Richard III Themes: God's Judgement

The Theme of God's Judgement in Richard III

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We take a close look at the theme of God's judgement in Shakespeare's Richard III

Ultimate Judgement by God

Throughout the play various characters consider how they will be ultimately judged by God for their Earthly wrong-doings.

Queen Margaret hope that Richard and Queen Elizabeth will be punished by God for their actions, she hopes that, the Queen will die childless and without a title as punishment for what she did to her and her husband:

God I pray him that none of you may live his natural age, but by some unlooked accident cut off.

(Act 1, Scene 3)

The Second Murderer sent to murder Clarence is concerned with how he will be judged by God despite being ordered to kill this man by someone more powerful than himself he is still concerned for his own soul:

The urging of that word ‘judgement’, hath bred a kind of remorse in me.

(Act 1, Scene 4)

King Edward fears that God will judge him for Clarence’s death: “O God, I fear thy justice will take hold on me...” (Act 2, Scene 1)

Clarence’s son is sure that God will take revenge on the King for his father’s death; “God will revenge it – whom I will importune with earnest prayers, all to that effect.” (Act 2 Scene 2, Line 14-15)

When Lady Anne accuses King Richard of murdering her husband she tells him that he will be damned for it by God:

The God grant me, too, thou mayst be damned for that wicked deed. O he was gentle, mild and virtuous.

(Act 1, Scene 2)

The Duchess of York passes judgement on Richard and believes that God will judge him for his wrongdoing she says that the souls of the dead will haunt him and that because he had led a bloody life he will meet a bloody end:

Either thou wilt die by God’s just ordinance ere from this war thou turn a conqueror, or I with grief and extreme age shall perish and never more behold thy face again. Therefore take with thee my most heavy curse, than all the complete armour that thou wear’st. My prayers on the adverse party fight, and there the little soul’s of Edward’s children whisper the spirits of thine enemies, and promise them success and victory. Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end; Shame serves thy life, and doth thy death attend.

(Act 4, Scene 4)

At the end of the play, Richmond knows he is on the side of right and feels that he has God on his side:

God and our good cause fight upon our side. The prayers of holy saints and wronged souls like high reared bulwarks, stand before our forces.

(Act 5, Scene 5)

He goes on to criticise the tyrant and murderer Richard:

A Bloody tyrant and a homicide...One that hath ever been God’s enemy. Then if you fight against God’s enemy God will in justice ward you as his soldiers...Then in the name of God and all these rights, advance your standards!

(Act 5, Scene 5)

He urges his soldiers to fight in God’s name and believes that God’s judgement on a murderer will affect his victory over Richard.

After he has been visited from the ghosts of the dead he has murdered, Richard's conscience starts to knock his confidence, the bad weather he acknowledges on the morning of the battle is seen by him as a bad omen sent from heaven to judge him:

The sun will not be seen today. The sky doth frown and lour upon our army.

(Act 5, Scene 6)

He then realises that Richmond is experiencing the same weather and therefore is not as worried that it is a sign from God against him. However, Richard continues to pursue power at any cost and is happy to continue murdering to this end.

One of his last orders before he is killed is to execute George Stanley for being the son of a defector. Therefore the idea of God’s judgement never stops him from making decisions to further his own authority or reign.

Shakespeare celebrates Richmond’s victory on the side of God, in Shakespearean society the role of King was given by God and Richard’s usurping the crown was a direct blow against God as a result. Richmond on the other hand embraces God and believes that God has given him this position and will continue to support him by giving him heirs:

O now let Richmond and Elizabeth the true successors of each royal house by Gods fair ordinance conjoin together and let their heirs – God if this be so enrich the time to come with smooth faced peace.

(Act 5, Scene 8)

Richmond does not judge the traitors harshly but will forgive them as he believes is God’s will.

He wants to live in peace and harmony and his last word is ‘Amen’