Act 1: Richard eliminates Clarence.
Richard discloses to the audience his plot to do in his brother Clarence, then feigns ignorance when Clarence comes by, under arrest, and claims that his brother the king has identified him with the letter “G”, who will disinherit him. Gloucester blames the queen, Lady Grey, and her brother, Anthony Woodville (Earl Rivers). Clarence blames, indirectly, Jane Shore, the king’s mistress. So Richard is ironic with him, not meaning what he says, that he will help him.
Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain, just released from prison, ready to do in whoever had him arrested (we don’t know). He says the king is sick.
Plot: Richard arranges the death of his brother Clarence.
Action: Richard pauses before following Hastings to the king to inform of us of his plans. So methodical, mechanical.
Anne Neville, wife to Edward, son of Henry VI mourns her father-in-law, the dead king and curses Richard, a curse that includes his future wife, which she, not knowing it now, will be. [In 3HenryVI, the three brothers Edward IV, Richard, and Clarence killed Edward, then Richard alone killed Henry VI—and also threatened Edward’s little son Edward.]
Richard orders the bearers to put down the corpse, threatening to “make a corse of him that disobeys” [just as Hamlet will make a ghost of anyone who follows him] (30).
Anne refers to the superstition that the presence of a murderer will make the victim bleed again (52). She looks for Justice, either God to strike Richard with lightning or earth to swallow him (62).
Richard tells Anne that her beauty drove him to kill Henry and Edward Plantagenet (121). He offers to let her kill him.
192-202: exchange of 6 syllable lines. Notice how he eventually crowds her out in the three following examples, eventually getting more words per shared line than she:
That never dreamt on aught but butcheries.
Didst thou not kill this king?
Glo. I grant ye.
Anne. Some dungeon.
Glo. Your bed-chamber
Anne. I hope so.
Glo. I know so, But, gentle Lady Anne, R’s dominance crowds out Anne
Also, the twelve syllable, six stressed line suggests an archaic verse, not the modern five beat verse that Shakespeare usually uses, and that archaic quality helps somehow “explain” the otherwise rather unbelievable willingness of Anne to accept Richard’s proposal, helping us accept the possibility that in this scene we see how some women are (or at least this woman is) susceptible to the sheer allure of power, no matter what form it takes.
The key turning point is that she thinks him penitent after he offers to kill himself if she can bid him do it when she is not angry: She can’t figure him out (“I would I knew thy heart”).
Plot: Richard seduces Lady Anne, the widow of Henry VI’s son Edward.
Action: Richard confides to us that he will not keep Anne long, before enjoying the thought that he is better looking than he thought.
Richard tells pall-bearers he will come after them (just as he told Hasting the same thing).
Richard tells pall-bearers he will come after her before confiding to us that he will not keep Anne long, then enjoying the thought that he is better looking than he knew.
So we see the first two scenes are structured in parallel: Richard lying to someone, sending them off, then confiding to us.
Queen Elizabeth thinks Derby’s wife, the Countess Richmond, is arrogant, but Stanley (i.e., Derby) insists it’s just a vicious rumor. Buckingham, fresh from seeing the king (unlike the queen), announces that the king wants to reconcile Gloucester (Richard) and the queen’s brothers.
Margaret breaks in, demanding allegiance. Gloucester calls her a witch and recalls the time she crowned his father with paper (175). She lays on a curse (first on Edward IV’s son Edward, then his queen—these work), which Richard tries to deflect by ending it with her name:
Thou slander of they heavy mother’s womb!
Though loathed issue of thy father’s loins!
Thou rag of honor! thou detested—
I call thee not.
I cry thee mercy then; for I did think
That thou hadst call’d me al these bitter names.
Why, so I did, but look’d for no reply.
O, let me make the period to my curse!
Tis done by me, and ends in “Margaret.”
Thus have you breathed your curse against yourself.
Poor painted queen, vain flourish of my fortune!
Why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spider
Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?
