Best Quotes From Shakespeare's Richard III

by WiseFool

Richard III was given some of Shakespeare's most famous lines, here are just a few of them.

One of the appealing facets of Shakespearean villains is that they often have the best dialogue. Iago, Shylock, Richard III - although, of course, it could be debated whether those latter two are, in fact, villains - have some of the most beautiful lines ever written in the English language.

Even if Shakespeare's not quite your cup of tea, you can't deny the man had a way with words. He's generally considered to be not just the best English-speaking author to ever grace the planet, but also the greatest writer period. Whether you feel that's an exaggeration of his brilliance or not, with lines like these, it could never be said that The Bard didn't know how to string a sentence together.

Now is The Winter...

Shakespeare's Richard IIIAs opening lines go, I think Shakespeare really knocked it out of the park with Richard III.

While, "O for a Muse of fire..." and, "If music be the food of love..." may be pretty well known, I don't think they come much more universally famous than, "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York."

And it's not just these first two lines of the soliloquy that are noteworthy; the whole speech is a fine example of Shakespeare's genius.

But, it's not just beautiful for the sake of being beautiful.

The speech is, actually, highly functional - it's all exposition. It tells us everything we need to know about the end of the Wars of The Roses, Richard's physical appearance (if we can't see it for ourselves), his mental state and, more importantly, his plans to cause havoc. "...since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain..."

Take a look for yourself

Richard III Quotes on Love

Interestingly, for someone who claims to be unable to play the part of a 'lover', Richard gives it a darn good go. He does, indeed, charm even the most reluctant of women - how does he manage this?

Well, in large part it's down to words. It is the power of verbal seduction.

"Vouchsafe, divine perfection of a woman..."

"Look, how this ring encompasseth thy finger, even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart."

"Your beauty: which did haunt me in my sleep to undertake the death of all the world, so I might live one hour in your sweet bosom."

"Was ever woman in this humour woo'd? Was ever woman in this humour won?" - Of course, this one is for our benefit and comes with the proviso "I'll have her, but I will not keep her long." Not quite so romantic, is it? But it does demonstrate the ease with which Richard is able to wrap Anne (and, in fact, everyone else) around his little finger. 

Quotes That Show Richard's Ruthlessness

Whatever the truth about King Richard III's character, Shakespeare certainly portrayed him as an incredibly callous ruler.

Of course, even in his ruthlessness, Richard is always articulate - and sometimes, as in our first example, direct and to-the-point.

"Off with his head!"

"...thus I clothe my naked villainy with odd old ends, stol'n out of holy writ; and seem a saint, when most I play the devil."

"I am not in the giving vein today."

"Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead, and I would have it suddenly performed!"

"But I am in so far in blood, that sin will pluck on sin."

The keen-eyed, good-memoried or Shakespeare-loving among you might notice that this last quote is very similar to one found in Macbeth,

"I am in blood stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er."

And the meaning is very much the same, both Macbeth and Richard have done so many terrible things, that continuing along their murderous paths will really make no difference and is, perhaps  inevitable - The point of no return has been passed. 

Portrait of King Richard III
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Quotes About Guilt and Conscience From Richard III

Richard III confronted with the ghosts of those he's killedThe thing is, Richard can't be all bad. The play's a tragedy, making him a tragic hero - and tragic heroes, by definition, are not entirely deserving of their fate.

This is where things get interesting, because rather than the heartless character that most people seem to associate with Shakespeare's Richard III, what we actually get is someone who is quite sympathetic.

"There is no creature loves me; and if I die, no soul shall pity me."

 "O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!"

"My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, and every tongue brings in a several tale, and every tale condemns me for a villain."

I'd argue that Richard is sympathetic almost from the beginning - his deformity, the way he feels marginalized in this new peaceful society, and simple ambition, are what makes him do the things he does.

Now, I'm not for on moment suggesting that he was right to kill his nephews. However, I do think he's actions, although heinous, are explainable....sort of. 

For More on Richard III

The theory was that by uncovering Richard III, we would learn more about the man behind the legend. Has he been unfairly represented for over 500 years?
Behind all the Tudor propaganda and Shakespearean drama, what do we really know about Richard III?
Updated: 03/25/2013, WiseFool
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WiseFool on 03/25/2013

Hey, Jo. I must say, I think everything Shakespeare ever wrote is phenomenally bountiful. But Richard III is among some of the very best.

JoHarrington on 03/25/2013

It's only when you see them laid out like this, that you realize how wonderful the quotations from Richard III can be.

WiseFool on 03/25/2013

Thanks Elias, I think there's little doubt that Lewis Carroll was borrowing from Shakespeare there. Of course, the Queen of Hearts version of it, became much more famous than any of Shakespeare's uses of the phrase (I believe he also used it in Henry VI part 3).

I'm glad you enjoyed the quotes and that you find inspiration in Shakespeare's work, always a pleasure to meet a kindred spirit where that's concerned.

EliasZanetti on 03/25/2013

Shakespeare's works are so inspiring and influential! One of the famous quotes showing Richard's ruthlessness - the "Off with his head!" one - just reminded me of Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' cinematographic creation &the queen ordering "Off with their heads!". Amazing!
Thumbs up! A marvelous post, WiseFool!

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