Richard III a tragedy

Essay by alejandroarcos November 2014

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Richard III, a tragedy or not a tragedy?

As it has been proved throughout the centuries, when it comes to classifying William Shakespeare's plays it is hard to notice a clear-cut division regarding the literary genres. As a matter of fact, the play Richard III is no exception to that rule. Indeed, although it has been discussed by literary critics whether this play should be included within the Histories or the Tragedies, Richard III has been commonly classified into the first tetralogy of Shakespeare's history plays. However, it is self-evident that this is a play comprising aspects proper to a tragedy. This paper will discuss the relationship between Richard III and the archetype of a tragedy, highlighting some of the most outstanding elements in the play proving this play can also be regarded as a tragedy.

The concept of tragedy is too broad to establish a single definition.

However, it can be easily distinguished from what a history is. Indeed, as Lily B. Campbell (1964, p. 307) stated, "tragedy deals with an ethical world; history with a political world. In tragedy God avenges private sins; in history the King of kings avenges public sins". Richard III does deal with the political affairs of England after the War of the Roses, but although it has the features of a history play, the main objective of this play is not only depicting national history. In fact, Richard III is much more universal than a mere history play could suggest; it is a play containing a dramatic and poetic strength that goes beyond the factual events.

Turning now towards the notion of tragedy, this play presents aspects of that literary genre. The main tragic aspect of the play is Richard, who can be seen as a tragic hero, and who "fills...