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King Richard III
William Shakespeare

THE STORY, continued


LINES 1-59

The long-awaited entry into London by the Prince of Wales now takes place. He enters to the sound of trumpets, followed by Richard, Buckingham, Catesby, Cardinal Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other members of the court with all their attendants.

The Prince is dissatisfied that his maternal uncles are not there to greet him. Richard assures him that they were a threat to his safety. As the Prince disagrees, showing some spirit, there is a reminder that technically this boy is the king, although not yet crowned. Here, you see another view of a king on stage.

By way of contrast, the Lord Mayor arrives to offer his welcome. He is followed by Lord Hastings, who informs everyone that Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of York have gone into sanctuary. The elegant gathering begins to turn into a family spat.

Buckingham orders the Cardinal to extract the young duke- by force, if necessary. The Cardinal warns that such an act would be an infringement of the privilege of sanctuary. But Buckingham argues persuasively that the boy is too young to have sought sanctuary on his own, and thus not technically entitled to its protection. The spineless Cardinal is easily convinced. For all his bluster, he crumbles under pressure and leaves with Hastings to bring the boy to his brother.

LINES 60-94

As Lord Protector, the guardian of the realm and of the young king, Richard has some authority, which he now exercises. He reveals that he has chosen the Tower of London as the best place for the two princes to await the coronation. But the Prince of Wales does not like the idea of the Tower. In a clever dialogue with Richard, he shows his brand of precocity, prompting his uncle to remark snidely in an aside: "So wise so young, they say do never live long" (III, i, 79). But this ironical comment is only half-heard by the alert prince. So Richard revises it in repetition. Then, in another aside, he gloats over his own cleverness, comparing himself to "the formal Vice, Iniquity."

As the prince continues to expound on the virtue of brave acts, he keeps rubbing Richard the wrong way. Has anyone been able to provoke the Duke of Gloucester in this way? In an aside, using another proverb, Richard continues to predict a bad end for this prince. Hastings and Cardinal Bourchier then return with the younger brother, the Duke of York.

LINES 95-200

A warm but formal greeting follows. All must acknowledge this youngster because of his royal status. But the respect shown to these children must appall Richard and remind him that they stood in his way. Nevertheless, the picture is not as clear-cut as it may seem. Even though Richard is the obvious villain, where is the opposing view of goodness? How well do the princes represent virtue and innocence?

Richard has had enough and announces that the boys are to be housed in the Tower. When young York hears that this is to be their destination, he expresses fear that the ghost of his late uncle Clarence will haunt them there. He claims that he was told by his grandmother, the Duchess of York, that Clarence had been murdered in the Tower.

The older prince assures his brother that he fears no dead uncles. The foxy Richard replies, "Nor none that live, I hope" (III, i, 147). Imagine, then, how this young King Edward V's parting words would touch the audience who knew, or believed they knew, his fate:

And if they live, I hope I need not fear.
But come, my lord; with a heavy heart,
Thinking on them, go I unto the Tower.

(lines 148-150)

In an orderly recessional, all leave the stage except Richard, Buckingham and Catesby. Buckingham tells us that he does not admire "this prating little York" who appears to be prompted by his mother to harass his uncle. Richard agrees, but not without admiration. To him, the youngster is "bold, quick, ingenious, forward, capable" (III, i, 155). Instead of expressing contempt, Richard surprises us yet again.

Assuming the role of campaign manager, Buckingham sends Catesby off to find out how Hastings feels about Richard becoming king. There can be no doubt about their intention to install Richard on the throne. They now need support from Hastings and Stanley.

As Catesby goes off, Richard suggests he notify Lord Hastings that his former enemies, the prisoners at Pomfret, are about to be executed. He adds a greeting, too, for Jane Shore, who has moved from his master the king's bed to Hastings'.

Catesby has barely left before Buckingham asks what they will do if Hastings doesn't come over to their side:

RICHARD: Chop off his head!

(line 193)

No hesitation, no question of mercy. This is serious life-and-death business.

But Richard tempers his harshness by soothing Buckingham with promises of great rewards for his faithful service. He will receive the earldom of Hereford as well as much of the late king's household treasure. Richard promises Buckingham that he will "have it yielded with all kindness," as the two go off to dinner and further plotting. Richard's promises will be worth remembering when Buckingham comes for his reward.


LINES 1-34

As the list of Richard's victims grows, Shakespeare carefully provides you with a character sketch of each. Before they are condemned to their fates, their gullibility and weaknesses are exposed plainly. Hastings has been a mere functionary until now. Here you see him on his own ground.

A messenger sent by Stanley arrives in the middle of the night at Hastings' door. Stanley has had a strange dream, warning him of impending danger to those who oppose "the boar," Richard's personal symbol. And, if that is not enough of an omen, Stanley has heard that there will be two Council meetings on the following day, a public and a private one. At the latter, the fate of those loyal to the late king and his family may be decided. They must do something about this, Stanley urges.

Hastings wonders how anyone can believe in dreams. Yet the Elizabethans placed great store in them and their prophetic value.

