Richard III Summary
Read the full text of Richard III with a side-by-side translation HERE.
Richard is Duke of Gloucester, and, man, is he unhappy about it. 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.
Clearly Richard's got his work cut out for him, so he wastes no time. First he needs to get his older brother George (Duke of Clarence), who is next in line for the throne, out of the way. He tells us he's manipulated King Edward into believing a prophesy warning that Edward's heirs will be murdered by a family member associated with the letter "G." *G*eorge, Duke of Clarence is jailed and accused of treason. (We probably don't have to tell you that Richard, Duke of *G*loucester's name also start with a "G.")
Next Richard thinks that marrying Lady Anne (the widow of the late Prince Edward and daughter-in-law of the late King Henry VI) would be politically strategic. So he puts the moves on Anne during her father-in-law's funeral procession and convinces her to marry him, even though she knows that Richard is responsible for the deaths of her husband and his father. (Hmm. Richard was obviously fibbing to us when he claimed to have no game with the ladies. Also, he seems to have made his "deformity" disappear while wooing Lady Ann. Note to self: This guy's a terrific actor. Don't trust a word he says.)
With Lady Anne under his thumb, Richard quickly moves on to the task of having Clarence executed so he can get that much closer to the throne. Richard sends a couple of murderers to do the deed. They go to the Tower of London, stab the Duke of Clarence, and ditch his body in a vat of wine.
When the sickly king finds out his brother is dead, he blames himself and becomes even sicklier. (All part of Richard's evil-genius scheme.) When Edward IV finally croaks, his son, young Prince Edward, is the immediate heir to the throne. Since the kid is so young, Richard becomes England's "Lord Protector," which means he's basically in charge until the little guy's old enough to rule competently.
But Richard's still not happy. He wants the crown for himself, and there are too many people out there who are loyal to Prince Edward and his little brother. Richard has the two princes locked up in the Tower of London for their "protection" and then kills a bunch of their followers and some relatives on their mom's side of the family.
Next, with his wingman Buckingham's help, Richard campaigns hard for the throne, while pretending he's not interested in it. He successfully snags the crown and acts like he's doing England a really big favor.
But Richard's still not happy. He orders Buckingham to snuff out the little princes. (We can't have them going around claiming rights to the throne, can we?) Buckingham gets nervous and waffles, so Richard quickly runs out and hires a hit man (Tyrrell), who has no problem killing kids. Tyrell outsources the job to a couple thugs who smother the little boys in their sleep. Since Buckingham turned out to be such a wimp, Richard puts Buckingham on his list of enemies, which means the guy is as good as dead.
Meanwhile, the Earl of Richmond (a.k.a. Richmond) is gathering troops and allies in France so he can storm England and take Richard down. Also, the everyday Joes of England have caught on to Richard's shenanigans and have just about had it with the guy. Plus, Richard's mom (the Duchess of York) has finally turned against her son and has cursed him to die in battle. (Apparently Richard was a major pain in the womb from the moment he was conceived.)
Richard couldn't care less about his mom, but he knows he could be stripped of his crown. So he decides he needs a new wife whose family ties will help strengthen his claim to the throne. He spreads a rumor that his current wife (Lady Ann) is sick, then has her murdered.
Next, Richard meets with his sister-in-law, old Queen Elizabeth, and tries to convince her that she should let him marry her daughter, young Elizabeth. (Yep, Young Elizabeth is Richard's niece and also the sister of the little princes that Richard just had murdered. By this point, Richard's behavior is no longer amusing to the audience. Plus, he's pretty much stopped confiding in us.) Old Queen Elizabeth is all "Yeah, Richard, that could work," but secretly she's negotiated young Elizabeth's marriage to Richmond (the guy who's on his way to England to beat up Richard).
Geesh. We need to stop and take a breather, because Shakespeare (thanks to Richard's "hurry up and snag the crown and kill all my enemies" strategy) is zooming through about 14 years of history in five acts. (Go to "Setting" if you want to know more about this.)
Let's quickly recap, because, even though Richard III is one of Shakespeare's longest works, Richard has motored through the play like a teenager with a long list of chores and a hot date. We're not kidding. If he had a "to-do" list, here's what it would look like:
Get older brother Clarence out of the way
Marry Lady Ann Neville
Wait until Edward IV croaks
Become Lord Protector of England
Kill off anyone who supports the rightful heirs to the throne (the young princes)
Murder the young princes
Murder current wife
Marry niece (Young Elizabeth)
Beat up Richmond
Rule England forever
OK, let's get back to the plot. Richard can't just ignore Richmond, so he throws together an army and assembles them at Bosworth Field for the big rumble. Richard tries to stay up all night outlining a strategy so he can get the drop on Richmond, but he falls asleep. He has a scary nightmare where all the ghosts of his murder victims show up and tell him that he's going down. (Specifically, they all say "despair and die.") Uh oh. Time is definitely running out for our villain.
Richard wakes up and has an "Ah ha!" moment in which he talks to himself as if he's been split into two people, like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. He realizes that he's all alone on the world, that he's a murderer and an all-around bad guy with no conscience to speak of. Instead of scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist who could help him with his personality disorder, he says something like, "Oh well, I'm not going to be changing my evil ways any time soon."
In the morning Richard heads to battle and is quickly knocked off his horse. He loses all composure and famously shouts, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" Richmond shows up and kills Richard in battle without uttering a single word. (Looks like Richard won't be finishing that to-do list anytime soon.)
Richmond then helps himself to the English crown and becomes King Henry VII. King Henry VII then makes a big, fancy speech about how awesome his reign will be. It's a pretty great speech – go to "What's Up With The Ending?" and we'll tell you all about it.
Act 1, Scene 1
Read the full text of Richard III Act 1 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- 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.
Act 1, Scene 2
Read the full text of Richard III Act 1 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- A coffin holding King Henry VI's corpse is being carried through the streets by a group of pallbearers. Henry's grieving daughter-in-law, Lady Anne, follows.
- Lady Anne orders the pallbearers to stop and take a break so she can deliver a big speech about how sad she is.
- Anne curses the man responsible for murdering her husband and father-in-law and says she hopes the guy's future children will be deformed and that his future wife will be miserable. (Uh oh. Every student of history knows that Richard gets his way and marries Anne, so, she's basically just cursed herself. Check out "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" for more on this.)
- Richard strolls up to Anne and orders the pallbearers to scram, or else.
- Anne calls Richard a "minister of hell" and some other not-so-nice names.
- Anne points out that Henry VI's corpse is bleeding. (In Shakespeare's day, it was thought that a murdered man's wounds would bleed in the presence of his murderer.)
