5 May 2011
A Matter of Foresight
Imagine a world in which warning is given, in one way or another, for any tragedy or
other major life event. Of course, real life is mostly unpredictable, but in certain instances, this
warning, precedent, or preamble is given in the world of storytelling. As a verb, Oxford
Dictionaries Online defines “foreshadow” as “be a warning or indication of (a future event).”
The word refers to the way an oncoming object’s shadow can sometimes be seen before the
object arrives itself. By the same token, when an author in a work of fiction utilizes
foreshadowing, the audience is prepared for an event to come, at times more subtly than in
others. All it takes to successfully foreshadow a momentous point in a plot is some planning on
the part of a writer’s, or, in the case of film, director’s part. As an event or spoken dialogue
warns the audience or characters of what will happen, foreshadowing as a literary device can be
employed in different forms, such as dreams, predictions, and curses. Using one or more of these
forms, foreshadowing preceding actual events is a common theme in Richard Loncraine’s film
Richard III and Shakespeare’s plays: notably in Richard III as well as others.
One of literature’s most famous wizards of the English language, William Shakespeare’s
place in history helps demonstrate his plays’ supernatural foreshadowing effects. Also known as
the Bard, this man was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in England. According to Shakespeare
Online, he was baptized 'Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere,' and his exact date of birth is not
certain (Shakespeare Online). His father, John Shakespeare, was an important man in town,
having been elected chamberlain of the borough, alderman, and high bailiff, as well as serving as
“Stratford’s official ale taster.” In an article in Shakespeare Quarterly, Robert Bearman declares
that John “remained true to the Catholic faith until his death…” (411) Such religious following
must have had an influence on his son as well. It is commonly known that Shakespeare lived and
worked in the Elizabethan era of England, when much importance was placed on ceremony and
superstition as well as religion. According to Richard Foss, “Elizabethans saw the world as a
delicate balance, with spirits of good and evil in close proximity,” and what is referred to as
“sympathetic magic” dominated common beliefs of health, science, and nature, and blended with
Christianity (1). Still in practice today, the ritual of blessing a person who sneezes came about
because a Christian blessing was thought to drive away any devils trying to enter the body. This
is one of those habits kept when its purpose is forgotten, mainly just to be polite. In addition,
“because there were no scientific explanations for events such as sick animals or bad luck,
[people in Elizabethan times] blamed witches,” according to “Elizabethan Era Superstitions” by
Jennifer Maughn (1). Thus, it is easy to see why in Shakespeare’s time and place it was perfectly
reasonable that witches could raise all-knowing spirits and a curse could be put on a family.
Additionally, it is important to understand where the director of the movie Richard III
comes from. Born in 1946 in Cheltenham, England, Richard Loncraine was a visual artist before
working on movies (Buchanan 1). The works he sculpted were exhibited at the Institute of
Contemporary Art, and he planned on a career designing sets before “honing his skills as an
actor.” In fact, Loncraine created the metal “Newton’s Cradle” that is commonly seen in
executive offices. His first jobs directing were for commercials and documentaries, which gave
him plenty of practice in film logistics. Again, he has also acted, and the first future he directed
was 1979’s Flame, a musical drama. Since then, he has gone on to make movie in various genres
such as horror, spy-thrillers, and comedy. Since it is focused on British history, and set in
England, it is suitable that a British citizen directed Richard III. His experience in multiple art
forms undoubtedly makes Richard Loncraine a versatile and well-rounded artist. Films are, after
all, largely visual, and again, he was largely respected as a sculptor. In short, Richard III would
not have been as effective without Loncraine’s planned out cinematic devices, such as the
foreboding imagery that his imagination brought to the screen. In all, Richard Loncraine is an
artist on several levels, and this contributes to the overall effectiveness of his film.
