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King Richard III
William Shakespeare



LINES 1-42

Dispensing with fanfare, a prologue or any other formal method of introduction, Shakespeare has Richard, Duke of Gloucester, enter the bare stage and set the scene.

The Elizabethan audience would have no trouble identifying the character. Whether or not it was historically accurate, Richard's crippled stance, one shoulder higher than the other, a slightly withered arm and a scowling face, was an accepted picture. It was as recognizable as Lincoln's stove-pipe hat and bearded face would be to an American audience today.

With his first words of the famous opening speech- "Now is the winter of our discontent"- he lets us know right off where matters stand. England is at peace. The Yorkist faction, identified by their family symbol, the sun, is in power. His brother, Edward IV, sits triumphantly on the throne, retired from the field of battle.

But is all really well? Has the change in government been for the better? Richard's contempt is obvious as he describes the king's immoral behavior. Instead of acting like a military leader, King Edward now passes his time in amorous pursuits.

None of that for Richard. As he continues, his displeasure spews forth. Listen as he draws the focus of attention to his own target:

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks

(line 14)

I, that am rudely stamped, and want love's majesty

(line 16)

I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion

(line 18)

With speed and emphasis, Richard draws attention from the king's wanton pursuits to his own position in the world. It reinforces his aloneness, his singular concern. Yes, there are the various warring factions to contend with, as well as the troubled country. Yes, there is the political and dynastic situation. But Richard's main concern is Richard.

Who is this Richard? His descriptive outburst is designed to stir the audience. Have you begun to feel sympathy for this deformed Duke? Is he the passive victim of a cruel fate, unable to transcend his physical handicaps? Or is he, as one critic has suggested, glorying his uniqueness? Is this his challenge, to see what he can do with such misshaped raw material? Here is reason to hate a world that puts him in his brother's shadow, outside the sunlight. Here are the first clues Shakespeare provides for the motive behind Richard's subsequent actions.

Since Richard, the outsider, cannot enter into the pleasure of these sunny days, he will deliberately choose darkness. The sun will be made to shine on that negative aspect, his villainy. If he cannot be appreciated for benevolence, he will be a model of evil. That will be the source of his pleasure.

There is no hesitation, just grim determination, expressed so clearly and candidly that there's no time to question it. As he continues to mull things over, Richard shares the first of his schemes with the audience. He has created a rift between the king and his older brother, George, the Duke of Clarence, by clever insinuation.

Keep in mind that the Elizabethans were great believers in dreams. To Shakespeare's audience, dreams would have great prophetic value, and the interpretation of dreams was as commonplace then as astrological chatter is today. Like those of us who identify our personal fortunes with our daily horoscopes, the Elizabethans praised the parts that fit and rationalized those that didn't.

Richard continues to share (intimately and generously) with the audience the pleasures he gets from his ability to act "subtle, false and treacherous." He has every hope that the king will believe the suggestion that his heirs will be murdered by someone whose name begins with the letter "G."

The choice of the letter "G" did not originate with Shakespeare, but came from one of his sources. In the context of this play, however, it's particularly ironic. The letter could easily represent that part of Richard's title- "Gloucester"- commonly used by intimates. But as Richard has set it up, the finger clearly points to George, the Duke of Clarence.

LINES 43-121

As if on cue, Clarence enters, guarded by Brakenbury, the Lieutenant of the Tower. He is being taken there at the king's command.

NOTE: Although it was officially a royal palace and commonly used as a residence, the Tower of London was also a prison, notorious as a place where famous people had met their deaths. The mere mention of the Tower summoned up images of long imprisonment, torture and execution. In Elizabethan times it had been the scene of Mary, Queen of Scots' imprisonment and, a few years after Richard III was first presented, the celebrated Earl of Essex was executed there.

Clarence explains that his only crime was in being christened "George." The gullible Edward IV has been told by a wizard that his heirs will be displaced by someone whose name begins with "G" and he has used that as an excuse to condemn poor Clarence. Richard's scheme has begun to work. Now it will be easier to dispose of this older brother, an obstacle to the throne.

Apparently commiserating, the wily Richard suggests that Clarence's predicament is undoubtedly the result of the meddling of Edward IV's wife, Queen Elizabeth. He refers to her contemptuously by her former married name, "My Lady Grey."

