The Supernatural in Shakespeare's Richard III
Casting a darkly mythical aura around Richard III, supernatural elements are intrinsic to this Shakespearean history play. The prophetic dreams of Clarence and Stanley blur the line between dream and reality, serving to foreshadow impending doom. The ghosts that appear before Richard III and Richmond before their battle create an atmosphere of dread and suspense, and they also herald Richard's destiny. The curses of three female royalties are fulfilled at the end, serving as reminders that the divine powers are stronger than Richard's malice. Together, the supernatural elements of dreams, ghosts, and curses unify the plot of Richard III and allow the divine to triumph over evil.
Dreams can lead even a king awry, as in the case of King Edward IV who ?hearkens after prophecies and dreams? and wrongly locks Clarence up in the Tower (I, i. 53). Thus, Clarence and Stanley?s prophetic dreams are taken somewhat lightly by both characters, even though their dreams not only predict the future, but are also laden with symbolism. Clarence dreams that his brother Richard III causes his drowning at sea. Almost immediately afterwards, Clarence is killed and drowned in a cask of wine by Richard?s hired murderers. His dream paralleling reality, Clarence speaks of the horror and the pain of drowning: ?O Lord! Methought what pain it was to drown,/What dreadful noise of waters in my ears,/What sights of ugly death within my eyes? (I, iv. 21-23). This speech evokes sympathy for Clarence, so that although he too participated in the killing of Edward, the son of Henry VI, he is no longer the main character to blame ? the burden of the atrocious crime is laid upon Richard III, the killer of his own brother. Clarence?s dream about drowning is reminiscent of the River Styx, and this is reinforced by his thoughts about the afterlife. Clarence dreams of the torments he must face from the spirits in the netherworld because he has killed Edward, and this foreshadows the appearance of the ghosts in Richard?s dream before his battle against Richmond.
Stanley?s dream, too, reveals Richard?s murderous streak. In Act III scene iv, Stanley dreams that Hastings is being gored by a boar, Richard?s heraldic symbol. Soon after, this dream merges into reality as Richard orders Hasting?s execution. Cursed by Margaret as an ?elvish-marked abortive, rooting hog? (I, iii. 225), Richard is seen as a deformed and dangerous changeling. The boar in Stanley?s dream reinforces this image of Richard, and it reinstates Richard?s aggressive and violent tendencies. Although Hastings is involved in Stanley?s dream, he does not dream, but curses Richard by saying to his executioners: ?Come lead me to the block; bear [Richard] my head./They smile at me, who shortly shall be dead? (III, v. 106-107). This reality follow-up to Stanley?s dream foreshadows Richard?s imminent death due to his ruthless killings.