Hastings continues. All this nonsense about boars might only stir up quiet waters. As for the private Council meeting, his good friend Catesby will be there and will surely report everything that takes place.

LINES 35-70

As the messenger leaves, Catesby enters and gets right to the point. There is unrest in the land and there will be no true peace until Richard wears the crown. Aghast, Hastings points to his head and declares:

I'll have this crown of mine cut from my shoulders
Before I'll see the crown so foul misplaced.

(lines 43-44)

Another of Richard's doomed victims has pronounced his own sentence. Even the news of his enemies' execution at Pomfret Castle cannot change Hastings' mind. Catesby continues to bait him, but Hastings only confirms his loyalty to the children of his late master, Edward IV. Besides, he smiles confidently, his safety is virtually guaranteed by his friends, the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham. Catesby, of course, knows better. He confides to the audience that they'll end up treating Hastings like a traitor.

LINES 71-122

Hastings welcomes Stanley, who arrives in a state of anxiety. When he openly expresses concern about the two Council meetings, Hastings insists that there is no danger. Would he risk his life if there were? Stanley reminds him that the prisoners at Pomfret were just as confident a short while ago. And where are they today? Beheaded, replies Hastings with obvious delight at the fate of his enemies. He, too, can be vengeful. But Stanley is not as confident and distrusts the situation. Hastings will hear no more, so he dismisses Stanley and Catesby.

Having barely left for the only Council meeting there really will be at the Tower, Hastings comes upon a "pursuivant," a state messenger. He recognizes this man as the same person he had met once before when he was, coincidentally, on his way to imprisonment in the Tower. Now he can share his pleasure at this twist of Fate that has brought revenge on those very enemies who had been responsible for that imprisonment.

The passing parade continues as Shakespeare presses the point of Hastings' naivete even further. To the next passerby, a priest, Hastings makes a vow to meet with him "come the next Sabbath." A day of rest? For Hastings that rest will be eternal.

Buckingham arrives during this conversation and assures Hastings that he needs no priest. Rather, he tells him, they could have used one at Pomfret. As they walk along toward the Council meeting at the Tower, Hastings remarks that he will probably be there long enough to have a midday meal. Buckingham adds in an aside that he will undoubtedly be there at suppertime, too.


LINES 1-25

For all the talk of their execution, Rivers, Grey and Vaughan are not dead. They are now being led to the block by Ratcliffe, one of Richard's henchmen. This brief scene takes place at Pomfret Castle, where Richard II was, according to tradition, "hacked to death" in 1400. This set off the struggle for kingly power that has led to the present chaos, usurpations, revenge, and political crimes. Grey recalls Margaret's curses. But Rivers points out that she has cursed Richard and Buckingham as well. In his final moments, he prays that God will remember those particular names.


LINES 1-57

This scene takes place within the Tower at the Council meeting. To establish that, it would probably be preceded by the formal placement of a table and seats. Then the members of the Council would enter in orderly fashion and take their places, according to their ranks. Ritual underscored the importance of order on the surface while disruption seethed below. The ironic setting of the Tower, too, would not be lost on the Elizabethan audience.

The Council has gathered to set a date for the coronation of the young King Edward V. Everyone is there except Richard. Without him, the Protector, they cannot confirm the proposal made by the Bishop of Ely to have the coronation the next day. Now watch how Buckingham starts to maneuver the victim. He asks if anyone knows how Richard might feel about the proposed coronation date. Hastings is singled out as the closest to Richard, giving that foolish man an opportunity to save himself by the tiniest display of humility. But Hastings, confident of Richard's approval, announces he will take the responsibility for voting as his proxy.

Just then Richard enters the meeting, apologizing for having overslept. This is the first we've heard of Richard's nocturnal rest and should be noted. When told that Hastings was about to answer for him, he seems to find nothing wrong with that. With his well-known moodiness, Richard has no trouble in suddenly distracting them from the business before the Council. On the pretext of having seen some strawberries he desired in the Bishop's garden, he sends that councilor off to bring him some. He then steps aside for a private meeting with Buckingham. Quickly discussing Hastings' refusal to go along with them, they leave the meeting room to conspire further.

LINES 58-106

Well-rehearsed, they return to the meeting, in which no agreement has been reached about the coronation date. Richard is now in a lather. He is suffering, his crippled body is in pain. He accuses someone of using witchcraft to torment him. Hastings shouts that anyone who did so surely deserves death. Displaying his withered arm, Richard accuses both Queen Elizabeth and Mistress Shore. The trap is set. Will Hastings take the bait? How will it be sprung?

Hastings gasps, "If they have done this deed." "If!" The word strikes like a thunderbolt. Upon that wavering of an instant and that single word, Richard pounces and condemns Hastings as a guilty accessory. What was it Hastings had said the guilty party deserved? Richard pronounces the sentence: "Off with his head." Swearing that he will not be able to eat until the sentence is carried out, he storms out, leaving Ratcliffe and Lovel to deal with the condemned man.