She excludes Buckingham, as not having been involved in her husband’s death. In fact, it will be Buckingham who will be friend and traitor, the ally Richard most mishandles: this is like Poe’s purloined letter: she practically shouts out whom Richard should be careful with, but he fails to notice, for all his cleverness (demonic personalities are always blind to the obvious).
250: Locraine film gives Margaret’s “bottled spider” line to Queen Elizabeth to make her more suspicious of Richard than she is in the play, more of a strong woman, as modern productions are wont to do. [Elizabeth actually uses the same phrase in 4.4.81, but it’s late, after Richard’s villainy has become obvious for his murder of the princes, and she may have learned it from Margaret. Notice how Elizabeth asks old Margaret for a lesson in cursing] Earlier, Richard’s villainy seems to be less obvious to others, if not to us, in the play than in the movies. The weakness of the movie is that Richard looks so creepily evil, but no one really notices.
Richard continues to lie about who had Clarence arrested: then turns to us to remind us he is lying (325): “and thus I clothe my naked villainy / with odd old ends stol’n forth of holy writ, / and seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”
Again, Richard (Put before this scene in movie.)
Plot: Margaret lays a curse on Richard.
Action: Warned of the dangers of curses, which can be twisted, by Margaret’s performance, Richard hypocritically prays for those (himself) who do Clarence harm, then reminds us that the devil can twist scripture, before he again directs someone where to go, this time his two hired murderers.
Clarence tells the keeper of his dream of drowning, where he saw jewels under the sea and feels the pangs of conscience.
The second murderer discourses on “conscience.” Problem for Clarence, as he knows, and the murderers know, is that he was treacherously involved in Henry VI’s death.
They stab him then drown him in the butt of malmsey, as per Thomas More’s Life of Henry VII.
Plot: Clarence’s Dream
Action: The second murderer, who has been hesitant all along, repents his deed, giving up his share of the fee. This action of true conscience contrasts that of Richard in the scene before.
Act 2: Richard eliminates the queen’s influence.
Edward reconciles Hastings and Rivers and others.
Richard arrives late, with Ratcliffe in the play, but Anne in the McK’ movie. The movie has Richard kiss the queen to illustrate his “duteous service” (64). Then he tags her for mentioning Clarence, who is dead, suggesting that someone in the crowd is responsible.
Stanley comes in and asks a pardon for one of his servants who killed one of the duke of Norfolk’s attendants. Edward meditates on his power to pardon, and his power to order someone killed, and the fact that no one spoke up for poor Clarence.
Richard asks Buckingham if he didn’t notice how pale the queen’s relatives were to hear the news of Clarence’s death.
Plot: A false reconciliation between Richard and Elizabeth.
Action: Richard poisons Buckingham’s mind against the queen’s faction, then exits after him (as usual).
The Duchess of York, mother of Edward, Richard, and Clarence, hides their father’s death from his children, but badly, and they perceive it when she says it’s no use wailing for what is lost, but the boy doesn’t believe Richard dissembled.
Queen comes in to announce death of the king. The two images of her husband the duchess bewails are Clarence and Edward (50).
Round robin of moaning.
Richard enters. Buckingham announces Edward’s son should be brought from Ludlow with “some little train.” He explains the need to avoid malice. He tells Richard they two should also go, and Richard pretends to be led like a child.
Plot: Edward IV dies, raising question of succession.
Action: Richard follows Buckingham’s suggestion that Edward’s son be brought form Ludlow with few attendants. Nice little reversal of the usual. Is Richard so good now that he gets others to do his villainy?
Citizens discuss the obvious, that the young prince’s uncles (Gloucester and Rivers) will naturally be at odds.
Plot: Rivalry between Richard and the Queen’s brother.
Action: The citizens, knowing a storm is brewing, put their trust in God.
Young duke of York, Edward IV’s growing eldest son, recalling Richard saying weeds grow fast, with the ladies discussing Richard’s slow growth as a baby, and the story that he had teeth when he was two hours old.