To some, and especially in the times before study and research was done on the subject,
one’s dreams carry special metaphysical meaning. Even to this day, there are people who believe
dreams are windows into the soul, and possibly predict the future. In Richard III, Richard’s
brother Clarence dreams of Richard pushing him into water and thus drowning him soon before
he is actually killed, and describes his nightmare in detail:
Methought that Gloucester stumbled, and in falling
Struck me, that thought to stay him, overboard
Into the tumbling billows of the main.
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.
Methoughts I saw a thousand fearful wracks,
A thousand men that fishes gnawed upon,
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl,
Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels,
All scattered at the bottom of the sea. (1.4.9-29)
At this point in the play, the audience knows that Richard has given orders to have his brother
killed, but Clarence does not. In modern discussion, one would say that a person’s dreams only
show what is already in his or her own mind, based on what is observed, and how this person
inherently feels. Either he has some hidden fear of his brother, or he really was given a preview
of his untimely fate. Unfortunately for him, his nocturnal premonition is a deadly example of
dramatic irony that sets the tone for his murder. In this case, dreams really do come true.
Another way foreshadowing can be used is with some kind of prediction or vision. This is
certainly the case in Macbeth, with the three ghostly apparitions conjured up by the famous
Weird Sisters. The first, the Armed Head, warns Macbeth to “Beware Macduff” (4.1.80-1).
However, contrary to this advice, Macbeth falls into a false sense of security when he hears the
Second Apparition speak; “…laugh to scorn / The pow’r of man, for none of woman born / Will
harm Macbeth” (4.1.89-91). Little does he realize that this ghostly figure, a Bloody Child, is
symbolic of Macduff, who was “from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped” and so is not
considered a man “of woman born,” as he as well as the audience is told at the end when
Macbeth is about to meet his demise (5.8.16-20). Finally, the third and last Apparition, a Child
Crowned, warns of the exact time a place Macbeth will eventually be defeated:
Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are.
Macbeth shall never vanquished be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him. (4.1.102-6)
Just as it is foretold, Macduff kills Macbeth, and he could have prevented it if he had taken
greater heed to the supernatural beings’ advice. Nonetheless, this scene is likely to be
remembered by the audience and creates drama for when the title character’s time has come.
Similarly, Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s history play of the same name thinks little of the advice
given by a soothsayer in the crowd: “Beware the ides of March” (1.2.17). This warning may be
easier for Caesar to forget than ones from ghosts around a cauldron, but that is why it is more
dramatic when he is stabbed in the back on this very day, March 15. And so, a character may be
directly warned about a future event, but may or may not be able to prevent the event anyway.
Although, these predictions would not foreshadow a grisly scene if the character can avoid his or
her predetermined fate.
In addition, curses have been thrown around in Shakespearean drama to be fully realized
in due course of time. In Shakespearean theatre, words carry special weight. Since all dialogue
has to be conceived and formulated, everything said is relevant. Richard III is definitely no
exception, as the vocalized wishes of Queen Margaret and Lady Anne are eventually realized.
For example, Anne says she hopes any wife of Richard’s to be “More miserable by the death of
him” than she is by her husband’s death. It is seen that this curse comes mostly true for her when
she marries Richard, except she is made extremely unhappy from Richard’s life rather than his
death. With more precision, Queen Margaret comes to the York family and curses them with the
deaths of King Edward IV, his and Queen Elizabeth’s sons, Lords Rivers, Dorset, and Hastings,
and Richard. All of these deaths of course occur, and that makes up the plot of the story (1.3.206-
48). Moreover, Margaret assures Queen Elizabeth, “The day will come that thou shalt wish for
me / To help thee curse this poisonous bunch-backed toad” (1.3.259-260). Indeed, in the fourth
act, Elizabeth bids Queen Margaret to teach her how to curse (4.4.119-120). If something like
this were to take place in real life, it would be unbelievable, deemed a coincidence. However, the
realm of Shakespeare’s plays is different, and it is taken as a matter of course that an elderly
woman’s rage would be enough to set the course of events to come. Again, this is due to the
belief at the time of Shakespeare in the supernatural. Thus, in moments like these, the curses
uttered by Shakespeare’s characters herald the actualizations of their dark wishes to follow.
