KING EDWARD IV
King Edward IV of
England (1442-1483) is the simply known as Edward until Act 3 in 3
Henry VI, King Edward IV receives his crown as a result of the
machinations of his ambitious father, the Duke of York, and his heirs are
murdered later by his brother, who succeeds him as Richard in.
In 2 Henry VI
Edward appears in 5.1 to support his father in his claim to the throne.
Edward has only one line, which Richard immediately tops. In 3 Henry VI,
although Edward comes into his own, he continues to be overshadowed by his
brother. He becomes King, but the leadership of the Yorkist cause is
clearly provided by Warwick, prior to that lord's defection, and by
Richard. Edward displays the unscrupulous ambition that characterizes the
aristocrats in all the Henry VI plays. He baldly displays his own
dishonesty, claiming that '. . . for a kingdom any oath may be broken: /1
would break a thousand oaths to reign one year' (1.2.16-17). However,
Edward is outclassed in criminality by his brother Richard.
Edward demonstrates a
selfish disregard for the responsibilities of kingship, and his behavior
necessitates a renewal of the Wars of the Roses. He ignores the
benefits of an alliance with France and abandons a marriage to Lady Bonain
order to satisfy his lust for Elizabeth). In the resulting war, he
indulges in pointless bravado and permits himself to be captured in 4.3.
After the final Yorkist victory, Edward casually allows Richard to murder
the finally displaced King Henry, demonstrating a lack of concern for
civil order that typifies England's corrupt public life. In Richard III
Edward appears only in 2.1, on his deathbed. He learns of the death of
Clarence, and his dismay, it is implied, leads to his own rapid demise.
His death is reported in 2.2.
treatment of the reign of Edward IV is extremely unhistorical, for the
playwright wished to emphasize the disruption of English public life that
the coming of the Tudor dynasty repaired. Edward's 22-year tenure is
presented as a rapid succession of quarrels and battles. In fact, though,
Edward was a very competent ruler. He was judiciously merciful to most of
the Lancastrians; he introduced badly needed financial reforms; he
withdrew from France—at the cost of considerable personal popularity, but
to the immense benefit of the country. His marriage to Elizabeth was not
the chief, or even an important, cause of Warwick's rebellion. Although
his lusty appetites, given much emphasis in the play, were well known to
his contemporaries, they do not seem to have interfered with his public
duty, although it has been suggested that over-indulgence in wine and
women may have resulted in his early death.
Prince of Wales,
Edward is the son and heir of King Edward IV whom Richard III murders. The
Prince appears only once, when he arrives in London after his father's
death. Although technically king, he is never crowned and is known as the
Prince throughout the play. Being taken to the Tower of London and his
eventual death the Prince, 12 years old, impresses us with his serious
concern for history. He also provides an ironic commentary on the way the
story of his own death has been transmitted, officially unrecorded but
nonetheless known. -But say. my lord, it were not register'd /Methmks the
truth should live from age to age (3.1 75-76). The murder—at Richard's
instigation—of the Prince and his younger brother, the Duke of York, is
reported in 4.3 and mourned thereafter It is clearly intended to be taken
as the most heinous of Richard's crimes.
Shakespeare had no
doubt as to Richard's guilt and posterity, greatly influenced by
Shakespeare ' has agreed. Modern scholarship, however, has thrown doubt on
the whole question of the fate of the princes It is known that they
entered the Tower in June 1483 and never emerged, but how they died and
who was responsible are not clear and may never be, except in the unlikely
event that new evidence is uncovered.
In 3 Henry VI the
Prince appears in the final scene as an infant, virtually a stage
property, to be displayed by his father. The baby is kissed by his uncles,
as a token of loyalty to King Edward. This incident is noteworthy for the
behaviour of Richard, who characterizes himself in an aside as comparable
to Judas in kissing one to whom he intends harm.
RICHARD Duke of York
Richard, Duke of York
(1473-c. 1483) is the murdered nephew of Richard III. The younger brother
of the Prince of Wales and his successor to the throne, York is a flippant
youngster, given to ill-considered jokes about Richard's deformity. He
appears with his mother, Queen Elizabeth, and grandmother, the Duchess of
York, in 2.4 and with his brother and others in 3.1. In the latter scene,
he jests about Richard's dagger, in an ominous foreshadowing of his fate.
At the end of the scene, the two young brothers are escorted to the Tower
of London, from which they will never emerge. Although their murder is
commonly attributed to Richard, modern scholarship finds the fate of the
princes to be impenetrably obscure, barring the unlikely emergence of new
GEORGE Duke of Clarence
George York, Duke of
Clarence (1449-1478) is the victimized brother of Richard III. Richard
reveals in his opening soliloquy (1.1) that he has turned King Edward IV,
his oldest brother, against Clarence, his next oldest. When Clarence is
arrested, in the same scene, Richard sympathizes with him and promises him
assistance, but in fact, he proceeds to hire two murderers to kill him.
Thus Clarence is removed from the succession to the crown, leaving Richard
in his place.
In 1.4 we see
Clarence in his cell in the Tower of London. He has just awakened from a
terrible nightmare, in which he was drowned and went to hell. There he
encountered the spirits of both the Earl of Warwick, whom he had betrayed,
and the one-time Prince of Wales, whom he had helped to murder (Both
events are enacted, with Clarence appearing as George, in 3 Henry VI.)
Awake but still afraid, he admits that his conscience is heavy.
The murderers arrive,
and Clarence learns that Richard, whom he had thought he might rely on in
his distress, has hired them. He piteously bewails his fate. The Second
Murderer, who had displayed pangs of conscience earlier, is prepared to
relent, but the First Murderer proceeds to stab Clarence and, for good
measure, seals him in a cask of wine to ensure that he won't survive.
scene is an emotional highlight of the play. It has tremendous impact,
shocking the audience, for Richard's villainy, which has been seductively
entertaining up to this point, is now seen to have serious consequences.
Clarence's account of his dream reveals a soul in torment; he speaks in
passionate verse, the most lyrical in the play. His spiritual
suffering—his heavy-hearted loss of hope and fear of death—is intense. The
scene anchors much of the action that follows: although Richard's
cold-hearted machinations result only in off-stage violence, they
nevertheless cannot be witnessed without recalling this chilling evidence
of their real weight.
of Clarence's death has little relation to history, though the playwright
certainly believed it to be true; he took it from his chief source for the
History Plays, the account of the Wars of the Roses written by Edward
Hall. Historically, Richard actually protested against Clarence's
imprisonment and execution. However, Clarence's position was irreparable,
for he had persisted in involving himself in plots against King Edward.
After forgiving his brother several times (one of these occasions is
dramatized in 3 Henry VI), Edward finally ordered Clarence's trial for
treason, appearing in person as the prosecutor. Clarence was sentenced to
death, and a few days later his death was announced, although there was no
public execution, as would have been ordinary. This last detail may
account for the persistence of the rumor that Richard had Clarence
murdered, which was, by Shakespeare's time, accepted as fact.
