Study Guide

Richard III Man and the Natural World

By William Shakespeare

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.  Times of war are compared to a wintry, frozen period in English history and are likened to ruined fields and destroyed crops.  Because Richard interrupts the "natural" political order by taking the throne, his reign is likened to the natural world out of order.  (He is also portrayed as being "unnatural" because of his physical "deformity.")  Later, however, England experiences a spring-like beginning with the arrival of golden boy Richmond (Henry VII). 

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Discuss how the play portrays Richard's physical "deformity."  What is the relationship between Richard's physical features and his lack of morality? 
  2. Why do you think there are so many allusions to the natural world in the play?  For example, what's up with all the agriculture and horticulture references? 
  3. Read the play's opening speech ("Now is the winter of our discontent"). Discuss how Richard uses the seasons as a metaphor for England's national mood and the political climate.
  4. What's up with all the references to monsters and unnatural beings in the play?

Chew on This

Shakespeare uses agriculture metaphors when he compares civil war and peacetime to spoiled crops and bountiful harvests.  This helps convey the idea that peace brings prosperity while war brings nothing but destruction and ruin.