The Tragedy of King Richard III

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The Tragedy of King Richard III is a historical play by William Shakespeare about King Richard III of England. It portrays him as a power hungry villain who treacherously works his way to the crown of England. At the end of the play he is killed by a rival to the crown called Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who becomes King Henry VII of England. It is the final play in Shakespeare's tetrology, preceded by The three parts of King Henry VI. [1]


The play begins with Richard, Duke of Gloucester, announcing that he has put whispers in his brother Edward's ear of their brother, Clarence, being treacherous. He says that Clarence is under arrest. Soon we see Clarence being brought to the Tower. Richard makes a false show of grief to his brother, but plans to murder him. He also meets Lord Hastings, Chamberlain, released from the Tower. Hastings was apparently put their because of the Queen and her relatives. Hastings wants to revenge himself. In another scene, Richard woos Lady Anne, widow of the Prince, whom Richard had killed. He claims he killed her father, father-in-law, and husband all for her love. He makes a false sense of love and wins her, but will not keep her long. The King is also in bad health at this time. His wife and her relatives are concerned over this, especially since the Prince is very young. Richard also comes to them and quarrels with them. They are watched and interupted by Old Queen Margaret, who curses them all, especially Richard, for killing her husband, son and taking her crown. After that Richard hires murderers to kill his brother. They go and after Clarence pleads with them desperately one of them stabs him and then drowns him in wine.

In the palace, King Edward is sick and dying. He calls for his lords and relatives to make peace, although it is only hollow. Richard then brings word of Clarence's death, Edward is overcome with sorrow for the death of his brother. He soon dies after. The next few scenes involve the morning of Edward and Clarence by many including their mother. The Queen's relatives and several lords plan for the coronation of the Prince, Edward. Richard allies with the Duke of Buckingham, with whom he confides his ambitions and plans to have the Queen's relatives executed as traitors. Only one of the Queen's sons, the Marquess of Dorset, is safe from Richard's wrath. The Queen worried for her other son, the Prince of York, takes sanctuary.

Meanwhile, the Prince of Wales enters London and is escorted by Richard and Buckingham. Richard orders that the other son of Edward, the Duke of York, be brought to see his brother. They take him from sanctuary and bring him to his brother. Richard then proposes that the Princes live in the Tower. Reluctantly they go to the Tower to live. Richard then roots out the Lord Hastings, one last true supporter of the Prince. Richard and Buckingham then convince the mayor and citizens of London to force him to become King.

Richard is crowned King of England and orders Buckingham to execute the Princes in the Tower. Buckingham is reluctant to kill boys, Richard then dismisses him and hires an assassin. The Queen is sorrowful about the loss of her children. Richard then tries to convince her to let him marry her daughter, Elizabeth (his wife he mentions is dead.) However, Richard is put off by the approach of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who claims the crown.

Buckingham joins Richmond and starts a rebellion, but is captured and executed. Richmond still comes on to fight with Richard. Richard brings up his forces to destroy Richmond's army. They are a field away and go to sleep before the battle. Ghosts whom Richard has killed appear before him in his sleep, prophesying defeat and death. They also go to Richmond and tell of victory. The two leaders of their armies make speeches and then fight each other. Richard loses his horse and fights Richmond. Richmond kills Richard and declares that he will marry Elizabeth, daughter of Edward, bringing peace in England.


King Edward IV: Old King of England and conqueror of the recent wars. He is sick near the beginning, and dies of guilt early on in the play because of killing his brother.

Edward, Prince of Wales: the young son of Edward IV, who becomes the King. He lives in the Tower after becoming King with his brother. His murder is arranged by Richard, his uncle.

Richard, Duke of York: the young prince of Edward IV. He dies with his brother, in the tower.

George, Duke of Clarence: the brother of King Edward, who fought during the wars on both sides, at different times. He is loyal to his brother, but his murder is arranged by his younger brother, Richard.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester: the brother of King Edward and the main character of the play. He is an overly ambitious and wicked character. His sole desire is the crown of England, so that he murders his brother, and nephews and many other nobles to get. Haunted by guilt, he is killed by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond.

Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond: the heir of all claims to the crown from the opposing side (which was defeated in the last play.) He enters the play near the end and leads a successful rebellion, which defeats Richard and puts him on the throne as King Henry VII.

Duke of Buckingham: a noble who helps Richard to the crown. But when Richard is king, he is discarded for not murdering the princes in the Tower. He helps Richmond's rebellion, but is caught and killed.

Duke of Norfolk: loyal follower of the king. Although a noble character, he fights and dies with King Richard. Earl Rivers: the Queen's brother and a supporter of the Prince. He is killed for trying to crown the King without Richard nearby.

Marquis of Dorset: son of the Queen from her previous marriage. He flees Richard's wrath and returns with Henry Tudor.

Lord Grey: another of the Queen's sons from her former marriage, who is killed with his uncle, Earl Rivers.

Lord Hastings: a Lord loyal to Edward, an enemy of the Queen and her relatives. He supports the Prince. However, he will not consent to giving the throne to Richard and is executed for treason on a false charge.

Lord Stanely: a Lord loyal to Edward, not taking any particular faction. He is spared by Richard, but helps Richmond win the day in the battle.

Queen Elizabeth: the Queen of Edward. She fears Richard, and orders her last son, Marquis of Dorset to England before he dies. She consents to Richmond marrying her eldest daughter of Elizabeth.

Margaret: old wife of the former King, murdered by Richard. She curses all, including Richard, who helped bring her and her side down.

Lady Anne: the former wife of the Prince, murdered by Richard. She curses him, but he manages to court marry her. However, she does not have a happy marriage and she dies.


Film Versions

Richard III is among some of the earliest films to be adapted, with one adaptation going as far back as 1911. In 1955, Lawrence Olivier directed and starred in a version of the play, which got him nominated for Best Actor in a Leading role. Olivier added dialogue from the end of The Third Part of King Henry VI for clarification. Olivier wanted the film to have an all-star cast, thus the film co-starred Cedric Hardwicke as Edward IV, John Gielgud as Clarence and Ralph Richardson as Buckingham. (Olivier claimed later that he wanted Orson Welles as Buckingham originally, but obliged Richardson instead.)

More recently in 1995, Sir Ian McKellen starred in a R-rated version of the play, set in an imaginary fascist England in approximately the 1930's. McKellen significantly altered locations and speeches in the film. For example, Richard's jeep gets stuck in the mud and Richard uses the famous "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" line to call out for any transportation, even a horse. The film co-starred John Wood as Edward IV, Nigel Hawthorne as Clarence and Jim Broadbent as Buckingham. The film was nominated for two Oscars: best art-set decoration and best costume design.


  • "Now is the winter of our discontent..." -Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Act I, Scene I.
  • "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" -Richard III, Act V, Scene 4.


  1. Great Books, Shakespeare: I, Edited by Mortimer J. Adler.
  2. Great Books: Shakespeare, Volume 1, Edited by William George Clarke and William Aldis Wright, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., pp. 105-148.

See Also

External Links

Open Source Shakespeare - Richard III [1]