NOTE: Lovel and Ratcliffe, along with Catesby, were to become three of the historic Richard's closest allies. When he became King, Richard granted them lavish promotions and allowed them to exercise great power. It was widely felt that they abused this power. So well known was this threesome and their relationship to the king (whose symbol was a boar), that a dissident posted a notice on a cathedral door in 1484:

The Cat, the Rat, and Lovel our dog

Ruleth all England under a Hog.

Their notoriety became famous by that couplet, which is still studied by some English schoolchildren as part of their history lessons.

Now Hastings grieves over his own stupidity. He recalls all the warnings he has ignored, particularly Margaret's curse. In his agony you may hear the echo of Clarence's vision of the hazardous journey to death. In his last words, he prophesies troubled times ahead for his poor country, and for his executioners.

The truth of his words will soon be known. Meanwhile, you've just heard another recapitulation of Margaret's curses and a demand for vengeance.


LINES 1-70

The empty stage is soon filled by the arrival of the two conspirators, Richard and Buckingham, described by Shakespeare as wearing "rotten armour, marvellous ill-favoured." Whatever happened to that Richard who was going to buy new clothes and dress up? It is a severe contrast with preceding stage pictures and another surprise from Richard, the master of deceit.

In a hurried discussion, Richard and Buckingham compare their skills as actors when Catesby enters with the Lord Mayor. The two battered dukes pretend to be frightened by the threat that surrounds them. They seem to see enemies everywhere, adding to the notion of civil unrest.

NOTE: The Lord Mayor, who has appeared briefly before, now emerges as a fully developed comic figure. In each of Shakespeare's plays there is generally such a character, a carryover from the touring companies which had such stock characters in all their plays. The wide-eyed, easily duped, pompous fool was a great favorite with audiences.

Ratcliffe and Lovel arrive next with Hastings' head, the blood dripping from their hands. What does Richard do? How does he greet this evidence of an execution he had just ordered? Crocodile tears. Sobbing, he tells how much he had loved this man. Never had he suspected Hastings' sinister side or his dealings with that witch, Mistress Shore.

Buckingham elaborates on Hastings' guilt, telling the Lord Mayor that the two dukes were even threatened with murder by the Lord Chamberlain. But though the Lord Mayor is taken aback, he hesitates. Angrily, Richard protests that they are law-abiding people. Would anything less than the country's security have driven them to have Hastings executed?

It is imperative that there be no suspicion, no blot on Richard's record when he is ready to claim the crown. The official report must show that Hastings was judged according to the law. Buckingham finally convinces the Lord Mayor, who willingly agrees that their story must be true.

LINES 71-109

Now Richard takes charge of the situation. He no longer needs a "stage manager" to do the job Buckingham has performed. But he still needs an ally. He becomes the master of the proceedings, the chief puppeteer.

Buckingham is directed to follow the Lord Mayor to the public forum at Guildhall and spread the story that Richard would have everyone believe. He is to suggest, namely, that Edward IV's children are illegitimate, due to a technicality in a rumored previous marriage, and that the late king himself may have been of unsure birth. The latter point is to be handled delicately, adds Richard, "because, my lord, you know my mother lives." Is this a concern for her reputation? Or perhaps a fear that some stigma may attach to his own birth? Or is it a cunning awareness that an outraged Duchess of York could be a dangerous enemy? Knowing what you now know of Richard, how would you explain his action?

Richard's next move is to have Lovel and Catesby bring two prominent clergymen to him at his residence where he will await word from Buckingham. When they depart, once more he shares his secret plans to clear the path to the throne. Clarence's children will be easily pushed aside. Then he will isolate the main obstacle, Edward IV's sons. Since no one will be allowed to visit them in the Tower, he will be able to proceed with his next step. As he continues with his schemes, his energy knows no bounds.


LINES 1-14

This short scene serves a number of purposes. For one thing, through the scrivener (notary), Shakespeare suggests that the "man in the street" may be onto Richard's tricks. It also relieves the breakneck speed of action and gives the audience a chance to consider Richard's boldness in his disposal of Hastings- the sheer illegality of the proceeding.

From this ordinary man's point of view, it's indeed a fine world where such things may occur, a sentiment likely to be shared by the audience. Moreover, the scrivener admits that the atmosphere throughout the country is too dangerous for anyone to even speak up about such matters. In other words, there is a lack of order in this unlawful state. And there must be an upheaval to restore it.


LINES 1-54

The truth of this warning about Richard's lack of popular support comes home soon. Buckingham has bad news to report. "The citizens are mum," he tells Richard when asked what happened at Guildhall. He repeats all the arguments he had used.

The moment is carefully placed. Up until now you've heard nothing about Richard's actual accomplishments, which were in fact considerable. Now you're told about his "victories in Scotland... discipline in war, wisdom in peace" as well as his virtue and "fair humility." The historic Richard was the great peacemaker in the north of England and had maneuvered the ever- warring border factions into accepting a truce. Buckingham reminds you of this, just as Richard is at the threshold of his greatest villainy, but when it is most important for him to be cast as a worthy candidate for kingship.

