The Lancastrian Avenger Queen Margaret In Richard III: Chorus, Prophetess, and Conscience

The Lancastrian Avenger Queen Margaret In Richard III: Chorus, Prophetess, and Conscience

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The premise of William Shakespeare’s circa 1597 historic tragedy Richard III relies on the violent struggle between two noble houses, the Lancastrians and the Yorkists, known as the Wars of the Roses. Even though it can stand entirely on its own, the preceding plays of this tetralogy, 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, and 3 Henry VI brilliantly sketch the foreground for Richard III as it picks up directly from the events described in 3 Henry VI. The last Lancastrian king, Henry VI, and his heir, Prince Edward, have been killed and Richard’s eldest brother has been crowned King Edward IV. The usurpation of the throne and deaths of the male Lancastrian line bring forth one of Shakespeare’s more fervent characters in Richard III, Queen Margaret. Widow to Henry VI and mother to Prince Edward, the Lancastrian Queen Margaret is a personification of revenge and resentment. She uses verbal cursing (negative prophecies) in an attempt to revenge against the York’s. Margaret’s curses play a greater role in Richard III than many recognize. Through her curses she foretells, and perhaps causes, the certain ruin of the royal household around which the play is centred, including the Yorkist deaths and Richard’s utter professional, psychological, and physical ruin. Margaret’s role slowly changes as the play advances; she first serves as a sort of cautionary for the other characters, then as a foreteller or chorus for the audience, and finally she becomes Richard’s conscience, ultimately bringing about his demise.
Historically, during the events depicted in Richard III Margaret was not in England (Greenblatt 540). Therefore, the importance of Shakespeare’s use of her character is emphasized for dramatic purposes only. In 1.3, Margaret’s curses provide th...


... middle of paper ...


...hard sets out knowing he will be defeated, and is.
Margaret has extracted her revenge purely with the power of words and speech. By professing her curses, her ideas are placed into the minds of her enemies. Her curses become prophesy through the actions of the other characters. By placing herself in the conscience of her enemy, she avenges her family’s death, completing her journey from a ghost-like specter to a commanding prophetess, and finally as the subconscious voice within Richard himself. In the end, the chorus like, grief crazed Margaret becomes the voice of reason as the audience realizes that it is Margaret’s voice and Margaret’s curses that echo throughout the play.




Works Cited

William Shakespeare. The Norton Shakespeare, based on the Oxford edition: volume 1: early plays and poems. 2nd ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.

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