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UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA

Vitriol, Violence and Misogyny


The underbelly of Richard III
Emmah Peters 6433898 3/30/2012 Natalya Vesselova ENG 1121-J Word Count: 1,790

Research Paper, ENG 1121-J

Emmah Peters

Vitriol, Violence and Misogyny

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Shakespeares Richard III is a dramatization of the final years in the English Wars of the Roses, a long-standing rivalrous struggle between the two noble houses of Lancaster and York for control of the English monarchy. There were many smaller battles and skirmishes between the houses however the entirety of the incidents can be catalogued between 1455 and 1485. The play chronicles the rise and fall of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who is depicted as a deformed, fiendish, vitriolic and manipulative murderer who is willing to dispose of any man, woman, or child who stands between him and the throne of England. Though crowned king through his skillful machinations, Shakespeare's Richard enjoys his power only briefly before the Earl of Richmond invades from France. Richard dies in the battle, and Richmond takes his place as King Henry VII. Critics have noted that Shakespeare's, unfavorable portrait of Richard III suggests a likely political motivation to please the reigning Elizabeth I, a Tudor queen (Lee). Richard is regarded as one of Shakespeare's most brilliant portraits of evil. Richard's villainous yet charismatic character is compelling to actors and audiences. Richard's belief that no one can love his deformed body is what drives him to seek vengeance against the world around him and the people in it. Critics have studied the women in Richard III for their significance both as individuals and as a group. Focusing on the play's distinct theme of misogyny defined as hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women. Origin: 165060; < Neo-Latin misogynia.> Greek misogynia, from misein to hate + gyn woman (Merriam-Webster). Richard continually blames women instead of accepting the guilt which is really his own. Women in the play are depicted as "nonpersons," especially after they become widows and their sole source of power, financial support and of social identitytheir husbandsis gone. From that point onwards and indeed before they become widowed the women are used as scapegoats for they are completely dependent upon the

Emmah Peters

Vitriol, Violence and Misogyny

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men in their lives to maintain their livelihood. And then upon Richard who uses them for his Machiavellian purposes. Richard learned to hate women fairly early on in his life as his mother never loved him as he was born deformed and ugly the way she expects him to remain upon having birthed him. Despite the fact that Richard laments he is unlovable by anyone because of his deformities in his opening soliloquy he never leads on that his hatred is truly directed towards the women in his life who will never love him nor show him any affection because of his appearance. Richard uses his malformed body as an excuse to behave wickedly and do evil deeds with the power that has been bestowed upon him. Richards justification is that he is trapped in a twisted body and is therefore ideally shaped for twisted acts. From an audience perspective Richards misogynistic tendencies are quite clear. Although women have been noted to pick up on the cues much faster, it is made obvious very early on, in the opening soliloquy in fact, that Richard disdains and indeed hates any and every one however most especially those of the opposite gender. In a book written by Nina S. Levine Womens Matters: Politics, Gender and Nation in Shakespeares Early History Plays , she argues that while Richard makes a claim for the women as unnatural, sexually perverse enemies, an Elizabethan audience would have seen their lamentation and cursing as an acceptable model for female heroism that allows the female characters a place in politics [beyond] Richards misogynistic construction of women as either aggressors or victims (Levine, 205). In the same book Levine also suggests that the women turn their grief into vengeance in an attempt to [right] the monstrosity they have engendered in Richard, or as an Elizabethan audience would have seen, in the Queens England (Levine, 115). Despite all of this the audience is still prone to feel a certain empathy towards Richard, and some even profess to admire him for his

Emmah Peters

Vitriol, Violence and Misogyny

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impressively smooth ways and ability to turn on the charm and convince women of his love for them. As far as the two major female characters of the play are concerned, there is Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV's wife, and Lady Anne Warwick, Richard's queen. Both women are inferior to Richard and lose their strength and integrity to him. However, they play a significant role in Richard's life and take a significant bit of the responsibility for his decline. While Richard's and Elizabeth's relationship can simply be described as violent hate, Anne's and Richard's relationship is more peculiar and harder to define. It is a mixture of love and hate and psychological illness. Anne is truly destroyed by Richard; she loses everything, including the power over herself, to her sadistic husband. For her, Richard is the character foil of her first husband Edward, whom she calls angel-husband(IV, 1, 68). However, she falls for him during his wooing scene( I, 2), after having reprimanded him for making advances. For example, her statement ''Never hung poison on a fouler toad. Out of my sight! Thou dost infect mine eyes.''(I,2,151-152), gives the impression that she hates him deadly. However, she fails to execute him when she has the chance given by Richard himself, nor does she command him to commit suicide, as he proposes her to do in order to prove to her how serious his wooing is. Instead she consents to marry Richard and earns the disgust of many audience members. By the same token although we feel sorry for Margaret, the audience eventually learns that she is not free of sin and wrongdoing. Richard is more than happy to remind her of her violent past and in doing so inviting the audience to take note of her less than savory deeds. The curse my noble father laid on thee, When thou didst crown his warlike brows with paper And with thy scorns drew'st rivers from his eyes, And then, to dry them, gavest the duke a clout

