Welcome to the streets of London, where Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future King Richard III) delivers a famous soliloquy. (Psst: a soliloquy is just a speech that reveals a character's innermost thoughts to the audience.)
Richard announces that civil war is over and that his big brother, King Edward IV, is chillin' on the English throne.
Since war has given way to peace, everyone is London is celebrating by partying and hooking up.
Richard is not happy about this.
He claims he's not fit for peacetime because he was born prematurely and is a "deformed" hunchback who has no game with the ladies. (Also, dogs bark at him every time he limps along the streets, which puts him in a seriously bad mood.)
Brain Snack: The historical Richard III wasn't actually a hunchback. This was just one of many nasty rumors started by historians (like Sir Thomas More) who wanted to make him look bad while making King Henry VII (a.k.a. Richmond, the guy who eventually bumped Richard off the throne) look good. Go to "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" and read about the "Tudor myth" for more about this.
Richard tells us that, since he "cannot prove a lover," he'd rather spend his time being a "villain." (Translation: Richard wants to be king and he'll do anything to get the crown.)
As it turns out, Richard has been a very busy boy: he's been plotting and scheming against everyone at court, including his own family members.
Richard tells us that a prophecy has been circulating around the kingdom: apparently, someone whose name is associated with the letter "G" is going to murder King Edward IV's heirs.
Richard is hoping that King Edward will think the "G" stands for their brother, *G*eorge, the Duke of Clarence. (In the play, he's simply called "Clarence.")
Who should show up at this moment but George (a.k.a. Clarence), surrounded by guards who are taking him to be imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Richard pretends to be shocked and appalled and says something like "Hey Clarence, why are you being carted off to the slammer?"
Clarence explains that King Edward suspects him of plotting against his kids because his first name starts with a "G."
Richard is all, "Dang, that's horrible." He then declares that this is all "Lady Gray's" (a.k.a. Queen Elizabeth's) fault because she hates Clarence and she's been badmouthing him to her husband, the king.
(Note: Richard calls King Edward's wife, Queen Elizabeth, "Lady Gray" because the queen was the widow of her first husband, Sir John Gray, before she married the king. Calling her "Lady Gray" is meant to be an insult. Also, Queen Elizabeth/Lady Gray is NOT the same Queen Elizabeth (1503-1603) who ruled England when Shakespeare wrote this play.)
Richard claims that Lady Gray/Queen Elizabeth and her no-good brother were behind Lord Hastings' recent imprisonment, too. Luckily Hastings is getting out of jail today. But as long as the queen is manipulating the king, nobody's safe.
In fact, says Richard, the only reason Hastings is getting out of the slammer is because he's super friendly (if you know what we mean) with King Edward's mistress, Jane Shore. According to Richard, Jane Shore has the king totally whipped, so maybe everyone should kiss up to her if they want to stay in the king's good graces.
Richard's gossiping is broken up by Clarence's guard, Brackenbury, who'd really like to get Clarence to prison kind of soon. Brackenbury points out that he's just trying to do his job.
Before Clarence is led to the Tower, Richard promises to do his best to help him and says he's appalled by the way his brother is treating Clarence.
Once Clarence is gone, Richard tells us that he loves his brother so much that he'd like to send him on an all-expenses-paid trip to heaven – and who doesn't want to go to heaven?
Richard's evil-genius ramblings are interrupted by Hastings, the guy who just got out of jail.
Hastings says King Edward is sick – practically at death's door.
Hastings goes off to see the ailing King, and Richard promises to follow later.
Richard continues to hatch his evil plans (out loud, for our benefit). He'll visit King Edward, but only to encourage him in his hatred of Clarence. Richard hopes the king will have Clarence executed and then die soon after, which will leave Richard that much closer to the throne.
To add a new level to his scheming, Richard says he wants to marry Lady Anne Neville, even though he recently killed her husband and her father-in-law (King Henry VI).
Richard thinks it will be fun to play mind games with a grieving widow and points out that marrying Anne is also strategic move for him, since she's from an important family and has ties to the late king.
Still, he's not going to call the wedding planner just yet, as he has to orchestrate his brothers' deaths first.