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Richard III Act 5, Scene 5 Summary

  • Back at Richard's camp at Bosworth Field, Richard is also making preparations for battle. He is not focused on troop movements or even the well-being of the army. Instead, he asks about his own personal gear: his helmet, swords, horse, and armor (evidence, perhaps, that in his mind the battle is all about him). Even when talking about his own men, Richard is more ready to threaten than to encourage.
  • Richard sends Catesby to tell Stanley to bring his troops before sunrise, emphasizing that Stanley's son's life hangs in the balance.
  • Richard then calls for wine and hears the news that some other noblemen have gone through the camps trying to cheer and motivate the troops (something Richard didn't see fit to do himself).
  • Richard gets his wine and calls for ink and paper. His last instructions are to Ratcliffe, who should come and arm him in the early morning.
  • Then, instead of doing any crunch-time writing or planning for the battle, Richard goes to bed and falls asleep right away.
  • Back at Richmond's camp, Richmond's stepfather Stanley has arrived for a secret meeting. The two greet each other lovingly, and Stanley gives Richmond the inside scoop that he should be prepared for battle very, very early.
  • Stanley says he'll try to do whatever he can to help Richmond by misleading Richard's forces. He has to appear to fight on Richard's side, though, or else the king will kill Richmond's stepbrother, George Stanley.
  • Richmond thanks Stanley warmly and has him escorted back to his regiment.
  • Then Richmond does the opposite of what Richard did. He doesn't drink, and, having done all his homework, lies down to get as much sleep as possible so he'll be well rested for his big day tomorrow.
  • As if he weren't already perfect enough, Richmond says his prayers before bed.  He talks to God, reiterating that he's humbly in His service. He also asks that God bless his men so they can crush their foes with irons of wrath. 
  • We then get a parade of ghosts.  Richard has had a hand in the murder of each of the eleven ghosts who show up, being, in order of their murder and appearance: Prince Edward (son of Henry VI), King Henry VI, Clarence, Rivers, Gray, Vaughn, the two young princes Edward and York, Hastings, Lady Anne, and Buckingham.
  • Each ghost speaks to Richard and then Richmond, and with some variance they establish a general pattern. They each describe who they are and the circumstances of their death to Richard. They often go on to wish or prophesy that Richard be killed in battle the next day. Most important, every one of the ghosts also tells Richard to, in so many words, "Despair and die!"
  • After each ghost speaks with Richard, it makes its way to Richmond to deliver a counterbalancing speech of hope, love, and encouragement. Richmond is hailed as England's new king and father to a race of kings.
  • After their speeches, the eleven ghosts vanish from the stage. Richard wakes up out of his sleep in a fit, crying for Jesus' mercy.
  • As soon as Richard realizes it was only a dream, he curses that he is "afflicted" by his "coward conscience." Still, he notes a blue burning light (which was thought to symbolize the presence of ghosts).
  • Richard can rationalize all he wants, but he feels fear and then tries to figure out why. Perhaps he fears himself? Of course not...or maybe. Perhaps, he wonders, he fears a murderer? There are no murderers there...except for himself. He briefly muses that perhaps he's seeking revenge against himself, but quickly dismisses this thought, knowing that he loves himself.
  • Ultimately, Richard confesses that he's guilty of almost every sin in the book: deceit, murder, and beyond. He knows he's a villain, and he knows no one will pity him. He's quite comfortable with this though; no one can pity a man who does not pity himself, and King Richard does not pity himself.
  • Still, he knows he dreamed that the next day's battle would be his last.
  • Richard is interrupted in his musings by Ratcliffe, who startles him. Richard cries "Zounds!" (a mild oath meaning "God's wounds!").
  • Richard is still shaken. He tries to tell Ratcliffe about his troublesome nightmare. He asks Ratcliffe if he thinks their friends will stay true on this day. (We're not sure which friends Richard means, since he's killed most of them.)
  • Ratcliffe tells Richard to shake it off, and Richard seems to laugh a little at himself – one dream did more to unsettle him than Richmond and his whole army.
  • We then turn to Richmond. Richmond apologizes for staying in bed so long. He says he had a great dream that featured a horde of ghosts of murdered people, all of whom were encouraging him. Richmond is stoked that all Richard's victims are on his side. (Dead men may tell no tales, but they sure can inspire confidence.)
  • Richmond gives a stirring speech to his men as they get ready to head into battle. He reminds them that they're fighting for God and a good cause. He reiterates that Richard is a bloody tyrant who doesn't belong on the throne of England, so they should do the godly thing and kill him.
  • Finally, Richmond humbly says that if he fails in this war, his penalty will be his own death on the battlefield. But if they win, the victory will be shared by even the lowest among them.
  • With some rousing drums and trumpets, Richmond leads his troops into battle.

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