NOTE: It is difficult today to keep track of the various 15th-century families and their intertwined relationships. But for Shakespeare's audience, these were familiar names, some still prominent in Elizabeth I's court. They wouldn't have trouble remembering that Edward IV's wife Elizabeth had been born a Woodville and was then married to a man named Grey. But the name had even greater ironic impact as it recalled another Lady Grey, Jane, who had claimed the throne unsuccessfully and had been beheaded in 1554.

Richard is lighthearted as he discusses Clarence's problem and makes snide comments about the king's mistress Jane Shore. He suggests that it was an appeal to her that enabled Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain to the king, to gain his release from the Tower. He generously offers to go to the court to plead for Clarence, telling him, "I will deliver you, or else lie for you." Does Richard plan to deliver Clarence from prison or to eternity? The irony of this statement will be apparent before long. For as soon as Clarence has been taken away, Richard's hypocrisy explodes. Love Clarence, does he? So much, he states outright, that he will speed his brother's journey to heaven.

LINES 122-162

His pleasure in his own guile is interrupted by the entrance of Hastings. Now freed from imprisonment in the Tower, the Lord Chamberlain reveals hatred for the queen's relatives who caused his confinement.

When Hastings gives the news that the king is ailing, Richard assumes a pious attitude, still managing to get in a sly reference to the king's wicked ways:

O, he hath kept an evil diet long
And overmuch consumed his royal person.

(lines 139-140)

For all Richard's cleverness and humor, the politician is at work. Hastings may hate the queen and her relatives, but he is loyal to the king and his children. By his intimacy, Richard tries to draw Hastings closer to himself.

When Hastings leaves, Richard directs his intimacy to the audience as he reveals more of his plans. He is charged with energy as he speaks bluntly and directly about his purpose. Without coming right out and saying that he is after the crown, what other goal could he be driving at? Why else should he be concerned that the king may die before Clarence is out of the way? Why else would he attempt to bind up old wounds by marrying Lady Anne, the widow of the previous heir to the throne?

A marriage to Lady Anne would suit Richard for many reasons. Not only was she the widow of Henry VI's heir, but she and Queen Margaret were the most prominent living representatives of the former Lancaster dynasty. Moreover, she was a great heiress whose property could enhance Richard's position substantially. The great obstacle to such a match was Richard's claim to having killed members of her family. Historically, there is no record of his direct involvement in her father Warwick's death. However, it was widely held that he may well have slain Anne's husband, the Prince of Wales, in hand-to-hand combat. And when her father-in-law, Henry VI, was tried and executed in prison, Richard was listed among the official observers. It was enough, however, for her to believe him guilty of such crimes and to despise and oppose him.

Richard is cold-blooded as he states his plans and purpose. Recognizing the danger of haste and wasted energy, he tosses off what might seem like an idle metaphor: "But yet I run before my horse to market." It will be worth your while to keep that image in mind.


LINES 1-32

This scene is generally considered one of the greatest ever written by Shakespeare and among the most difficult to perform. It involves a single-minded attempt by Richard to make good on his boast that he will marry Lady Anne, a formidable enemy. Against all odds, he must not only overcome her loathing of him, but must turn her so completely in the other direction that she will agree to marry him. Furthermore, this complete revolution is to take place within a few minutes on stage. Could any real-life person possibly achieve such an objective?

By setting up this incredible challenge so early in the play, is Shakespeare giving the audience a compressed view of Richard's energy and powers of persuasion? How much does this tell you about Richard the actor? By his own admission, you know his motives. There is nothing to do now but observe the master at his craft.

The scene opens with a procession that is carrying the coffin of the late Lancastrian king, Henry VI. It is a striking reminder that even kings are mortal. Lady Anne, attended by two noblemen, leads the way as chief mourner for her father-in-law.

In case anyone in the audience had forgotten the relevant details of the situation, Shakespeare provides a reminder in Anne's first speech. Ironically, the one who will become united with the ultimate cause of her grief pronounces the first curse on Richard. Not only does she cry for vengeance, but "if ever he have a wife," let her know even greater misery than Anne knows now.

Remember this violent wish of Anne's. Like those repeated throughout, it is not an idle remark but carries the potential force of prophecy. Notice, too, the number and kinds of animals she invokes to curse him, including the lowest forms.