RICHARD Duke of Gloucester
Richard III, King of
England (1452-1485) is character in 2 and 3 Henry VI and title
character of Richard III. Known simply as Richard or Gloucester
until he is crowned in 4.2 of Richard ///, his ambition never
ceases to drive him towards that moment. Richard is more than simply a
villain; his dazzlingly evil nature, combining viciousness and wit, makes
him as important and valuable to the drama, especially in Richard III,
as any hero. He was Shakespeare's first great creation, marking a
tremendous advance over earlier, more ordinary characters.
Richard makes his
first appearance late in 2 Henry VI, when he is called to support
his father, the Duke of York. His role is minor; he is present chiefly as
a foreshadowing of the sequels to the play. He is nevertheless a cleanly
drawn figure, sardonically epigrammatic. For instance, he encourages
himself in battle with the cry, 'Priests pray for enemies, but princes
kill' (5.2.71). His bold and willfully, even pridefully, cruel nature is
already evident, after only a few lines.
In 1.1 of 3 Henry
VI Richard's extraordinary personality bursts forth. As the nobles
recount their exploits at the battle of St. Albans, Richard abruptly
throws down the head of Somerset, saying, 'Speak thou for me, and tell
them what I did (1.1. 16).' Richard's blood-thirstiness, not unmixed with
dry humor, is evident throughout the play, pointing towards the horrors he
is to commit in Richard III. In his famous soliloquy at the end of
3.2, he describes himself as able to '. . . smile, and murder whiles I
smile'; he will 'set the murderous Machiavel to school' (3.2.182, 193).
Killing the imprisoned King Henry VI, Richard raises'his bloody sword and
sarcastically crows, 'See how my sword weeps for the poor king's death'
(5.6.63). This bloody villain is fully conscious of his own viciousness
and savors it with a cocky irony that seems very modern. At the close of
the play, he even delightedly identifies himself with the arch-traitor of
Christian tradition, Judas Iscariot. Richard's monstrously evil nature is
thoroughly established in 3 Henry VI, in order that it may attain fullest
fruition in Richard III.
In Richard III
the title character has the secondlongest part in all of Shakespeare's
work (only HAMLET speaks more lines). He murders his way to the throne,
killing his brother, his young nephews, his wife, and a number of
political opponents. He is still a spectacular villain, with a fondness
for commenting humorously on his atrocities before committing them. Once
he becomes king, however, his wit and resourcefulness desert him; he
clumsily alienates his allies, and quite simply panics when he first
gleams of the approach of Richmond. In Act 5 he dies in battle, defeated
at Bosworth Worth Field. Richmond's triumph releases England from
the violence and treachery of the Wars of the Roses.
The personality of
Shakespeare's Richard is formed in part by his physical deformity—a
hunched back—referred to many times in the plays, often by Richard
himself. At the end of.? Henry VI, for instance, he says, '. . . since the
heavens have shap'd my body so, / Let hell make crook'd my mind to answer
it' (5.6.78-79). He rationalies his rejection of human loyalties by
theorizing that his physical nature has placed him beyond ordinary
relationships. Thus he can claim, 'I am myself alone' (5.6.83). Others
agree with him: a number of characters associate Richard's deformity with
his evil nature. Queen Margaret, for example, asserts, 'Sin, death, and
hell have set their marks on him . . .' (Richard III, 1.3.293), and
various of his enemies identify him with a range of carnivorous animals
and with such repulsive creatures as spiders, toads, and reptiles.
fascination with Richard derives largely from the disturbing reality that
he has undeniably attractive qualities as well. He has charisma and
self-confidence, and he is plainly quite intelligent. He has great energy
combined with immense self-control, and, probably most tellingly, he is
extremely witty. He cracks a joke even as he plots the murder of his
brother in 1.1.118-120 of Richard III.
admiration even as he repels because he plays to the audience directly.
Through his monologues and asides, he brings us into an almost
conspiratorial intimacy with him. He sometimes tells us what is shortly
going to occur, and then comments on it afterwards. In practicing deceit,
he also takes on different roles, much as an actor does: he plays a loyal
follower of his brother King Edward IV, a lover opposite Lady Anne, a
friend to his brother Clarence, and a pious devotee of religion before the
Mayor and his entourage.
With the collapse of
his fortunes, Richard's personality changes. He loses his resilience and
subtlety; he panics and is disorganized in the face of crisis. We learn
that his sleep is troubled; such insomnia was a traditional consequence
for royal usurpers, and Shakespeare's sources impute it to Richard
conventionally, but the playwright makes more of it, letting both Anne and
Richard himself remark on it, before presenting us with an actual
nightmare vision in 5.3 of Richard III. At this low ebb, Richard
seems almost deranged. He recognizes his terrible isolation from humanity
and despairs, crying out in anguish that his death will neither receive
nor deserve pity from anyone. However, Richard recovers his spirit later
in the scene and leads his men into battle with renewed flippancy.
Richard represents a
well-known type who was a popular figure on the Elizabethan stage, the
grandiose villain, first embodied in Tamburlaine, by Christopher Marlowe,
still popular when Richard III premiered. However, the character
has a longer pedigree than that. The medieval Morality Play featured a
villain figure, the Vice, whose resemblance to characters in Shakespeare
and Marlowe is not coincidental; both writers must have been familiar with
the Vice since childhood. But Richard also incorporates a more modern
archetype, the Machiavel, a calculating politician whose misdeeds are
directed towards particular ends. The Vice's lewd jests and common
horseplay give way to a grave assessment of political interest, although
verbal wit is part of the Machiavel's character. The Machiavel is a
naturalistic figure—a human being, if a depraved one—while the Vice is
more allegorical in nature. Thus Richard's personality has a humanly
believable quality that is lacking in the criminal-king of traditional
It is plain that
Shakespeare's character bears very little resemblance to the actual King
Richard III, who ruled only briefly. Surviving accounts of his times were
written largely by his enemies, and modem scholarship has discovered that
the reality of his reign borelittle resemblance to the version Shakespeare
received and popularized.
Richard has long been
envisioned as the physically repellent hunchback of legend. Thomas More
first wrote of Richard's physical deformity, and Shakespeare followed
suit. However, at his coronation Richard was stripped to the waist for
anointing, in accordance with tradition, and this exposure seems to have
provoked no comment. In fact, a hunched back is nowhere evident in
contemporary portraits or accounts of the man. It appears to have been a
malicious fiction, although Shakespeare surely believed it to be true.
More interesting are the playwright's purposeful alterations of the
historical record as he had it. As was his usual practice, Shakespeare
took many liberties with his already unreliable sources. For instance, at
the end of 2 Henry VI, Richard is made to participate in a battle
that occurred when he was only three years old. Richard actually lived in
exile until after Edward was crowned. His part in history did not begin
until the battle of Barnet, enacted in Act 5 of 3 Henry VI.
