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Analysis: Allusions

When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.

Biblical Shout-Outs

  • "Would he not stumble? would he not fall down, / Since pride must have a fall, and break the neck / Of that proud man that did usurp his back?" (5.5.4): This is a big shout-out to Proverbs 16.18: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall."
  • "Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's cries" (1.1.4): Abel was the son of Adam and Eve, and brother of Cain. Cain murdered him out of jealousy because God preferred Abel's sacrifice. According to the Bible, this is humankind's first murder.
  • "Some of you with Pilate wash your hands / Showing an outward pity; yet you Pilates / Have here deliver'd me to my sour cross, / And water cannot wash away your sin" (4.1.6): After he's forced to give up his crown, Richard compares the rebels to Pontius Pilate, the Roman judge who sentences Jesus to be crucified in the New Testament. Pilate turns Jesus over to the Jews for them to do with him as they please. He famously "washes his hands" of their actions, which he knows are wrong.
  • "Three Judases. Each one thrice worse than Judas! / Would they make peace? terrible hell make war / Upon their spotted souls for this offence!" (3.2.8): Richard hastily describes Bushy, Bagot, and Green as three Judases, assuming they've betrayed him. He's obviously thinking of himself as the betrayed Christ. In the New Testament, Judas betrays Christ for thirty pieces of silver.

Mythological Shout-Outs

  • "Were I but now the lord of such hot youth / As when brave Gaunt, thy father, and myself / Rescued the Black Prince, that young Mars of men..." (2.3.2): In this passage, York compares Edward, the "Black Prince," to Mars, the Roman god of war.
  • "Down, down I come, like glist'ring Phaeton," (3.3.5): Richard compares his downfall to that of Phaeton, who appears in Ovid's Metamorphoses. He's the God Apollo's son, an ambitious young overreacher who asks to drive his dad's chariot (with its fiery steeds) across the sky, and loses control of it. Zeus has to kill him with a thunderbolt to stop him from burning the earth.

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