LINES 33-170

As the funeral procession starts up again, Richard enters and commands it to stop. The whirlwind courtship is about to take place. It will take him slightly more than five minutes, speaking forty-three times, to persuade a woman whose husband and father-in-law he has acknowledged murdering to become his wife of her own accord. Does this sound preposterous? Then get set for a lesson in verbal economy.

In the course of their verbal duel, Richard and Anne will use that form of patterned speech Shakespeare probably learned from the works of the Roman playwright, Seneca, which were popular in his time. It involves a bouncing back and forth, in exact meter, of parallel expression, roughly a "point" and "counterpoint" to the same beat. There will be other powerful examples later in the play, but notice how the device operates here.

ANNE: I would I knew thy heart.

RICHARD: 'Tis figured in my tongue.

ANNE: I fear me both are false.

RICHARD: Then never was man true.

(lines 192-195)

Anne's first response to his arrival is an outpouring of fresh curses. But Richard ignores her words and assumes a falsely pious position, mildly chiding her and launching into his courtship.

As the honey pours from his lips, a new obstacle arises. In his presence, the corpse seems to undergo a mystic change and blood begins to pour out of its wounds. Here is a touch of gore that the Elizabethan audience, steeped in a tradition of mystical happenings, would readily accept.

Richard ignores the fresh stream of insults and curses prompted by the incident. Instead he quickly returns to his main line of attack- flattery. He calls Lady Anne the "divine perfection of a woman." Such praise must startle her, even though she is quick to reply that he is the "divine infection of a man." No matter. Nothing will stop him. Even when her contempt reaches its ultimate point, when she spits in his face, he turns it to his advantage. He adds pity to his flattery. Not even the savage deaths of his father and brother, the Duke of Rutland, have filled his eyes with tears. But the thought of her beauty has. Can such a claim fail to impress?

In a long speech, he summons up images of personal sorrow and remorse, and further claims of his sincerity. It gives Lady Anne enough reason to pause for reflection.

LINES 171-263

Having used intimacy, Richard will now be generous, as well as daring. He offers her his sword. If she cannot believe that it was her beauty and his passion for her that drove him to commit murder, then she must kill him right then and there. Forgive him or be his executioner.

Imagine what the weight of such expressed passion must be to Lady Anne. It is more than she can bear and she drops the sword. If she had thrust forward, would the course of English history have changed? Do you think Richard would have allowed her to kill him? Doesn't Richard seem to know her better than she knows herself? How does his verbal mastery indicate her psychological insight? Note how many different stances he takes in a very short period of time. Even though she cannot do it, she claims he must do the job himself. But there is no more resistance in her now. Although they continue to exchange barbs, the game is won and Richard manages to put a ring on her finger to seal the engagement.

Has he merely worn her down or has he swept her off her feet? Has his ugliness and deformity really stood in his way, or has he exploited it to his advantage by arousing her compassion?

Obviously, he has advanced a step closer to his goal, but what else has happened in this perverse courtship scene? Does it tell you something about Richard's attitude toward winning? Did you feel any real passion in his wooing- enough to move you?

Any notion that he may have been touched by Lady Anne's own grief is shattered the moment she leaves. Willfully, he changes the direction of the funeral cortege for no discernible reason. Is it done out of spite? Or is it simply a display of his authority and control?

Once the stage has been cleared, he can barely contain himself. He seems as surprised by his own success as by Lady Anne's default. Winning her is sweet, although he admits he "will not keep her long."

Spurred on by his success with Anne, and despite his physical shortcomings, he has a seemingly newfound change in attitude. He will adorn this character of his own creation with new clothes and will attend to his outward appearance. Remember the "sun" that spotlighted his deformity? How does he feel about it now?


LINES 1-41

The entrance of Queen Elizabeth, attended by her brother (Lord Rivers) and her sons from a previous marriage (the Marquess of Dorset and Lord Grey), signals that the action has moved inside the royal palace, probably at Westminster.

Until now, we have had only Richard's word about the political situation. Is the kingdom secure? Are there political squabbles at court? Questions have been suggested, but we have had only one point of view. This scene gives you a chance to enlarge your picture of outside events.