A messenger announces that Rivers (queen’s brother) and Grey (her son) are sent to prison at Pomfret. Queen realizes it’s over for her and seeks sanctuary. The old duchess of York offers to join her, and the archbishop tells her to be sure to take her money too, and he gives her his seal, I suppose to let her in.
Plot: Imprisonment of Rivers.
Action: The archbishop supports the queen’s request for sanctuary. Note the alternating scene structure of the act.
Act 3: Richard eliminates popular opposition.
Prince Edward wonders where are his uncles, mother, and brother as he reaches London.
Buckingham argues that a child cannot seek sanctuary (nice legal touch); the Archbishop is convinced.
Prince Edward delivers a little lecture on the difference between custom and written material, in the matter of whether Julius Caesar built the Tower of London. Richard agrees that fame, even when not in “characters,” lives long, then compares himself to the Vice, Iniquity (ya gotta love him: sooo evil!)
Prince Edward agrees to go to the Tower.
Buckingham asks Richard if the queen did not make the prince so taunting, then assigns Catesby to feel out Hastings and Stanley, to see if they will support Richard’s coronation. Richard tells Catesby to tell Stanley that his enemies will die the next day at Pomfret castle. And he wants to hear news from Catesby that evening. He tells B. that either the others go along or lose their heads, then offers B. the earldom of Hereford.
Plot: Arrival of Prince Edward prior to crowning as king.
Action: Richard assigns a place of meeting that night, Crosby House, for himself, Buckingham, and Catesby.
After Edward agrees to go to the Tower, Richard promises the earldom of Hereford to Buckingham as his reward.
Hastings rejects a messenger bearing Stanley’s bad dream about the boar as baseless, then admits to Catesby that he is not sad to hear about the death of the queen’s kindred at Pomfret (since he thinks they had him arrested, before the play began), but won’t go along with Richard’s succession because, this is implied, it would be a bad example for the inheritance of property, upon which he and other nobles depend.
Catesby hides from Hastings that Hastings is in big trouble with Richard.
Stanley arrives. Hastings asks him where is his boar spear; Stanley does not like the separate councils scheduled for that day.
Stanley and Catesby go ahead. Hastings talks with the “pursuivant” to congratulate himself that his enemies are overcome.
A priest meets Hastings, who promises him a reward next Sunday.
Buckingham announces to Hastings that the deed has been done at Pomfret: “they do need no priest.”
Hastings says he’s staying for dinner at the Tower, and Buckingham jokes, for supper too.
Plot: Downfall of Hastings.
Action: Hastings (Lord Chamberlain), who will realize he missed all the signs that he’s in trouble, is nonetheless gracious to little men, the pursuivant and the priest. The scene is representative of how Richard catches the unwary (not really an “action”).
Ratcliffe announces to Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan that they will die.
Plot: Demise of Rivers
Action: Rivers embraces his comrades, till they meet in heaven. No drunken orgy and bed-stabbing in the play.
Buckingham asks who knows Richard’s mind, and Hastings is sure he speaks for him.
Richard enters, saying he slept late. Asks the bishop of Ely for some strawberries—left out of McKellen version! perhaps because it is a historical detail from More. But fact is that Hastings takes Richard’s asking after strawberries as a sign of his good humor and lack of deceit—when it’s really a kind of bullying (give me a cigarette; how about another?)
Richard blames his withered arm on the queen and Jane Shore (now the mistress of Hastings). When Hastings says “if,” Richard orders his head off, Lovell and Ratcliffe to do it. Hastings realizes he has missed the signs: Stanley’s dream, his stumbling horse, his boast to the pursuivant, Margaret’s curse. He prophesies the deaths of those who kill him.
Plot: Council scene. where Richard’s request for strawberries is really a demand or challenge (film leaves it out!—most famous scene in the play)
Action: Hastings prophesies the deaths of those who kill him. A sort of curse, it is an action, since it works.