Shakespeare wrote him into the action earlier, in order to begin to
approach the grand denouncement in Richard III, which he must have
foreseen as he wrote the Henry VI plays. Richard also provides an
interesting foil for Edward's tenderer character.
introduction is magnified by giving Richard the desire to rule long before
the question arises in the sources. Shakespeare's Richard begins to think,
'How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown' (3 Henry VI, 1.2.29),
fully 23 years before he comes to put one on. Not only does this generate
a long, slow rise in tension, but it also emphasizes Richard's nefarious
ambition early. Thus, when he is finally brought down, the resolution of
England's predicament is a clear one: Richard's career has been so
strikingly criminal that his death stimulates no further fighting in
revenge. The historical Richard was a very different man, innocent of
most, if not all, of the crimes imputed to him. Shakespeare's sources
attributed the murder of Henry VI to Richard, and the playwright added
urgency to his villain's action by inventing an impetuous journey to
London for the purpose. Modern scholars hold that Edward gave the order
for the ex-king's death; Richard, as Constable of England, would have been
responsible for seeing the order carried out. Henry's son, the Prince of
Wales, murdered by Richard and his brothers in 5.5 of,? Henry VI, actually
died in battle. Richard appears to have opposed the execution of Clarence,
which was definitely Edward's doing, historically. Richard's wife. Lady
Anne, died naturally.
That Richard did
seize the throne is indisputable; that he had long plotted to that end
seems unlikely. He could not have anticipated Edward's death at 40, and he
seems to have been committed to a career as a ranking prince. He was
clearly a trusted and reliable subordinate to his brother, governing the
difficult northern provinces with marked success for 12 years. Edward had
named Richard, the obvious choice, to serve as Protector after his death,
ruling for his son, the Prince of Wales. But when Edward died, Queen
Elizabeth and her relatives attempted a coup, keeping the news of the
king's death from his brother, assembling military forces, and arrangeing
for the Prince's hasty coronation. However, Richard overcame these
manoeuvres and assumed his role as Protector. He apparently had plans for
Parliamentary confirmation of this arrangement, along with the boy's later
coronation, when another coup was attempted. Richard crushed this plot,
but he now decided to forestall a third coup by taking the crown himself.
It is impossible, with the evidence that is known today, to reconstruct
the events of June 1483 precisely, but, as far as history indicates, this
marks the beginning of the process that Shakespeare presents as starting
two decades earlier. Also, Richard III compresses Richard's
two-year reign into a few frantic weeks. He seems to have been a quite
competent king, though the shortness of his troubled reign makes judgment
difficult. Shakespeare was unconcerned with the strengths or weaknesses of
Richard as ruler; he simply wanted to introduce Richard's splendid crash
immediately after his seeming success.
Richard may or may
not have murdered Edward's two sons. Once presumed guilty—at least in good
part on the strength of Shakespeare's evidence—Richard has attracted
defenders in recent years. It has been observed that, once securely in
power, he did not need to have them killed; that the Duke of Buckingham,
thought to have coveted the crown himself, had a better motive; that
Richmond, as Henry VII, might well have killed them, as he did a number of
other possible pretenders to the crown. However, the two youths were
never seen again after entering the Tower in 1483, and responsibility must
lie with Richard.
This does not make
him the fierce killer of the plays, of course; if he did have the princes
murdered, he was simply following a fairly ordinary political convention
of the day. However, what Shakespeare's rendering of Richard's career
lacks in historical validity, it more than makes up for in theatrical
success. Richard as a magnificent evildoer has entered our cultural
consciousness, and there he remains; we can hardly wish it otherwise.
A young son of Clarence. (Boy)
Earl of Warwick, 1475-1499) is the son of Clarence. He appears in 2.2, in
which he refuses to believe that his uncle, Richard in, has killed his
father. He is not seen again, but we hear of his imprisonment by Richard
in 4.3.36. Crimes against children are a recurring motif in the Henry VI
plays and Richard III, and this instance is clearly intended to add to the
enormity of Richard's crimes. The villain has felt it unnecessary to kill
the boy, despite his position as a possible claimant to the throne, only
because the boy is 'foolish' (4.2.55), meaning mentally retarded. It is
unclear whether or not this was so, but it is known that the historical
Boy, Edward of Warwick, was in fact imprisoned not by Richard but by his
successor. Henry VII, the Richmond of the play. In fact, although the
record is obscure, it is thought that Richard may have named Warwick his
successor after the death of his own son (who does not appear in the play)
in 1484. Later, after a number of people attempted to impersonate the
imprisoned Warwick and seize power, Henry finally had him executed.
Henry Tudor Earl of
Richmond (later King Henry VII 1457-1509) is the victor over King Richard
III at the battle of Bosworth Field and his successor on the throne, as
Henry VII. In 3 Henry VI Richmond plays a very minor but
significant role. In 4.6 he appears as a child before the newly reinstated
King Henry VI, who predicts that the boy will become a ruler and the
salvation of England. This entirely fictitious episode, which Shakespeare
took from his sources, reveals the extreme pro-Tudor bias of Elizabethan
historiography and therefore of the History Plays.
In Richard III
Richmond's appearance in Act 5 is prepared for by Richard's panic in Act 4
at messages announcing his approach. Richmond himself arrives in 5.2; in
5.3 he is addressed by the spirits that appear to Richard on the night
before the battle. In 5.5 he kills Richard in hand-to hand combat, and in
the final episode, he pronounces an end to the Wars of the Roses, which
had beleaguered England for a generation. He is a somewhat bloodless, if
energetic, leader, pious and filled with an awareness of his own high
mission. In addressing his troops, he can claim as allies, 'The prayers of
holy saints and wronged souls' (5.3.242). He closes the play with a speech
declaring a new era of peace and prosperity for England, ending with the
sentiment, '. . . peace lives again. / That she may long live here. God
Richmond is plainly
an instrument of heavenly providence rather than a three-dimensional human
being, as indicated by his rather stiff bearing and stuffy diction. He
must be taken at his symbolic, ritualistic value: he is the antithesis of
the ambitious nobility, exemplified by Richard, that has plagued England
throughout the reign of Henry VI. He brings redemption for the crimes and
sins that have been committed in the names of York and Lancaster. In a
confrontation reminiscent of a medieval Morality Play, whose traditions
still lived in Shakespeare's time, Richmond represents Good, winning a
classic showdown against Evil.
Richmond was descended, through his maternal grandfather, from John of
Gaunt, the original head of the Lancaster family, and he attracted the
support of such former followers of Henry VI as the Duke of Oxford. He was
the last surviving Lancastrian male and therefore fled England in 1471,
after the battle of Tewkebury, and lived in Brittany and France. His
mother, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, remained in England,
married Lord Stanley, and conspired against the Yorkist kings. She is
mentioned in 1.3.20-29 of Richard III. She negotiated her son's
marriage, announced by him in the final speech of the play, to the
daughter of Elizabeth, thus uniting the York and Lancaster branches of the
Plantagenet family. Richmond's other grandfather was Owen Tudor, a minor
Welsh nobleman who had married the widow of Henry V, the Princess
Katharine of France who appears in Shakespeare's Henry V. Richmond
inherited from his father his title and descent from the kings of France.
