Shakespeare’s Villains – Richard III

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This series on Shakespeare’s villains is being done in partnership with Finding Shakespeare – curating digital stories relating to Shakespeare’s life,  work and times.  Finding Shakespeare is the blog produced by the Collections Team here at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust– you can find out more about Tamora on Thursday 21st July when they post their blog.

Richard III

Following her husband’s coffin on its way to the funeral the heart broken Lady Anne meets the man who murdered her husband. By the end of the scene she is considering marrying him. This is surely the strangest wooing scene in Shakespeare and an interesting insight into one of his most charismatic villains – Richard III

When Lady Anne first sees Richard in this scene she repeatedly calls him devil and fiend. And yet he responds mildly “Sweet saint, for Charity, be not so cursed” this disjunction between the rudeness (justified as it is) of Anne and Richard’s reply is reminiscent of Petruchio’s manner in dealing with Kate in The Taming of the Shrew and is an interesting way for Richard to begin his own wooing of Anne.

Richard quickly displays his clever if cruel wit. Anne says that even beasts have a touch of pity to which Richard replies that he has no pity and there for is no beast. Clever but it seems a strange time for him to initiate playful verbal sparring positioned as they are beside the coffin of the man Richard murdered. A strange place indeed for the compliments he continues to lavish on her – calling her ‘angel’ ‘divine perfection of woman’ whilst she responds be calling  him ‘bloody’ ‘hedgehog’ and an ‘infection of a man’ who is ‘unfit for any place but hell’. He will not be put off by her insults – rather he insists that there is one other place he is fit for – other than hell – her bedchamber.

Richard then goes on to claim (quite falsely) that he killed her husband because he loved her, and to help her to a better husband, and that he can love her better than her first husband. Unsurprisingly she is not persuaded and spits at him. But he carries right on – he claims he has never cried for anything but her and finally he bares his chest, gives her a knife and tells her to kill him if she cannot forgive him the death of her husband.

She can’t do it….

He offers to kill himself for her love if she so desires it: ‘this hand that did kill thy love, shall for thy love kill a far truer love.”

And still she hesitates. Not asking him to kill himself but wishing she knew the truth of his heart. He offers her a ring, she puts it on her finger promising to consider his offer of marriage.

To be honest I have always found this scene implausible. Even Richard seems surprised saying after she exits ‘Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won?’

But perhaps we can understand the psychology behind it…  Let’s ask some of our staff what they think women find attractive in men…

Well Richard III certainly has power! Power somewhat ruthlessly attained, but certainly if you want to be with the most powerful man in this play it had better be Richard. And perhaps Richard is also seductive because he combines that power with an element of vulnerability. In offering himself to Anne to kill he becomes vulnerable whilst actually gaining power – because she is unable to murder him.

So women like a sense of humour and intelligence?  Richard III scores highly there too.  He is dextrous with words often displaying a black humour. And he is certainly intelligent showing his cunning even in this scene with his skilful manipulation of Anne.

In pretending to love Anne he is playing to the universal desire to be loved that we all share – little is more powerful than discovering that someone adores you. But for Anne the turning point seems to be that moment when she wonders what is really in his heart.  When she begins to wonder if underneath his cunning and cruel exterior there exists something softer, something which she has inspired, and something which she might bring out in him…. So perhaps women also love a mystery and the idea that they might bring out the best in someone. Good Luck Anne!


If you want to know what Richard III has looked like on the stage over the years – enjoy this slide show on Flickr


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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • Elleoneiram

    Oh dear! Poor Anne. I wondered if part of her willingness to marry him was considering the power he might be able to wield over her – there was a lot going on, but self-preservation may have been on her mind as well.

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