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Themes

Little Words, Big Ideas

War

Richard III opens toward the tail end of the Wars of the Roses, a series of nasty civil wars that had the Lancasters and the Yorks (two branches of the Royal House of Plantagenet) vying for the Eng...

Fate and Free Will

When Richard murders and manipulates his way to the crown, is he acting of his own free will? Or is he merely an agent of divine providence (a.k.a. fate)? Literary scholars and historians are div...

Time

Although it's Shakespeare's second-longest play, Richard III quickly motors through about 14 years of English history. The action is compressed into less than a month, making this five-act drama se...

Art and Culture

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.&...

Manipulation

Manipulation greases the wheels of Richard III. Richard is constantly manipulating characters around him in an acrobatic performance of subtlety and wordplay. Richard's skill at manipulating everyo...

Justice

In Richard III, justice is divine and retributive.  In other words, every character who has ever sinned or committed a crime gets what's coming to him or her.  Since we're dealing with ch...

Power

Richard III is about the struggle to get and hold on to political power, a topic Shakespeare returns to repeatedly in his history plays and tragedies.  On the one hand, the play portrays Richa...

Betrayal

Richard III is full of little (and not so little) betrayals. This sets the mood for the play: nothing is sacred and no one is safe.  Richard betrays his friends and family, and his friends and...

Man and the Natural World

The relationship between man and the natural world is a very big deal in Richard III. From the very first lines, the health of the political state is likened to the health of nature and the earth.&...

Family

In Richard III family is not the lovey-dovey stuff of The Simpsons' Flanders family. After all, we're talking about a family that was at each others' throats for a good 30 years.  The play tak...

Gender

Women play an intriguing role in Richard III. On the one hand, they can be considered powerless – they do little but talk about and react to the actions of the men. On the other hand, their words...
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