- Then Richard does the unthinkable: he begins to put the moves on Anne...right in front of her father-in-law's bleeding corpse!
- At first Anne resists but, before we know it, Richard has convinced her to accept his ring, and the two are going steady. Here's the quick and dirty version of how it all goes down:
- Anne: You're disgusting. I hate you.
- Richard: You're hot when you're angry.
- Anne: You killed my husband and my father-in-law.
- Richard: I didn't kill your husband, but I might have killed King Henry, who should probably thank me for sending him to heaven.
- Anne: I hate you.
- Richard: I plan to take you to bed and "lie with you." By the way, your husband and King Henry are dead because I'm so in love with you.
- Anne: I hope you die.
- Richard: I think we should get married, and, come to think of it, I probably did kill your husband.
- [Anne spits on Richard.]
- Richard: Sweet poison! I love it when you spit on me.
- Anne: Looking at you makes me sick.
- Richard: I love it when you look at me with those beautiful eyes.
- Richard: Your luscious lips were made "for kissing."
- Richard: Fine. If you hate me so much, why don't you just take my sword and stab me through the heart?
- Anne: I wish you were dead, but I'm not going to be the one to kill you.
- Richard: OK. Tell me to kill myself and I'll totally do it.
- Anne: No.
- Richard: I swear I'll kill myself...if that's what you really want.
- Anne: "I wish I knew thy heart." Translation: "I've just spent the last three minutes telling you why you're so revolting, but I'm going to let myself think that you might actually love me."
- Richard: I think you should wear my ring.
- Anne: OK, but that doesn't mean I love you or anything.
- Psst. If you love Shakespeare on film as much as we do, you might want to check out how this scene was adapted in the 1995 film Richard III, which sets the play in 1930s London and features Richard (Ian McKellen) wooing Lady Anne (Kristen Scott Thomas)...in a morgue. Or if you're a traditionalist, check out how the oh-so-dreamy actor Laurence Olivier does it in the 1955 film adaptation.
- Now that he's got Lady Anne under his thumb, Richard convinces her to abandon the funeral procession and go to Richard's bachelor pad (Crosby House).
- He promises he'll get Henry's corpse to Chertsey monastery to have the body buried. He'll even spend some time weeping and repenting his evil deeds.
- Anne is skeptical, but she leaves for Crosby House, stoked about Richard's apparent turnaround.
- As soon as she leaves, Richard gleefully instructs the pallbearers to take Henry's body to White-friars (not where it's supposed to go).
- Richard asks the audience, "Was ever woman in this humour wooed? / Was ever woman in this humour won?" (Translation: "Can you guys believe how smooth I am? I can hardly believe it myself!")
- Richard jokes that even though he knows he's ugly, Anne must think he's pretty hot, so he better go out and buy new clothes and a fancy mirror.
- First, though, he'll toss Henry's corpse into the ground and go back to Anne with all the appearances of mourning.
- Richard also informs us that, though he's ecstatic over winning Anne, he doesn't intend to keep her as his wife very long.
Act 1, Scene 3
Read the full text of Richard III Act 1 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At the royal palace of Westminster, Queen Elizabeth (the wife of the current King Edward IV) is wringing her hands because her husband is at death's door. Like any devoted wife, Elizabeth wants to know what's going to happen to her if her husband dies.
- Dorset and Gray (her two sons from her previous marriage) try to cheer her up, but Elizabeth is inconsolable.
- To make matters worse, Elizabeth points out that when her husband dies, evil Richard will become the guardian of their young son, who is set to inherit the crown but is a bit too young to rule. In other words, Richard will have way too much power and way too much access to her little boy.
- Two noblemen enter: Buckingham and Lord Stanley, the Earl of Derby.
- Queen Elizabeth has lukewarm greetings for Derby. He is the third husband of the Countess Richmond, and apparently that lady has been spreading nasty rumors about the queen. The queen promises she doesn't hold this against Derby, but she subtly suggests that he might want to put a leash on his wife.
- (This is a seemingly random aside, but you should know that the Countess Richmond's son from her first marriage is Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who will eventually come to the throne as Henry VII. He's also the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I, patron of Shakespeare.)
- The noblemen report that they've just come from visiting King Edward IV, who seems to be doing much better. He'd like to call a meeting between his brother Richard and the queen's brothers to heal the animosity between them.
- The queen is skeptical, and though she says she'd like to be hopeful about this meeting, she fears things will only go downhill from here.
- Just then Richard enters in a rage. He's furious about the news he's just heard about the king's meeting, because it suggests that he hates the queen's kinsmen, which he says is a lie (though in fact it's quite true).
- Richard says he's never done anything to the queen's men to suggest that he hates them, and that now is really not the time to be pouring this kind of poison into the sick king's ear. The queen begs to differ; she says it's clear that Richard envies the advancement of her and her friends, so the king's meeting is a good idea.
- Richard then rails against Elizabeth, claiming that Clarence was imprisoned upon her urging, and that it's also her fault that Lord Hastings was recently jailed. Richard continues to curse her for marrying his brother and collecting the rewards, while disgracing the rightful nobles.
- Queen Elizabeth complains about Richard's abuse and says she'd rather be a country maid than the queen under these conditions. (Richard would probably rather it be that way too.)
- Meanwhile, the former Queen Margaret, the widow of King Henry VI (who was recently killed by Richard) enters unnoticed. She's muttering under her breath, bitterly lamenting what she sees as Elizabeth's theft of her crown, not to mention Richard's murder of her husband and son, Edward Prince of Wales.
- Richard, meanwhile, is filling us in on the family history. Apparently, while Richard was busy fighting the Lancaster family so his brother Edward would be made king, Elizabeth was married to Lord Gray, who fought on the Lancaster side against the Yorks (Edward and Richard). Lord Gray was killed in the battle at Saint Albion's, which undid the Lancasters and gave Edward of York the English crown. When Edward and the Yorks came out victorious, Elizabeth married Edward, effectively switching sides to the Yorks, and trading up big-time. Her brother Lord Rivers followed suit.
- Richard also notes that his other brother, Clarence, was a traitor too – he married Isabella of Lancaster (sister of Lady Anne in this play) and switched temporarily over to the Lancaster side before returning to the Yorks.
- Richard again complains that poor Clarence has been imprisoned (though we know Richard is actually the cause of Clarence's imprisonment).
- Lord Rivers, brother to Queen Elizabeth (and beneficiary of all her good fortunes) tries to say that he and his sister are not really traitors – they were just doing the loyal thing by following whoever happened to be King at the time. So really, though they seem like opportunistic snakes, they're model citizens of England.
