Study Guide

Richard III Gender

By William Shakespeare


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 (specifically their curses) seem to have a prophetic power.  The women fit into a variety of female character stereotypes, but they still manage to be nuanced. In one sense, women are the property of the men who marry them. But the women elevate themselves by sheer emotive force. The women provide much of the emotional force behind the political action of the play. Focusing on the men alone, the play would mostly be about shrewd political strategizing and power. Only when the women come into view do we really see the emotional reality and toll of this politically volatile situation.

Questions About Gender

  1. What do you make of all the allegations about women and witchcraft? Is "witchcraft" just a convenient way of explaining (and dismissing) powerful women?
  2. How do the women of the play relate to each other? Are they more bound together by sisterhood, or are they divided by their respective ties to the men in the play?
  3. How does marriage function in the play? Are women just used as political pawns?
  4. How are mothers portrayed in <em>Richard III</em>?

Chew on This

Although the women in the play are helpless as they watch Richard's reign of terror, their prophetic curses suggest that they do wield some power in the play.

Whether she married Richard or Richmond, Young Elizabeth was to be used as a political pawn.