Richard III Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Richard III : Metaphor

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Animal Imagery


In the Henry VI trilogy, Shakespeare’s main use of figurative language was in extended similes in which characters compared their feelings or their situation to some process in nature. For example, in Henry VI part 3, Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, uses the image of an observer looking at a far-off place as a simile for his own desire for the crown, which is still a long way from his grasp:


Like one that stands upon a promontory,

And spies a far-off shore where he would tread,

Wishing his foot were equal with his eye,

And chides the sea that sunders him from thence,

Saying, he'll lade it dry to have his way.

So do I wish the crown, being so far off,

Act 3, scene 2, 135-140


This kind of simile also occurs in Richard III, although with far less frequency. For example, in Act 4, Queen Elizabeth rails against Richard, and the imagery is that of sea and ships:


My tongue should to thy ears not name my boys
Till that my nails were anchored in thine eyes;
And I, in such a desp’rate bay of death,
Like a poor bark, of sails and tackling reft,
Rush all to pieces on thy rocky bosom.

Act 4, scene 4, 254–58


However, although Richard III is the final play in this series of history plays, Shakespeare makes little use of this kind of extended simile. Instead, the dominant imagery of the play is less literary and far more blunt, brief, and earthy: Richard III is frequently compared to or identified with, either in simile or metaphor, animals of various kinds. The point is to convey the notion of Richard assubhuman in his evil and brutality.For example, in an early scene, Lady Anne calls Richard, when he is about to woo her, a “hedgehog” (act 1, scene 2, line 111) and a “toad” (line 171). In the next scene, Queen Margaret refers to Richard as “Thou elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog!” (act 1, scene 3, line 260) and a “poisonous bunch-backed toad” (line 183). When Queen Margaret confronts Richard in Act 4, she describes him using a metaphor of a vile and demonic dog:


From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept
A hellhound that doth hunt us all to death:
That dog, that had his teeth before his eyes,
To worry lambs and lap their gentle blood.

Act 4, scene 4, 56–59


Richard is also compared to a boar, as in this passage spoken by Richmond:


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 embowelled bosoms, this foul swine

                    Act 5, scene 2, lines 8–12


This frequent comparison of Richard to a loathsome animal reinforces the effect on the audience of Richard’s evil actions.


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