What does it mean to have all of the ghosts of the dead appear on stage prior to the final battle?

Act 5 Essay

Act V – Richard III

Respond to one of the following prompts in a cohesive 2-3 page essay. You do not have to answer all of the questions in the prompt (these are offered to get you thinking); rather you should craft an essay that takes up the general issue presented in the prompt and responds to it in a clear, coherent piece. Essays should include an introduction with clear thesis; a clear line of argumentation; corroborating evidence in the form of citations from the text or from scholarly writings and/or detailed and specific examples from the play and the viewing; a strong conclusion; and a Works Cited page. The essay must meet format requirements listed in the syllabus, including following the MLA style guide.

Richard III again deals with the issue of how the appearance of something is at odds with reality, most pointedly through the performances of the title character. Richard is able to charm and fool just about everyone in this play. What makes him such an excellent deceiver? Is it that he tells people what they want to hear, or is that he is able to convince them that what he says is for the best? What does it mean that one – especially a King (whom the divine right of kings suggests is appointed by God) – may appear one way and be another? How does this idea fuel the play and drive the action forward?
Richard III vows to embody evil, saying “…since I cannot prove a lover / … / I am determined to prove a villain” (1.1.28-29). His physical deformity is often referred to in the play (and played differently in different versions, where it might be highlighted or downplayed) and can be taken as either the cause of his evilness (he is evil because he is deformed) or as the outward manifestation of his evilness (he is deformed because he is evil). What do you think? Was he born evil, or did the world make him so? And is his evil necessary, to cleanse England from its own bloody past? And how Richard’s physical presentation allow for an interrogation of Shakespeare’s ongoing fascination with the appearance of something being at odds with reality?
Consider the role of the supernatural in the play, which is riddled with prophecies, curses, and ghosts. Why do these rulers pay so much attention to prophecy and how are the curses imposed on them (Margaret to Elizabeth, for example) borne out? What does it mean to have all of the ghosts of the dead appear on stage prior to the final battle? What does it mean that so much of the action seems preordained? And if it is preordained, why do the characters accept responsibility for their actions? You may also consider how the film version treats these moments, and what is gained and what is lost in its dramatically decisions? Does the film focus on the supernatural, or on the psychological motivations of Richard himself.
This play features quite a few female characters – Margaret, Elizabeth, the Duchess, and Anne. Each of these women defies conventional behavior in some way: Margaret spews curses that hearken back to her own bloodthirsty nature of the past; Elizabeth seeks power and wordly gain (she married Edward IV as a widow, is not truly of royal lineage, and elevates her relatives above their class); the Duchess speaks with frank bitterness of how her children murder each other in their quest for the crown; and Anne marries her husband and father-in-law’s murderer. How do the women in the play exercise power? What other options exist for them? How are they treated by the men of England? Why does Shakespeare people the play with such deviant women? What meaning can we take from their role in the play? And what can we make of their fates?

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