In the 1995 film version of Richard III, director Richard Loncraine uses creative ways to
foreshadow events in his movie that wouldn’t originally be seen in the play. For example, the
first shot of Rivers is of him getting off an airplane and confusedly walking in the wrong
direction, before winning the assistance and admiration of a female flight attendant. This could
symbolize that he is a flighty, endearing fellow, as well plant the seed in the viewers’ minds as to
the circumstances in which he will meet his end. It is while he is in bed with a woman that he is
in his most vulnerable position in the film. The hat on the woman’s head reveals that this is the
same girl from Rivers’ landing at the beginning. Unfortunately for him, this bedroom scene is
when he is impaled by Tyrrel’s sword. Until this moment, the lingering shot of the flight
attendant’s face as Rivers walks out of the frame may not be directly critical to the storyline.
However, it is enough to suggest there is a significant connection to be brought up later. Also,
the imagery granted through the medium of film supports Clarence’s dream description with a
more vivid picture: rain is pouring on him as he relays his vision of drowning. This water motif
comes back when Richard’s henchmen slaughter him in his prison bathtub. To many, not being
able to breathe seems an excruciating way to perish, and being shoved under water like Clarence
was both in his dream and during his actual murder demonstrates to viewers that extreme
discomfort. In addition, one more detail that foreshadows his watery fate is he is taken to the
Tower of London via boat in the beginning of the movie. Although he seems lighthearted at the
time, water will eventually surround him another time as he loses his life. These details shown in
the film foreshadow the same events of the original play in a more elaborate way.
One important point to remember is that anyone can find foreshadowing if they look for
it; sometimes it depends on the individual’s interpretation. For example, in the article “The
Nurse's ‘Vast Irrelevance’: Thematic Foreshadowing in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” author William B.
Toole points out that a stumble Juliet took as a small child and the Nurse’s husband’s reaction to
it--in a story told by the Nurse--serves as foreshadowing to Juliet’s eventual “sexual awakening”
(Toole 21-22). The husband asked if she would fall backward rather than forward when she
knows better, and Juliet answered yes without knowing what she was saying, Toole claims.
However, this is not enough to suggest the husband was referring to submission to sexual
intercourse. Rather, it is more likely that he is hinting that falling backward for a more cushioned
landing, instead of on her face, would not hurt as much. True, nothing scripted in a play is
without meaning, and the Nurse’s anecdote serves as characterization and shows her fondness for
Juliet. However, Toole’s analysis of the story is just that—an interpretation. This is an example
of how anything in a play is open for argument and personal opinions from each member of the
audience, including what might be foreshadowing something else.
In conclusion, use of foreshadowing prepares the audience for action to come as well as
create drama and irony in a story. Likewise, foreshadowing in its various forms vivify the film
and play versions of Richard III, as well as several other Shakespeare plays. In addition to
Richard III, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Romeo & Juliet give memorable examples of this
literary device. Foreshadowing can be found as a dream, premonition, vision, apparition, curse,
wish, or any kind of action or dialogue which preambles future events. However, it is observed
that some audiences may interpret an event as foreshadowing another that not everyone would
agree with. Also, to understand what significance a literary technique has, to some extent it is
important to recognize the time and place in which the artist worked, and Shakespeare lived in a
time when supernatural forces were believed in and feared. Thus, it was acceptable that things
like witches, soothsayers, curses and visions could determine a situation’s outcome. Although
Macbeth and Richard’s defeats were predicted, real life is not as formulaic as a work of fiction.
However, it is possible that life experiences are foreshadowed: with symptoms of an illness or a
friend acting strangely. Whether or not anyone reads the signs is another thing entirely.