Richard III

by: William Shakespeare

Important Quotations Explained

4
Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days;
Compare dead happiness with living woe;
Think that thy babes were sweeter than they were,
And he that slew them fouler than he is.
Bett’ring thy loss makes the bad causer worse.
Revolving this will teach thee how to curse.
          (IV.iv.118–123)

Margaret makes this speech as she teaches the duchess and Elizabeth how to curse. Margaret says that to wrench the full power of anguish from language one must steep oneself in one’s misery, -staying awake at night, going hungry during the day, and even convincing oneself that one’s children were better than they actually were. This speech is an important insight into the character of Margaret, who has made it her life to experience the pain of loss. It is also an important insight into the plight of victimized women in the play, who have no weapon against their victimizers but language and who must continually inflict psychological violence on themselves in order to wield their weapon as effectively as they can. When Richard appears in the middle of this scene, the women, one of whom is his own mother, turn on him with ferocious insults, indicating that they have internalized Margaret’s advice and learned how to transform their pain into curses.