Snail's pace Introduction
I'm Richard III. I really want the crown and I'm willing to do anything to get it. Lie, manipulate, murder, you name it. As long as the precious crown is on my head, I don't care what I do. And you know what I think?
Ely with Richmond troubles me more near
Than Buckingham and his rash-levied army.
Come, I have heard that fearful commenting
Is leaden servitor to dull delay;
Delay leads impotent and snail-paced beggary
Then fiery expedition be my wing,
Jove's Mercury, and herald for a king!
Come, muster men: my counsel is my shield;
We must be brief when traitors brave the field. (4.3.49-57)
Who Said It and Where
Richard is Duke of Gloucester, and, man, is he unhappy about it. In the beginning of the play, he tells us that his brother Edward has become the king of England after a series of long civil wars (a.k.a. the Wars of the Roses) between his people (the Yorks) and the Lancasters.
Despite the happy news about King Edward and his family's victory, Richard is bummed and feels inadequate because (1) he was born a "deformed" hunchback and (2) he's got no love life to speak of. Richard lets the audience in on a big secret: to amuse himself, he's hatched an evil-genius plot to get his hands on the crown.
After killing a bunch of his family members and spreading mean rumors about the ones he let live, Richard successfully snags the crown and acts like he's doing England a really big favor.
But Richard's still not happy.
So, Richard hires Tyrrell to kill the two princes (a.k.a. his nephews) who might one day threaten the crown on his head. Tyrrell says he feels guilty and explains that he hired two hit men, Dighton and Forrest, to smother the kids in their sleep. Even the hit men felt bad about offing two little kids.
Not Richard. He thinks this is the best news he's ever heard. Tyrrell reports that he saw the kids and is certain they're dead, though he doesn't know where they're buried. (Brain Snack: The real historical mystery of what happened to the little boys is still unsolved, and it's unclear who actually murdered the princes.)
Richard promises to reward Tyrrell handsomely. In his usual style of giving the audience useful information, Richard fills us in: he's imprisoned Clarence's young son, married off Clarence's daughter to some harmless guy, and killed Edward's sons. Oh, and his wife Anne is dead. (What? Yeah, that's all we get about Anne. Historically, the circumstances surrounding the actual Lady Anne's death are unclear.)
Ratcliffe (who, as his name suggests, is like a rodent for still being allied to Richard) enters with the bad news that Morton Bishop of Ely has actually turned tail and joined Richmond's side, against Richard. Buckingham is also waiting for Richard on the battlefield, backed by a horde of intimidating Welshmen. Uh-oh.
Richard declares that Buckingham doesn't scare him, but this Richmond/Ely alliance is bad news. Either way, Richard won't waste time lamenting. He's ready to get his battle on.