Richard III, Shakespeare, William Shakespeare, history plays, history play, curses, speech act theory, speech act, language, linguistics


Language, particularly the language of cursing, plays a powerful role in determining the outcome of events in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Gender imperatives reflected in the speech of Richard III’s characters indicate where power lies and how it is exercised across gendered spheres. While male characters in the history plays typically obtain and exert power through violence, both in war and in secret, the primary source of power held by female characters in Richard III is their use of language. Consistently, the women seal the violent ends of their enemies with curses, and Richard is perpetually given cause to believe himself evil because of the women’s descriptive language surrounding his deformity. When working outside of a homosocial context however, Richard uses women’s own source of power—language—as a performative tool of manipulation against them. In so doing, he defies many masculine gender imperatives, a fact which allows him to obtain patriarchal power despite his initial isolation from the patriarchal hierarchy. Ultimately, Shakespeare’s thematic use of language as the determining conveyor of power in Richard III urges us to question whether the violence-causing curses of the women ought to bear similar ethical weight to the physical violence of their male companions.

Issue and Volume

Volume 10, Issue 1



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