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Monday, May 12, 2014

GRRM and Shakespeare, Part 1: Prophecies

Inspired by the illuminating History Behind Game of Thrones blog, I thought I'd jot down some notes about Shakespearean references in A Song of Ice and Fire series.

1. Prophecies.

The ASOIAF series have made extensive uses of prophecies and riddles to hint at future events, but with enough opacity to prevent readers to uncover their meaning. Several characters have been involved in this fortune-telling business, including Prince Rhaegar, Bran Stark, Patchface, Melisandre, Mirri Maz Duur, Quaithe, the Undying Ones, Grand Maester Marwyn, the maegi in Cersei's childhood ... GRRM makes the point over and over that prophecies are unreliable and unknowable until the events predicted actually occur. So far he's told some extremely intricate and uninterpretable ones that have or have not unfolded.

There is no doubt GRRM has adapted elements of "Richard III" into his series. The play weaves layers of intricate curses. The most prominent one is of course Queen Margaret, who is so good at cursing her enemies that at one point Queen Elizabeth Woodville asked her to teach her how to curse more effectively. But it doesn't end there. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, told his brother, King Edward IV, that he will be killed by someone with the name starting with G. Edward believes it to be his brother George, Duke of Clarence, and therefore drowns him in a tub of wine, forgetting that Gloucester also starts with G.

Prophecies and riddles play an even larger role in Macbeth. We got three witches to deliver them. The witches' predictions not only lay out the story but directly drive characters' behavior that cause the predictions to come true. This approach is what GRRM has taken with Melisandre's visions, in which she not only predicts but act upon the realization of her predictions. 

Of course, curses and prophecies are a common device in theater since the days of ancient Greek plays, with the most famous example being Oedipus Rex. Nevertheless the whiff of Shakespeare is unmistakable. 

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