Curses in Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes and in Shakespeare’s Richard Plays

  • Robert S. Miola Loyola University Maryland


Despite differences in theatrical convention and cultural context, Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes and Shakespeare’s Richard II and Richard III share important similarities: each occurs in a sequence of plays and features a ruler who, initially sure of himself, suffers a crashing downfall and death. Variously represented, curses, that is, callings for supernatural punishment upon people, appear centrally in these plays and structure their unfolding actions. Aeschylus’ play presents the fulfillment of Oedipus’ curse on his sons, Eteocles and Polyneices. Eteocles’ confrontation with the curse both enables its fulfillment and defines his tragedy. Contrarily, characters curse each other in Richard II, but they do so ineffectually. In this play God’s curse in Genesis structures and defines the action. Margaret’s curses appear efficacious in Richard III but actually just serve to indicate the potent reality of divine retribution. In Shakespeare’s plays confrontation with curses enable their fulfillment and constitutes the rulers’ tragedies. Notice of the agency and operation of curses in these three plays reveals the different theologies, dramas, and tragedies they present.

Author Biography

Robert S. Miola, Loyola University Maryland

Gerard Manley Hopkins Professor of English /

Lecturer in Classics

Monographic Section