After the time of
Richard III, Richmond was to rule as Henry VII, the first monarch of
the Tudor dynasty. He was a highly capable ruler, sometimes called
England's greatest. He restored order following the wars and administered
soundly, eventually leaving a large financial surplus to his heir, Henry
VIII. Unhinted at in Shakespeare is the historical reality that Henry VII
was every bit as ruthless as the Richard of the plays. While he adopted
reconciliation as a general policy, he killed troublesome people when he
saw fit. In fact, Shakespeare's Richard is saddled with several
reprehensible deeds that Henry actually committed. For example, Richard
says that he has imprisoned Edward of Warwick, the Boy of Richard III,
at 4.3.36. But Henry incarcerated him because he was a potential claimant
to the throne. After a number of people attempted to impersonate Warwick
and seize power. Henry finally executed him in 1499. Shakespeare has
Richard manipulate the life of Warwick's sister as well, marrying the Girl
to a low-ranking man who cannot claim the crown. This was actually Henry's
Henry also sought to
ensure the popularity of his usurpation by blackening the reputation of
his predecessor, Richard. He encouraged the writing of vicious biographies
that contributed to the legend embodied in Shakespeare's character. He
also commissioned an official history of England from the Italian humanist
Polydore Vergil; this work, published in 1534, helped create the
understanding of the English past that was available to Shakespeare when
he wrote his history plays.
Lord Cardinal (Thomas
Bourchier, c. 1404-1486) In 3.1 the Cardinal is persuaded by Buckingham to
remove the young Duke of York from sanctuary in a church. The historical
Bourchier was a politically accommodating prelate who crowned Edward IV,
Richard III, and Henry VII, the Richmond of the play. In some modern
editions of the play, the Archbishop of York is eliminated and his lines
are given to the Cardinal, following the 16th-century Quarto editions.
This change was presumably made as an economy for the acting company.
ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
Archbishop of York (1423-1500) Historical figure and minor character in
Richard III, friend of Queen Elizabeth. In 2.4. when news arrives of the
imprisonment of the Queen s allies the Archbishop urges her to seek
sanctuary, and he offers her his assistance, even to the illegal extent of
giving her the Great Seal of England, with which he has been entrusted.
This incident, which Shakespeare took from Hall, emphasizes the villainy
of Richard III by presenting opposition to it from a venerable the
historical Rotherham was a powerful clergyman who held a number of secular
posts, including that of Chancellor of England, bearer of the Great Seal.
He was imprisoned for opposing Richard's accession but he was soon
released. He withdrew from court politics for the remainder of his life,
although he remained a prominent churchman. In some modern editions of
the play, the Archbishop of York is eliminated and his lines are given to
Cardinal Bourchier, following the 16th-century Quarto editions. This
change was presumably made as an economy for the acting company.
BISHOP OF ELY
John Morton, Bishop
of Ely (c. 1420-1500) is a pawn in the scenario arranged by Richard III as
he strikes at Lord Hastings in 3.4. At a council meeting, Richard requests
that the genial Ely send for some strawberries from his garden, thereby
establishing a mood of cordiality that he shortly shatters with his
accusations of treason. Both Hastings and the audience have been lulled
into a false sense of security that is rudely smashed, in a manner
symbolic of Richard's effect on the entire realm. As ineffectual as Ely
seems here, he is later, at 4.3.46, said to have joined the forces of the
Earl of Richmond, thus contributing to Richard's downfall.
The historical John
Morton had been a rising young ecclesiastical lawyer when the Wars of
the Roses broke out. He became a firm Lancastrian, to the extent of
joining Queen Margaret in exile. However, after the Yorkist victory, he
submitted to the victors and resumed his clerical and legal career with
great success. He was appointed Bishop of Ely in 1479, and he was the
executor of the will of King Edward IV. But under Richard he fared less
well. After the incident described above, Ely, as an adherent of the young
Prince, was among those arrested. He was placed in the Tower of London,
but the Duke of Buckingham took over his custody after several years and
recruited him to his rebellious conspiracy. Ely joined Richmond abroad,
and when that Earl was crowned as Henry VII, the Bishop became a prominent
member of his government. Morton was also to become the patron of the
young Thomas More, whose history was Shakespeare's source for the
strawberry anecdote. Thus its historical accuracy seems certain.
Henry Stafford, Duke
of Buckingham (1455-1483) is the most important supporter of Richard III
before he deserts the King in response to his ingratitude. Buckingham acts
as a spokesman for Richard's positions, especially to the Mayor and the
people of London. His style of speaking, bombastic and obscure, is typical
of devious politicians, and his wily, conspiratorial nature makes him an
important adviser to Richard at several junctures, notably in hatching the
plot against Hastings. He prides himself on his capacity for deceit in the
remarkable conversation that opens 3.5. However, in 4.2, when Richard, now
enthroned, proposes to go further and kill the young Prince of Wales and
his brother, Buckingham is somewhat reluctant, perhaps sensing that a king
should be more cautious. Richard, angered, then refuses Buckingham the
earldom he had promised him. Buckingham perceives that he is in danger of
suffering Hastings' fate, and he decides to abandon the King. He raises an
army in rebellion but is quickly captured. In 5.1 Buckingham, about to be
executed, formally reflects on his circumstances, recollecting past oaths
and prophecies almost in the manner of a Greek Chorus. Thus, in a prelude
to the approaching doom of Richard, Buckingham invokes the sense of
ordained fate that is central to the play.
offered several possible motives for Buckingham's revolt, but Shakespeare
chose one that was definitely untrue, for Richard had given Buckingham his
earldom prior to his defection. The question cannot be answered with the
surviving evidence; he may simply have anticipated Richard's overthrow by
Richmond. It has been suggested that Buckingham was ambitious to rule, for
he had a distant claim to the throne himself, being descended from Thomas,
Duke of Gloucester, the youngest brother of Richard II. Buckingham's
father was the Duke of Buckingham of 2 Henry VI, and his son
appears as Buckingham in Henry VIII.
John Howard, Duke of
Norfolk (c. 1430-1485) is commander of the forces of Richard III at the
battle of Bosworth Field. A quiet follower of orders, Norfolk
brings Richard a note warning of treachery in the forthcoming battle, in
5.3. His death in the fighting is noted at 5.5.13. His son, his
second-in-command, is the Earl of Surrey. Norfolk was a grandson of Thomas
Mowbray, who appears in Richard II. In 1483 the historical Norfolk
received his dukedom for his services in securing for Richard the office
of Protector. This may account for his silent presence in the stage
directions to 3.4.
Thomas Howard, Earl
of Surrey (1443-1524) a general under RICHARD HI at the battle of Bosworth
Field. Surrey, second in command to his father, the Duke of Norfolk,
appears briefly in 5.3. He seems despondent just before the fighting, but,
when questioned by Richard, assures the King that his heart is lighter
than his looks. The historical Surrey was restored to his father's titles
by King Henry VII, the Richmond of the play, following a period of
disgrace. He appears in Henry VIII as the Duke of Norfolk). He was
the father of another Earl of Surrey, who also appears in that play, and
he was the grandfather of the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.
