In Shakespeare's The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, the historical context of the play is dominated by male figures. As a result, women are relegated to an inferior role. However, they achieve verbal power through their own discourse of religion and superstition. In the opening speech of Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 1-30 Lady Anne orients the reader to the crucial political context of the play and the metaphysical issues contained within it (Greenblatt, 509). Lady Anne curses her foes, using strong language to indicate her authority. She speaks in blank verse, by which she utilizes imagery to emphasize her emotions and reinforce her pleas. Her speech clearly illustrates the distinction between the submissive female role within the male sphere of war and the powerful female voice within the realm of superstition.
The language Lady Anne uses is appropriate for the scene which is set during the funeral procession of King Henry VI. Lady Anne mourns the deaths of King Henry VI, her father-in-law, and his son, Prince Edward. Lady Anne says to the King that she was "wife to thy Edward, to thy slaughtered son" (1:2:10), although in history she was only betrothed to him. As a result, her relationship to his father, King Henry VI, is closer and her sadness is more valid. This supposed marriage also generates greater shock over her ensuing marriage to Richard III. The end-stopped lines are appropriate because they slow the speech and emphasize the dullness of one who feels pain and sorrow at the loss of a loved one. In addition, the ornate verse emphasizes the drama of her speech and the powerful emotion she exudes. The language upholds the sanctity of the King and recalls an elegy or psalm that w...
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... She asks that his wife be "more miserable by the death of him / Than I am made by my young lord and thee" (1:2:27-28). The fact that she marries Richard suggests that her curse is somewhat false. Perhaps she intentionally imposes a lenient punishment for his wife, one that she has already suffered, knowing that she might become his wife.
Lady Anne derives power from the language she uses to present her oaths. Like Lady Anne, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Margaret also recite curses as a form of control over their situations. The manipulation of a curse for personal means is the only power that a woman has within the male dominated Shakespearean society. Whereas the male derives power from physical force, the women can exert some power through verbal strength.
Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997.
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