Richard III Themes: Power

The Theme of Power in Richard III

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The most important theme that treads through Richard III is power. This central theme drives the plot and, most importantly, the main character: Richard III.

Power, Manipulation and Desire 

Richard III demonstrates a mesmerising ability to manipulate others into doing things they would not otherwise have done.

Despite the characters acknowledging his penchant for evil, the characters become complicit in his manipulation of them to their own detriment.

For example, Lady Anne knows that she is being manipulated by Richard and knows that it will lead to her downfall but she agrees to marry him anyway.

At the beginning of the scene Lady Anne knows that Richard killed her husband:

Thou wast provoked by thy bloody mind, that never dream’st on aught but butcheries. 

(Act 1, Scene 2)

Richard goes on to flatter Lady Anne suggesting that he murdered her husband because he wanted to be with her:

Your beauty was the cause of that effect – Your beauty that did haunt me in my sleep to undertake the death of all the world so I might live one hour in your sweet bosom.

(Act 1, Scene 2)

The scene ends with her taking his ring and promising to marry him. His powers of manipulation are so strong that he has wooed her over the coffin of her dead husband. He promises her power and adulation and she is seduced despite her better judgement. Richard’s ability to seduce Lady Anne so easily repulses him and eradicates any respect for her he may have had:

Was ever woman in this humour wooed? Was ever woman in this humour won? I’ll have her but I will not keep her long.

(Act 1, Scene 2)

He is almost surprised by his own powers of manipulation and this early on in the play he acknowledges the power of it. However, his own self hatred makes him hate her more for wanting him:

And will she yet abase her eyes on me,...On me, that halts and am misshapen thus?

(Act 1, Scene 2)

His most powerful tool of manipulation is language, he is able to convince people through his monologues and orations to follow him and to commit heinous acts. He justifies his evil in talking about how he was born deformed and that somehow this is his excuse for all manner of evils, he tries to illicit sympathy from the audience using his physicality as a justification for bloody and evil deeds and an audience is partially encouraged to admire his ability to manipulate. An audience wills him on and wants him to succeed out of respect for his deep malevolence and Machiavellian capabilities.

Richard III is reminiscent of Lady Macbeth in that they are both ambitious, murderous and manipulate others for their own ends. Both experience a sense of guilt at the end of their respective plays but Lady Macbeth redeems herself to an extent by going mad and killing herself. Richard on the other hand, continues his murderous intentions to the very end, despite having the ghosts give him a hard time for his actions, Richard still orders George Stanley’s death at the very end of the play and therefore his conscience does not override his desire for power.

When Richard is not able to use language to manipulate and he is equally matched in repartee he just uses out and out violence as with the princes when he just has them killed. When he has failed to convince Stanley to join him in battle he orders his son’s death.

Richmond’s speech to his soldiers at the end of the play talks about how God and virtue is on his side. Richard is unable to do this and tells his soldiers that Richmond and his army are full of vagabonds and rascals and runaways, he tells them that their daughters and wives will be ravished by these people if they do not fight them. This just shows that Richard is manipulative to the end. He knows he is in trouble but motivates his army with threats and fear.