Woodville, Earl of (c. 1442-1483) is the brother of Queen Elizabeth and
one of the victims of Richard III. He is the son of Richard Woodville, who
appears in 1 Henry VI. Rivers plays a very minor role in 3 Henry
VI; in Richard III he is a pawn in a political game, being
executed for no other
offence than being the queen's brother and so a presumptive
defender other son, the Prince of Wales who stands in the way of Richard
in a climb to power' As he is led to his death with Grey and Vaughan,
Rivers functions as a sort of Chorus referring to Pomfret Castle, scene of
many such events and recollecting the curses of Queen
who had foretold his end in 1.3. The
historical Rivers served King EDWARD IV as a viceroy governing rebellious
Wales with great success. After the king's death, Richard assumed the
office of Protector, ruling for the new heir.
Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset (1451-1501) is
the son of Queen Elizabethby her first marriage. Dorset appears with his mother
several times in the early scenes of the play. In 2.2 he offers her the rather
cold comfort, on the occasion of the death of King Edward IV, that God is simply
taking back the gift of royalty that He had given. In 4.1, when the Queen
receives word that Richard III has seized the crown, Dorset is sent abroad to
join Richmond. Following the First Folio stage directions, many modern editions
include Dorset among Richmond's followers at Bosworth Field in 5.3, although he
does not speak. In actuality, the invading Earl had left Dorset in France, as a
hostage to ensure the co-operation of his mother's party.
Sir Richard Grey (d.
1483) is a kinsman of Queen Elizabeth and a victim of Richard III. Grey
simply functions as a pawn in Richard's game of power politics. He is
executed in 3.3 solely because he is the Queen's relative. As he goes to
his death, along with Rivers and Vaughan, he recollects the curses of
Queen Margaret, who had anticipated this event in 1.3. Shakespeare was
apparently confused about Grey's relationship to Elizabeth, although his
habitual carelessness about minor matters suggests that he probably did
not concern himself about it. Historically, Grey was Elizabeth's son by
her first marriage, but in the play he is implied to be her brother.
However, in recalling Margaret's curse, he speaks as though he were
Dorset, unquestionably a son of Elizabeth.
John de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1443-1513) is a
follower of Queen Margaret and King Henry VI in the former play, and of Richmond
in the latter. In 3 Henry VI Oxford supports Margaret against Warwick at
the French court in 3.3. When Warwick changes sides and joins Margaret, Oxford
participates in the campaign to reinstate Henry. He is captured at the battle of
Tewkesbury and sentenced to imprisonment. The historical Oxford was not present
at Tewkesbury, having fled the country after the earlier battle of Barnet.
Several years later, he attempted another invasion but was defeated and
'captured, beginning the imprisonment mentioned in the play. After 10 years, he
escaped and joined the Earl of Richmond in Paris. In Richard III Oxford, though
historically an important general in Richmond's campaign, speaks only two lines.
Lord William Hastings
(c. 1430-1483) is a Yorkist supporter who becomes a victim of political
murder. In 3 Henry VI Hastings is only a minor nobleman attached to
Edward IV, but in Richard III, he is more prominent. He exemplifies
the pettiness of English public life during the Wars of the Roses. He
profits from Richard's rise, as his old enemies are imprisoned and
sentenced to death, but he is unwilling to aid his leader's attempt to
seize the crown; he is reluctant to oppose the legal heirs. Richard
accordingly turns on him, but Hastings, ignoring warnings, has too little
imagination to conceive that his situation has changed. In 3.4 Richard
fabricates a tale of treason, accuses Hastings, and condemns him to death
in one sentence, as his victim sits speechless. In 3.7 Richard justifies
Hastings' immediate execution, citing the dangers of the supposed plot.
The historical Hastings played an obscure role in the events surrounding
Richard's accession. Shakespeare followed his source in having Richard
fabricate Hastings' treason, but it was probably real. In June 1483 he
apparently joined in an attempt to unseat Richard from his position as
Protector of Edward's Young heir. The plot failed, and Richard arrested
Hastings and had him executed without a trial, as in the play.
Sir Thomas Stanley
(c. 1435-1504) is a nobleman who betrays Richard III. Richard, suspecting
a defection to the Earl of Richmond, requires Stanley's son as a hostage.
Stanley allies himself with Richmond; at the battle of Bosworth Field, he
refuses to march with his forces, to Richmond's advantage, but Richard's
order to kill the hostage son is not carried out. After Richmond kills
Richard in combat, Stanley places Richard's crown on the victor's head.
is a judicious, if not a very bold, politician. The career of the
historical Stanley was rather less honorable, if similarly successful. He
held a powerful position in the north of England, but he was difficult to
trust. During the Wars of the Roses, he fought, and on occasion refused to
fight, for both sides, as he strove to ally himself with the winning
factors at any point. He accordingly ended up with high office under King
Edward IV, and then under Richard. His wife, Richmond's mother, was
implicated in the revolt of Buckingham, but Stanley maintained his
position by turning against her, receiving custody of her estates.
However, it is clear that he knew of Richmond's invasion before it
happened. As a result, Richard took George Stanley hostage. George, who
was an adult, not the boy spoken of in the play, was captured while
attempting to escape; he saved his life by incriminating his uncle,
William Stanley. Thomas Stanley did indeed withhold his troops at
Bosworth, as Shakespeare reports, and Richard did order George killed but
was ignored. Stanley was amply rewarded with high offices under Henry
In some editions,
Stanley is designated Derby, for Shakespeare used that title in
introducing him in 1.3. However, he is Stanley in all dialogue thereafter.
The use of the title in the play is an anachronism, for Stanley only
received it after the accession of Henry VII. Most editors have made the
correction in the dialogue headings and stage directions.
Sir Francis Lovell
(1454-1487) is a supporter of Richard III Lovell is willing to undertake
Richard's dirty work; he assists Ratcliffe in the execution of Hastings,
bringing that lord's severed head to Richard in 3.5. The historical
Lovell was Richard's Lord Chamberlain. He escaped capture after the battle
of Bosworth Field and died two years later, fighting in an uprising
against Richmond, by then King Henry VII. He was a distant cousin of Sir
Thomas Lovell, who appears in Henry VIII.
Sir Thomas Vaughan
(d. 1483) is an ally of Queen Elizabeth. Vaughan appears only to be
executed by Richard in 3.3. In going to his death, he speaks one line.
The historical Thomas Vaughan was a member of the official household of
the Prince of Wales, son of Elizabeth and King Edward IV. The dying king
had stipulated that Richard should rule for the boy when he inherited the
crown, but Vaughan participated in an attempt to unseat Richard as
Protector. He was executed as a result, although the play makes his
condemnation seem arbitrary.
