Shakespeare and Film II                               Spring 2005


Richard III :   Study Guide


(I.i.1-41) In Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom writes,

Shakespeare’s greatest originality in Richard III, which redeems an otherwise cumbersome and overwritten drama, is not so much Richard himself as it is the hero-villain’s startlingly intimate relationship with the audience.”

       Keep this in mind as you read Richard’s soliloquies, starting with lines 1-41.


(I.ii) Background: Near the end of 3 Henry VI, Richard and his brothers (Clarence and Edward IV) personally stab Prince Edward, Anne’s husband.

  Kenneth Branagh as Richard III in a stage production


1.        As Anne and Richard argue over Richard’s request to share her bed, whom do you want to win and why? If you want Anne to win because who in their right mind would want Richard to succeed in wooing the widow of his murder victim, you are certainly on moral high ground! However, if you want Richard to win just to see if he can succeed in his devilish plot, that is just fine in terms of theatricality too! Remember that the play invites us to join Richard in a moral holiday.



(I.iii) Background: Refer to the play’s family tree. These courtiers squabble constantly. The political situation is tense, and everyone is suspicious of everyone else. Note that several sarcastic remarks are made about the fact that Queen Elizabeth and her brother, Lord Rivers, are not of  “gentle birth,” i.e., not truly “noble.” Edward IV supposedly married Elizabeth because of her good looks; she was not of aristocratic stock. The true blue-bloods see these royal in-laws as commoners.


Margaret has legitimate grievances:  her husband, King Henry VI, and her son, Prince Edward, were assassinated. However, her hands are not clean either. In 3 Henry VI, she goes into battle as a warrior. She taunts Richard’s father, then Duke of York, about the murder of his young son Rutland (this would be Richard’s little brother) and gives York a cloth stained with Rutland’s blood to wipe away his tears of grief. Then she places a paper crown on his head to mock his right to kingship. Finally, she personally helps stab him and instructs for his head to be cut off and hung up for public view. 

  Mary Sue Carroll as Queen Margaret in Richmond’s Encore! Theatre Company

Here is what she said in the prequel to Richard III: (She is speaking to the Duke of York, Richard’s father, and to Edward IV and Clarence)

Queen Margaret:  Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland,

     Come, make him stand upon this molehill here . . .

     What! was it you that would be England's king?

     Was't you that revell'd in our parliament,

     And made a preachment of your high descent?

     Where are your mess of sons to back you now?

     The wanton Edward, and the lusty George?

     And where's that valiant crook-back prodigy,

     Dicky your boy, that with his grumbling voice

     Was wont to cheer his dad in mutinies?

     Or, with the rest, where is your darling Rutland?

     Look, York: I stain'd this napkin with the blood

     That valiant Clifford, with his rapier's point,

     Made issue from the bosom of the boy;

     And if thine eyes can water for his death,

     I give thee this to dry thy cheeks withal.

     Alas poor York! but that I hate thee deadly,

     I should lament thy miserable state.

     I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York.

     What, hath thy fiery heart so parch'd thine entrails

     That not a tear can fall for Rutland's death?

     Why art thou patient, man? thou shouldst be mad. . .

     York cannot speak, unless he wear a crown.

     A crown for York! and, lords, bow low to him:

     Hold you his hands, whilst I do set it on.

                [ Putting a paper crown on his head]

     Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a king!

     . . .

     Off with the crown, and with the crown his head;

     And, whilst we breathe, take time to do him dead.

     And here's to right our gentle-hearted king.

                                3 Henry VI, I.iv.66-108



 Reminder:  Dukes are often referred to by their holding. For example, as Clarence relates his dream, remember that Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is simply called “Gloucester.” Recall that Clarence is actually George, Duke of Clarence. Their late father, the Duke of York, is often called “York.” Later, when the young Duke of York appears (unfortunately another character named Richard), he will be called “York.”


Background:  Clarence’s guilty conscience is caused by the fact that he changed sides in the York v. Lancaster feud. He turned against his brother Edward IV to support his father-in-law, Warwick, then changed back again.


2.        The assassins thought they had no conscience, but found they did. Keep track of the conscience of various characters on the attached worksheet-- How Low Can You Go?



 (III.iv) Richard’s decision to have Hastings executed rests on very flimsy reasons.  You may not even catch Richard’s logic. He uses his deformity as evidence that he is the victim of witchcraft and accuses Margaret and Mistress Shore of being the witches. As soon as Hastings says “IF” the women have done this, Richard pounces, using that hesitation as proof of his wish to protect his mistress.



3.        Who does Richard accuse of adultery when he insinuates that Edward IV was a not the son of the king?  The Duchess of York, his own mother!




4.        Why does Buckingham suddenly start asking Richard to keep his promise about the earldom?

Buckingham has helped Richard get to the crown in exchange for promises of property, but recently Richard asked Buckingham to do something he could not agree to: consent to have the young princes murdered lest they prove a threat to Richard’s security on the throne. Buckingham wants out of Richard’s service now, but not before he gets his promised reward.



(IV.iv) Bloom also writes,

From Juliet on, Shakespeare was to surpass all precursors, from the Bible to Chaucer, in the representation of women, but no one could surmise that on the basis of Richard III.


Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth and Kate Steavenson-Payne as Princess Elizabeth in Loncraine’s Richard III


                The women of the play do not seem to have much personality. But, in a way, they play an important role. As explained by Nina Levine,

Without validating the particulars of Richard's accusations, the play may indeed lend a certain authority to his misogyny by presenting the women not simply as victims but as morally culpable as well. From the compliant Lady Anne to the murderous Margaret and the inscrutable Elizabeth, the women of Richard III are, at best, highly ambivalent figures who slide with unsettling ease between opposing moral stereotypes, between victim and aggressor, nurturer and murderer.


Nina S. Levine. "Accursed womb, the bed of death": Women and the Succession in Richard III.”

Shakespearean Criticism, Vol. 39


5.        Does your heart go out to these women, or do you find their behavior too “unsettling”? Your opinion is valid, but explain how you arrive at it.

Most readers feel pity but also impatience at the weakness of a woman like Anne and the infighting of old Queen Margaret and Queen Elizabeth. Anne falls for Richard’s flattery even though he has killed her father-in-law and husband. Margaret has blood on her hands from the murder of the Duke of York, but she dishes out curses to almost everyone in the play for their part in killing her husband and son. She shows no remorse for the death of the young princes, gloating that Elizabeth can now feel a mother’s grief too. 


Note Richard’s confusion while giving orders.

6.        What is happening to him?

Richard is not thinking clearly any more. He is quick-tempered and paranoid.  He orders Catesby to “fly to the Duke” without explaining why. When Catesby awaits instructions, Richard calls him “dull, unmindful villain” and asks him what he’s waiting for. He then forgets that he told Radcliffe to go to Salisbury, and strikes a messenger for bringing bad news, etc. He probably recalls Queen Margaret’s curse in 1.3. that he would be “friends of traitors and betrayed by friends.” Having seen her other curses come true, perhaps Richard is worried that he can trust no one and that his end is in sight.


QAl Pacino in Looking for Richard



How Low Can You Go?


How do each of these characters at some point or another (some multiple times) behave in such a way as to violate their conscience or better judgment? Do they ever draw the line?



In just one scene, Anne goes from mourning her father-in-law’s and husband’s death at Richard’s hand to letting him put a ring on her finger. Although she curses any woman who would agree to become his wife, she herself becomes that woman. Apparently his flattery of her beauty has gone to her head. Perhaps there are extenuating circumstances, but it looks like moral weakness and vanity. Later as Richard’s queen, she regrets that she fell for his lies and wishes she were dead. She gets her wish.


Assassins of Clarence

Murderer #2 has second thoughts and worries about Judgment Day when their crime will be punished. He washes his hand of the deed. Murderer #1 uses the thought of a promised reward to override his conscience and goes ahead and kills Clarence.


Hastings, Lord Chamberlain (We saw him in I.i being released from the tower.)

Hastings promises to take vengeance on the people who put him in prison (he assumes it is Elizabeth’s brother and sons) and rejoices when he hears they are about to be executed. When Catesby sounds Hastings out to see if he will support Richard’s claim to the throne over that of the young princes, Hastings says he’d rather have his own “crown” (head) cut from his shoulders than see Richard crowned. This statement of conscientious loyalty to the heirs of Edward IV is straightway punished by Richard. When he learns that he himself will be executed, he regrets that he gloated over the death of his enemies.


Buckingham (He needs extra space!)

Buckingham has been Richard’s right-hand man in all his plots. He betrayed King Edward’s loyalty by swearing fake reconciliation to the Woodvilles, Elizabeth’s kin. He helped plot the deaths of Rivers and Grey. He argues that the young Prince Edward should ride with light guard (“little train”), pressures the Cardinal into removing the Prince of York from “sanctuary” with his mother, both actions putting the boys in a vulnerable position. He stages an elaborate show to convince the Mayor and citizens that Hastings was a traitor, that the princes are illegitimate, and that Richard should be king. Yet when Richard asks Buckingham’s consent to kill the princes in the tower, Buckingham draws the line and asks for time to consider. Thus, he has some conscience, but not much. Next we see of him, he is asking for his promised earldoms, meaning he wants to cash in his winnings and leave the game.



He cheerfully agrees to murder the young princes (although he gets Dighton and Forrest to actually do it). When he describes the “tyrannous and bloody act” in a soliloquy, he may be genuinely moved by the death of the innocents, but he does not reveal any remorse to Richard. If he has a conscience, he never draws the line in what he will agree to do. However, his soliloquy of pity could be played as sarcasm, making him more devilish than even Richard. Director’s choice.


Tyrrel’s henchmen, Dighton and Forrest

We do not hear them speak directly, but according to Tyrrel, they were moved by the gentleness of the “babes” and the presence of a prayer book on their bed, but killed them anyway. They wept afterward “with conscience and remorse.”


Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth is accused of various things, but we never see her do anything wrong. We learn from Richard that Elizabeth and her former husband, Grey, supported the House of Lancaster prior to its fall at the battle of St. Albans. Now that she is Edward IV’s wife, it looks like she switched loyalty for personal gain. Richard and Margaret never let Elizabeth forget that she was essentially Edward’s mistress whom he decided to marry and elevate to the throne even through she was not of sufficient nobility. Nevertheless, she swears she did nothing wrong and especially did not encourage Edward to have Clarence sent to the tower. Later she seems genuinely sympathetic with Anne’s plight as Richard’s unfortunate wife. When, following the murder of her family, she appears to consent to Richard’s request to woo her daughter, we learn later that she has actually contracted a marriage between the girl and Richmond.