Edward’s children.)

Infer the bastardy of Edward’s children:*
Moreover, urge his hateful luxury*
And bestial appetite in change of lust;
Which stretched to their servants, daughters, wives,
Even where his lustful eye or savage heart,
Without control, listed to make his prey.
Nay, for a need, thus far come near my person:
Tell them, when that my mother went with child
Of that unsatiate Edward, noble York
My princely father then had wars in France
And, by just computation of the time,
Found that the issue was not his begot;
Which well appeared in his lineaments,
Being nothing like the noble duke my father:
But touch this sparingly, as ’twere far off,
Because you know, my lord, my mother lives.

Notable quotes from Richard III

“Now is the winter of our discontent.
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” (Act I, Scene i)

Perhaps the most famous introduction of Shakespeare’s plays.


[Aside] So wise so young, they say, do never live long.

“Off with his head!” (Act III, Scene iv)

Richard’s signature phrase.

“A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!” (Act V, Scene iv)

A line that has been parodied time and time again. It is likely a construct by Shakespeare.

Imagery #


……… but I was born so high,*
Our aery buildeth in the cedar’s top,
And dallies with the wind and scorns the sun.
(Act I, iii 264)

His pompous arrogance is equated to the eagle’s airy (aerie/eyrie) in a cedar tree, both ranked highly in the hierarchy of the plant and animal kingdoms.


Edward, my lord, your son, our king, is dead.*
Why grow the branches now the root is wither’d?
Why wither not the leaves the sap being gone?

First Citizen (On the death of Edward)

Come, come, we fear the worst; all shall be well.

Third Citizen

When clouds appear, wise men put on their cloaks;*
When great leaves fall, the winter is at hand;
When the sun sets, who doth not look for night?
Untimely storms make men expect a dearth.

QUEEN EIZABETH (on the arrest of Rivers, Grey and Vaughan,)

Ay me, I see the downfall of our house!
The tiger now hath seized the gentle hind;
Insulting tyranny begins to jet
Upon the innocent and aweless throne:
Welcome, destruction, death, and massacre!