Study Guide

Lady Anne in Richard III

By William Shakespeare

Lady Anne

Lady Anne Neville is Prince Edward's widow and the daughter-in-law of the late King Henry VI. Although she knows Richard is the "fiend" responsible for husband and father-in-law's deaths, she allows herself to be manipulated into marrying him.

Lady Anne is most famous for succumbing to Richard's charms in Act 1, Scene 2, where Richard successfully woos front of Henry VI's corpse (we're not kidding). What's going on here?

The fact that Lady Anne agrees to marry Richard has puzzled audiences and literary critics for centuries. Is Anne faking when she says she's mourning the deaths of her husband and father-in-law? Probably not. Is Anne just a gullible chump? Maybe. Critic Stephen Greenblatt says Anne is "shallow, corruptible, naively ambitious, and, above all, frightened – all qualities that help account for her spectacular surrender."

OK, fine, Anne is deeply flawed – but we think her "surrender" to Richard is a bit more complicated. Richard's successfully putting the moves on Anne shows us that he can be totally charming when he wants to be. The guy's a master manipulator, and Anne is just one of his many, many victims.

By the way, Richard is pretty good at manipulating the audience, too, which basically means that we are not so different from Lady Anne. As literary scholar Marjorie Garber reminds us, Lady Anne knew all about Richard's "crimes, and yet she was won over – and the same will happen to the audience in the theater. We see all the horrors that come with Richard and his world [...]. Yet readers and audiences are perpetually fascinated and spellbound" by the guy.

Because Anne has ties to the late King Henry VI, Richard uses her as a political pawn to further his agenda, which sums up the way women are viewed and treated in this play. (After Richard has Anne murdered, he tries to marry his niece, Young Elizabeth, to strengthen his claim to the throne.)

P.S. If you haven't done so already, be sure to check out our summary of Act 1, Scene 2, where we provide links to the steamy (yet disturbing and odd) wooing scene in two film adaptations.