Queen Elizabeth expresses her concern over the king's precarious health. What troubles her most? What will happen to her if he dies. Even though her son, young Edward, the Prince of Wales, should inherit the throne, he is underage. Here is the first warning that succession is no simple matter. It is further established that the queen fears her brother-in-law, Richard of Gloucester, who has been named Protector.

The position of Protector of the Realm was an important and powerful assignment. In the event that the king died and his heir was underage, the Protector was the ultimate authority, speaking for and acting in the name of the monarch. Richard's father, the Duke of York, had also held that title under Henry VI and had used it as a springboard for his attempt to seize the crown. For those Elizabethans familiar with that story, this first mention of the title might have suggested that the Wheel of Fortune was turning.

The Earl of Buckingham enters with Lord Stanley (the Earl of Derby), and Queen Elizabeth reveals that Derby's wife, the Countess of Richmond, is still considered her personal enemy on the Lancaster side, even though the war is over. Was Richard right? How powerful and petty is this Elizabeth?

But Buckingham and Stanley have more important matters to discuss. The king, whom they have just left, is improving. He now wishes to make peace among the various court factions- between the Duke of Gloucester and the queen's party, between the latter and Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain.

LINES 42-108

As Queen Elizabeth expresses her doubts of that happening, Richard makes a boisterous entrance. He is loudly engaged in what sounds like a private conversation with Hastings. He swears that he is being libeled by complaints that he is too harsh. He complains that he is condemned because he is too honest, that he "cannot flatter and look fair." Alas, he moans, "Cannot a plain man live and think no harm?" (I, iii, 51)

By now you should be familiar with such hypocrisy, but what is its effect on the characters on stage? Are they any better as they protest their own innocence of such charges? Is Richard very far from the mark when he observes:

...the world is grown so bad
That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.
Since every Jack became a gentleman,
There's many a gentle person made a Jack.

(lines 69-72)

NOTE: Historical records indicate that when she married Edward IV, Elizabeth brought many relatives into the court and used her position to help them obtain property and titles through royal appointments and favorable marriages. Richard's speech reflects the grumbling that commonly took place by those who were shunted aside to make room for these "newly-arrived" court favorites.

No way will that slight go unanswered. The queen insists that envy is at work. Well, then, if his subtle rhetoric won't work, Richard will be blunt. He needs the queen, so he claims, to help free his brother Clarence from the prison to which he has been condemned as a result of her backbiting.

Elizabeth's quick denial and support from Rivers provides an opportunity for Richard to demonstrate his lightning quick shrewdness. He seizes upon the single word "may" and twists the whole discussion to his advantage. As he and the queen continue to accuse one another, old Queen Margaret, the widow of Henry VI (whose corpse was seen only moments ago) enters the stage unnoticed.

Shakespeare's condensation of history is compounded by Margaret's presence here. Not only is this historically inaccurate, but it is chronologically impossible. To break so blatantly with fact, the playwright must have seen a genuine need for her presence on stage. Notice the careful steps that are taken to bring her forward, gradually but powerfully. At first she appears to be merely a chorus, commenting on the action although not participating in it. But she soon becomes a visible force in her own right.

LINES 109-318

As Margaret enters, the present queen, Elizabeth, makes a prophetic statement as a virtual cue.

Small joy have I in being England's queen.

(line 109)

From here on, as a contrast to the conversation between Elizabeth and Richard, Margaret continues her bitter side comments. Richard thunders forth his defense of poor Clarence, his scorn for the queen's turnabout from the Lancastrian side and for the royal patronage she has extended to her family and friends. It's enough to draw a searing curse from Margaret, who has been privately telling the audience about the wickedness of both Richard and Queen Elizabeth in the past:

Hie thee to hell for shame, and leave this world.
Thou cacodemon! There thy kingdom is.

(lines 142-143)

Right on the heels of this prophetic wish comes the first hint that others are aware of Richard's intentions. As Lord Rivers defends loyalty to the throne, Richard snaps at his words. If he should be king?

Far be it from my heart, the thought thereof!

(line 147)

Queen Elizabeth continues to harp on her misery. The repetition serves notice that this is not to be forgotten. Is it mere self-examination? Or is prophecy at work? Whatever the case, it is too much for Margaret, who now steps forward and draws attention by the force of her presence.

