Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Boar

The boar is Richard’s heraldic symbol, and is used several times throughout the play to represent him, most notably in Stanley’s dream about Hastings’s death. The idea of the boar is also played on in describing Richard’s deformity, and Richard is cursed by the duchess as an “abortive, rooting hog” (Act 1, Scene 3, line 225). The boar was one of the most dangerous animals that people hunted in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and Shakespeare’s audience would have associated it with untamed aggression and uncontrollable violence.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London is one of the most important settings in the text and provides an ominous backdrop for many of the play’s most crucial scenes. The Tower of London, which is both a castle and royal residence and a place of imprisonment and execution, symbolizes both Richard’s lofty aspirations and his amorality. All four of the people that Richard sends to the Tower of London (his brother Clarence, the nobleman Hastings, and his young nephews Prince Edward and the Duke of York) are ultimately killed because they posed a threat to his claim to the throne. Many characters in the play are fearful of what the Tower of London represents, including Prince Edward, who notes “I do not like the Tower, of any place” in 3.1.68,  and even Hastings’ horse, who resists Hastings’ prompting as if he does not want to bring him “to the slaughterhouse” in Act 3, Scene 4, line 88.  

The Tower’s symbolism would not have been lost on Elizabethan audiences. At the time of Queen Elizabeth I’s rule it was still being used as a site of imprisonment and execution for criminals and traitors. Anybody in the audience would have been concerned for a character’s fate if they were sent to The Tower of London, especially if the order came from a bloodthirsty ruler.

The Ring

Richard offers Anne his ring as part of his plan to seduce her in Act 1, Scene 2. Anne takes it but insists that to do so does not mean that she has given herself to Richard in return. Richard, a skilled orator and master manipulator, assures her that she is correct, but readers can easily determine that this is simply another lie to trick Anne. Rings are often used in literature to symbolize marriage and in the case of Richard III, Richard’s offered ring symbolizes his offered hand to Anne. 

However, the ring’s symbolism extends beyond the bonds of matrimony because Richard’s ring also symbolizes Anne’s entrapped state. Just as the band of the ring now encircles Anne’s finger, Richard’s hold has enclosed around Anne. Additionally, Richard’s offered ring symbolizes not only the trap that Richard has created for Anne but the trap that Anne has accidentally created for herself. While mourning over her husband’s body, Anne curses Richard and his hypothetical future wife to a life of eternal misery and pain. However, in accepting Richard’s hand in Act 1, Scene 2 she inadvertently brings her own curse upon herself.