Buckingham claims he can act (“counterfeit the deep tragedian”). [overlooked indication of how actors played]
Buckingham tells the Mayor that Hastings died because he had plotted to murder Buckingham and Richard, who only acted hastily because of their peril: not “Turks or infidels . . . against the form of law.”
Richard sends Buckingham to spread the rumor that Edward’s children are bastards, and in fact, that Edward IV was not really a son of his father, Richard of York. He sends Lovell to Dr. Shaw and Ratcliffe to Friar Penker to preach in his favor, then informs us he will give orders to have Clarence’s children murdered.
Plot: Dirty Tricks.
Action: Richard assigns Buckingham to meet him at Baynard’s castle, does some more dirty work, then confides in us—his normal pattern.
A scrivener confides to us that he was assigned to “engross” [that is, make a fair copy] of Hasting’s indictment even before he was arrested. Everyone can see the villainy, but no one dares say anything.
Plot: Dirty Tricks
Buckingham reports the failure of the slanders on Edward to rouse the citizens in Richard’s favor, but tells him to take a prayer book and deny the crown when offered. He praises Richard’s religious observances.
Plot: Failure to win people.
Action: Richard “agrees” to be crowned the next day, then sends his bishops back inside and follows them, his usual procedure.
Act 4: Richmond rebels.
The ladies are forbidden to visit the queen’s sons in the Tower by Brackenbury, Lieutenant of the Tower. But Dorset (a son of the queen by an earlier marriage, before she married Edward IV) does appear with Stanley, who sends him off to “live with Richmond” (42). Stanley’s actual mission is to fetch Anne to be crowned queen.
Anne notices that the curse she put on Richard has come true—she cursed herself! She knows he intends to kill her.
Queen Elizabeth prays to the stones of the Tower to guard her children
Plot: Lady Anne’s curse on herself is working.
Action: After Anne notices that she has inadvertently cursed herself, Queen Elizabeth prays to the stones of the Tower to guard her children.
Richard in pomp hints to Buckingham he should murder Prince Edward, but Buckingham won’t take the hint. Richard asks a page for a murderer and is given the name of Tyrrel, then vows to cut off Buckingham.
He asks Catesby to spread the rumor Anne is sick. He wants a man to marry the daughter of Clarence, but is not worried about his son, whom he says is “foolish.” He himself intends to marry Edward’s daughter (who is everywhere in the movie but nowhere in the play: Why? (60).
Stanley’s wife is the mother of Richmond, whom Henry VI prophesied would be king. So Richard warns Stanley that his wife should not “convey” letters to her son.
Richard freaks over a prophesy from an Irish bard that he would not live long after seeing Richmond (108). McKellen does a wonderful bit, twisting Rougemont into Richmond, a word in the prophecy.
Richard puts off Buckingham’s demand for his earldom by asking him what time it is. Buckingham figures which way the wind is blowing—so Richard’s witty villainy, delivered to Buckingham’s face, helps undo him.
Plot: Richard crowned.
Action: Richard refuses to give Buckingham what he wants, refusing him to his face. This is a complete switch in the pattern, appropriate for the counterstroke of act 4, since Richard used before to tell the audience, not his enemies, his thoughts.
Tyrrel tells about the remorse that struck Dighton and Forrest, murderers of the princes.
Richard tells us the fates of Clarence’s children, Edward’s, and of Anne. In the Locrino, he then adds some lines from Macbeth, that he is in blood so far. Back to the play, he repeats that he intends to woo Elizabeth, Edward’s daughter.
Ratcliffe brings bad news. Morton is fled, and Buckingham too.
Richard rushes to battle.
Plot: Murder of the princes in the tower.
Action: Richard ignores the danger of Buckingham. In case we missed the point of the previous scene.
