The politics of ambiguity: The case of Richard III Zohreh Ramin

Document Type : Original Article


1 University of Tehran

2 Tarbiat Moallem University



Critics have long been obsessed with the ambiguous nature of Shakespeare's Richard III. Richard, the protagonist whose name bears the very title of the play, is portrayed as ostensibly an evil figure, and weather his actions are the result of the incarnation of the devil in human form or the result of a mind disturbed as result of physical deformity has long been observed and discussed. However, the present reading, relying on new historicist notions of power and subversion, aims to look at the play from a significantly different perspective. Richard usurps the throne by killing his brother, King Edward IV, and to maintain his authority and sovereignty is compelled to commit more crimes. At the same time, his eloquence and power to control the course of events as well as other characters, specifically in the first part of the play, has long appealed to audiences and critics, attributing a somewhat productive and dynamic quality to his character. The present paper attempts to uncover glimpses of possible reasons for two closely related ambiguities which have long problematized the play. The first aspect is related to the genre of the play, vacillating between two poles; while the play apparently depicts Richard as one of the King's of England, recorded in the history books of Hall and Holinshed, yet Richard embodies certain characteristics which can align him with the tragic hero. The second is related to the very character of Richard, at once a villain and a redeemer. Many critics have praised him, for his power of eloquence and aptitude to govern those around him, simultaneously recognizing the evil and villain in him.


Volume 4, Issue 1
July 2010
Pages 151-171
  • Receive Date: 13 January 2010
  • Revise Date: 24 April 2010
  • Accept Date: 04 September 2010
  • First Publish Date: 04 September 2010