Study Guide

Richard III What’s Up With the Title?

By William Shakespeare

What’s Up With the Title?

Today we know this work as simply Richard III, which makes a lot of sense given the fact that it's all about the rise and fall of King Richard III. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Not so fast.

If we look at the play's publication history, we learn that the title is more complicated. In fact, it's changed a few times over the years, raising questions about which genre the play fits into. Here's why:

In the First Quarto edition of 1597 (the first time the play appeared in print), the play was called The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, containing his treacherous plots against his brother Clarence: the pitiful murder of his innocent nephews: his tyrannical usurpation: with the whole course of his detested life and most deserved death. Yep, that's a mouthful alright and you can check out the title page here.

What's interesting is that the publisher felt the piece fit into the genre of "tragedy." Later, however, when the play appeared in the First Folio edition of 1623, it was listed under the "Histories," where it was referred to as The Life and Death of Richard III. (See it for yourself here.)

So which is it, a "tragedy" or a "history" play? Well, we happen to think it fits into both categories, and you can find out why by going to "Genre."