Sir Richard Ratcliffe
(d. 1485) is a follower of Richard III. Ratcliffe is a minor underling,
distinctive chiefly for his efficient executions of Rivers, Grey, abd
Vaughan in 3.3 and Hastings in 3.4. The historical Radcliffe was a
long-time and trusted adviser of Richard who had fought with him at
Tewkesbury. He died at the battle of Bosworth Field.
Sir William Catesby
(d. 1485) is a follower of King Richard III. Catesby is a useful
underling who appears in many scenes, mostly as a messenger, and he lacks
a distinct personality. The historical Catesby was a lawyer who served as
estate manager for Lord Hastings. He was captured and executed after the
battle of Bosworth Field.
Sir James Tyrell (c.
1450-1502) is an unscrupulous and ambitious nobleman who agrees to arrange
the murder of the Prince of Wales and his brother the Duke of York.
Richard III, directed to Tyrell by a Page, commissions the killings in
4.2. At the beginning of 4.3, Tyrell returns to report that the deed has
been accomplished by his hired ruffians.
The historical Tyrell
was not the unknown minor aristocrat depicted by Shakespeare. He had
served the Yorkist cause and been knighted at the battle of Tewkesbury,
and, at the time the princes were imprisoned, he was Richard's Master of
Horse. After the accession of Henry VII, Tyrell continued to hold military
posts until he was executed, on unrelated charges, in 1502. He was
reported to have admitted at that time to arranging the murders, and
Shakespeare follows Thomas More’s account of his alleged confession.
Modern scholars generally find the story unconvincing, however, and the
mystery of the princes' disappearance (and probable death) remains
Sir James Blunt (d.
1493) is a follower of Richmond. Richmond uses Blunt as a messenger before
the battle of Bosworth Field. Blunt is the great grandson of Sir Walter
Blunt, who appears in 1 Henry IV. He may have been selected for his tiny
role, from all the possible officers in Richmond's army, as a gesture
towards the Blunt family, who were Stratford landowners of Shakespeare's
day, and were related to the playwright's friends in the Combe family.
An officer under Richmond. Herbert,
whose father , William of Pembroke.
is the commander of the Tower of London and thus the chief jailer of,
first, Clarence and, later, the young Prince Edward and his brother, York.
Some editions of the play follow the first Quarto and assign Brakenbury
the lines of the Keeper in 1.4. The historical Brakenbury was a Constable
of the Tower, but not at the time of Clarence's death. The inconsistency
doubtless resulted from Shakespeare's marked compression of historical
time in the early part of the play. Brakenbury was killed at the battle of
Bosworth Field, as is reported in 5.5.14.
Sir Christopher Urswick was a follower of
Richmond. Prior to his invasion, Sir Christopher makes contact worth
Lord Thomas Stanley. Richmond's stepfather. who confirms his
intention to defect from Richard III. The historical Urswick was a
priest in the employ of Margaret Beaufort, Richmond's mother and Stanley's
A friend of Lord Hastings. Hastings
engages in small talk with the Priest in 3.2 demonstrating his naive lack
of concern about the danger from Richard that he has been warned about.
One of two named gentlemen among the group
accompanying Lady Anne and the corpse of Henry VI in 1.2
Berkeley is one of
two named gentlemen among the group that accompanies Lady Anne and the
corpse of Henry VI in 1.2.
Mayor of London is a
subservient figure who is cowed by Richard III. The Mayor appears in
several scenes in Act 3. He provides a cover of legality for Richard's
actions, approving an execution and acclaiming Richard as king when he
moves to seize the throne.
Sheriff is the
officer who escorts the Duke of Buckingham to his execution in 5.1. In the
Quarto editions, this part is assigned to Ratcliffe, apparently reflecting
an economy measure in some early productions.
Elizabeth Woodville (Woodvile),
Lady Grey (later Queen, 1437-1492) is an historical figure and character
in 3 Henry VI and Richard III, the wife of King Edward IV.
Her brother is Lord Rrivers in the same plays, and her father is Richard
Woodville in 1 Henry VI. Known as Lady Grey until Act 4 of 3 Henry VI,
Elizabeth becomes Queen when Edward marries her after she refuses to
become his mistress. Edward was already promised to Lady Bona of France,
so the marriage becomes a stimulus for warfare. Elizabeth is a pawn in the
troubled politics of the time. However, she displays dignity in an awkward
position, as in her speech at 4.1.66-73, and her instinct to protect her
unborn child in 4.4 is also noteworthy. She quite properly distrusts the
treacherous and violent noblemen of the disturbed nation, but she is
In Richard III
Elizabeth is cursed in 1.3 by the former Queen, Margaret, and sees her
enemy's wishes come true as Edward dies and Richard murders her two sons
by Edward. He also has her brother, Rivers, and a son, Grey, executed,
while another son, Dorset, is forced into exile. However, Richard fails to
exploit her family further. Elizabeth resists him in 4.4, when he attempts
to win her approval of his plan to marry her daughter. She rejects his
efforts to swear an oath, stifling him until he is reduced to wishing ill
on himself, fatefully (4.4.397-409). Elizabeth suspends the conversation
at 4.4.428-429, leaving the resolution of the matter in doubt. (Her
daughter is betrothed by the victorious invader Richmond at the play's
Warwick's alienation from Edward was provoked by disagreements over policy
and not simply by the King's marriage, as Shakespeare would have it, but
among the minor causes was the behavior ,of the greedy Woodvilles.
Elizabeth Woodville was the first commoner to become Queen of England, and
her many male relatives exploited her new position by marrying the cream
of eligible heiresses. However, Elizabeth attracted supporters when, after
the death of King Edward, her son inherited the crown. Edward had
appointed Richard the boy's Protector, with ruling power, before he died;
Elizabeth's allies attempted to circumvent this arrangement with a coup.
They were defeated by Richard, as in the play, though he treated Elizabeth
herself with great generosity and provided her with a distinguished place
at his court. Richard repeatedly denied rumors that he planned to marry
Elizabeth's daughter. In fact, since he had in part based his claim to the
throne on the charge that Edward himself was illegitimate, an attempt to
marry his daughter would seem self-defeating. However, Shakespeare's
sources reported the rumors, and the playwright expanded them into a
powerful scene. Elizabeth herself had other plans; it appears that she
secretly allied herself with Richmond (later King Henry VII) before his
invasion, with the agreement that, should he succeed, he would marry the
daughter, which he did. Elizabeth lived out her life as an honoured
dowager at the court of her son-in-law.
Margaret of Anjou
(1430-1482) is the French-born Queen, and later widow, of King Henry VI.
Taken as a single role, running through four plays, Margaret is surely the
greatest female part in Shakespeare. She develops from an ingenuous young
woman thrust into prominence, through a career as a scheming plotter and a
courageous and persistent military leader, to a final appearance as a
raging, Furylike crier of curses against her triumphant enemies.