Closing his recital, Buckingham finally speaks the words that are music to Richard's ears: "God save Richard, England's royal king!" But even the repetition of these words by an official spokesman, allowing for no misunderstanding, had not moved the crowd. Once again, Buckingham takes charge of the situation, preparing for the next step. Richard seems to allow himself to be ordered into a passive role. Is it a form of preparation as Buckingham instructs Richard to assume a pious pose, to fake disdain, but ultimately accept what's offered?

LINES 54-218

Richard departs as the Lord Mayor arrives, accompanied by several aldermen and a delegation from the City of London.

NOTE: The Lord Mayor was an elected official whose chief function was ceremonial. However, he acted as spokesman for the Board of Aldermen, who represented the general population. In times of crisis, they could petition for relief from any danger they perceived. They did not actually choose a king, but within the framework of their authority was the chance to seek relief from peril through the succession of an eligible candidate such as Richard.

Buckingham repeatedly calls for Richard to come forward. He reminds the delegation in his absence of his great qualifications, especially in comparison to the late King Edward IV, who is described as sexually promiscuous.

Finally, Richard appears, surrounded by clergymen to strengthen the picture Buckingham has painted. The charade then begins in earnest. Buckingham begs Richard's pardon for disturbing him at his devotions. Richard then asks his pardon for not appearing sooner. But why do they seek him? Has he offended someone?

Buckingham says that his only offense lies in the rejection of the crown that is "due at birth," rather than that "of a blemished stock" (namely, Edward IV's undoubtedly illegitimate children). He pleads with Richard to restore legitimacy by accepting this call to the throne. Again and again, Buckingham stresses that single note- the right of birth, the legitimate bloodline.

Richard's reply is a masterpiece of cunning. His respect for these people is great. He would not insult them, but he must reject the merest suggestion of any interest in "the yoke of sovereignty." Besides, he reminds them, "the royal tree hath left us royal fruit."

That issue must not be avoided. Before he can move an inch closer to the throne, those who beg him to do so must acknowledge that the claims of Edward IV's children are not valid. Commending him on his humility, Buckingham nevertheless raises the story of a previous, suspected marriage that had taken place between Edward IV and a "Lady Lucy."

NOTE: There was historical substance behind this allegation of bigamy. Although proved untrue, there were several alleged betrothals or marriages claimed for Edward IV, with not only Elizabeth Lucy and Eleanor Butler in England, but with Lady Bona, the sister of the king of France.

So Richard would be doing the nation a service by not allowing an unlawful heir to ascend the throne when a perfectly legitimate one was available- namely, Richard.

Richard protests. Buckingham insists. Richard asks them not to "heap this care" on him, claiming that he is unfit and will not yield.

In a final plea, Buckingham swears that even if Richard will not accept, Edward IV's children will never sit on the throne. With that final threat, he stalks out with the Lord Mayor and his delegation.

LINES 219-246

What can Richard do? What do you think? He sends Catesby after them to avoid any appearance of running after the crown. When they return, he reluctantly gives in, against his better judgment and only "for the good of the country." But Richard makes a strong point, warning them that he is the servant of their wishes and that, "if black scandal or foul-faced reproach" follows, they must bear the burden of guilt. He goes so far as to call on the Almighty to witness how far he is "from desire of this." Could there be a greater example of his blasphemy?

Buckingham offers the first recognition by hailing him with the royal title, "King Richard, England's worthy king!" And now, what about a coronation date? Contrast this discussion with the Council meeting on the same topic. They instantly decide to crown Richard the next day.


LINES 1-27

How will the news of Richard's great fortune be received in other quarters? Shakespeare doesn't keep you in suspense long. In this scene, the focus of Richard's opposition has gathered. Making their way to the Tower to visit the young boys are Queen Elizabeth, her son Dorset, and the Duchess of York. Coming from another side are Lady Anne with Clarence's daughter. They are interrupted by Brakenbury, who tells them they are not permitted to enter, by order of the "king." Shakespeare teases by having Brakenbury correct himself to say "the Lord Protector." As the women demand entry, Stanley arrives to reveal that Lady Anne must go to Westminster to be crowned queen immediately.

When she hears this news, Queen Elizabeth clearly sees the extent of the danger which threatens her family. She orders her son Dorset to leave for France, where he may join up with Stanley's stepson, Richmond.

Richmond, the many-times-removed, but nonetheless chief Lancastrian heir, had fled to France to escape persecution by the Yorkists' regime. The first mention of his name would touch the Elizabethan audience, who knew him to be the grandfather of their own queen.

It is now the old Duchess' moment to blame herself for having brought the evil Richard into this world. But Stanley rushes Anne to the coronation, though she would rather suffer a band of hot steel around her head than the crown. She recalls her earlier curses and her damnation of that pitiful woman who would marry Richard. And she sees that her curse has been fulfilled.

The eighty-year-old Duchess now seems to shrink under the weight of her misery. She urges Elizabeth to return to the sanctuary as she declares her intention to await her own death. As these women cast a final glance at the Tower, you are reminded of the prisoners within.


