Richard III: Plays as Propaganda

Works of art and literature being used to forward a specific agenda is nothing new. In fact, even the great bard took part in this practice. The best example of this is his play Richard III which centers on the evil title character, chronicling his rise and fall from power.

Set during the final years of the Wars of the Roses, it basically shows how King Richard III’s so-called wicked reign set England towards one of its darkest periods. However, by the end of the play, we see order, peace, and prosperity restored with King Henry VII’s reign.

The play was written when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne. If you were not aware, Elizabeth I was a member of the House of Tudor. Her grandfather was Henry, Earl of Richmond who would later become King Henry VII. He would earn this title after deposing Richard III off the throne. His ascent to power would establish the Tudor dynasty.

The play shows what many historians refer to as the Tudor myth. The play forwards the legitimacy of the reigning noble house while also vilifying its rivals.

Macbeth’s Descent

Macbeth is a character that has inspired countless others in media and literature. He represents a protagonist’s journey from being the hero to the villain of his own story. Portraying a sense of tragedy and poetry, this descent into evil has been shown several times in popular culture, most recently in Breaking Bad’s Walter White. However, while these stories are good in their own right, it is vital that people understand that Shakespeare did it first.

At the start of the play, Macbeth is introduced as its warrior hero. His victories in battlefield would eventually win him great honor from the king. Essentially, Macbeth is a fully realized character with his own set of insecurities and weaknesses. This goes against the opinion many people have of him. As he murders King Duncan, he is filled with doubt and uncertainty.

As the play progresses, however, notable changes appear with Macbeth’s personality. The events in the play show how he would become the dominant partner in his marriage as he descends further into guilt and madness. However, like with all tragedies, he acquires an excess of pride and hubris which would lead to his eventual downfall.