Emmah Peters

Vitriol, Violence and Misogyny

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Steep'd in the faultless blood of pretty Rutland His curses, then from bitterness of soul Denounced against thee, are all fall'n upon thee; And God, not we, hath plagued thy bloody deed. (1.3.15) Margaret was involved in the murder of Richard's brother Rutland. Not only that, but after Rutland was killed, Margaret took a hanky dipped in Rutland's blood and waved it around in Richard's father's face. Margaret very deliberately forgot that she and the rest of her family have been just as treacherous as everyone else who played a part in the battle for dominance and power. This has the effect of making Richard hate her even more as she spews her vitriol in his direction and curses him, because he already feels cursed this simply adds insult to injury. It has been suggested by critics and scholars that Richard's contempt for Lady Anne once he so easily convinces her to be his wife, is not simply an indication of his hatred of women, but more importantly is a symbol of his disgust withflesh in general (Lee). But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty To strut before a wanton ambling nymph; I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion, Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, And that so lamely and unfashionable That dogs bark at me as I halt by them; (I.i. 14-24) Richard is clearly disdainful of his own body and his own deformities but he also hates bodies in general because none other is deformed as his is, and will remain. Women play a major role in the decline of Richard after his rather rapid and short lived ascent to the throne. Corinna Archers Article on How Women Function in Richard III clearly depicts Margarets is alignment with Richard as a foil character, asserting her last vestiges of

Emmah Peters

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power in the form of elaborate curses (Archer). Anne on the other hand embodies the stereotypical role of women within a patriarchal system, she becomes trapped within Richards manipulations and manages to confirm both his power over her and his dependence on her. However, the women also represent a maternal source of destruction (Archer). This helps spur on Richards own misogynistic characteristics and pinpoint his obsession with the right of masculine power and proper sexuality. Misogynism is a historically popular theme. Nina S. Levines book Womens Matters: Politics, Gender and Nation in Shakespeares Early History Plays. Levine argues that while Richard makes a claim for the women as unnatural, sexually perverse enemies, an Elizabethan audience would have seen their lamentation and cursing as an acceptable model for female heroism that allows the female characters a place in politics [beyond] Richards misogynistic construction of women as either aggressors or victims (Levine, 106). Levine dedicates an entire section of her book on how Richards simultaneous dependence on and hatred of women results in his machinations and struggles with them. At the time is also reflected the crisis of succession and a female monarch ascending the throne which was being experienced by Shakespeares audience at the time (Levine, 99). Ultimately, the play interrogates the differences between the patriarchal myth of Tudor origins and the political realities of the 1590s and sadly enough [restores] patriarchal authorityand [returns] women to their place, off the political stage (Levine, 120-122). Not only does this essay provide the role of women in the play with historical relevance, suggesting what they might have meant to Shakespeares audience, but it also demonstrates how Shakespeares use of Tudor propaganda might be used to critically examine patriarchy and its cultural myths. According to this essay, the women of Richard III are actively engaged in politics

Emmah Peters

Vitriol, Violence and Misogyny

[Type text]

in a way that undermines traditional gender roles and empowers them, even when they are potentially implicated in the destruction and chaos of the play. This essay establishes the world of the play as destabilized in a way that empowers its female characters, providing them a crucial place in the political sphere even within a system that attempts to exclude them. Levines essay also allows a modern production to situate the play within the frameworks of post-modernism, cyborg feminist theory, and the current political scene that has just experienced a comparable overturning of traditional white, Western, patriarchal notions of who is fit to rule a country. Bibliography
Archer, Corinna. "How Women Function in Richard III." Richard III: A Virtual Dramaturgical Casebook. blogspot.com, Wed Feb 2010. Web. 09 Mar. 2012. <http://richardiiicasebook.blogspot.ca/2010/02/howwomen-function-in-richard-iii.html>. Levine, Nina S. Womens Matters: Politics, Gender and Nation in Shakespeares Early History Plays. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press. 1998. McGrail, Mary Ann. Richard III: That Excellent Grand Tyrant of the Earth. In Tyranny in Shakespeare, pp. 47-76. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2001. Obaidan, Al-Johara Yousif. "The Misogynistic Characteristic's of Shakespeare in Richard III and the Merchant of Venice." Lantern Literary Journal. (2012): n. page. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <http://lanternlj.com/2012/03/15/the-misogynistic-side-of-shakespeare-in-richard-iii-and-the-merchant-ofvenice-by-al-johara-yousif-obaidan/>. "Richard III (Vol. 84) - Introduction." Shakespearean Criticism. Ed. Michelle Lee. Vol. 84. Gale Cengage, 2004. eNotes.com. 19 Mar, 2012 <http://www.enotes.com/richard-3-criticism/richard-iii-vol-84/introduction> Schwarz, Kathryn. "Will in Overplus:Recasting Misogyny in Shakespeare's Sonnets." Project Muse ELH. 75. (2008): 737-766. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <http://muse.jhu.edu.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/journals/elh/v075/75.3.schwarz.html>. Smith, Kristin M. "Martial Maids and Murdering Mothers: Women, Witchcraft and Motherly Transgression in Henry VI and Richard III." Scholars Portal Journals. (2007): 143-160. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <http://journals1.scholarsportal.info.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/details.xqy?uri=/17450918/v03i0002/143_mma mmwihvari.xml>.