Nor no one here, for curses never pass The lips of those that breathe them in the air. (Act 1, Scene 3, lines 290–291)
After Queen Margaret curses Richard and everyone in the house of York, Buckingham negates her action by proclaiming that her words are meaningless. This scene, appearing early in the play, helps set up the importance of language. Margaret, a queen without male relatives to protect her, holds no political or economic power, so she uses her only means available for influence and authority. While Buckingham ridicules her efforts, all the horrors that Margaret has foretold for her enemies do come true, indicating that language has the power to shape reality.
Bad is the world, and all will come to naught When such ill dealing must be seen in thought. (Act 3, Scene 6, lines 13–14)
The brief scene in which the scrivener shares Hastings’s indictment with London highlights the importance of language and communication. The people of London know that Richard is dissembling by rushing through with Hastings’s execution before the indictment is even completed, but they have no power to protest against Richard and his treachery. If they speak up, they will surely suffer a similar fate as anyone who opposes Richard. Now they can only show their disapproval by withholding approbation, so they hear the news about Hastings but hold their tongues.
No. So God help me, they spake not a word But, like dumb statues or breathing stones, Stared each on other and looked deadly pale; Which when I saw, I reprehended them And asked the mayor what meant this willful silence. (Act 3, Scene 7, lines 24–28)
Buckingham tried to spread bad feelings and insinuations about young Prince Edward’s parentage throughout London, and here he recounts the reactions of a crowd, which hold no good omens for Richard. Londoners have long understood Richard’s true goal of putting himself on the throne. They see through his manipulation and subterfuges, and they refuse to celebrate the proposed ascension of Richard to the throne. The lack of language—for example, cheers or shouts of approval—sends a powerful message. Both Buckingham and Richard understand that the crowd’s silence means they stand against him, not supportive of him.
Besides, the king’s name is a tower of strength Which they upon the adverse party want. (Act 5, Scene 3, lines 13–14)
Preparing himself to do battle with Richmond’s forces, Richard proclaims his belief that holding the title of “king” will automatically accord him more power. In this sentiment, Richard shows his belief that words can bring about their own reality. This strategy has worked for him in the past—for instance, when he claimed that Clarence was a traitor. However, Richard fails to understand that even his extremely skillful manipulation of words has its limits. Because Richard lacks other traits of a strong ruler, such as organization and compassion, he comes into the battle underprepared.