4.4 (500 lines of moaning)
Old Margaret announces her departure for France, then overhears and comments on the grief of Queen Elizabeth for her sons, and the duchess of York for Edward IV. The duchess reminds Margaret that she was an old murderer too, for she murdered Richard of York, the father of Richard of Gloucester. Margaret counters by blaming the duchess for being the mother of such a fiend.
“Young York he is but boot” Great legalism! Meaning, Margaret needed Edward IV to die to match her son Edward, and Edward IV’s son Edward was just “boot,” or addition to the bargain.
She looks to have Gloucester “conveyed” to hell: “Cancel his bond of life.” Why should Margaret use such legal language? I supposed because she wants “justice” (103).
The movie transfers Eliz’s “bottled spider” speech to the earlier dining scene, since it eliminated this long scene.
Elizabeth asks Margaret for a lesson in cursing. Words, like what attorneys have.
The women intercept Richard and demand answers.
His mother puts her curse on Richard (188).
Richard tells the queen he wants to marry her daughter. He as much as admits he killed her sons, but that means her daughter can be queen (308).
Elizabeth won’t let Richard “swear by” anything (cf. Juliet; Hamlet).
As Elizabeth, in part convinced that the peace of the state lies in the marriage of her daughter and that Richard will be better, goes to sound her daughter, Richard mocks her for her fickleness. It does indicate that Elizabeth and her Woodville relatives were ambitious upstarts.
Ratcliffe brings news of invasion. Richard is rattled and forgets to say what message he wants Catesby to relate to Norfolk. [For what it’s worth, Norfolk during Shakespeare’s lifetime was a Catholic traitor who almost married Mary Queen of Scots. He led a rebellion in 1579 and Elizabeth had him executed. Here he is the main power on the side of evil Richard.] Then he forgets to tell Ratcliffe what he should do at Salisbury. He changes his mind (456)—ironic in light of what he said about Elizabeth.
Richard makes Stanley leave his son as hostage. Recall that Stanley’s stepson is Richmond.
A messenger reports that the Bishop of Exeter has revolted in Devonshire. Another reports the Guildfords are in arms in Kent. A third messenger, after being struck in anticipation of bad news, says Buckingham’s army is dispersed. A fourth messenger says Lovell and Dorset are in arms in the north. But a storm has dispersed the navy of Richmond. Nothing says that Richmond is a navy man, but the McKellen film makes him one based on this line.
Catesby reports that Richmond has landed at Milford.
Richard orders everyone to Salisbury.
Plot: Hell breaks loose. 500 lines of lamenting women. Elizabeth consents to Richard’s marriage to her daughter. Anne dead in the background. News of revolts, including Buckingham’s.
Action: Richard orders everyone somewhere else, as usual.
Stanley sends a message to Richmond that his son is hostage, but that Elizabeth has agreed her daughter will marry Richmond. News of Richmond’s supporters marching on London.
Action: Stanley sends a letter to Richmond.
Act 5: Richmond triumphs
Buckingham realizes Margaret’s curse on him (which occurred in an earlier play: here he seemed to dodge her curse in 1.3) has taken effect as he is led to execution. Point is the same: curses work, either because Shakespeare believed they do,or that he thought that his audience believed they do, or realized what a great way a curse is to foreshadow what is going to happen.
Action: Buckingham orders the officers to lead him to his death.
Richmond, holding encouraging letter from Stanley, exhorts his followers.
Action: Richmond praises “hope” (sounds like Hustle and Flow).
Richard reaches Bosworth Field with Norfolk and Surrey.
Richmond writes a note to Stanley.
Richard says he won’t sup, calls for wine, has lost his “spirit.”
Stanley visits Richmond. Richmond prays.
Ghosts appear like nightmares of “despair” to Richard, sweet dreams to Richmond: Henry 6’s son Edward; Henry VI; Clarence.
