There are only five female characters in the play Richard III by Shakespeare, and they are all from nobility; Queen Margaret (Margaret of Anjou), who was the former queen and one of Richard’s enemies; Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth Woodville), the current queen and his daughter; Elizabeth, the Duchess of York (Cecily Neville), Richard’s mother and Anne Neville who was a widow then becomes Richard’s wife. All of these women are victimized by Richard III’s power. Their grief and sorrow create a historical source for the reader to understand the political and social positions of women in society in the Elizabethan Era.
In Richard III, the “world” is being ruled by men. One can see that the female characters in the play are only there to grieve, complain, or cry and are presented as secondary characters. Richard sees women as objects, reveals his thoughts about women when he speaks to the audience. After killing Anne’s husband and father-in-law, he uses her vulnerability for his benefit. He also implied to his brother, Clarence, that Queen Elizabeth was the one who “tempted” her husband of executing her husband’s brother by saying, “this it is when men are ruled by women.”
The play shows that since the War of Roses began, treason, chaos in the political order, and civil disturbance prevailed to that day, and the manipulated ones are vulnerable women. The vulnerability of these women also shows that Richard III’s villainous actions and schemes are played out very well. On the other hand, the women of Richard III are the voices of morality and protest. They sometimes foresee Richard’s machinations and predict the consequences of Richard’s acts. The writer, William Shakespeare, created these women to indicate the Elizabethan worldview of moral truths and political order. Also, he uses the women to point out the disappointing state of women in the nation. In a male-dominated world, women are dependent on their husbands, and their only solution to everything is to curse (powerless in real life), like Margaret of Anjou. She also represents the old people who lost their physical and mental power, and she is the voice of the vulnerable victims in society.
In conclusion, Shakespeare illustrates the corrupt order of England, which victimizes people individually and nationally with the female characters in Richard III. The women are voicing the misery that results from the disorder of moral order. They are the contrast to evil; in other words, Richard himself and their efforts to end this evil show that restoration in order is needed.