LINES 1-27

That mournful scene is followed by one of great ceremony. King Richard enters "in pomp," followed by the members of his court, including all his favorites.

As the scene begins, it appears that Buckingham and Richard are still very intimate. Assisted by Buckingham, Richard moves up to the throne, a gesture he lavishly acknowledges. But what next, now that the great goal has been achieved? Is he secure? Richard sounds the first warning:

But shall we wear these glories for a day?
Or shall they last, and we rejoice in them?

(lines 5-6)

Is Richard, the great actor, really that casually concerned with such an important matter? What about those two boys in the Tower? He baits Buckingham about this obstacle to his peace of mind- and his claim of legitimacy. It is now his chief concern. Pressed on the subject, Buckingham is hesitant, even when Richard declares outright, "I wish the bastards dead." Buckingham asks for leave to consider the matter and steps outside, a move that will prove fatal to him.

NOTE: If you can fix a mental image of Fortune's Wheel, you might be able to detect some movement here. Up to this point, everything has gone Richard's way. His victims have stepped right into his traps. His wishes have come true. This is the first flaw in his perfect world. And look at the way he responds.

We see a different Richard, one you might not have imagined. Even Catesby observes, "The king is angry. See, he gnaws his lip."

LINES 28-81

Richard hammers away at his wish to have the two prisoners in the Tower out of the way, even without the help of "High-reaching Buckingham." He sends for a man with fewer scruples, trusting a mere page's recommendation of someone named "Tyrrel." When the page goes off, Richard reveals that Buckingham will now be excluded from his inner circle.

Meanwhile, Stanley arrives with the news of Dorset's flight to France. The moving Wheel picks up momentum. This stirs the old Richard into action. Cool and calculating, he formulates plans to strengthen his position. His wife, no longer needed, will be disposed of in due course. He will marry off Clarence's daughter and confine his dim-witted son. Then he reveals a shocking intention: he must marry his niece, Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV. Nothing is beyond his scheming.

But the gusto seems to have disappeared as Richard moves into a defensive position. First, he must deal with the assassin, Tyrrel, who now enters. There is no mincing of words. The order is clearly given. The monarch dispatches the killer to do the job.

LINES 82-121

When Buckingham returns, Richard is no longer interested in what he has to say. More important is the news of Dorset's flight to Richmond. Watch what happens now as Buckingham pleads for his reward. The episode demonstrates Shakespeare's skill at showing three things at once: Richard's concern with Stanley's loyalty, his rebuff of Buckingham, and his recollection of an old prophecy from the reign of Henry VI. It was predicted at that time that Richmond would someday be king. An agitated Richard whines that the prophet did not predict that he would be king, or that he would kill Richmond. To add to his fury, an Irish poet has independently forewarned of doom for Richard once he has seen Richmond. Keep in mind that Richmond has been in exile all this time.

NOTE: What does Richard make of this? And why does Shakespeare introduce such a prophecy this late in the play? Is it possible that the Richard who has scoffed at Queen Margaret's curses is now becoming superstitious?

Buckingham continues to interrupt, but Richard silences him in a chilling display of the royal will. King Richard announces that he is "not in the [giving] vein."

What does this mean for Buckingham? He remembers Hastings and, fearing for his own head, he flees to his castle in Wales.


LINES 1-35

NOTE: Do you think Clarence's murder was as cruel and gory an on-stage action as you could bear? So did Shakespeare. It's one thing to execute a grown man on stage, but putting the two youngsters to death would have been more than his audience could witness without horror. Still, he wanted to sustain the impact of the deed. What does he do? He uses tightly controlled verse to amplify the description. Imagine the effect of this scene on an audience trained in grasping vivid images.

Tyrrel marches in to announce:

The tyrannous and bloody act is done,
The most arch deed of piteous massacre
That ever yet this land was guilty of.

(lines 1-3)

Wait a minute: Though he had hired Dighton and Forrest to do the actual deed, isn't he guilty? Isn't Richard? Notice how Shakespeare deals with blame, reminding us that guilt is a larger matter. Tyrrel spares no pertinent details in his description of what took place. Even the hardened murderers wept like babies when they viewed the horror of their deed.

When he finishes, Richard enters and asks Tyrrel if he has happy news for him. That single word "happy" links him in the most horrifying way to the bloody crime.

To Richard's question of where the children are buried, Tyrrel gives an evasive reply. In fact, the bodies of the two boys were never found, leading to the age-old question of whether or not they were really killed. Centuries later, relics were found and identified as the bodies of children of that time, but whether or not they were Edward IV's sons has never been proved.

Bidding Tyrrel to come to him later and re-create the details of the execution, Richard now turns to the audience and reviews his program for consolidating his power.

LINES 36-57

NOTE: Again, Shakespeare is careful of history in the matter of Anne's death. Quite possibly, she had passed away from natural causes. There was no proof that Richard's bloody hand was involved. Of course, there were those who felt that he influenced it and therefore was guilty. But here, he merely says, "Anne my wife hath bid this world good night."