- The old Queen Margaret has been muttering bitterly to herself this whole time, cursing everyone within spitting distance. She finally steps forward and says she can no longer be silent.
- Margaret calls everybody present "wrangling pirates." She also declares that Queen Elizabeth owes her a throne and that Richard owes her a husband and son (whom Richard murdered).
- Richard calls her a "foul wrinkled witch" and asks what the heck she's doing here.
- Richard points out that nobody should be feeling sorry for Queen Margaret because, back in the day, Margaret did some pretty nasty things. (FYI: In Shakespeare's play Henry VI, Part 3, she taunted Richard's dad by putting a paper crown on his head and waving a bloody handkerchief in his face. By the way, the handkerchief was dipped in his son Rutland's blood, which is why Richard's dad cursed Margaret.)
- Richard points out that it's "God" who "hath plagued [Margaret's] bloody deed." In other words, God's making sure Margaret gets what she deserves. (Get your highlighters out, because this is important.)
- Everyone in the room begins to gang up on Margaret, kind of like a pack of wild dogs. (What else do we expect from the family at the center of the Wars of the Roses?)
- Queen Margaret lashes out with a few curses of her own: she hopes Queen Elizabeth's young son Edward (in line to be the king) will be struck down, the same way her young son Edward was struck down. Margaret also hopes that Queen Elizabeth will live to see all her children die and some other woman take the throne from her. Then Margaret also curses Hastings, Rivers, and Dorset to die some nasty unnatural death, as she says they stood by and witnessed her son Edward murdered at Tewksbury.
- But Queen Margaret saves the worst curses for Richard of Gloucester. She says she hopes his life will be plagued by suspicion: that he will always suspect his friends as traitors, and that only traitors will be his closest friends.
- Without coming up for air, Margaret rattles off some of the nastiest insults in Western literature, calling Richard an "elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog," a "slave of nature and the son of hell," a "slander of thy mother's heavy womb," and so on.
- Richard stops Margaret's rant by pulling the old "I know you are but what am I" trick. Here's how: Just as she starts to say "thou detested..." Richard interrupts her and yells out "Margaret!"
- Margaret tries to warn Buckingham that Richard will betray him eventually, but Buckingham isn't having any of this.
- Richard pretends to defend Margaret. He says he understands why Margaret is so upset, especially after everything she's suffered. He plays the martyr, seemingly taking the high road and forgiving the woman who curses him.
- As everyone is marveling at Richard's charity, Catesby, a nobleman, enters with the news that King Edward IV has called everyone to come see him.
- Everyone leaves except Richard, who stays behind and tells us his evil plan to have his imprisoned brother Clarence murdered. Not so kind and charitable after all, eh?
- Richard gloats over the fact that he's been able to convince Derby, Hastings, and Buckingham that Clarence's imprisonment is the fault of Queen Elizabeth and her supporters.
- Richard is interrupted by the entrance of two murderers. They've shown up to collect Clarence's death warrant. Richard hands over the paper, making it absolutely clear that he's behind the plot to kill Clarence.
- Richard instructs the murderers to be quick with the execution so Clarence doesn't get a chance to talk them out of it.
- The murderers promise to do their job quickly and mercilessly.
- Richard says, "I like you lads" and sends them on their way.
Act 1, Scene 4
Read the full text of Richard III Act 1 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- We cut to George, Duke of Clarence, imprisoned in the Tower of London.
- Clarence tells the prison-keeper about a nightmare he had the night before. He dreamed he'd escaped from the Tower and was on a ship with his brother Richard, on their way to Burgundy, France (where the two were sent as boys for safety after their father was murdered).
- In the dream, Richard convinced Clarence to come up to the loose planks that made up the deck. From there the two looked toward England and recounted all the bad things that had happened to them during the long war between the Yorks and the Lancasters. Just then, Richard tumbled, and though Clarence was trying to steady him, Richard actually knocked his brother down, forcing him overboard.
- Clarence dreamed of falling slowly through the sea. Though he felt the pain of drowning, it took a really long time for him to die, so he had plenty of time to witness all sorts of awful things under the sea: old shipwrecks, the bodies of drowned men that had been gnawed on by fish, sunken treasure, and so forth.
- Finally Clarence died in the dream, but that didn't end all the agony. Instead, Clarence dreamed he passed over the mythological River Styx into death, and as he reached the underworld, he met his father-in-law, the Lancaster supporter, who cursed him for his double treachery. Not to be outdone, the man whom Clarence helped murder at Tewksbury, Prince Edward of Wales, also showed up and cursed Clarence, who was then seized by hell's minions. Fortunately, hell's minions are a rather rowdy bunch, and they made enough noise to wake Clarence from his dream.
- Clarence, still talking to the prison guard, laments that all of his sinning was to help his brother Edward, and Edward rewarded him by having him locked away. He prays that if God wants to punish him for his evil deeds, fine, but he hopes God will spare his wife and children.
- Having asked for his family's protection, Clarence readies to sleep again and asks the guard to sit by him awhile.
- No sooner than Clarence sleeps does Brackenbury, the Lieutenant, join the prison guard. Brackenbury makes a pretty speech about how fleeting powerful titles are, and how little they mean.
- He's interrupted by the two murderers, who say they're there to "guard" Clarence.
- Brackenbury says OK, but runs off to tell the king that he's surrendered the watch over Clarence.
- Though the two new guards do intend to murder Clarence, the business is not as straightforward as it had first seemed.
- The second murderer hesitates to kill Clarence in his sleep, and this pause inspires a long talk between the two murderers about conscience. The second murderer claims he isn't afraid of killing Clarence, but he does fear the judgment he knows will follow. Though they have a commission for the murder, no commission can free them from damnation.
- All of this back-and-forth is easily quashed when the first murderer reminds the second murderer that, conscience be damned, this is a very well-paying job. The debate about the virtues of conscience is settled by the decision to kill Clarence and then leave the body in a vat of wine.
- Then Clarence wakes up and basically asks, "Have you guys come to murder me?" to which the murderers reply, "Yes." Clarence thinks they must not be serious, as they seem rather undecided about their chosen career paths as assassins.
- Clarence then tries to reason with them – though they claim to follow the order of the king, Clarence tells them they'll be judged ultimately by the king of Kings (read: God).
- Clarence suggests that they wouldn't want to follow the king's order knowing it defied God's order not to kill.
