The Sun and Its Shadow

April 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

Shakespeare’s Richard III is a play pervasive in figurative language, one of the most notable being the symbolic image of the sun and the shadow it casts. In an examination of a short passage from the text, it will be argued that Richard is compared to a shadow in relation to the sun, which has traditionally been held as a symbol of the king. The passage is significant not only because it speaks volumes about the plots of Richard, but also because it is relevant in understanding the overall plot of the play, which in the first few acts is almost indistinguishable from the plot of the scheming Duke of Gloucester.The comparison of Richard to a shadow is especially clear in an exchange between Richard and Queen Margaret:Richard Gloucester: Our eyrie buildeth in the cedar’s top,And dallies with the wind, and scorns the sun.Queen Margaret: And turns the sun to shade. Alas, alas!Witness my son, now in the shade of death,Whose bright outshining beams thy cloudy wrath Hath in eternal darkness folded up. (1.3.262-267)When Margaret tells Richard that he “turns the sun to shade,” this can be interpreted in different ways. Margaret is clearly referring to her son whom Richard killed, and is, therefore, now a “shade,” or a spirit. However, in light of the tradition of associating the king with the image of the sun, the phrase can also be taken to imply that Richard, by turning “the sun to shade,” is overshadowing the throne of England. Margaret’s son, who could have become king, described by his “bright outshining beams,” is fittingly “folded up” by Richard’s “cloudy wrath,” further alluding to sun imagery. “Overshadowing” the throne, in the figurative sense, is Richard’s plot, however, the plot of the play as a whole takes a different course. Once Richard has gained the throne, the sun imagery is again employed by Shakespeare, but for the purpose of showing his gradual downfall. Entirely because Richard has already convinced himself that he is destined to become a villain, he is unable to play the role of a protagonist. The sun imagery initiated in Act One is carried on throughout the play, often paralleled to Richard’s character, and is reechoed for dramatic effect in the last act. In Act Five Richmond prophetically declares that “the weary sun hath made a golden set,” which if nothing else articulates the imminent demise of Richard (5.4.1). In the sixth scene of the same act, Richard states that the sun who “should have braved the east an hour ago” “disdains to shine” but fails to understand the depth of the unrising sun’s meaning (8-9). Clearly this “weary” sun that refuses to rise on the day of the battle between Richard and Richmond marks the King’s loss of power and foreshadows his ultimate ruin. Thus, when Richard says he “scorns the sun” in the passage quoted above, he is speaking figuratively, and is implying his longing for the English throne, the attainment of which requires him to step out of King Edward’s shadow, and hence, “turn the sun to shade.” The sun imagery evident in the play continues to resonate in all the acts, and makes the reader aware of Richard’s schemes, and, it is the progression of this imagery that ultimately distinguishes Richard’s plot from the plot of Richard III.

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