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Richard III Act 4, Scene 4 Summary

  • Back in front of the palace, Queen Margaret is doing her usual bitter, creepy lurking-in-the-shadows act.
  • She says she's happy to witness the tragic downfall of this whole lot of people, and she'll be on her way to France before long.
  • The Duchess of York and Queen Elizabeth jointly mourn the loss of the two princes and bemoan the state of the world in general.
  • Queen Margaret then comes forward and asks to join in this dark session, as she feels she has more to grieve over than either of the other ladies.
  • The women compare all the wrongs their men have done to each other, and Margaret blames the Duchess's son (Richard) for having a hand in the death of her husband (Prince Henry VI) and son (Prince Edward of Wales at Tewksbury). Queen Margaret also blames Richard for having a hand in killing little Prince Edward (Elizabeth's son in the tower) and even his own father, Richard Duke of York.
  • The Duchess points out that, actually, Margaret was mostly responsible for Richard Duke of York's death, and Margaret happily helped the murder of her young son Rutland.
  • Finally Margaret settles on the fact that Richard killed his own brother Clarence (or at least ordered it) as evidence that the Duchess of York really does have the more vile offspring.
  • Then Margaret calls the Duchess's womb a kennel that bore a hell-hound.
  • Queen Margaret then turns her bitterness from the Duchess onto Queen Elizabeth, who likely feels bad enough already, with her fair share of dead kids. Margaret happily reiterates her curse: Elizabeth wrongfully took what Margaret thought was hers (the queen's crown) and now Elizabeth has lost everything.
  • Elizabeth asks Margaret to teach her how to curse (since Margaret's curses are obviously so effective).
  • Margaret says that if you concentrate on your own unhappiness, you can magnify it, which makes for good cursing. Basically, Elizabeth just needs to act like Margaret and feed a black and icy heart, which will only get blacker and icier if you do the whole thing right.
  • Then Margaret goes off to France.
  • The Duchess has a bright idea: she'd like Elizabeth to help her smother her son King Richard. With bad words, we mean.
  • Richard enters with his royal train and is immediately seized upon by his mother, the Duchess of York, who says she wishes she had strangled him in her womb.
  • Queen Elizabeth joins in, and both women begin to rail on Richard, listing all the people he's wrongfully murdered.
  • Richard responds in something of a panic. He says that as the "Lord's anointed" he doesn't need to hear the shrill cries of these women. To drown them out, he demands that his people strike up loud music.
  • The women are undeterred, though, and the Duchess of York insists on having a word with Richard. Her essential claim amounts to the fact that since his birth, Richard has only ever been a burden to her.
  • The Duchess promises she will never speak to Richard again, but she says she hopes God will kill him on the battlefield.
  • Before she exits, she says she will pray for his enemies, and wishes him a bloody and shameful death (soon!).
  • Richard recovers surprisingly quickly from his mother's death wish.
  • He immediately takes Queen Elizabeth aside and says he wants to marry her daughter. (Yep, his niece.)
  • Queen Elizabeth is horrified.
  • Richard denies that he had anything to do with murdering her sons in the Tower. 
  • Richard asks Queen Elizabeth for some tips on how to woo little Elizabeth.
  • Queen Elizabeth suggests that Richard carve the name of her two dead sons, Edward and York, into their tiny bleeding hearts and send that along to the little sister.
  • Elizabeth reminds everyone of the time when Queen Margaret gave Richard's dad a handkerchief steeped in his own son's blood.  Maybe Richard has a similar handkerchief he could give Elizabeth with her brothers' blood?
  • If that gift idea doesn't do it, Richard could write a letter detailing all the people he's murdered, and especially emphasize that he had Anne murdered just so he could marry little Elizabeth.
  • Richard points out that things would be fair and square between them if he married little Elizabeth. He may have stolen the kingdom from the princes by killing them, but he could keep it in the family by marrying their sister. 
  • Also, this alliance is the best way to stop a civil war – it could forge a nifty alliance.
  • Richard continues to argue audaciously on his own behalf, and the queen meets him with sharp retorts. She declares that nothing Richard can say will make her believe him. By breaking the peace made by the dying King Edward IV, and by murdering his rightful heirs, it's clear Richard can't be trusted.
  • Richard, it seems, is a bit cowed. He makes a vow of his own that (as with all the prophecies in the play) will come back to bite him in the tuchus. Richard vows to never have happiness or good luck if he doesn't value little Elizabeth with "immaculate devotion and holy thoughts." (Since we've never known Richard to have either of those things, looks like it's goodbye happiness and good luck.)
  • Richard reiterates he'd like Queen Elizabeth to be his advocate in making his case to little Elizabeth.
  • Richard stresses that Queen Elizabeth should think not on who he has been, but on who he'll grow to be.
  • Finally, after what seems like ages of talking, Queen Elizabeth says she'll talk to her daughter on Richard's behalf.
  • Queen Elizabeth relents her anti-Richard position, and no sooner is she out the door than Richard dismisses her gleefully as a "shallow, changing woman!"
  • Just then, Richard begins receiving reports that Richmond has taken to the seas, and he's expecting the aid of Buckingham. Further, the people who are on Richard's side are clearly half-hearted and are doing very little to beat the enemy army back.
  • Richard loses composure when Lord Stanley arrives with the news that Richmond has shown up to seize the throne of England.
  • Richard then lashes out against Stanley. He questions why Stanley came without troops and wonders whether Stanley's troops are helping the enemy to shore.
  • Stanley promises he wouldn't betray Richard, but Richard knows betrayal like the back of his hand, so he covers himself. He says Stanley can go gather troops, but he must leave his son, George Stanley, in Richard's care. If the troops Stanley brings aren't for Richard's side, then Stanley's son will lose his head.
  • As Stanley exits, Richard learns that more of his friends are defecting to Richmond's side and mounting armies.
  • By the time a third messenger shows up, Richard has flown into a passionate rage. He smacks the poor guy around a little before he hears the good news that Buckingham's army has been scattered by flooding, and Buckingham has wandered off to god knows where.
  • Richard then hears from another messenger that the army from Brittany is definitely dispersed.
  • With this news that the enemy army is also a bit disoriented, Richard seems to take heart and prepares to head for the battlefield. Things are in such a state of disarray that he's feeling bloodlust-y regardless of whether he's fighting foreign enemies or domestic rebels. Seriously, he's just ready to go kill some people.
  • Richard then receives news from Catesby that Buckingham is caught, but Richmond now leads a mighty fighting force.
  • Richard says he's done talking – he wants the captive Buckingham taken to Salisbury.

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