The motif of mirrors (and shadows)

Richard III has a recurring motif of mirrors, or ones reflection. The looking glass is referred to several times within the play, as well as what I consider to be the opposite of one’s reflection… one’s shadow. King Richard hated his reflection because he saw himself as physically unappealing, but he reveled in seeing his shadow because it was evidence to him of his menace and power. In his opening monologue he says “I…am not shaped for sportive tricks nor made to court an amorous looking glass” (1.1) meaning he is deformed and ugly, and he goes on to say that no one could love him because of this (without being tricked of course). “I…in this time of peace have no delight to pass away the time, unless to spy my shadow in the sun and descant on mine own deformity” (1.1) which to me says that he is so evil that in times of peace, because he would rather everyone be dying, the only thing that gives him joy is to talk about his deformity because he finds power in that deformity because maybe no one takes him seriously as a threat. In Act 1 scene 2 he references again the looking glass, because he thinks he can trick women into thinking he is a proper man even though he would not look good in “pomp” even in a looking-glass. His mother, the Duchess of York, speaks of her disdain for her last remaining son, “But now two mirrors of his princely semblance Are cracked in pieces by malignant death, And I for comfort have but one false glass, That grieves me when I see my shame in him.” (2.2). The mirrors here reference his two fallen brothers, one by his own hand, and Richard is the false glass, a false reflection of her offspring because he is a disgrace in his deformity and his wickedness. “Shine out fair sun til I have bought a glass so that I may see my shadow as I pass” (2.4) Basically, Richard is obsessed with himself, even through his “ugliness” he is still incredibly narcissistic, he wants to see his wicked shadow to look at himself when a mirror is not available, or maybe he is avoiding the mirror because he cannot confront his own reflection but he can confront his shadow.

To wrap this up, because for some reason I see a lot to do with mirrors (and shadows) in this play. In the Hollow Crown: the war of the roses: Richard III, Queen Margaret is shown with a mirror whenever she is cursing everyone, attempting to force them to confront their own reflection. Even when she is showing the ghosts to Richard and Richmond, and when Richard is being murdered she uses this same mirror which in the end forces Richard to face his reflection, his true face, rather than just his shadow.

~Alexandra Watkins


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