Are you looking for a dynamic way to introduce your students to William Shakespeare’s Richard III? This play will capture their imaginations and enrich them with deep insights into the complexities of humanity and power.
Well, look no further! In this post, we’ll break down a comprehensive strategy for teaching Richard III in the classroom—covering everything from selecting key scenes to designing engaging activities for your pupils.
So if you’re ready to bring Shakespeare into your classroom!
Act by Act Breakdown of Richard III
In the first act, Richard reveals his disinclination to let his older brother King Edward IV remain on the throne. He employs Tyrrel and Ratcliffe to murder Clarence in jail. And then, with the help of Lady Anne (Clarence’s widow), he gains public recognition to obtain a marriage contract with her.
In this act, Richmond is welcomed back from France, where he had fled for safety from Richard’s schemes. Richmond rallies support from those against Richard and prepare an army in anticipation of the fight against him. Moreover, Queen Elizabeth persuades her daughters to accept whichever suitor wins the battle between Richmond and Richard as their husbands.
This act opens up in Bosworth, where both armies are gathered for the impending fight; however, it takes place on neither side due to fears about a potential uprising of commoners. In response, Richard decides to be crowned King at Leicester before returning to Bosworth.
Meanwhile, Richmond gathers enough troops, making Richard increasingly desperate and paranoid, leading him towards ever more evil plans.
This is when the old feud reaches its climax, with an actual battle between both armies at Bosworth Field, whose outcome is already predetermined to be in Richmond’s favour by Henry Tudor himself. Eventually, it ends with Richard being killed and Richmond later named King Henry VII.
The last act centres around King Henry VII’s attempt at reconciliation: sparing most people involved in previous Yorkist regimes, such as Queen Elizabeth and Lord Rivers, whilst punishing others for their collaboration with Richard, such as Hastings or Catesby, who were executed for treason
Critical Themes in Richard III
Richard’s ambition is one of the main drivers of his actions throughout the play. He is determined to take the throne and will do anything to get there, even committing murder and manipulating people around him. This ambition often leads to his downfall as he doesn’t anticipate the consequences of his actions.
Deceit & Manipulation
The lengths Richard will go to satisfy his ambition show how far he can deceive and manipulate others into believing whatever he wants them to. He plays on people’s insecurities and twists their words so that they can help him achieve what he wants, regardless of who or what gets hurt in the process.
Betrayal & Treachery
This theme is particularly evident towards the end of Richard III when Richmond garners an army to fight against him. It shows how those he trusted have turned against him due to his corrupt methods, leaving him without allies or support for his cause.
Appearance v Reality
Throughout the play, characters are presented as not always being who they appear to be. This theme continues until the very end when Richmond defeats Richard despite being portrayed as powerless throughout much of the work; this reveals that just because something appears one way doesn’t mean it is necessarily true.
Key Characters in Richard III
Richard is the protagonist of the play and the focus of all the action. He is the youngest son of York and a hunchback who will do anything to become King, including murdering his family members and manipulating those around him. His ambition often causes his downfall as he anticipates only some of the consequences of his actions.
Lady Anne is Clarence’s widow, whose husband was killed by Richard to get closer to the throne. Despite this, Lady Anne marries Richard in Act I due to her desperation for a suitable husband; she later repents her decision when she realizes what kind of person he truly is.
Richmond (later Henry VII)
Richmond is another central character in the play and a contender for England’s crown. He clashes with Richard throughout, ultimately succeeding in becoming King at Bosworth Field with help from Elizabeth’s daughters, who swore allegiance to him beforehand.
Queen Elizabeth is portrayed as wise and discerning throughout the play; she plays an integral role in Richmond’s ascension to power by convincing her two daughters to marry whoever wins between them and Richard before their army marches off to Bosworth’s battlefield.
Richard III’s Ambitions and Consequences
Richard III is driven by his ambition to gain the crown of England. To achieve this, he manipulates others into believing whatever he wants them to and commits murder. This ultimately leads to his downfall as Richard fails to anticipate the consequences of his actions.
He causes a great deal of destruction throughout the play, leading many to turn against him and abandon him in his time of need. He also earns himself many enemies who are determined to bring him down, including Richmond, whom he battles with until Richmond eventually wins at Bosworth Field and becomes King instead of Richard.
