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The Significance Of Dreams In Richard III

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 813 words Published: 14th Apr 2017

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Richard III was written by William Shakespeare and tells the story of how Richard wants to become king and does everything in his power to get there by assassinating members of his family to do so, for example, the Duke of Clarence, Lord Hastings, Lady Anne, Lord Rivers, the Duke of Buckingham, Henry VI, Prince Edward, Prince Edward V and Prince Richard. In the following piece of writing, I am going to discuss the significance of dreams in the play and how they are related to the motif of the supernatural.

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Although a modern audience would find the motif of the supernatural in Richard III very strange and would react to it very differently we have to keep in mind that this play was written during the Renaissance period in which people were very superstitious and England on a whole was an extremely religious country; people believed in both God and the Devil and Heaven and Hell. They also believed in the supernatural, prophecies, curses and thus the events contained within Richard III must have seemed very real to a Shakespearean audience.

The motif of the supernatural which is an extremely important aspect of the play consists of ghosts, dreams, Margaret’s prophetic curses, the allegations of witchcraft Richard levels at Elizabeth and mistress Shore and the continual association of Richard with devils and demons (for example, he is often called a hellhound). Shakespeare uses the dark aspect of the supernatural to create an atmosphere of dread and gloom which matches the evil of Richard’s inner self. In addition the motif of the supernatural helps highlight the aspect of foreboding as many a times in the play the prophetic dreams and curses come true giving the reader an idea of as to what is going to happen in the near future.

There are three main instances of dreams present in the play. These foreshadow the forthcoming events by showing the similar characteristics between the dream itself and reality, for example, in Act 1, Scene 4 we bear witness to the first of these three dreams. This is when Clarence is imprisoned in the tower and he dreams that he is fleeing with Richard to France, but on the ship Richard stumbles and throws Clarence overboard causing him to drown, “Methoughts that I had broken from the Tower, and was embark’d to cross to Burgundy; and, in my company, my brother Gloucester; who from my cabin tempted me to walk upon the hatches….Methought that Gloucester stumbled; and, in falling, struck me, that thought to stay him, overboard, into the tumbling billows of the main.” This dream foreshadows the near future as in reality Clarence is stabbed and drowned in a barrel of wine by the executioners who are sent by Richard.

The second significant dream takes place in Act 3, Scene2 when Stanley receives a warning in a form of a dream. He dreams that a boar rips off his head, “the boar had razed his helm.” In this scenario the boar represents Richard as it is his heraldic symbol, Stanley tries to warn Hastings but he turns deaf ears to Stanley’s advice. Later on in the play, we learn that Hastings was beheaded on Richard’s orders. This reminds us the similarity between the dream and reality itself and the extent of the resemblance between the two simply helps highlight the supernatural aspect of the play.

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The third and most important dream occurs in Act 5, Scene 3 right before Richard and Richmond head out for battle. Here, Richard and Richmond are visited by a parade of eleven ghosts (all those people who Richard had killed in the past). Some of these ghosts include, Prince Edward, King Henry VI, Clarence, Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, Hastings, the young princes, Lady Anne and Buckingham. All the ghosts follow a particular pattern – They constantly curse Richard and discourage him by saying things like, “Despair and Die”. On the other hand, they praise and bless Richmond and encourage him by saying things like, “Live and Flourish” and they hope that he wins the battle and ends Richard’s gruesome reign. This is an extremely significant dream, as the element of foreboding is once again emphasized as true to the ghosts’ word, Richmond wins the battle by defeating Richard and becomes the new King of England.

To conclude, dreams are a very important part of the play as they greatly contribute to the motif of the supernatural. In addition, I feel that the play is made much simpler for the reader by the existence of these dreams as he/she can predict the outcome of particular situations by evaluating these dreams and this helps the reader understand the play better. The extent of accuracy of these dreams simply heightens the motif of the supernatural and I personally believe that without the presence of these dreams, the play would be incomplete.


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