- The murderers point out that actually, whatever their eternal fate is, Clarence will share it. After all, Clarence murdered the Lancastrian Prince Edward of Wales, though he had sworn to protect him (betraying his own family of York in the process).
- Clarence claims he only murdered to help out his brother, King Edward. Anyway, Clarence would like the murderers to go see his other brother, Richard of Gloucester, as Clarence is sure Richard will straighten the whole thing out.
- The first murderer reveals to Clarence that Richard isn't a likely source of help, seeing as he was the one who sent the murderers.
- Poor Clarence. He doesn't believe them at first, but he's soon pleading for his life.
- The second murderer seems moved by Clarence's pleas. Still, his tender feelings for Clarence aren't enough to stop his partner from stabbing Clarence and then drowning his body in a big vat of wine for good measure.
- Though the second murderer is repentant, the deed is done, and the two flee.
Act 2, Scene 1
Read the full text of Richard III Act 2 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At the palace in London, the sickly King Edward IV is gathered with Queen Elizabeth, her two sons Dorset and Gray, her brother Rivers, and Hastings, Catesby, and Buckingham (who have been fighting with Elizabeth's family).
- Edward warmly addresses the crowd and says something like "Can't we all just get along?"
- The two factions agree to play nice and ask God to punish them if they ever break this new bond.
- Richard enters and makes a big speech about how he too is committed to peace and how sorry he is for anything bad he might have done.
- The happy glow doesn't last long. Queen Elizabeth asks Edward to accept his imprisoned brother Clarence back into his good graces.
- Richard acts like Elizabeth is cruelly and purposefully mocking – after all, don't they know about Clarence? (He knows they don't.) Richard then announces to the group that Clarence is dead, pretending to be shocked they haven't heard.
- Everyone is shocked, especially King Edward, who knows he gave orders to reverse Clarence's sentence.
- Richard is all, "Oh dear, I guess your message got lost in the mail."
- Stanley, Earl of Derby, arrives and kneels before the king, asking him to pardon the life of a servant of his who killed a "riotous gentleman" earlier that day.
- This really sets Edward off, and he begins to blame everyone around him for not stopping him from ordering Clarence's execution.
- Edward then gives some examples of Clarence's goodness – from murdering Prince Edward of Wales for Edward's sake, to even giving up his cloak on a freezing night in battle, running around naked so Edward could be less naked.
- Edward, after this tender reminiscing, pardons Derby's man, lamenting that had he been more forgiving earlier (like this), he might have saved his own brother.
- Edward voices his fear that God will have justice on Clarence's behalf, judging everyone who didn't stand up for the condemned man.
- The sickly king must then be carried off, leaving Richard behind with Buckingham, among others.
- Richard, still crafty, quickly raises suspicions against the queen and her family. He notes how they looked pale on hearing of Clarence's death (like everyone did) and declares this is evidence that the queen encouraged the king to have Clarence killed.
- So much for the peace treaty.
Act 2, Scene 2
Read the full text of Richard III Act 2 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- In another room at the Palace, the old Duchess of York, (mother to King Edward IV, Richard of Gloucester, and George of Clarence) is spending quality time with Clarence's two kids, Margaret Plantagenet (not to be confused with Queen Margaret) and Edward Plantagenet (not to be confused King Edward or Prince Edward).
- The kids open the scene by asking if their father is dead. Their grandma says no, but they wonder why she's crying and calling them orphans and basically talking about their dead dad.
- The kids conclude that their father is dead, and that the blame for it belongs to their uncle, King Edward. The boy is certain of this because his Uncle Richard told him so.
- Just as their grandma is pointing out that their Uncle Richard is not trustworthy, Queen Elizabeth comes in, looking a mess and grieving for the dead King Edward.
- Then everyone has a round of mourning over all the dead men in the family: Elizabeth has lost a husband, the children have lost a father, and the Duchess has lost two sons.
- Just then Dorset and Rivers (who came in with the queen) interrupt with more pressing matters. The dead are dead, and the living must be crowned. Rivers suggests that Queen Elizabeth should straightaway send for her young son, also named Edward, who's next in line for the throne.
- Just then Richard enters with Buckingham; Stanley, Earl of Derby; Hastings; and Ratcliffe.
- Richard receives a cool welcome from his mother, and he and his lackeys discuss the transport of the young Edward to the throne from his place in Ludlow.
- Richard then dismisses the ladies to go think over who should bring the young king to the palace.
- Once Richard and Buckingham have the room to themselves, Buckingham refers to some secret conference the two men had earlier. Buckingham agrees that regardless of who goes to fetch the young king, he and Richard should be there. Their presence will help their other plan, which is making sure that the queen's friends don't get close to the new king.
- Richard praises Buckingham for being so loyal.
Act 2, Scene 3
Read the full text of Richard III Act 2 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Three citizens meet on a street in London, chatting about the latest news. They wonder what the heck is going to happen to England now that King Edward IV is dead.
- One is optimistic that Edward's son will reign, and though the boy is still too young to do the job properly, at the very least he'll be surrounded by good counsel, which will lead England wisely until the boy is old enough to take over.
- Another citizen is less confident about the nation's safety, especially since there are two factions competing to advise the young king. On the one side is Richard of Gloucester, who is dangerous. On the other side is Queen Elizabeth's family, who are a bunch of snobs.
- Regardless of who triumphs, the citizens are sure of one thing: there's bound to be a whole lot of drama before the next king is crowned.
Act 2, Scene 4
Read the full text of Richard III Act 2 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At the palace in London, Queen Elizabeth chills out with the Duchess of York, the cardinal, and her young son, the Duke of York.
- Everyone's excited and a little worried about little Prince Edward making it to the castle OK – who knows what could happen to him before he can be crowned King?
- Prince Edward's little brother, the Duke of York, jokes around with the adults and shows that he's a pretty sharp little kid. He tells his mom and grandmother that his Uncle Richard used to bag on him and tease him about growing like a weed.
- The Duchess of York points out that Richard wasn't exactly a healthy child – he grew pretty slowly when he was young.
- The little Duke of York says he heard that his Uncle Richard was born with teeth and Queen Elizabeth tells him to quit being a little brat – it's not nice to gossip about adults.
- A messenger arrives with bad news: Lord Rivers, Lord Gray, and Sir Thomas Vaughn have been thrown in the slammer at Pomfret Castle. (Pomfret is the castle where King Richard II died.)
- Everyone knows this is bad news. Imprisonment there is usually just one step away from execution.
- Guess who gave the orders for the arrests? Richard (Duke of Gloucester) and Buckingham.
- Elizabeth freaks out and predicts that her entire family is going down.