Richard is now free to pursue a marriage to Edward's daughter, his own niece. The prospect excites him, drawing forth the old, exuberant Richard, the man who loves a challenge.

But Ratcliffe enters with grim news. Richmond is gaining strength from desertions by Richard's allies. And Buckingham has raised a small army and is marching against Richard. The Richmond threat is the greater, says Richard. The military leader is now seen for the first time, assessing the situation and making command decisions. Does this surprise you? How does Shakespeare prepare you for understanding this side of Richard's character?


LINES 1-135

Queen Margaret, the embodiment of Fortune's Wheel, enters and reminds us of the events that have borne out her prophecies. This is only the second time she appears on stage, but haven't you felt her presence throughout? Now she sees the once-ascendant Richard's fortune beginning to turn on the down side. Her need for revenge will be satisfied. But first, Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York, her counterparts in age and station, enter, mourning the deaths of the boys in the Tower.

NOTE: The formal chorus of their lament is designed to heighten the effect of their sorrow. The rhythm might have been borrowed from the classics. It sounds to many like a church service, perhaps a requiem.

Despite their differences and their ancient feud, these women are joined by a mutual hatred of Richard. They curse him fiercely, but it is Margaret who sees through their misfortune to a fulfillment of her vision.

LINES 136-196

All they have is words to remind them of their calamity- words that try to soothe, but fail. Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York have exhausted their tears when a trumpet flourish announces the arrival of King Richard.

Here, for the first time, is Richard in a new guise: the warrior king. Ironically, his first skirmish will not be with the enemy awaiting him outside the capitol. Do you remember how he looked earlier in "rotten" armor? Compare that with this image. See how Shakespeare gets full value from such small details.

They stop him with questions regarding their losses, reminding us of his participation in so many deaths. Does he answer them as cleverly as he once did? What do you think of this picture of a king under attack by these women?

Obviously having the upper hand, they prolong the confrontation. Now it is the Duchess of York who says that she will be calm in speaking to him. But she lingers over the loathsome repetition of the details of his birth and childhood. Her final words are a curse that he will be so wearied in battle that he will be unable to stand and will be defeated.

LINES 197-430

But Richard will not be dissuaded from his purpose. When the Duchess of York departs, he stops Queen Elizabeth. Despite any opposition she may offer, he must attempt to woo her daughter through this proxy. Richard has announced a goal and he must succeed in it. Thus begins the second of the great courtship scenes of this play.

Now, where is the virtuoso actor who could strike all the right poses, quickly and cleverly? This long, drawn-out duel seems labored, dominated by Elizabeth's mastery of the situation rather than Richard's. Who is on the defensive now?

She vows that there is nothing she will not do to prevent such a match. She has an answer for every thrust he makes. He tries to threaten, claiming her daughter's only real safety is in marrying him. But she reminds him that her sons were entrusted to him, too. What does it take to win her daughter, he asks. She then calmly offers in vivid images a horrifying capsule of his villainy.

Send to her by the man that slew her brothers
A pair of bleeding hearts; thereon engrave
"Edward" and "York." Then haply will she weep;
Therefore present to her- as sometimes Margaret
Did to thy father, steeped in Rutland's blood-
A handkerchief, which, say to her, did drain
The purple sap from her sweet brother's body,
And bid her wipe her weeping eyes withal.

(lines 271-278)

Is there no end to the horror? In that heap of bloody deeds, do you hear the sound of despair, the whispered cry for revenge? And what effect does it have on Richard?

He plods ahead. He uses every imaginable argument. Which of them do you think is the most impressive? Finally, he swears that the marriage must take place for England's sake. It is the only way to avoid "Death, desolation, ruin, and decay."

The argument, presented with his inexhaustible energy, weakens her. She can barely lift her voice to remind him that he had slain her little boys. But the fiendish Richard knows that he has her. He gives her the sweetest reply he can muster.

But in your daughter's womb I bury them,
Where in that nest of spicery they will breed
Selves of themselves, to your recomforture.

(lines 423-425)

Compare that extravagant language to the rest of his speech during their duel. Would he dare to use such fantastic images before the battle had been won?

Her consent, however, is not enthusiastic and there is something uncertain in her promise to do as he has asked. But he takes this for victory and the minute she is gone he dismisses her with contempt.

LINES 431-538

Ratcliffe and Catesby now enter with military news. Richmond has sailed from France and plans to join forces with Buckingham. This calls for a command decision from Richard. He starts to tell Catesby to go to the Duke of Norfolk with a message, but forgets that he has not provided its content. Has Richard ever hesitated before? Has he ever appeared confused? Recovering, he sends Catesby off with word to meet him at Salisbury.

Now it's Stanley's turn to enter with bad news. He repeats the report that Richmond is en route by sea. Why, asks Richard, is Richmond on the move? When Stanley gives the obvious reply- to claim the crown- Richard is outraged. He screams that he is the only legitimate heir, the only true descendant of the Yorkist line. What right has anyone to claim his throne?

