Cripples, Curses, and Mournful Women

During our class discussion on Friday, the comment regarding women as those who sympathize and mourn within the ramifications play really caught my interest. It is shown from the very beginning that Margaret and Lady Anne are succumbed to the grief to the deaths of their loved ones by the War of the Roses. And later within the play, the accumulated grief of Queen Margaret sought out through the manifestation of curses enables the last of the female regime within the play, Queen Elizabeth to portray her final essence of agony over the loss of her two sons: “Ah, my poor princes! Ah, my tender babes! / My unblown flowers, new-appearing sweets! / If yet your gentle souls fly in the air / And be not fixed in doom perpetual / Hover about me with your airy wings / And hear your mother’s lamentation” (4.4.9-14). The purity and susceptible melancholy that is embellished through the women characters after the event of death in the play divides them from the men who surround themselves in the tides of war, where the act of mourning is unavailable.

And it happens to be mostly the men, and the young princes, in the story that are meeting their untimely demises, making the women in the play the only real characters available to mourn over their deaths. All of these deceased characters happen by the hand or the command of Richard himself. Shakespeare’s character of Richard III accounts the deaths surrounding him as triumphs or mere stepping stones on his way to claiming the throne while the men in his regime consciously does as he says with the lingering threat of death by Richard’s command haunting them if they even hesitate. The lacking compassion within his character is exhibited through the manifestation of his deformity and the lacking compassion that the community of England fails to grant him.

The only lacking compassion that the women fail to take on is towards the physical deformity that plagues Richard, “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, / Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time  / Into this breathing world scarce half made up–” (1.1.19-21) which I happen to find oddly interesting as a ploy to further madden Richard’s character, but oddly out of character of the women if they are supposed to be the only manifestation of empathy. Even during his encounter with Lady Anne, she slanders him by calling him  a “diffused infection of a man” (1.2.78), further distancing Richard from garnering the empathy of the women within his sphere of society. I believe that Shakespeare uses the audience’s sense of empathy to be the only evocation of emotions that Richard can rely upon, seeing as the failsafe of the females reject his character from the get-go. So in the history of Richard III, was there anyone that happened to truly provide empathy for the man when family and the subjects of the English crown did not? Or was Shakespeare’s dramatic history play the only way in which there was a possible route to explore Richard’s character and establish a sense of empathy for him?


One thought on “Cripples, Curses, and Mournful Women

  1. Marie

    I truly enjoyed reading your words! What caught my interest, was that you used the word “consciously” to describe the men who were doing Richard’s dirty work because they were motivated by “lingering threat of death.” What can a human be conscious of? What are the characters conscious of in this play… and what do they choose to ignore?
    The women are conscious of the “lingering threat of death” just as much as the men are. Yet, also brought up in class, the women can get away with saying treasonous words to Richard in a way that no man could dream of without getting his head cut off. Lady Anne, though hyper aware of how Richard can kill her at any moment, says scornful words to Richard that no man could have gotten away with and lived to tell the tale. Also Queen Margaret threatens Richard in a way that no man could have dreamt to say.
    I am wondering if the women can have this compassion because society leaves room for them to have compassion. I am curious if their compassion almost protects them in a way it does not protect men. If they can say passionate words, passionate words that are heated with hate towards a very powerful man – and actually get away with it because they have an altruistic sense of compassion.
    “The only lacking compassion that the women fail to take on is towards the physical deformity that plagues Richard…”
    This is a really good point to discuss. He does say he chooses evil because he cannot have the love of a woman. But I am almost glad no women shares compassion for his deformity… Everything Richard says he cannot do because of his deformity, he ends up being fully capable of doing.


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