Richard III

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This play was likely written around 1593. (See Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works (2nd edition, 2005).) It is the longest of Shakespeare’s plays after Hamlet. Although generally classified as one of the history plays, it is sometimes considered alongside Shakespeare’s tragedies.

The play follows chronologically after Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy and refers back to the events of those plays. The play depicts Richard’s ascension to the throne, thanks to a combination of false promises and cruel murders; his brief, troubled reign; and his violent death on the battlefield, which results in Henry Tudor becoming Henry VII and ending the War of the Roses by marrying Elizabeth of York. Shakespeare’s Richard is physically disabled and unattractive, as well as cruel and conniving, but this is an embellishment on Shakespeare’s part, not historical fact. Similarly, many of the more egregious actions Richard takes in the play, such as marrying a woman whose father and husband he has killed, are fabrications to flatter the Tudor dynasty (then in power).

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Video Gallery Clips

Video clips from productions with interesting dance and movement.

Richard III trailer
(Elysium Conservatory Theatre, 2018)

See production details

Richard III opening scene
(Dir. Richard Loncraine, 1995)

See Ian McKellen’s screenplay notes
for the dance scene

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Textual References to Dance

Text excerpts and their act, scene, and line numbers follow Folger Digital Texts unless otherwise noted.
In-text dance references are highlighted in red.

Act I, scene 1, lines 5-31

RICHARD: Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our bruisèd arms hung up for monuments,
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barbèd steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking glass;
I, that am rudely stamped and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them—
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determinèd to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

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Dance References in Richard III

Dancing figures prominently in the opening speech of Shakespeare’s Richard III. However, the several references show a deep ambivalence about dancing that reflects ongoing debates about whether dance was the cause or the solution for such problems as illicit sexuality and lack of self-control of the body and emotions. Richard is not a sympathetic character, and so his disinclination to dance is a vote in its favor. Yet his condemnations — that it is one of the “idle pleasures” and practiced by those who devote their time to frivolities, vanities, and lovemaking — are claims made by other, more objective cultural critics.

Interestingly, dancing, especially of courtiers, was sometimes associated with dissembling and falsity. However, in this speech, as in Henry VI, part 3, dancing reflects genuine joy and celebration — “delightful measures” — and thus is impossible for Richard to enjoy.

– Emily Winerock (Jul. 30, 2019)

Winerock, Emily. “Dance References in Richard III.” The Shakespeare and Dance Project, edited by Linda McJannet, Amy Rodgers, and Emily Winerock, 30 Jul. 2019, Accessed [date].

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Further Reading

Brissenden, Alan. “The History Plays and the Imagery of Dance.” In Shakespeare and the Dance, pp. 18-33. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981, 2001.

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Updated June 24, 2022.

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