While the audience might be moved by the sight of this pitiful old woman, the Yorkists would have less sympathy. They might well remember, as Richard will point out, her vicious campaign to keep the crown for her husband and son. Margaret had been a powerful political force in her own right and had never shied from bloodying her own hands. According to tradition, the Duke of Rutland, the younger brother of Edward IV, Richard, and Clarence, was slain by her forces at the Battle of Wakefield. Margaret then took a handkerchief dipped in his blood and flourished it gleefully in Richard's father's face. She later had the Duke of York's head displayed on the city gates to broadcast her Lancastrian victory. This was no timid old lady, but a toughened veteran of combat.

She is the visible reminder of what can happen to the crown as the Wheel of Fortune changes direction. She directs her curses toward the newest contender for its possession, and reminds them somewhat jealously of the price of usurpation:

This sorrow that I have, by right is yours,
And all the pleasures you usurp are mine.

(lines 171-172)

Aren't they all usurpers, guilty of meddling with the rightful political order? In the end, who will win? What do you think will be the effect of Queen Margaret's prophecies? Of the curses leveled at Elizabeth, Rivers, Dorset, and even Hastings? And, most of all, at Richard? Notice what she wishes for him- that he have no friends he can trust, no sleep without nightmares, no peace at all. She offers a checklist for the audience as she curses him by the foulest names, striking even at his crippled form.

As this duel of words accelerates, it may remind you of another duel recently performed. In his match with Lady Anne, Richard had the clear advantage. Is there a difference with Margaret? In your opinion, which character gains the upper hand? Can you find lines to support your decision?

Even though he scorns them as mere pawns or enemies, the women Richard encounters are never at a loss for words. In his courtship scenes and face-offs with the women in this play, Richard must push his intelligence and energy to the limit to keep up with them verbally.

As Margaret's ranting mounts, Dorset tries to pass her off as a lunatic. But she has a few words for this upstart, and for once Richard can echo her sentiments.

He quickly turns the focus back to his own nobility. In doing so, he picks up his original disdain for the sun, and, as it were, the king. Margaret makes an appropriate response, only now she represents the shade, the opposing side. Even the intervention of Richard's future henchman, Buckingham, cannot stop her. He is not a target for her curses, but she warns him, too, to beware of Richard. As Buckingham sneers at her warning, she repeats it, now emphatically. Buckingham has just earned his place in her prophecy of doom at Richard's hands.

When Margaret leaves, Richard states that he cannot blame her for what she has become. Has he been deaf to the greatest cry for revenge that will be heard on that stage? Or is this a real expression of a human emotion coming from this apparent fiend? Is it just a "curve" he throws at the audience and those on stage? As the play progresses, Richard will frequently come up with the unexpected.

The duality of his character surfaces soon enough when Rivers praises him for his "virtuous... and Christianlike conclusion." Richard agrees, but in an aside he quickly shares his diabolical motivation with the audience.

LINES 319-354

Catesby, whom you will soon recognize as Richard's close ally, announces that King Edward has called for them to join him in his chambers. All leave, except Richard. Rejoicing in his devilish behavior, he announces his intention to be revenged on Rivers, Dorset, and Grey- the queen's family- for their affronts. Even this villain seeks revenge for petty offenses. How will he accomplish all this? By playing the role of virtuous soul while practicing villainy. Is there any reason to doubt his ability to act that part?

He has summoned two murderers who now arrive. They need a warrant to gain admission to the Tower where they will assassinate Clarence. Appearances must be maintained. As he hands over the warrant, Richard warns them to do the job swiftly and not to listen to Clarence:

For Clarence is well-spoken, and perhaps
May move your hearts to pity if you mark him.

(lines 347-348)

Richard fears the power of the spoken word, especially in an enemy. But the First Murderer is plainspoken and offers his opinion that "talkers are no good doers," providing the audience with food for thought.


LINES 1-73

Any question about Clarence's gifts for speaking is soon cleared up. As the scene begins, he is given the perfect straight line by his jailer: "What was your dream, my lord? I pray you tell me." And he does, in an impassioned poetic passage. Notice the contrast between Clarence's lyric speech and the abrupt dialogue or soliloquies we've been hearing up to now. This is the story of a dream, but it weaves a spell of its own with its vivid images and lush metaphors that appeal to all the senses. With their profound belief in the supernatural, imagine how this must have moved the Elizabethan audience.