- The Duchess of York points out how terrible civil war is, especially when family members are willing to kill each other.
- Elizabeth decides to take her youngest son, the Duke of York, and escape to sanctuary with him. She is given blessings and a seal from the Cardinal, who will lead her to safety.
Act 3, Scene 1
Read the full text of Richard III Act 3 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- On a London street, Buckingham and Richard talk with young Prince Edward, who has just arrived in the city.
- The young Prince asks why his other uncles have not come to greet him. (He has no idea they've been locked up at Pomfret Castle.)
- Richard talks trash about them and says little Edward is better off without those guys.
- The Prince is greeted by the mayor of London, and he's left to wonder why his mother isn't there on the street with the city's welcoming committee.
- Just then Lord Hastings enters and explains that Queen Elizabeth is in hiding.
- Buckingham dismisses the queen's sanctuary as nonsense and instructs Cardinal Bourchier to go persuade the queen to release her youngest son so he can watch his brother be crowned king. As backup, he suggests Hastings go along to forcibly take the boy, should his mother refuse.
- The Cardinal balks at Buckingham's suggestion – sanctuary is a sacred right. (According to the rules of sanctuary, if you were being hunted by The Man, you could escape into a church or holy place and they couldn't come after you.)
- Buckingham, so as not to seem the kind of jerk that breaks sacred rights, jumps through some logical hoops. He argues that the queen may have invoked sanctuary, but her son didn't invoke it for himself, and certainly didn't do anything to need it – so taking him out of sanctuary isn't actually blasphemous.
- The Cardinal, because he's kind of a pushover, is persuaded by Buckingham's logic and goes with Hastings to collect the boy.
- Prince Edward wonders where he should stay until his coronation day. His Uncle Richard suggests staying at the Tower of London, one of the strongest fortresses around.
- Little Edward thinks this is a bad idea. (The Tower, after all, is also a prison.)
- Richard mutters under his breath that Edward doesn't have long to live.
- Prince Edward talks about how he admires Julius Caesar (the Roman leader who was stabbed in the back by his frenemies). Edward hopes he'll be a brave king.
- Hastings and the Cardinal return with Prince Edward's young, snarky brother, the Duke of York.
- Together the two boys are a juggernaut of wit, and they get on Richard's nerves.
- Finally the young Duke of York says he doesn't want to stay at the Tower of London because he knows his uncle, George of Clarence, was jailed and murdered there.
- There's some uncomfortable joking about whether or not the little princes should be afraid of any of their living uncles (like Richard).
- Finally the boys exit with a crowd to go to the Tower.
- Left alone, Richard, Buckingham, and Catesby confer, first over what a cheeky pain little York is, and then over their grand plan for Richard to become the next king of England.
- Catesby says he doesn't think Hastings is going to be down with their plan to do away with Prince Edward. Hastings hates the queen's family, but he really loved the Prince's father, the late Edward IV.
- Catesby is also sure Lord Stanley will do whatever Hastings does.
- Buckingham wants Catesby to try to get Hastings on their side anyway.
- Buckingham's plan for the next day is to hold two councils: one to discuss Prince Edward's coronation and another secret council to discuss how Richard might steal the crown.
- Richard wants the queen's captured family members killed at Pomfret castle the next day.
- Catesby promises to bring back news to Richard's pad, Crosby House, and he exits to do his task.
- Buckingham wonders what will happen if Hastings won't go along with their plan.
- In a famous line, Richard gleefully declares that if Hastings doesn't comply, they will simply "Chop off his head!"
- Even though Richard isn't the king yet, he promises to give Buckingham the earldom of Hereford for his faithful service.
- Richard and Buckingham run off to have a snack.
Act 3, Scene 2
Read the full text of Richard III Act 3 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Lord Hastings is sleeping peacefully at home when he's awoken by a messenger knocking loudly at his door at four in the morning.
- The messenger brings news from Lord Stanley, who is a bit of a wreck. Stanley had a nightmare about a boar (Richard's heraldic symbol) that knocked off his helmet and cut off his head.
- Stanley's also worried because he's gotten wind of the two councils to be held. He's worried that something terrible is going to happen and wants to run away to the north.
- Hastings tells the messenger to tell Stanley to quit being a paranoid baby. Even if there are two councils, their boy Catesby has got their back and will warn them if they're in danger.
- Catesby enters with news that Richard wants the crown. Hastings is like, "over my dead body!"
- Catesby says to himself, "You're as good as dead, have it your way."
- Catesby also adds the news that some of the queen's family members are to be executed at Pomfret castle this very day. While Hastings is stoked to hear this news about his enemies, it's not enough to move him to support Richard in taking the crown from young Prince Edward.
- Hastings can't quite bring himself to believe that Richard would harm his close friends.
- He has a private chat with a public official empowered to serve warrants.
- Hastings reveals that he's actually happy to gloat over the death of his enemies, the queen's family members. He sends the official off with some money and is then met by a priest, with whom he conducts some secret business.
- Buckingham walks in on this whispered meeting and jokes that the guys scheduled for execution need the priest more than Hastings does (referring to the need to be absolved by a priest in confession before death).
- In an aside, Buckingham clues us in to the fact that Hastings will be imprisoned and executed in the Tower of London.
- The unsuspecting Hastings goes along with Buckingham to the Tower of London for dinner.
Act 3, Scene 3
Read the full text of Richard III Act 3 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The queen's brother Earl Rivers, her son Lord Gray, and their friend Sir Thomas Vaughn face their executions at Pomfret.
- Rivers declares they're all dying for their duty, and Vaughn declares that all who live after this will regret it.
- Gray notes that their execution seems to fulfill the old Queen Margaret's curse. She had railed against them for standing by and watching Richard murder her child.
- Rivers points out that Margaret's curse wasn't only directed at them; Richard, Hastings, and Buckingham were also included. (Actually, Gray and Buckingham weren't included in Margaret's curses, and Buckingham was only warned.)
- Rivers calls out to God in the hopes that Richard, Hastings, and Buckingham will also receive their parts of the curse. Rivers also prays that his and his colleagues' wrongly spilled blood will somehow spare his sister, Queen Elizabeth, and her children.
Act 3, Scene 4
Read the full text of Richard III Act 3 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The time has come for one of Richard's council meetings.
- Before Richard arrives, those assembled confirm the purpose of the meeting: to discuss the coronation date of the young King Edward (the day he'll actually be crowned). They've already settled on the following day, so they're just waiting for Richard to show up and speak his mind.
- Richard shows up late and sends the Bishop of Ely off to go collect some strawberries for him.
