"Wrens Make Prey Where Eagles Dare Not Perch": Poisonous Masculinity and Incel Ideology in The Tragedy of King Richard III

Joshua Thomas Aldrich, Grand Valley State University


Over the past five years, there has been a significant rise in the number of self-identifying men’s right activist groups, ranging from the online incel community to the alt-right adhering Proud Boys. These groups preach regressive gender norms and misogyny based in anger at being rejected sexually and socially by women and “alpha males.” While these groups are often portrayed as a modern phenomenon borne of Internet culture, there are clear historical precedents for the ideology that dominates the manosphere.

William Shakespeare’s character Richard III embodies the core tenets of the incel ideology, and he also offers a vision of what might happen when an adherent to such an ideology (a “zeta” male) gains power. Richard oversees a reign of terror that is fueled by a sense of grievance and entitlement. While Richard is ultimately defeated, the poison that possesses him is still very much present in the Western bloodstream, as evidenced by our current era centuries later.