Forensic Friday 012: Richard III, I,iii

SEEMS like a nice girl …

And we’re back with Forensic Fridays

Partly because I’m teaching Richard III to a new A Level class, partly because my exam class will benefit, should they ever visit (you know who you are), and partly because yes, they are fun.

You can see the full rules here, but if you’ve been before, the task is to write a prize-winning forensic analysis of a very short extract in just 250 words, working to OCR’s mark-scheme in order to provide some models for my students.

In this passage, I returned to the dramatic moment when deposed Queen Margaret of Anjou, devastated by the killings of her son and then her husband (within 17 days, historically), calls down the heavens to curse Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who in the Henry VI cycle did what had to be done.  It’s a very tense moment …

FF 12 RIII I iii.001

Shakespeare deliberately combines several techniques to accentuate Margaret’s desire for revenge for her son and husband, also creating dramatic irony about the terms of Richard’s tragic fall.  Throughout the passage, Margaret employs the informal, insulting ‘thou’ address – no longer a queen, her pronouns ought to be more respectful.  Her control of iambic meter and end-stopping suggests a tight grip on her emotions, adding power and authority to her curses.  Alternatively, perhaps these words have been long-rehearsed in her mind before this meeting. If we elide ‘liv’st’ on line 2, this results in only one disruption to the pentameter, fittingly at the end of the crescendo of sentences which follow a 1,2,3 line pattern, placing the maximum possible stress on the noun, ‘devils’.  Following supernatural conventions, as Macbeth’s witches would do later, Shakespeare employs three as ‘the magic number’, cursing Richard with the torments of guilt, paranoia and insomnia.  Metaphorising guilt as a worm or canker is a contemporary commonplace, conjuring horrifying images of being eaten alive, as if by a hidden parasite; perhaps ironic given the repeated use Richard’s appearance as a clear external manifestation of inner evil.  This irony is perhaps supported by the final adjective, ‘ugly’, used to describe the devils intended to haunt Richard’s dreams.  Interestingly, Shakespeare curses Richard’s ‘soul’, connoting divine, eternal judgement for his crimes.  Richard’s paranoia and inability to separate friend from foe is neatly juxtaposed and foreshadows his later dealings with Stanley and Buckingham. Margaret, not Richmond, is Richard’s nemesis. [250 words]


Shakespeare quotation taken from


Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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