Literature is a priceless heritage of humanity that provides people with an opportunity to understand people’s nature, their motifs, ideas, fears, and beliefs. Being an effective way to convey messages, novels, stories, or poems contributed to the increased attention to the events in history that were significant for the world. From this perspective, literature is also a source of knowledge about past epochs. Describing settings, characters, peculiarities of their behaviors and relations, writers utilize specific literary devices that help to create the desired effect. For instance, in the play Richard III setting has a critical role in understanding the issues of power, alteration of Richard’s position, and his ability to control the situation.
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Traditionally, analyzing novels or other pieces of literature, people admit places where the action takes place first of all. Descriptions of nature, spaces, rooms, or palaces help them to understand the main features of described events and create the full image that will be later completed by using peculiarities of the main characters’ decisions, movements, and solutions. In such a way, the setting can be taken as the tool used to create the atmosphere and outline all places. However, its significance cannot be underestimated and limited only by the descriptive function. On the contrary, in the novel Richard III by Shakespeare, this stylistic device is used to present a deeper idea of the protagonist’s alterations and his ability to control the situation along with some ideas of power and its distribution.
First of all, the setting can be determined as the time and place of the story that is narrated. For this reason, the first aspect is also critical for the plot and its development. In Richard III, events take place at the end of the Wards of the Roses, which was a remarkable period in English history characterized by the struggle for the throne between the most powerful groups (Shakespeare). In the first part of the play, readers understand that Edward IV has just ascended to the throne, which means that the year is 1471. At the same time, the whole story ends with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and the defeat of Richard III. The selection of this timeframe is preconditioned by its importance for the country as a new dynasty of Tudors is established. At the same time, this period of constant conflicts among the ruling aristocracy, intrigues, agreements, and betrayals provide much place for speculations, debates, and imagination, which means that it can be interesting for readers as they can also be attracted by these unique events.
From the play, one can see that Shakespeare is not describing every year; instead, all actions occur within a period of several weeks. In other words, he used a method similar to telescoping to condense real historical time with the primary aim to lead individuals through the most important events that are peculiar to Richard’s struggle for power, his triumph, and his tragedy. Disregarding historical accuracy and the correct presentation of events, the author instead, uses this element of setting as a potent tool to familiarize readers with all important stages of the main characters’ evolution for them to understand motifs, changes that occur in them, and why Richard failed to hold power and remain a ruler. He tries to grasp the crown as fast as it is possible, and the reduction of the timeline helps to realize it. That is why this element plays an important role in the play creating the background for all future actions and their analysis.
Another significant aspect of the play places as it also conveys a symbolic meaning.
Regardless of important historical events presented in the play, there are only a few locations where the main characters act. Scene I starts with a brief description of the area “London. A street.” (Shakespeare). This pattern is preserved in the next parts, “The same. Another street”, “London. The Tower”; all four acts are staged in London with its palace rooms, the Tower, houses, and streets (Shakespeare). Only some scenes and Act 5 is the exception as some other locations are described. Analyzing this literary work, one can see that the choice of setting is not accidental, and it is preconditioned by the need to emphasize the importance of heroes’ actions and changes that occurs to them.
In Richard III, London can be considered a symbol of power as it is the play where kings are enthroned and rule the whole country. For this reason, its control is fundamental for a pretender who wants to become the only ruler. That is why Shakespeare focuses readers’ attention on this city by placing all meaningful characters in this very setting. They cooperate and betray in streets, palaces, and other locations. At the same time, there are almost no descriptions of rooms or palaces, as they are not critically important for the play. The main idea is that Richard, in the first four acts, controls the situation and London. For this reason, all described events are associated with this city as the symbol of royal power and crown. Moreover, being capital and the center of the political and cultural life of the whole state, London stands for all England with its unique features and characteristics. Not delving into the description of all regions, Shakespeare, instead, devotes attention to the embodiment of all traits, which makes the play more important for readers.
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Shifts in Story and Setting
Finally, with the shift in themes touched upon in the story, the setting also changes. In act 5, events take place in “the camp near Tamworth,” “Bosworth Field,” and its parts (Shakespeare). These alterations show that Richard III no longer controls the situation. London, as the embodiment of power, is no more available for him as nobles are against the ruler. For this reason, the author changes the place, as the previous one loses its symbolic meaning. A new setting means the end of the past rule and the rise of a new dynasty, which ends the story and summarizes the life and actions of Richard III.
In such a way, the play set plays a fundamental role. The choice of particular time and place helps Shakespeare to outline the importance of the described events, their role in the history of England, and follow alterations that occur to the main characters. Using London as the main place for the majority of acts, the author emphasizes its symbolic importance as the center of royal power and political life. For this reason, the given stylistic device becomes critical for a better understanding of the whole play.
Shakespeare, William. “King Richard III.” Shakespeare.mit, Web.