Clarence relates how he had escaped from prison and had embarked on a journey by ship, accompanied by his brother Richard. Tempted to walk along the slippery deck, Clarence was knocked overboard by the stumbling Richard, whom he tried to save from falling. As Clarence began to drown, incredible images appeared- rotting ships, great treasures, corpses, etc. Eventually he was conveyed to the "kingdom of perpetual night" where he saw the ghosts of those he had wronged and murdered.

NOTE: In this symbolic journey of political crimes and death, Clarence's role in several murders also claimed by Richard is revealed. Is the guilt for these crimes shared by the entire York dynasty?

The terror of his dream has triggered remorse as Clarence openly acknowledges his guilt. Praying that his wife and children be spared from his punishment, Clarence then lies down to sleep.

LINES 74-286

Brakenbury, the jailer, enters and reflects on the nature of royalty. As he looks at this great prince asleep on the prison floor, he observes how little a difference there is in human beings, with the exception of outward titles. Shakespeare will often put the words for such an important statement into the mouth of a relatively minor character in order to call attention to them. Keep that in mind and see if it happens again in later scenes.

Since there has not yet been any humor in the play, the discussion which takes place as the two murderers arrive presents an opportunity for broad comic interpretation. Here is an opportunity for the groundlings to identify with what happens on stage. Shakespeare understood the need to provide relief from the dark mood. But in those comic lines, is there perhaps more than a grain of wisdom?

As they discuss how they will murder Clarence, notice the difference in their personalities. The Second Murderer has scruples, despite his profession. He has a conscience which troubles him.

Clarence asks why they have come, but can't believe his brother, the king, is the agent of his doom. He recounts the many past services he has rendered King Edward. But the two men, surprisingly well informed, deflect his every thrust. Eventually, they reveal that it is the Duke of Gloucester, Richard, who has arranged for Clarence's execution.

Clarence is astonished. By calling Richard "kind," he displays the depth of his gullibility and the extent of Richard's success as a schemer.

NOTE: The First Murderer answers Clarence's claim that Richard is "kind" with a flippant, "Right as [just like] snow in harvest." Shakespeare sprinkled everyday expressions such as this throughout the play, and usually placed them in the mouths of common people. In doing so, he gave the average Elizabethan viewers touches of familiarity and comforting connections between their ordinary world and the world of kings on stage.

In desperation, Clarence looks to religion for help. He reminds them that they will have to answer to God for what they are about to do. Moreover, those who commissioned the deed will desert them and even blame them. But these threats of vengeance do no good. His last plea reaches from the highest to the lowest- "A begging prince what beggar pities not?" (I, iv, 265)- but to no avail. He is stabbed and, to insure that he is dead, his body is taken off to be drowned in a "malmsey butt," a cask of wine.

Unable to bear the burden of his conscience, the Second Murderer declares that he rejects the fee. He is genuinely contrite in contrast to the First Murderer, who shares no such feeling. As the First Murderer leaves to collect his reward, he acknowledges, however, that he must then flee for his own safety after word of this deed gets out.


LINES 1-46

Following this scene of blood and death, there comes a sharp contrast. We witness our first royal procession as Edward IV enters, trailed in order of rank by Queen Elizabeth and members of the court. This includes her brother (Rivers), her sons (Dorset and Grey), the Lord Chamberlain, Hastings, the Duke of Buckingham and Sir Thomas Catesby.

This is the second King of England to appear on stage and the differences are striking. When the corpse of Henry VI was brought on stage, there would have been a mournful sound of muffled drums. The tone would be dark and somber. Now, the presence of this live king is heralded by trumpets, banners and great ceremony. His courtiers would be dressed in rich finery, bright and gaily colored. What does this tell you about kingship? Each procession would have been strictly formal, of course, with participants ranked in order of nobility or service. Such processions were a graphic reminder of the importance of order in this world and the beyond. This tradition was still a fact of life in Elizabethan times.

Aware that he doesn't have long to live, the frail king tries to make peace in his court before he dies, to perform his kingly function by re-establishing order. He has arranged a truce between Hastings and Rivers, who had been bitter enemies. He then makes peace between Dorset and Buckingham and the queen herself. Swearing his loyalty to the queen, Buckingham vows to be true to his oath, calling on God to punish him if he is ever false.

