Last updated: July 13, 2019
Topic: SocietyHistory
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How does Shakespeare explore the theme of villainy in Richard III? Richard III is an historical play written by William Shakespeare during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, depicting the contentious rise to power of King Richard III of England and his short reign as King. Richard III is the final play in a cycle of eight plays written by Shakespeare dramatizing English history from 1398 to 1485. The theme of villainy is intricately explored throughout the play as one of its main themes.Shakespeare effectively explores the theme of villainy through the use of dramatic techniques such as character soliloquies and literary techniques such as symbolism.

These techniques enable Shakespeare’s ideas of villainy to be developed and explored, which in turn adds to the play’s entertainment. Throughout Richard III there are a number of character soliloquies, which give the audience critical insight into a character’s mind; allowing them to understand what the character is thinking.Richard of Gloucester, later known as Richard III, is the main character and anti-hero, who has many soliloquies throughout the play, many for the audience’s benefit. His soliloquies allow the audience to understand and obtain a better perception of his emotions and what thoughts are occurring in his twisted mind. Richard towards the beginning of the play talks of his hatred of all people in the world, due to him being unloved.In this soliloquy, as he cannot be successful in love, Richard openly admits himself to be a villain, plainly referring to himself as one, ‘I am determined to prove a villain’ (Act 1 Scene 1), this is an example of how Shakespeare uses the technique of soliloquies to explore the theme of villainy; through expression of emotions. This is not the only instance in which Richard proclaims himself a villain, ‘And thus I clothe my naked villainy with odd old ends stol’n forth of holy writ, and seem a saint when I play the devil’ (Act 1 Scene 3) is a part of another soliloquy of Richard’s in which Shakespeare explores the theme of villainy.

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Richard is very duplicitous and is very cunning, presenting of version of himself to other characters, but another to the audience. It is in his soliloquies that Richard talks to the audience of his evil deeds and acts. For example, Richard reveals his villainous plan for his brother Clarence in Act 1 Scene 1, ‘Simple, plain Clarence! I do love thee so, That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven, If heaven will take the present at our hands’ This declaration of Richard’s scheming enhances the theme of villainy in the play.

Shakespeare uses the technique of character soliloquies effectively to explore the theme of villainy as it gives the audience clarity and knowledge of the thoughts in characters’ minds. The technique of symbolism, is incorporated in Richard III to aid the exploration of the theme of villainy. Richard as a character, is the most evil character in the play, plotting and manipulating ways around obstacles in his path to power.

He is often called different animals, which was very degrading.His emblem historically was a boar, a much darker and less grand emblem compared to his brother Edward’s emblem of the sun. The symbol of a boar is perhaps the most obvious symbol in the play and is associated with evil throughout the plays entirety, which refers back to the theme of villainy and evil. Throughout the play Richard, the villain, is often referred to as ‘the boar’ symbolizing the evil about him. In the time of Shakespeare, the boar was a commonly hunted animal, and audiences at the time would have associated it with violence and untamed aggression.A good example of Richard being compared to a boar is in Act 5 Scene 2 when Richmond uses imagery to describe Richard as a ‘wretched, bloody and usurping boar’ Richard, just as boars trample the ground, crushed civil liberties and the happiness of citizens.

A second example of animal symbolism is Margaret’s comparison of the villainous Richard to a ‘bottled-spider‘ ‘Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about? ‘ (Act 1 Scene 3). This powerful animal symbolism is an effective technique used by Shakespeare to highlight the theme of villainy, as it is consistently referred back to throughout the whole of the play.In conclusion, the theme of villainy is a key concept of Richard III, allowing the development of Shakespeare’s ideas of Richard as a character and the plot of the play. The theme of villainy is effectively explored by Shakespeare through Richard’s character evolution and his schemes. Shakespeare achieves this through the effectual use of the dramatic technique of character soliloquies and the literary technique of symbolism. These techniques are an important aspect of the play conserving interest for its entire length, and maintaining an entertaining story-line.