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
- Explain how Richard's acting skills help him achieve the crown.
- Why are there so many self-conscious references to the theater in this play?
- 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.
- Discuss the relationship between politics and acting in Richard III.
Chew on This
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.