LINES 47-96

At this moment, Richard enters. He claims to be pleased with the king's peacemaking efforts and professes his desire for harmony, too. In fact, he claims to be at peace with every Englishman alive.

Is there a reason why anyone on stage should doubt this? Has Richard perhaps reformed during the few moments we haven't seen him? This piety, real or assumed, seems to work. Moved by the spirit of the moment, Queen Elizabeth asks King Edward to pardon his own brother Clarence.

That's Richard's cue. He startles everyone by announcing that Clarence is already dead. A stay of execution? The order from the king came too late, he cries.

LINES 97-142

While the shock waves are still rippling, Lord Stanley enters. He asks King Edward to pardon one of his servants who has killed a man, possibly in self-defense. Can the king feel compassion for a mere servant at such a time? Hardly. His thoughts are with Clarence, whom he now recalls as faithful and dear to him, this brother whom he imprisoned. He echoes Clarence's story of loyal service and turns against the others. Why had they never spoken up for Clarence when Edward lashed out at him? They will pay, they will all pay, he prophesies as he departs in grief and anger. Another cry for revenge? Is this what you expect of a king?

With Edward and his court gone, Buckingham and Richard are left behind. Richard remarks that he noticed a sense of guilt in members of the queen's family when Clarence's death was announced. Now he, of all people, asks God to avenge that deed. Is this a device to deflect suspicion from himself? Or does he possibly believe himself to be God's messenger? Is it simply a way to draw Buckingham into his confidence? There's no time to ponder as they leave to join the others in consoling the king.


LINES 1-100

Following a scene of treachery and intrigue comes one of great emotion. You have heard and seen sadness with regard to past events. Now you witness the grief of a mother and children for an event that has just occurred on stage. Through such contrasts, Shakespeare maintains the balance that will hold his audience's interest as the plot develops.

The aged Duchess of York, mother of Edward IV, Richard, and Clarence, enters with Clarence's young son and daughter. She tries to contain her grief, passing her tears off as concern for their sick uncle, the king. But these children, the first we meet, are too wise.

They know their father is dead. Uncle Richard told them that the king, "provoked to it by the queen," was the cause. But he has assured them that they can rely on kindly Uncle Richard. The Duchess cannot contain her scorn for this deceitful son, referring to him as her "shame." Still, he seems to have captured the children in his web.

Queen Elizabeth, followed by Rivers and Dorset, bursts in, announcing that King Edward IV has just died. A chorus of lamentation now begins, setting a standard for the cries of women heard throughout the play.

Again Shakespeare borrows from the classics in his design of this "wailing chorus" section. As the children, the Duchess, and the Queen, lament and echo each other's cries, they are following the antiphonal style established for such moments in ancient Greek and Roman drama. An "antiphon" is like a psalm or verse sung responsively.

Amidst all the weeping, Dorset and Rivers maintain their balance. They urge Queen Elizabeth to have her son (the Prince of Wales) brought to London. The sooner he is crowned, the safer they all will be.

LINES 101-154

Hard on their words, Richard enters, accompanied by what is becoming his "party"- Buckingham, Derby, and Hastings. After paying respects to the bereaved queen, he asks for his mother's blessing. But he mocks her privately in an aside to the audience.

The platform stage which thrust out into the audience made asides quite common in Elizabethan drama. An actor might stand in one corner and, by fixing his gaze at a few groundlings (those in the cheaper, ground area) project a conversation to the entire audience. He could speak in what seemed like a soft or a loud voice but still be recognized as being involved in an intimate conversation.

Buckingham takes the initiative of discussing the future of the heir to the crown, the Prince of Wales. He suggests that the Prince be brought quietly to London from his residence in Ludlow, a journey of about 130 miles. Why such a subdued entrance? Buckingham suggests that the disagreement in the court has trickled down to the general population and there is great unrest. It is too soon to test the late King's peacemaking. Why stir things up? Rivers and Hastings agree, then go off with the women and children to commence arrangements.

Buckingham and Richard, alone on the stage, have something else in mind. It must be arranged that they are both members of the escort party, says Buckingham. During the journey, they will separate the queen's party from the rest in order to further their secret plan. What is this plan? You may know the end they hope to achieve, but what about the means?

Richard claims that these are his very thoughts- even the words he would have used himself. He lavishes praise on Buckingham, calling him "my other self." As Buckingham drinks it all in, notice how Richard's skillful charm is as effective with men as with women. Buckingham may now be added to the list of the gullible.