- Next he draws Buckingham aside for a private conference about Hastings' unwillingness to join their scheme.
- Richard and Buckingham decide to exit and talk privately for a bit.
- Ely returns with the strawberries just in time to hear Stanley and Hastings talking. Hastings declares that Richard is a really sweet guy and seems happy – there's no way he's angry with anyone in the room.
- Richard returns with Buckingham, acting like he's in a rage. Richard claims that his physical deformity is the result of witchcraft. He offers up his limp arm as evidence that Queen Elizabeth and Mistress Shore have been conspiring to wither him and potentially even kill him.
- (Richard knows he's full of it. He already told us that his arm has been deformed since birth.)
- Richard accuses Hastings of sympathizing and conspiring with Queen Elizabeth and Jane Shore, which constitutes treason.
- Richard orders Hastings' execution.
- Hastings boo-hoos that Margaret's curse against him has come true.
- Ratcliffe is all, "Hurry up and stop crying – Richard can't have dinner until you're dead."
- Hastings screams, "O bloody Richard! Miserable England!" and then declares that all of his enemies are going to die soon anyway.
Act 3, Scene 5
Read the full text of Richard III Act 3 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At the Tower of London, Richard makes Buckingham promise that he'll do whatever Richard says.
- Catesby enters with the mayor of London. Richard and Buckingham make a great show of declaring their vigilance, saying they're trying to protect themselves (and the mayor) from some impending great danger.
- Lovel and Ratcliffe enter with Hastings' head.
- When Richard and Buckingham see Hastings's head, they pretend to be sad that Hastings turned out to be a traitor who plotted against their lives.
- The lord mayor is convinced that Hastings deserved to be executed without a trial.
- Richard says he wishes the mayor were there to hear Hastings's confession so he could tell the commoners what happened. Richard's afraid the citizens of London will be unhappy and blame him.
- The mayor runs off to assure the citizens that Hastings's death was actually a rightful and just execution by the state.
- After the mayor exits on his errand, Richard reveals the plan he's hatched to gain the crown: he wants Buckingham to go to Guildhall (the seat of municipal government in London) and spread a rumor that King Edward's sons are "bastard[s]" and therefore not the rightful heirs to the crown.
- Buckingham should tell people that King Edward slept around a lot and that he once executed a citizen for no good reason.
- Buckingham should also say that Edward's mom (who is also Richard's mom) had affairs while her husband was off fighting the French and that Edward is "illegitimate." This would make his kids illegitimate, too, and unfit to be crowned kings.
- Richard decides that Buckingham should only hint that Edward was illegitimate. After all, his mom is still alive, and you don't want to shout too loud about your mom's infidelity.
- Buckingham exits.
- Richard says he's going to hide Clarence's kids and make sure nobody has access to the princes (Edward's children).
Act 3, Scene 6
Read the full text of Richard III Act 3 Scene 6 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- On a street in London, a scrivener (a guy who copies documents for a living) enters, holding the indictment of Lord Hastings that's to be read to the people of London that day (even though Hastings is already dead).
- The scrivener points out that Catesby gave him a rough draft of the indictment the night before, well before Hastings was even imprisoned or executed. (Clearly the plan to kill Hastings was afoot long before the man had even done anything wrong.)
- The scrivener is disgusted by the obviousness of the devious plot and says that nobody is brave enough to speak out against the government's corruption. He bemoans the state of the world, when men must stand by while evil reigns unchecked.
Act 3, Scene 7
Read the full text of Richard III Act 3 Scene 7 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Richard and Buckingham meet at Baynard's Castle.
- Buckingham reports that the citizens weren't very excited about the big speech he made about why Richard should be crowned king. Nor were they buying his story about King Edward being illegitimate.
- Buckingham was a bit unnerved by this lack of enthusiasm for Richard's coronation, so he had the mayor speak to the people on his behalf. Rather than saying that he personally backed Richard, the mayor basically just kept repeating, "What Buckingham is saying is..."
- Not surprisingly, the people still weren't into it. Finally, though, about ten people in the back threw their hats in the air in praise of "King Richard."
- Buckingham seized the moment and declared he had heard the will of the people: they all loved Richard. Then he ran out of there before anyone could argue with him.
- Richard is not pleased with the public's lackluster response, so he and Buckingham hatch yet another plan to get Richard onto the throne. Basically, they'll convince the mayor to speak to the people on Richard's behalf. Buckingham will tell the mayor that he had to beg Richard to be king – that Richard doesn't want to be king but might accept the crown if it's the will of the people.
- Richard, meanwhile, has sequestered himself with holy men and prayer books. He's supposed to look like he's been earnestly praying over the issue (the more to set him apart as a holy man, compared to Edward's now-bad reputation).
- When Richard finally meets with the mayor and the assembled noblemen, Buckingham makes a dramatic (and deceitful) speech to Richard in front of everyone. Buckingham basically makes it sound like Richard would be committing treason if he didn't accept the crown, as he'd be turning over England's leadership to the children of a bastard.
- Richard then makes a big show of waffling, as though he was really hesitant to accept the crown. He talks about how unworthy he is and really lays it on thick.
- Buckingham says that he can see that Richard loves the young Edward too much to depose him, but he says the people will never stand for England being ruled by a bastard child.
- Buckingham then throws out an ultimatum: either Richard takes the throne or the throne will be left to young Edward, who will be promptly unseated by the people, meaning the York line will lose the throne all together. Having thrown this out there, Buckingham leaves in an apparent huff.
- Richard, pretending he's very sad to upset anyone, finally relents and says fine, he'll take the crown, even though he doesn't really want to be a king. (Yeah right.)
- Buckingham hails Richard as King of England, and everyone says "Amen." It's decided that Richard should take the throne the very next day.
- Richard keeps playing the innocent "Aw, shucks, I guess I'll be king if you really want me to." He quickly leaves with the Bishops to make a big show of how holy and pious and fit he is to be England's king.
Act 4, Scene 1
Read the full text of Richard III Act 4 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- The ladies of the court are gathered before the Tower of London. The old Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth, and Lady Anne (leading Clarence's young daughter, Margaret Plantagenet) all greet each other joyfully. They're all going to visit the young princes in the Tower.
- Lieutenant Brackenbury intercepts them with surprising news: visiting the princes is forbidden. They learn that this surprising order has actually come down from Richard, the "Lord Protector," whom Brackenbury accidentally calls the king.
- The women, who have not yet heard the news of wicked Richard snatching the throne, are all shocked and cry out that they hope it's not true. They can't believe Richard is the king and has the right to give orders. They're all willing to defy his order and suffer the consequences.
