In the play Richard III, Richard Gloucester is often referred to as “The Boar,” a play on his coat of arms. But what other parallels can be drawn to this portrayal of our disfigured main character? We know Richard suffers from some kind of disfigurement, supposedly being hunchbacked and unable to move his arm (as he uses to his advantage when he entraps Hastings). I personally feel that these disabilities are vastly exaggerated, considering Richard is a war hero. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a great warrior in the time period that had no use of an entire arm. It would just allow for him to be very easily disarmed, and that was a huge focus of battle back then.
Back to the point, most species of boar appear to be hunchbacked, which is an apt fit for Richard’s coat of arms. Boars are also pretty damn ugly, so we can assume that he is wearing that boar as an acknowledgement of his condition, embracing it instead of letting it be used against him (a bold move for someone as insecure as Richard). Keeping in theme with the animal, Richard also tramples on everything he can in his mad scramble for power, including his own family. He charges with reckless abandon over everyone in his path, and as Richmond points out on Bosworth Field: “The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar, / That spoil’d your summer fields and fruitful vines, / Swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough / In your embowell’d bosoms.” One can picture Richard, as soaked as his hands are in fraternal blood at this point, drinking the blood of the people right out of their chests. Richmond is not the first one to make this comparison, as Lady Margaret also calls him an “elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog.” I guess he’s just unfortunate enough to have one of those faces.
Stanley sees a boar knocking off Hastings’ helmet in a dream, one of the many instances of foreshadowing in this play. This is obviously symbolizing Richard’s intent to cut off his head, and it’s interesting that he even shows up in people’s dreams as a boar. They obviously see him as such if they don’t even allow the man himself to haunt their dreams.
The boar was one of the most dangerous animals to hunt during Shakespeare’s time (it was considered a test of bravery), and many a good hunter found themselves gored by a boar’s horns. Boars are traditionally associated with wildness and aggression, traits we also see in Richard. Therefore, I think that the white boar is the most fitting animal he could have as his coat of arms.
P.S. : I highly recommend looking up boar hunting in medieval and renaissance times, it’s pretty awesome. Boars had such thick hides that anything other than a killing blow could be fatal to the hunter, and they had to put cross-guards on the spears so the boar wouldn’t continue charging after being ran through in order to kill its attacker. Seriously, this stuff is cool.