International Journal of Humanities and Social Science

ISSN 2220-8488 (Print), 2221-0989 (Online) 10.30845/ijhss

“My Kingdom for a Horse”: The Biblical Source of the Bestiary in Richard III
Jean-Marc Chadelat

The animal kingdom is well represented in Richard III, a play which abounds in repulsive, venomous, unclean creatures associated with the protagonist’s insidious behaviour and predacious nature. On a literal level, these infernal beasts are emblematic of his hellish character which is underscored throughout the play. The metaphorical animals, however, also intimate in allegoric significance the rejection of his spiritual vocation and the choice of a damnable life of which the play as a whole can be seen as a dramatic illustration. Shakespeare emphasizes Richard’s election of evil in a theological perspective showing how he willfully identifies with the animal features of his human nature to the exclusion of spiritual regeneration according to Pauline terminology. Whereas the horse he requests on the battlefield stands for the brittleness of his temporal power which doesn’t rely on God’s authority, the earthly kingdom he is willing to swap is the inverted figure of the spiritual promise of another world where peace and justice will prevail again for ever. The Antichrist’s spurious kingship must go so that God’s kingdom may come. In this scriptural light, Richard’s call for a horse to fight the wrong fight to the last corroborates the apocalyptic dimension of a conclusive play fraught with eschatology and full of irony.

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