Richard wakes from a bad nightmare. Tells Ratcliffe he wants to slink around and see if any of his soldiers intend to desert him. Notice the missing oration. Always a bad sign in Shakespeare when a character fails to make an expected speech. The Locrine film misses this pattern in Shakespeare, since McKellen actually gives a more rousing exhortation to his troops before battle than anything in the play. The ending of the film is a mess, but right for film, since it features a chase, explosions, and a fiery death, and ironic music that suggests Richard somehow wanted to die violently, certainly not the way Olivier played it. I think the end of the film is based on the end of Dr. Strangelove, when the B-52 pilot rides the atom bomb.
Richmond awakes from his sweet dreams. He gives an oration.
314: Richard’s oration: “What shall I say?”
Action: Failing to make the great speech, Richard calls on the dragons of Saint George to inspire his army (very weird)
Richard calls for a horse but won’t withdraw.
Richmond kills Richard. Stanley gives him the crown. Richmond will unite the white rose and the red.
Notice how nowhere in the play is Richmond’s relationship to the red rose of Lancashire explained. All we know is that his mother is Stanley’s second wife. After four long plays, however, perhaps Shakespeare knew his audience knew about the roses, so understatement was key, just like the references at the end of the last Star Wars film to things all the fans knew from the beginning.
Action: Richmond prays that his heirs will promote peace.
Act 1: Richard eliminates Clarence.
Act 2: Richard eliminates the queen’s influence.
Act 3: Richard eliminates popular opposition.
Act 4: Richmond rebels.
Act 5: Richard eliminates himself; Richmond triumphs;
1.1 Richard pauses to inform of us of his plans.
1.2 Richard confides to us. The function of act one, to begin the plot.
1.3 Richard reminds us that the devil can twist scripture.
1.4 The second murderer of Clarence repents his deed. This action of true conscience contrasts that of Richard in the scene before.
2.1 Richard poisons Buckingham’s mind against the queen’s faction, then exits after him (as usual).
2.2 Richard follows Buckingham’s lead, having gotten him to do his dirty work against the queen’s family. Nice little reversal of the usual. Is Richard so good now that he gets others to do his villainy? Yes: the rising action of act two.
2.3 The citizens, knowing a storm is brewing, put their trust in God.
2.4 The archbishop supports the queen’s request for sanctuary. Note the alternating scene structure of the act. Sets up the appeal to God by Richmond at the end.
3.1 Richard promises the earldom of Hereford to Buckingham. A first mistake, and a complication typical of a third act.
3.2 Hastings (Lord Chamberlain) misses all the signs that he’s in trouble, but is gracious to the little men, the pursuivant and the priest. The scene is representative of how Richard catches the unwary.
3.3 Rivers embraces his comrades, till they meet in heaven.
3.4 Hastings pronounces the death of his enemies, the Woodvilles.
3.5 Richard assigns Buckingham to meet him at Baynard’s castle, does some more dirty work, then confides in us—his normal pattern.
3.6 A scrivener confides to us that he was assigned to “engross” [that is, make a fair copy of] Hastings’s indictment even before he was arrested. Everyone can see the villainy, but no one dares say anything.
3.7 Richard “agrees” to be crowned the next day, then sends his bishops back inside and follows them, his usual procedure.
4.1 Queen Elizabeth prays to the stones of the Tower to guard her children.
4.2 Richard refuses to give Buckingham what he wants, refusing him to his face This is a complete switch in the pattern (although set up in act three) appropriate for the counterstroke of act 4. Previously Richard told the audience, not his enemies, his thoughts.
4.3 Richard ignores the danger of Buckingham. In case we missed the point of the previous scene.
4.4 Richard orders everyone somewhere else, as usual, after the long scene of women grieving.
4.5 Stanley sends a letter to Richmond.
5.1 Buckingham orders the officers to lead him to his death.
5.2 Richmond praises “hope” (sounds like Hustle and Flow).
5.3 Richard calls on the dragons of Saint George to inspire his army (very weird)
5.4 Richard calls for a horse but won’t withdraw.
5.5 Richmond prays that his heirs will promote peace.