Stanley becomes a pivotal figure. Even though he is Richmond's step-father, there has been no reason to question his loyalty. But Richard taunts him with his difficult position. Stanley must find a way out. He claims he must travel north to muster his substantial forces. Richard needs this added strength and can't disagree. But he is no fool. He will hold Stanley's son, George, as a hostage until his father's troops join in on Richard's side.

One messenger after another arrives with bad news. First one group of nobles, then another, has gone over to the enemy. When a third messenger comes in, Richard automatically strikes him before he can speak up. For all the animosity and tension that have been evident, no blow has ever been struck in this play before. This loss of control in a king is a pointed indication of his declining power.

But it is good news. Buckingham's forces have been defeated and that rebellious duke is in flight. Richard apologizes to the messenger and offers a reward to the man who captures Buckingham. Have you ever seen him show so many different facets of his personality so rapidly? What is Shakespeare's purpose in placing so much pressure on Richard now?

A final burst of news arrives. A storm has destroyed Richmond's naval forces and their commander has sailed back to France. Richard is delighted and comments that this will give his troops a chance to move against the domestic opposition.

But Catesby returns to reveal that Buckingham has been captured and that Richmond had indeed managed to land.

One thing at a time, says Richard. They are bound for Salisbury and there they will go. As they march off, he calls for Buckingham to be brought to him there.

In the breath of time before the next scene begins, consider all that has taken place and compare your impression of Richard with what you have heard of him as a military leader. How well do you think he will do when the real crunch comes?


LINES 1-21

This brief scene is a welcome change of pace. Stanley is talking with a priest, through whom he sends a message to Richmond. He explains that George Stanley is being held hostage and that that is the reason he cannot yet ally himself openly with his stepson.

Although the focus is on Stanley, this is another expression of Shakespeare's point of view regarding the clergy. How does this clergyman compare with others you've already met?

More important at the moment is the revelation that Queen Elizabeth has agreed to a marriage of her daughter with Richmond. This is the first we have heard of this decision. What does it do to Richard's string of victories? Will he learn of it? And how will he react? See how his presence is maintained even when he is not on stage?


LINES 1-24

The once proud Buckingham now appears in chains. He points out, ironically, that it is All Soul's Day, but also his very personal doomsday. Here is the last of Richard's victims displaying his recognition of the sources of his downfall- his broken vows to the late King Edward, along with his contempt for Margaret's curses and warnings. Yes, Richard has been the instrument, but where does the guilt lie? How do you feel about justice? Revenge? Retribution? Does Buckingham's execution make you question or change your opinions?


LINES 1-24

At last Richmond arrives with his troops. Do you think it would have added to the drama if he had been involved earlier? Or was the anticipation more important?

In his first words, Richmond sounds a note of sincerity, speaking to his "loving friends." Think back and try to recall hearing the word "love" at any time before. Was it used often?

As he describes his opponent, Richmond touches on all the essential points. Equating Richard with his personal insignia, Richmond calls him "the wretched, bloody, and usurping boar." He links both the usurper and the murderer. Those are at the top of the list, but the evil of this enemy goes to the personal concern of every citizen in the land, to the fields and vines that provide them with food. Is this what a king should be?

His comrades are convinced that even Richard's allies will see the light and desert him. Richmond's hopes and spirits are so high, he feels he can achieve anything- "Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings." Does this combination of confidence and humility seem appropriate?


LINES 1-19

Richard enters, followed by his troops. We are at Bosworth Field on the eve of battle.

NOTE: The words "Bosworth Field" would have had much the same effect on Elizabethans as "Wounded Knee" or "Gettysburg" would have on Americans. This gives Shakespeare a choice. He could either dwell on the military details or on the participants to tell the story of this great event. He chose the latter. Would you have done the same? How does that satisfy all that has come before?

Richard's tent is set up on one side of the stage. He reviews the military situation, pleased that he has three times the number of soldiers on his side. Moreover, he adds, "the king's name is a tower of strength" (V, iii, 12). Does that agree with the prediction of desertions just heard? And how does the word "tower" sound to you now? Does it call up favorable images?

LINES 20-46

When Richard's group withdraws with him to go over plans, the action shifts to the other side of the stage. Richmond enters with his troops. For dramatic balance, his tent is pitched opposite Richard's with a clear, wide space between them. As Richmond begins to outline his battle plan, his military credentials are quickly established. Before withdrawing with his cabinet, he hears that Lord Stanley is nearby and sends him a message.

LINES 47-79

Richard returns with a few of his followers. He, too, sends a message to Stanley reminding him of the peril of his hostage son, George. But what is Richard's real mood like now? His lack of zest for what he faces is apparent when he states, "I have not that alacrity of spirit." Is this the same Richard who once claimed that the proper occupation of a king was waging war?

LINES 80-177

Stanley arrives at Richmond's tent, where he offers moral support. He must hold off coming out openly as long as George Stanley is in danger. When all have left, Richmond prays to God for help in crushing the "usurping helmets" of his adversaries. The theme of usurpation is being hammered home.

