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Themes

Most of Shakespeare's plays are full of self-conscious references to the workings of the theater, but in Richard III the characters almost seem to be aware that they're performing parts in a play.  Richard declares almost immediately that he plans on playing the role of a "villain." At other times, he talks about himself as though he's a stage director, especially when he shares his "plot" to become king.  Even Margaret suggests that witnessing Richard's villainy is like watching the "induction" (prologue) of a tragic play.  Throughout, Shakespeare implies that being an effective politician like Richard requires serious acting chops and the ability to adapt to any situation. Being a successful ruler involves the ability to manipulate one's followers and adversaries.

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. Explain how Richard's acting skills help him achieve the crown.
  2. Why are there so many self-conscious references to the theater in this play?
  3. Literary critic Stephen Greenblatt calls Richard a "consummate role-player."  Do you agree with this assessment?  If so, what textual evidence can be used to support this opinion? If not, explain why. 
  4. Discuss the relationship between politics and acting in Richard III.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Richard sees himself as an actor in a play in which his ultimate role is that of a villain.

In Richard III, Shakespeare portrays politics as inherently theatrical. 

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