- Then the ladies get the really bad news. Stanley Earl of Derby shows up and announces that an hour from now he can call two of the ladies queens (referring to Queen Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV, and now Queen Anne, wife of newly crowned Richard III).
- Upon hearing that Richard is to be king, Elizabeth and Anne are horrified, and the Duchess of York, Richard's mother, curses her own womb as a bed of death.
- In the midst of her grief, Queen Elizabeth instructs her son Dorset to leave for Brittany immediately, where the Earl of Richmond (enemy of Edward IV and the Yorks) has been waiting out Edward's reign. Elizabeth fears that if Dorset stays, he will be the next of her children to fall victim to Richard.
- Further, Elizabeth wails as she realizes she has become victim of old Queen Margaret's curse and that she would die neither a mother, a wife, nor a queen.
- Stanley, Earl of Derby, who brought the news about Richard's coronation, is stepfather to Richmond, whose lineage puts him in the running for the crown. (We know, this is complicated.) Derby promises to send letters to Richmond to prepare his stepson to harbor whoever is fleeing England.
- Anne, like Elizabeth, is horrified. She has to follow Richard's bidding and be his queen, but she wishes her royal crown were made of red-hot steel so it would burn out her brains. (This was an actual Renaissance punishment sometimes used on traitors. Gross.)
- Anne notes that she, like Elizabeth, is the victim of a prophetic curse.
- Remember, back when Anne – still a fresh widow – followed Henry VI's corpse to be buried, she cursed Richard. She wished that whatever idiot married Richard would have a miserable life. Little did she know that she would be the woman to marry Richard – she cursed herself!
- Anne admits she was foolishly moved by Richard's flattering words.
- Also, Anne doesn't really sleep well because Richard's always keeping her up when he flails about from bad dreams.
- Not to mention, Richard hated Anne's dad, Warwick, and Anne fears that Richard likely hates her too. Finally, Anne worries Richard will have her killed off soon.
- Richard's mother, the Duchess of York, cuts off all the crying and instructs everyone: Dorset should go to Richmond's place, Anne must to go to Richard, and Elizabeth must take herself back to sanctuary.
- Then the Duchess abruptly declares she'd like to go to her grave. She says she's suffered some 80-odd years of misery and she's ready to be done.
- To round out the melodrama of the ladies' scene, Elizabeth has everyone turn back dramatically to look at the forbidden tower and contemplate her poor little baby princes who are locked up there.
Act 4, Scene 2
Read the full text of Richard III Act 4 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Back at the palace, Richard has taken the throne, but he's super paranoid.
- Richard worries aloud that his glory might be too short as king. He points out that Prince Edward (the rightful heir to the throne) is still alive and is a threat to him.
- Richard obviously wants Buckingham to make the young princes disappear – forever.
- When it's clear that Buckingham isn't taking the hint, Richard declares, verbatim, "I wish the bastards dead!"
- Buckingham hesitates, which ticks off Richard.
- Buckingham quickly excuses himself, saying he needs a minute to think about whether it's OK to murder two innocent children.
- Richard calls a page to bring him a man who will do anything, no matter how heinous, for money. The page knows just the man – Sir James Tyrrell.
- Since Richard has now found a murderer and conspirator more useful to him than Buckingham, he declares Buckingham is out of his inner-circle. (And likely soon to be dead.)
- Stanley, Earl of Derby then enters with the news that Dorset has fled to see Richmond. (Remember that Richmond is Stanley's stepson, so we don't really know whose side he's on.)
- Richard doesn't fixate on this news. Instead, without hesitation, he calls Catesby to him and hatches yet another plot, this time to protect his hard-earned crown. Richard wants Catesby to start spreading a rumor that his wife Anne is very sick and likely to die soon. Meanwhile, he plans to imprison Anne.
- Richard plans to get Clarence's kids out of the way too – just to be safe. He isn't worried about Clarence's dull-witted young son, and he'll marry Clarence's little daughter Margaret off to some unimportant loser, probably to prevent a nobleman from marrying her and then claiming himself heir to the crown.
- Richard then reveals the worst part of his plan. Once the hired murderer snuffs out the two princes in the tower, only their sister will be left behind. Richard thinks it would be a good idea to marry her after he gets rid of Anne.
- Richard reasons that he's already killed a bunch of people, so what's a few more?
- Richard then meets with Tyrrell, who runs off to kill the young princes.
- Buckingham reminds Richard that he promised to give him the earldom of Hereford for his loyal service.
- Richard ignores him.
- Richard warns Derby that if Derby's wife (mother to Richmond) sends any letters to Richmond, Derby will pay for it.
- Richard's mind is already moving to what's ahead (which seems like war with Richmond).
- Richard then talks about King Henry VI, who prophesied long ago that Richmond would one day be King of England. Richard notes that Henry must have been mistaken in leaving out the part of the prophecy where he, King Richard III, kills Richmond.
- Richard recalls another prophecy warning him to fear Richmond.
- Richard finally stops being distracted enough to tell Buckingham to leave him alone, as Buckingham has been whining on the sidelines this whole time.
- Buckingham realizes that for all his evil deeds, he's being repaid just like the other men Richard turned on. Before he ends up like Hastings, Buckingham decides to flee to Brecknock, a mansion in Wales.
Act 4, Scene 3
Read the full text of Richard III Act 4 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Tyrrell, the murderer, arrives back at the palace in London and reports that the two princes are dead.
- 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.
- Richard 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 really 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.)
- Richard reveals that he knows Richmond is also after young Elizabeth's hand (remember Edward's random daughter that Richard wants to marry?). Richard declares he'll be off to woo Elizabeth for himself.
- 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. Buckingham is also waiting for Richard on the battlefield, backed by a horde of intimidating Welshmen.
- Richard declares that Buckingham doesn't scare him, but this Richmond/Ely alliance is bad news.
- Either way, Richard says he won't waste time lamenting. He's ready to get his battle on.
Act 4, Scene 4
Read the full text of Richard III Act 4 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- 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.
Act 4, Scene 5
Read the full text of Richard III Act 4 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- At Lord Stanley's house in London, Stanley has a secret meeting with a priest on Richmond's side.
- Stanley laments that he can't openly fight on Richmond's side, because then Richard would kill his son, George Stanley, whom Richard insists on holding captive.
- However, Stanley asks Urswick to send his regards to Richmond and to carry the news from Queen Elizabeth that she would very happily marry her little daughter Elizabeth to Richmond.
- It looks like Richard wasn't as successful as he thought at wooing the young girl through her mother.