LINES 1-47

Until now, attention has been chiefly focused on the great affairs of state, involving the rulers and members of the nobility. But what is really going on in the country? How are such affairs perceived at the lower levels? Shakespeare shifts attention to that in this scene. Here are three commoners meeting, apparently on a London street, to discuss what has happened and what is likely to happen to the country. This is certainly not the broad comedy of the two murderers in their earlier banter, but it still has the effect of lightening the texture of the drama. It provides a change of pace. This allows the darkness of the scenes which follow to have greater effect.

These Three Citizens represent a cross section of attitudes. The First Citizen is a friendly, optimistic man who feels that "All will be well." The Second Citizen is not so confident. He fears "'twill prove a giddy world." Even though there is an heir, he is still a minor and can rule only with the aid of a Council. See how Shakespeare works the concern for orderly succession into the general conversation.

The Third Citizen is pessimistic about the "troublous world" caused by Edward IV's death. He knows what a king should be and echoes the biblical sentiment, "Woe to that land that's governed by a child!"

Shakespeare's borrowings from the Old Testament are not uncommon in this play. At times such as this, they are almost literal. Whenever a familiar expression is sounded, it offers a reminder of the Old Testament God, that fierce avenger of evil who transcends the drama on stage.

The Third Citizen knows that the presence of a Council will not insure security since there are so many hostile uncles lurking about. Notice how he singles out the Duke of Gloucester on one side and Queen Elizabeth's relatives on the other.

The three Citizens freely refer to God throughout their conversation, but the Third Citizen lacks confidence as he points out the troubled state of their "sickly land." The cause is clear; Edward IV is gone, and when the "sun sets," darkest night is sure to follow, despite God's will.

All may be well; but if God sort [arranges] it so
'Tis more than we deserve or I expect.

(lines 36-37)

This short scene among the three commoners expresses the familiar Shakespearean notion that whenever there is trouble in high political places, it is reflected in nature's turmoil of "untimely storms."


LINES 1-73

The confrontation of forces has been slowly building. But before any eruption will take place, Shakespeare carefully creates tension and suspicion. Notice how this transitional scene begins with a relatively calm interlude.

The Archbishop of York is seen conversing with Queen Elizabeth, her youngest son (Duke of York) and her mother-in-law (Duchess of York). They discuss the progress of the escort party bringing the Prince of Wales to London. The old Duchess has not seen her grandson in some time and mentions rumors of his great growth.

We are in the midst of a quiet domestic scene. A slightly jarring note is introduced when the young Duke of York quotes his uncle, Richard. The Duke of Gloucester has told him that "Small herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace." Obviously, the proverb is not designed to provide much comfort for the younger boy who has grown more quickly than his older brother. Does this suggest anything about the relationship between Richard and his older brothers?

Taking him literally, the Duchess states that Richard is not a good example of the saying's message. The boy continues to jest about his uncle, relating the rumor he has heard that Richard was born with a full set of teeth!

NOTE: This was just one of the rumors surrounding Richard's birth. The superstitious Elizabethans believed that getting teeth early was the sign of a troublesome child, an evil temper, and a capacity for mischief. Silly as that may sound, is it any different from the recent attitude that a high brow is the sign of an intellectual?

The boy is scolded for his boldness when a messenger enters with more news. The Prince of Wales is well, but Rivers and Grey, along with Sir Thomas Vaughan, another member of the queen's party, have been sent to Pomfret Castle as prisoners. Gloucester and Buckingham have committed them for unknown reasons.

Queen Elizabeth rightly perceives that Richard has moved to consolidate his power. She sees the danger to her son and the political peril in almost equal balance. The Duchess of York recalls the tragic loss of her own husband in his quest for the crown. She prays for an end to her misery.

But Queen Elizabeth moves to protect her remaining child. They must flee to the sanctuary.

According to medieval tradition, the protection of the Church was extended to all those within the boundaries of the cathedral. No one could be forcibly removed from a place of sanctuary against his or her will. Designated places of sanctuary included Westminster Abbey in London where the queen was now headed. So great was the sanctity of such a place that it was considered the ultimate sin to violate a place of sanctuary.


ECC [King Richard III Contents] []

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