In 1 Henry VI
Margaret plays only a brief role as a French prisoner of war intended as a
bride for King Henry by the devious Suffolk, who loves her himself. Her
importance is chiefly to prepare the groundwork for the action of 2
Henry VI. She replaces Joan La Pucelle (Joan of Arc) as the symbolic
Frenchwoman who plagues an England that is divided by the selfish
ambitions of the aristocracy. Her appearance marks the completion of one
disaster, the loss of France, and begins another, a civil war.
In 2 Henry VI
Margaret's flawed personality is demonstrated early on. She conspires with
Suffolk to bring about the fall of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester because she
resents Gloucester's influence over the King and her own resulting
insignificance. She displays an evil temper when she abuses the
Petitioners in 1.3; later in this scene she mocks her husband's piety.
When Gloucester is forced by his wife's disgrace to leave his position as
Lord Protector, Margaret exults, comparing Gloucester's relinquished
scepter of office to an amputated limb (2.3.42). We are not surprised when
this bloody-minded woman proposes killing her enemy to ensure against his
possible return to power. When the King mourns Gloucester's subsequent
murder, Margaret dares to complain that Henry is paying too little
attention to her. Henry banishes Suffolk from England for his part in the
crime, and, as the Queen and the Duke bid each other farewell, they reveal
their passionate love. Shakespeare, aware as always of the complexities of
human nature, offsets his portrait of this villainess by evoking a glimmer
of sympathy for a woman losing her lover.
In 3 Henry VI
the Queen assumes a major role in the civil war, replacing the ineffectual
King at the head of his armies. Her bold and cruel nature reveals itself
most fully at the battle of Wakefield, when York has been captured.
Margaret insists on postponing his death so that she may torment him with
barbs and, most chillingly, with evidence of the murder of his child,
Rutland. Before he dies, York rages at her, calling her a 'she-wolf of
France' (1.4.111), an epithet that has been applied to her by writers ever
since, and as a 'tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide' (1.4. 137), a
line that was parodied in the earliest reference to Shakespeare that has
At the crucial battle
Townton, Margaret is plainly the leader of the King's forces; in fact, she
orders Henry to stay away from the fighting. Although the battle is lost
and York's son Edward is enthroned in Henry's place, Margaret refuses to
give up and she goes to France in search of military aid. When she is once
again prepared to fight, she sends word to Edward, 'Tell him my mourning
weeds are laid aside, / And I am ready to put armour on' (3.3.229-230).
Despite her viciousness, this dauntless warrior does command some
The subsequent battle
of Tewkesbury results in Margaret's final defeat. Forced to witness the
killing of her son, the Prince of Wales, Margaret is reduced to
lamentations and curses ironically similar to those delivered by York just
three acts earlier. Richard, later Richard III, wishes to kill Margaret,
saying, 'Why should she live to fill the world with words?' (5.5.43). He
aptly predicts her role in Richard III.
Margaret's role in
that work is limited to only two scenes, but it is a very powerful element
of the play, for she represents Nemesis, the personification of
retribution through fate, a theme that underlies the entire minor
Tetraology, which Richard III closes. In 1.3 she heaps elaborate curses
upon her victorious foes, reserving for Richard her choicest and subtlest
imprecations, hoping that his punishment not come to pass until his 'sins
be ripe' (1.3.219). In the formal and theatrical manner of a Greek Chorus,
Margaret restates past grievances and suggests future developments. She
departs with the prediction that her enemies will come to regard her as 'a
prophetess' (1.3. 301). Before her return, in 4.4, many of her curses will
have been substantially fulfilled through Richard's murderous malignity,
and Richard's own downfall is in progress. Several of Richard's victims
reflect on Margaret's curses as they go to their deaths, thereby making
more evident her role as Nemesis.
In 4.4 Margaret
gloats over the misfortunes of Queen Elizabeth, and leaves for France,
content that she has stayed in England long enough to witness the fall of
those who brought about her decline. As she departs, the climax of the
play is about to unfold, and she has fulfilled her function. As an almost
supernatural embodiment of Vengeance, she has represented an amoral world
that is now to be overcome by the Christian reconciliation of Richmond.
Although Margaret of
Anjou was a central figure in the Wars of the Roses, Shakespeare
took considerable liberties with her story. He magnified the importance,
and the evil, of a Queen who only naturally used her strengths to shore up
the fortunes other incompetent husband. Her foreignness and her gender
made her useful as a witchlike figure at the centre of the web of
treachery and violence that characterize the plays of the minor tetralogy.
Margaret's love affair with Suffolk, from its beginnings in 1 Henry VI,
is entirely fictitious. In Part 2 Shakespeare ascribes to her an important
role in English politics almost from the moment she sets foot in England
in 1444. In fact, Margaret was a 14-year-old bride with no political
experience, placed in an unfamiliar court and country, and she had little
or no impact on English affairs for a decade. The fall of the Duchess of
Gloucester, which she helps bring about in the play, occurred historically
before her arrival. The Duke of Gloucester was probably not murdered, and
Margaret had little to do with his political defeat in any case. In 1453
she attempted to assume the Regency of the realm during the period of her
husband's insanity (ignored by Shakespeare). However, government by a
Frenchwoman was unacceptable to the English aristocracy, and York was
appointed Protector. His replacement by the Queen's protege, Somerset,
eventually led to the opening of the wars, with the first battle of St.
The Queen was not
present at that conflict, as she is in Shakespeare, but in the period
immediately following it, she became an important leader of Henry's
forces. However, the central incidents in the playwright's version of
Margaret's role as a leader are fictitious. The Queen was not present to
seize control on the occasion of Henry's concessions to York, enacted in
1.1 of 3 Henry VI; nor was she a party to the killing of York,
depicted with such extravagance in 1.4. Although she was indeed a force
behind the later renewal of Lancastrian hopes, Warwick was far more
important. She was in any case neither captured at Tewkesbury nor forced
to witness her son's death; he was actually killed in the fighting, and
she escaped to be captured a week later. She was imprisoned for several
years and then ransomed by the King of France, to whose court she retired
for the last six years of her life.
In Richard III
Margaret's mere presence constitutes a final distortion of history, for
she first appears on an occasion that actually took place only after her
death in France. Shakespeare ignored this reality in order to use once
more, in a highly symbolic manner, the strong but malign character he had
developed in the course of the Henry VI plays.
DUCHESS of YORK
Duchess of York,
Cicely Neville (1415-1495) is the mother of Richard III and his brothers,
Edward IV and Clarence. The widow of Richard, Duke of York, a major figure
in the Henry VI plays, she was also the mother of Rutland, who
figures briefly in 3 Henry VI. The Duchess is a symbolic figure, whose
role is to lament Richard's evil nature in a stylized manner reminiscent
of a Greek Chorus. Shakespeare's sources hardly mention her; it is thought
that the playwright was influenced by similar characters in the plays of
Seneca. The historical Cicely Neville was a daughter of Ralph, Earl of
Westmoreland, who appears in 1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V.