- Urswick in turn reports that Richmond is currently in Wales, and he's gathering support from a long list of VIPs. They're all heading towards London to take back the crown and to crush anyone who stands in their way.
Act 5, Scene 1
Read the full text of Richard III Act 5 Scene 1 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Buckingham has been captured and forcefully taken to Salisbury. His requests to speak with Richard have been denied.
- Knowing he's been absolutely forsaken by the wicked king, Buckingham notes that today is All Souls' Day, the day set aside to commemorate (and in some cases exonerate) the dead. It's fitting, he thinks, for the souls of all those whose lives have been wrongfully taken by Richard to watch over the king's demise, hopefully taking pleasure in it.
- Buckingham begins to take stock of his life: he betrayed King Edward by being unfaithful to Edward's children and Queen Elizabeth's allies, and he realizes he was foolish to trust Richard, who would never trust him (or anyone). He admits he's been a wicked man, and he can see God's justice in having his wickedness be his own downfall.
- Finally, like so many others, he thinks on Queen Margaret's curse. She condemned him to have his heart split open with sorrow caused by Richard, and she was mostly right.
- Buckingham then tells his guards to lead him "to the block of shame" for his beheading in the marketplace.
Act 5, Scene 2
Read the full text of Richard III Act 5 Scene 2 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Richmond has made camp at Tamworth, only a day's march from where Richard is encamped at Leicester.
- As Richmond and his men have been marching across England to face Richard, he has been receiving encouraging and informative letters about Richard's placement and army strength from his stepfather Stanley, who is still in Richard's fold.
- Richmond gives a rousing and beautiful speech to his followers about the damage that Richard has caused to England and to each individual citizen. Richmond hails this battle as the final bloody push to bring a lasting peace to the land.
- His men believe that conscience is on their side, which makes up for any numbers they might lack. One man fighting for his convictions is as good as a thousand men.
- Also, Richard's forces are waning in number: those who fight beside him do so out of fear more than love. This can't bode well for Richard on the field, as his men will likely desert as soon as they're given the chance.
- Richmond, with a final note that his men fight on the side of true hope, inspires his men to march on to battle.
Act 5, Scene 3
Read the full text of Richard III Act 5 Scene 3 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Richard and his followers are at Bosworth Field in Leicester. He gets his men to pitch their tents, but he notes that they seem to be looking a bit unhappy.
- Nonetheless, Richard seems unshakable in his optimism, especially since he's learned that Richmond has only six or seven thousand troops, a third of Richard's own forces. Besides the numbers, Richard is confident he'll win because he's the king.
- Important note: In some editions of the play, this scene continues. In the edition we're working with (The Norton Shakespeare, second edition, published in 2008), Act 5, Scene 3 ends here and the action is picked up in Act 5, Scene 4.
Act 5, Scene 4
Read the full text of Richard III Act 5 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- As Richard is throwing around his weight, Richmond enters the scene on another part of the stage. (This is a theatrical device for indicating two faraway places – in this case, the two rival camps.)
- Richmond is also making battle preparations, but rather than rely on the weakness of his enemy (as Richard does), he constructs a careful battle plan. He calls for pen and ink so he can draft all the battle movements and asks that some of his men stay to advise him.
- Also in contrast to Richard, Richmond distributes the command among several leaders of regiments.
- Richmond's even having one of the earls come to visit him at 2am to talk shop and go over the plan.
- Finally, Richmond asks Captain Blunt to find his stepfather Lord Stanley, who is half a mile from Richard's own camp and still pretending to be on Richard's side. Richmond gives Blunt a letter to deliver to Stanley before steeping himself in the battle plans and preparations.
Act 5, Scene 5
Read the full text of Richard III Act 5 Scene 5 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- 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.
Act 5, Scene 6
Read the full text of Richard III Act 5 Scene 6 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- As Richmond takes to the field, Richard is still trying to get the weather report. He notes that the sun should have risen an hour ago but has yet to show. With the sun hiding and the sky crying, Richard thinks it's shaping up to be a bad day.
- Still, Richard figures the same heaven is looking over Richmond, so maybe a dark day is in store for everyone.
- Richard moves to gather his men and hastily throws out their battle plan. John, Duke of Norfolk then shows Richard a note that was stuck onto his tent, amounting to "You guys are done for, and no one will stay on your side."
- Richard chooses to ignore the message (because what else is he going to do, give up?) and proceeds to give a little speech suggesting that conscience is for cowards. Essentially, Richard would have his men rely on their brass and brawn.
- Richard's pep talk to the troops essentially consists of, "They're coming from France [Bretons, from Brittany] and Wales. We're English. Hello, we'll crush them!"
- Richard calls Richmond a "milksop" and suggests that their duty as Englishman is to do what their forefathers have long done before them: to defeat those sniveling cowards.
- Richard is interrupted in his speech by the entrance of a messenger bringing news that Lord Stanley has no intention of bringing his troops to battle. Since there isn't time right now to kill George Stanley, Richard will have to do it after the battle.
- He leads his men off with the "spleen of fiery dragons."
Act 5, Scene 7
Read the full text of Richard III Act 5 Scene 7 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- On the battlefield, Catesby calls out to Norfolk for help, as Richard seems to have taken to the battlefield in mad desperation.
- Richard's horse has been killed, and Richard is wandering the battlefield on foot, killing everything in his path with a fatalistic fury.
- Richard yells out the famous line, "A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!"
- Richard is mad with bloodlust. He says he's slain five of the six "Richmonds" on the field, but not the Richmond he wants. (It was common practice to dress a few guys up as the leader of the troops to distract and serve as decoys. Swell job, huh?)
- Richard runs off again, looking for horses and Richmond.
Act 5, Scene 8
Read the full text of Richard III Act 5 Scene 8 with a side-by-side translation HERE.
- Richard and Richmond are onstage together in a fierce battle.
- Richmond slays Richard.
- Now it's time for speeches, and the counting of the dead. George Stanley still lives, and they go over notable soldiers who have died on each side.
- Stanley plucks the crown from Richard's bleeding corpse and puts it on Richmond's head.
- Richmond asks that everyone be buried according to his stature, and that repentant soldiers on Richard's side be forgiven.
- Finally he turns to talk of his impending marriage with Elizabeth, daughter of Queen Elizabeth and the deceased King Edward IV. As Richmond comes from the Lancastrian line, and Elizabeth is a York, their union will finally bring the red and white roses together, ending the very long Wars of the Roses.
- Richmond happily declares that the time of division in England is over. He hopes they'll rule a unified and happy England under a lasting and unchallenged peace.