Richard III

Humanity Versus Heroism in Shakespeare's Richard III and Coriolanus

Shakespeare's Richard III and Coriolanus are both characters who possess all the qualities of potentially invincible, fearless, and heroic warriors. They fail to emerge as heroes because neither of them are able to live beyond their idealistic motives as warriors, and incorporate humanity into their characters. Richard is consumed by his God-like complex, unexpectedly finding that his conscience is plagued by his acts of murder and perjury. For Coriolanus, it is his uncompromising sense of a hero's honesty and honor that ultimately leads to his downfall. Whether their intentions are virtuous or treacherous, both Richard and Coriolanus come to ruinous ends because they refuse to group themselves with the rest of mankind that is compromising and essentially human. However, even with this duality of humanity and heroism, Shakespeare complicates his stance by questioning whether such a thing as a true hero can exist. This complexity is answered in part by the emergence of Volumnia as a potential heroine.

For both characters, this lack of humanity can be traced back to their mothers, developing the theme of a child's debt to his mother. Richard's character is shaped by his mother, the Duchess of York, since she says...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 724 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4179 literature essays, 1402 sample college application essays, 171 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in