A key theme that William Shakespeare uses in the play, Richard III, is appearance and reality. Appearance and reality is the meaning that something may appear in one way but in truth it is completely the opposite. This device is utilized through the main characters in the play very effectively. Richard is the main character in the play and Shakespeare makes sure that the audience do not associate him with only one character.

Richard’s role in the play swings continually in a web of lies and deceit. It is through appearance and reality that Richard is able to metamorphose his character and this aids him in getting what he requires. The five areas in which I will counterbalance appearance and reality will be Richard’s physical appearance linked with evil, his relationship with Clarence and the rest of his brothers and his treatment of women. The remaining two areas I will cover will be what is said in private compared with what is said in public and finally Richard’s corrupt allies and how they manipulate religion.


A major driving force through the evil legacy of Richard is his physical appearance. Richard is “deformed” and “unfinished” and he uses his disability to fool others into thinking that he may possess vulnerability. Richard’s physical features are closely linked to aspects surrounding evil, which mirror the evil he has inside. Shakespeare presents Richard in a rather disturbing manner throughout the play and he provides us with further disturbing images of Richard.

“That he could gnaw a crust at two years old, Twas full two years ere I could get a tooth.” (Act 2 scene 4.Line 28-30.) Richard had features that no other babies would have at this early stage of development. This description of Richard’s appearance gives us added insight into his role in the play. As a child he was two steps ahead of fellow children regarding his physical development and this reflects him in the play, as he is always two steps ahead of those he plans to eradicate. Richard does not entirely resent his appearance but rather uses it for personal commodities. Shakespeare sheds more light into how Richard uses his physical appearance as a tool in evil.

” That dogs bark at me as I halt by them.” (Act 1 scene 1.Line 23) This provides further indication into his inhumane physical appearance and personal qualities. Rather than feel deprived he revels in the attention he receives from the barking dogs. In a perverse manner Richard takes pleasure in the fact that others find his appearance disturbing. Richard’s appearance is a major element in him developing evil traits. ” And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain.” (Act 1 scene 1.Line 28-30)

This is the first clear indication that Shakespeare supplies us with and this helps us to see that in reality, Richard’s appearance fuels his evil qualities. Through Richard, Shakespeare employs another area in appearance and reality that plays a huge part in the play. This relates to his treatment of women. Richard is not “made to court an amorous looking-glass” yet he is willing to attempt to “woo” Anne. This is a measure of how useful Richard exercises appearance and reality to get whatever he wants. His physical appearance is anything but attractive so instead he uses his tongue as a weapon of attraction.

“Sweet saint, for charity, be not so curst”. (Act 1 scene 2.Line 49) Richard applies soft language to try and obtain the hand of Anne, something that Shakespeare makes sure that the audience, do not associate with his personality. In this case appearance and reality reveals a caring and gentle side of Richard. This side that Richard portrays plays a major part in him winning over Anne. Of course, without knowing it Richard reveals to her what he really is.

“No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.” “But I know none, and therefore am no beast.” (Act 1 scene 2.Line 71-73) This is ironic as Richard is a figurative beast that displays no pity when it comes to getting what he wants and Anne fails to see beyond this falsified gentle side of Richard. It may appear that Richard is respectful towards females but this is only the case when he wants something from them. In reality he doesn’t respect them and this is illustrated through the manner in which he talks to Queen Margaret.

“Foul wrinkled witch, what mak’st thou in my sight?” “Thou hateful withered hag.” (Act 1 scene 3.Line 163) In truth, Richard has no respect for women. We see his true feelings revealed whilst speaking to Margaret, as he requires nothing from her and will likely act himself around her. We see the contrast in his treatment of women with Anne and Margaret and this is where appearance and reality is perfectly displayed. Overall, Richard does not take women seriously as his wooing of Anne proved.

“I’ll have her, but I will not keep her long.” (Act 1 scene 2.Line 229) Through appearance and reality Shakespeare reveals that Richard uses women to achieve what he wants and when he requires nothing from them he treats them with disrespect. This is perfectly illustrated through Richard’s treatment of Anne and Queen Margaret. A vital area into where the audience gains insight into future events regarding Richard, is through what is said in public to what is said in private. Throughout the play whatever is said in public does not always expose the truth. It is what is said in private that reflects true feelings and future plots which is why it is so important. We observe this almost immediately in the play, regarding what Richard says to his brother Clarence in person as to what is said to the audience.

“Your imprisonment shouldn’t be long. I will deliver you, or else lie for you.” (Act 1 scene 1.Line 115) When nobody is in Richard’s presence he reveals his true intentions towards Richard. ” Go tread the path that thou shalt ne’er return. Simple plain Clarence, I do love thee so that I will shortly send thy soul to heaven.” (Act 1 scene 1.Line 117-119.) In this instance Richard reveals future plots against his brother, through what is said in private.

His acting convinces Clarence that he will be saved but in reality he will be murdered by him. This is a perfect example of how Richard cleverly utilizes appearance and reality to regularly transform his character when needed. It is difficult to make a definition of Richard because he changes his character so many times. From the beginning of the play the audience find it hard to make an overall assumption of Richard because he continually contradicts what he says.