How Richmond Brings Down Richard III
Throughout the play, Richard and Richmond continuously clash as they seek to become King. Ultimately, they battle for the last time at Bosworth Field, and Richmond wins, ending Richard’s reign.
At Bosworth Field, Richmond assembles a great army with the help of Elizabeth’s daughters, which gives him a significant advantage over Richard. He also has strong backing from those wronged by Richard’s ambitions and manipulations, including his own family members, whom he had murdered to attain power. These factors combined give Richmond the edge he needs to emerge victorious against Richard III.
Richard’s Wrongdoings to His Own Family
Richard III went to great lengths to ensure that he would become King. To do this, he had no qualms about hurting those closest to him. Here are some examples of his wrongdoings towards his own family members:
- He murdered his brother, George Duke of Clarence, in the Tower of London to clear the line of succession for himself.
- He also had Lord Hastings executed without a trial after falsely accusing him of being a traitor.
- He tried to kill his niece Elizabeth and her mother, Queen Elizabeth, to eliminate any potential threats from them.
- He also forced his own wife, Anne Neville, into marriage with him despite her protests against it.
Who Was Lord Hastings?
Lord Hastings, or William Hastings, was an ally of King Edward IV and an enemy of Richard III. He served as the Lord Chamberlain of England during the reign of Edward IV before his death in 1483.
Lord Hastings Under Richard III
Under the rule of Richard III, Lord Hastings was falsely accused of treason and executed without trial. This event was a turning point in Richard’s reign, as it shocked many loyal to him up until that point, and it caused even more unrest amongst those who had already distrusted him.
In addition to eliminating a potential rival, Richard used this move to demonstrate his power and authority over the country.
Teaching Children About Richard III
To teach children about the life and reign of King Richard III, including language features and structural features.
Pictures of Richard III, worksheets, pencils.
Ask students to list some key points they remember from the introduction they just heard (or, if available, show pictures). Write their ideas on the board or chart paper to refer to later.
Main Teaching Points:
- Introduce students to who Richard III was (King from 1483-1485) and why he is historically significant.
- Explain his wrongdoings towards his own family members, such as murdering his brother George Duke of Clarence to clear the line of succession for himself, executing Lord Hastings without a trial after falsely accusing him of being a traitor, trying to kill his niece Elizabeth and her mother Queen Elizabeth in an attempt to eliminate any potential threats from them, forcing his own wife Anne Neville into marriage with him despite her protests against it.
- Discuss what happened at Bosworth Field, where he was defeated.
- Language features such as cause/effect, sequence, and description can be used here when discussing events leading up to Bosworth Field.
- Structural features such as signal words can be introduced to help explain the different points in the timeline clearly.
Adaptations For Those Who Need It:
Depending on students’ age group/ reading level, activities could be adapted as necessary – simple worksheets instead of written essays for younger students or more detailed activities for older students, etc. Vocabulary can also be rewritten or simplified so that everyone understands it clearly. Additionally, visuals (e.g., pictures) can further explain information and make it more exciting/engaging.
Recap the points discussed while allowing time for questions and discussion among peers. Summarize key facts about Richard III’s life and reign before ending the lesson plan.
Essential Vocabulary Related to Richard III
- Line of Succession: The order in which a particular office or title is passed down from one holder to the next.
- Duke of Clarence: The title held by Richard III’s brother, George Plantagenet.
- Lord Hastings: A close ally of King Edward IV and enemy of Richard III, he was executed without trial after being falsely accused of treason by Richard.
- Bosworth Field: The battle between Richard III and Henry Tudor (later known as Henry VII) ended with Henry’s victory and establishment of the Tudor dynasty.
- Anne Neville: The wife of King Richard III, whom he forced into marriage against her will.
- Elizabeth of York (Elizabeth Plantagenet): Daughter of Edward IV and niece to Edward V and Richard III, whom he tried to kill to eliminate any potential threats from her family.
These three websites provide a range of resources related to the life and reign of Richard III.
- The Richard III Society website (rsc.org.uk) provides educational materials, including primary sources, videos, podcasts, and activities for all levels of learning about the King’s life.
- TES (formerly Tes Resources) has extensive lesson plans focused on William Shakespeare’s play ‘Richard III’ (tes.com).
- The Kriii Learning website (kriii.com) offers distance learning materials with themes such as Richard III in history and literature, ways to explore the impact he had on Britain today, and more interactive projects that children can take part in to engage with the subject at their own pace and depth level.