Themes, Motifs, and Symbols in The Tragedy of Richard III

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols in The Tragedy of Richard III
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Richard III Lesson Plans

The Tragedy of Richard III by William Shakespeare

Lesson Plans by Kristy Littlehale

Until recently, the popular opinion of King Richard III was that he was an evil hunchback who killed two little boys, brought an end to the era of the House of York, and brought about the glory of the Tudor family. Much of his reputed evil deeds comes from William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Richard III. Some have suggested that Richard III was unfairly demonized in order to paint the Tudor family as the saviors of England. Regardless of the more recent speculation, The Tragedy of Richard III remains one of the most chilling tales of the potential destructiveness of a man’s ambition and pride.


The Tragedy of Richard III

Storyboard Description

Richard III play Lesson Plan Shakespeare Themes motifs, symbols

Storyboard Text

  • EXAMPLE
  • ANIMAL IMAGERY
  • RICHARD'S PHISIOGNOMY
  • PROPHECIES, GHOSTS, CURSES, AND DREAMS
  • THE MURDER OF TWO PRINCES
  • Richard’s royal symbol is a boar, which Lord Stanley sees in a dream and subsequently begins to fear for his and Hastings’ safety from Richard (and rightly so). A boar is also an animal that can only be killed by a nobleman; this foreshadows Richard’s death at the hands of Richmond. Richard is also referred to as a spider, a toad, and a hedgehog. These ugly animals accentuate Richard’s deformities and appearance.
  • Richard’s deformities indicate an inner evil to his soul. He has a hunchback; his arm is withered (which he later attributes to witchcraft from Queen Elizabeth and Lady Shore, which allows him a reason to kill Hastings), his face is ugly, and he was born prematurely. Shakespeare makes a point to focus on Richard’s physical defects to show the audience that yes, indeed, his defects run much more deeply: only someone this ugly could commit such horrible acts.
  • Richard uses a false prophecy to manipulate Edward into imprisoning Clarence. Queen Margaret’s curses come true. Clarence dreams that Richard throws him overboard; Stanley dreams that “the boar” will kill him and Hastings. The ghosts of Richard’s victims curse Richard and bring hope and high spirits to Richmond. All of these elements work together and to highlight fate’s role (rather than free will) in driving the battle over the throne.
  • Richard’s request that the two princes be murdered seems to be the ultimate evil in many ways. It ends Buckingham and Richard's alliance. At the same time, if the audience had any sort of sympathy for Richard before this, it is the breaking point for sympathy. The two boys are young and innocent, and to kill children is the ultimate sin in most people’s eyes. This is the beginning of the end for Richard’s quest for power.
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