Lady Anne (Anne
Neville, 1456-1485) the wife of King Richard III. Courted by Richard—the
murderer other late husband, the Prince of Wales, and his father, King
Henry VI—Anne is half-hypnotized by his wordsand accepts a ring from him
in 1.2. When she appears again, in 4.1, she is Richard's wife, and she is
called to be crowned following his coup d'etat. She predicts that he will
murder her, and the play implies that he does so.
The historical Anne
is alluded to, although in error, in 3.3.242 of 3 Henry VI, when
the Duke of Warwick agrees that his eldest daughter shall marry the
Prince. Actually, Anne was Warwick's younger daughter, and, although she
and the Prince were betrothed, they apparently did not actually marry. In
any caseshe married Richard in 1474. Historically, she did not attend the
funeral of Henry VI, and her dialogue with Richard is entirely fictitious;
Shakespeare invented it in order to create a scene that contrasts with
Richard's later effort to negotiate a marriage with the daughter of Queen
Elizabeth). Also, there has never been any evidence that Anne was
murdered; she seems to have died a natural death.
MARGARET PLANTAGENET (Girl)
Plantagenet, 1473-1541) is the daughter of Clarence). The Girl mourns her
father's murder in 2.2 and is present but silent in 4.1. Richard is
fearful that a husband of the Girl might claim the throne, her father
having been the heir apparent. He remarks in 4.3.37 that he has therefore
married her to a lowranking husband, who cannot claim the crown.
Historically, this manoeuvre was performed by Richard's conqueror and
successor, Henry VII, the Richmond of the play. At the age of 68, being
the last surviving Plantagenet, Margaret was beheaded by a paranoid Henry
Ghosts are any of 11
minor but significant characters in Richard III, the ghosts are
Richard’s victims who appear to the King and his enemy Richmond in 5.3, on
the eve of the battle of Bosworth Field. The ghosts each deliver
brief messages, insisting that Richard shall 'despair and die' and
assuring Richmond of victory. The ghosts appear in the order in which they
died: the ghosts of the Prince of Wales and his father, Henry VI, hark
back to murders Richard committed in 3 Henry VI, the preceding play
in Shakespeare's Tetralogy. Next appears the ghost of Richard's brother
Clarence, followed by those of lords Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan. The ghost
of Lord William Hastings comes forth next, succeeded by those of the two
children Richard had ordered killed—another Prince of Wales and his
brother York. Richard is then faced by the ghost of his wife Anne, only
recently eliminated so that the King could make a politically convenient
second marriage. The ghost of Richard's closest ally in his bloody rise to
power, the Duke of Buckingham, executed only two scenes earlier, appears
last. Shakespeare's source, the history by Edward Hall, mentions rumors
that Richard had complained of nightmares before the battle, but the
content of the dreams appears to be the playwright's invention.
Messenger are bearers
of news. In 2.4 a Messenger brings word to Queen Elizabeth that her son
and brother have been imprisoned, and in 3.2 a Messenger delivers to
Hastings an account of an ominous dream from Stanley. In a highly dramatic
use of messengers, Shakespeare brings four on stage successively in 4.4,
within a few lines, to demonstrate Richard's lack of control as news
floods in of rebellion against him. In 5.3 one last Messenger brings
Richard word of Stanley's desertion at Bosworth Field.
is a petty official. In 3.2 Lord Hastings, converses briefly with his
like-named acquaintance, conveying the information that his enemies, the
allies of Queen Elizabeth, have been imprisoned. The Lord remarks that
they had last met when he himself had been under arrest and in danger of
execution; the audience is aware that, ironically, he is about to be
imperiled again. This curious incident, although it depicts a historical
event recorded in Shakespeare's sources, seems to have little point in the
drama, unless it is intended to help to emphasize the intricate workings
of fate, by virtue of the coincidences of names and circumstances.
However, many editions of the play have followed the First Folio version
in ignoring this character's name, referring to him only by his title,
Pursuivant, which signifies a minor subordinate of a herald.
First Murderer is one
of two hired assassins employed by Richard III to kill his brother the
Duke of Clarence. The First Murderer coolly accepts his role as a killer,
whereas the Second Murderer has an attack of conscience as they approach
their victim in 1.4. Later in this scene, when Clarence pleads for mercy
and the Second Murderer seems inclined to yield, the First stabs the Duke,
carries him off stage, and drowns him in a large barrel of wine.
Second Murderer is
one of the two assassins hired by Richard III to kill his brother the Duke
of Clarence. The Second Murderer has an attack of conscience as the two
approach their victim in 1.4, but the First Murderer reminds him of the
money they are to receive, and he recovers. Their short exchange provides
the only real comic relief in the play. Later in this scene, in an
entirely serious vein, the Second Murderer shows an inclination to grant
Clarence the mercy he pleads for The First Murderer thereupon finishes off
the duke, and the Second declares that he is too remorseful to accept
payment and leaves the reward to his colleague.
The Scrivener is a
clerk who learns of a crime committed by Richard HI. In 3.6 the Scrivener,
whose job is to make formal written copies of documents, knows that a
certain indictment he has copied is false. Supposedly the record of a
proceeding justifying the hasty execution of Lord Hastings, it was
actually written before Hastings had even been accused of any misdeed. The
Scrivener realises that Richard has arranged for the death of an innocent
man through legal means, and he grieves that the state of public affairs
permits such a ploy to succeed. This incident, like one in 2.3, serves to
emphasize that corruption can never be secret. The common people become
aware of such cynical machinations, and society comes closer to political
chaos as its leaders seem increasingly untrustworthy. This pattern grows
more evident as Richard's ambitions come to dominate public life.
Citizen are any of
several minor characters in Richard III, common people of London who
respond to the sinister affairs surrounding the crown. In 2.3, three
Citizens discuss the death of King Edward IV and the ambitions of Richard
HI in tones of anxious foreboding One of them summarizes their viewpoint:
All may be well- but if God sort it so / 'Tis more than we deserve, or I
expect' (2.3.36-37). In 3.7 a number of Citizens accompany8 the MAYOR (3)
to witness Richard's charade of unwillingness to accept the crown, and
their silence speaks volumes about the usurpers impropriety.
The Gentleman vainly
attempts to prevent Richard III from interrupting the funeral procession
of Henry VI early in 1.2, and then restarts the procession, at Richard's
command, later in this scene. He speaks one line on each occasion. His
first line is sometimes assigned to a Halberdier, for the abuse the
character takes from Richard is thought inappropriate for a gentleman.
Villainous though he is, it is supposed that Richard would observe the
formal distinctions between aristocrats and commoners.
Ralph Shaa (or John)
(d. 1484) is one of two clergymen who, disguised as Bishops, accompany
Richard III as he receives the Mayor in 3.7. This imposture is intended to
create an air of religiosity about the would-be usurper. Shaa and Friar
Penker were summoned by Richard in 3.5. The historical Shaa, sometimes
thought to have been named John, was a minor clergyman. He is known to
have been a brother of the Mayor.
Page is an attendant to Richard in. In
4.2 Richard asks the Page to recommend an ambitious nobleman to do a
desperate deed. The youth names James Tyrell, whom Richard commissions to
murder his nephews.
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