Richard III

The Many Faces of Richard III

Many theorists have been intrigued by the multi-faceted nature of Shakespeare’s Richard III. He is the consummate actor, who can manipulate and adjust his language and demeanor to appease any audience and seize any situation to his benefit. As Richard himself says in Henry VI Part 3, he can frame his ‘face to all occasions’. (Act 3, Scene 2)


George Steevens praised the role in 1793 for its variety, saying Shakespeare’s Richard played:

The hero, the lover, the statesman, the buffoon, the hypocrite, the hardened and the repentant sinner’.

Go through the play and find three examples of different personas that Richard puts on throughout the play. You can use the above list as a guide.

  • What face/persona is he portraying in this moment and who is it intended for?
  • Isolate and analyse the scene or piece of text in which he does this. Avoid using Richard’s relationship with the audience as one of your examples.

Answer the following questions for each example:

  • What sort of language does Richard use in this scene to manipulate the other character/s, is it vulgar, formal, emotive, etc.?
  • Is he playing higher or lower status by putting on this role?
  • Why has he chosen this particular persona in this situation and how does it help him?
  • Is/are the other character/s in any way aware of what Richard is doing to manipulate him/her/them?
  • How does Richard structure his argument and tactics throughout the scene or speech to affect his audience? Make note of where he changes tactics and how effective each one is. His first encounter with Lady Anne in Act 1, Scene 2 is a good place to start.
  • At what point in the play does this occur and how does that affect Richard’s performance: is he losing power, is he desperate?
  • Briefly compare all three examples: where is he most successful? Do the different roles/personas that he plays vary at all?

Related resources