NOTE: Throughout the play we have heard of the supernatural, but now we get to see a representation. So widespread was the Elizabethan belief in ghosts that this would require little in the way of special make-up or trick effects to be entirely believable.

The ghost of Edward, son of Henry VI, rises from below and goes to the center of the stage between the two tents. As the first of Richard's victims, he will be followed by nine others, in order of their deaths. Each places a curse on Richard and a blessing on Richmond. Each ends by expressing a wish that Richard suffer in battle as well as die, and that Richmond not only survive, but flourish.

LINES 178-223

When all the ghosts vanish, Richard is startled awake. In the same breath, he cries for mercy and a horse. Is this a symbol of escape? Where have you heard him mention a horse before? Now where is that swagger? Listen to him talk of conscience. Hear him acknowledge his sins. He freely admits his guilt as a liar and a common murderer.

But Richard can only be true to his own nature. He recognizes this clearly. For all his earlier revelations, for all his play acting, has he ever shown himself more fully than here, in this dark hour when there is no one else to listen?

He continues to balance the account. He acknowledges the curses heaped on him and where he stands. And he asks for no pity. Was there ever a clearer cry that he will face the consequences as he always has- alone?

Ratcliffe enters to help him dress for battle. A flicker of his old spirit and roguish behavior surfaces as he invites Ratcliffe to join him in eavesdropping outside the tents. Does this commander suspect disloyalty from his troops?

LINES 224-352

As they leave, Richmond is awakened in his tent. Contrary to Richard's dream, Richmond's dreams are sweet and full of favorable signs. With that in mind, he steps out to deliver a final word of encouragement to his troops.

It is a warm and noble oration. "God and our good cause fight on our side," he tells them. The "prayers... of wronged souls" are with them as they fight this "bloody tyrant... and homicide." Emphasizing his point, Richmond closes with a reminder that they are the true representatives of all whom Richard has wronged. They are the embodiment of the true England.

When they march off, Richard returns with his forces. Now it is time for his pep talk.

NOTE: The perfect symmetry of the stage setting, the formal appearance of the ghosts, and now the balance of the two orations is designed deliberately to give a sense of order. It is almost a ritual that goes beyond the realistic action on the stage. Does it increase your anticipation of what you surely know by now will take place?

Richard begins with a few words to his officers, whom he warns not to be bothered by foolish things such as conscience. What is that after all but a word? Their conscience will lie in their swords.

He tells his troops that they are fighting to suppress "vagabonds, rascals, and runaways," a "scum of Britains and base lackey peasants."

As they depart for battle, a messenger tells Richard that Lord Stanley has not moved. The still imperious Richard cries, "Off with his son George's head." But is that really of any use to him now? Calling on England's patron saint- St. George, ironically- Richard rushes off to fight.


LINES 1-13

The battle rages. The floorboards of the stage would probably creak with the roaring of actors creating the mood of combat. Troops march across the stage to the sounds of horns and drums. In a momentary pause, Norfolk and Catesby enter. Catesby reports that Richard has been fighting with incredible strength and bravery, without regard to his personal safety. What does that tell you of his physical handicap?

Richard now enters, calling for a new horse to replace his lost mount. When Catesby urges him to withdraw to safety, Richard refuses. He candidly declares his intention to fight to the finish:

Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die.

(lines 9-10)

This is the Richard of old. This is Richard alone. He has already slain five men dressed as Richmond- they were decoys- but he will not rest until he meets the real one.

Earlier you read about Richard's courage in battle, but it may have sounded like so much propaganda coming from Buckingham. How do you feel about that now? Can you credit him with heroism? Does this begin to explain why he has fascinated audiences and intrigued scholars for centuries?

No matter what else, Richard will fight to the bitter end. His final words make it clear that for him, winning is still everything:

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

(line 13)

He will sacrifice everything for a chance to continue fighting.


The battle intensifies as the sound of trumpets is heard. Richard and Richmond fight a bloody duel, and Richmond slays Richard.

As Richard's body is dragged aside, Richmond comes forward with Stanley, who places the crown, taken from "usurped royalty," on Richmond's head.

Assured that his half-brother, George Stanley, is safe, Richmond proceeds with the business of wrapping things up. Richard III is typical of most Shakespearean noncomedies in its ending. A strong man steps forward to take charge of the mess that has been made in the past.

Richmond orders that the bodies of the slain be buried in accordance with their rank by birth. Order is to be restored. He then pardons those conquered enemies who will now pledge their loyalty to him. He speaks the words that were most cheering to his audience. As he had sworn,

We will unite the White Rose and the Red.

(line 19)

His marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, will produce a union upon which heaven will truly smile.

The battle has ended. All the virtues have triumphed, and England emerges victorious. The audience which saw Richard III slain in battle was witness to the last death of an English king on a battlefield. Never again was one to fall to a military foe.

Richmond ends the play with a prayer for an everlasting peace, now that "civil wounds are stopped."



ECC [King Richard III Contents] []

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