Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Willian Shakespeare, Richard III (c. 1592−1594)

William Shakespeare’s historical play Richard III (c. 1592−1594) is the fourth and final instalment in his treatment of the dynastic struggles between the rival royal factions, the Lancastrians and Yorkists, in the Wars of the Roses (1455−1487).  The play centres on the rise of the villainous Yorkist Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who became King Richard III, whose tyrannical rule ended when he was defeated and slain at the Battle of Bosworth (1485) to be replaced by the Lancastrian Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who became Henry VII and founded the Tudor dynasty and brought political stability and peace to the realm.

Through its treatment of the historical subject matter, the play shows how divine justice was righteously meted out to the sinners in the House of York, especially to Richard III.  These individuals were shown to be murderous, duplicitous, and oath breakers, or to be those who profited from those who committed these sins.  These people were therefore to be considered unfit to rule.  Through the rise and fall of Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III), the play also presents the lesson that those who pursue and maintain power through evil deeds, or who acquire and maintain the necessary political allies through the exploitation of fear or greed, are eventually undone. This is because those evil deeds will produce righteous opponents who will eventually engineer the downfall of the tyrant.  Moreover, political allies based on fear and greed are shown to be unreliable in a crisis, leaving the tyrant virtually alone with few if any supporters willing to risk themselves when the tyrant is imperilled. 

The play suggests that a good ruler needs to be clever, bold, decisive, as well as virtuous. Richard III was not virtuous but Henry VII had all of the qualities required of a good ruler.  Consequently, the downfall of Richard III, and the triumph of Henry VII, is depicted as restoring the natural moral order to the realm, so discord is repaired, calamity is no longer frequent, and misery is replaced by contentment. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Richard III meaning, Richard III themes, Richard III analysis, Richard III notes