Scene by Scene Synopsis
Act I, Scene 1: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, observes in a soliloquy that the victory of the York faction has ended England's civil strife. He says that he himself is unsuited for times of peace, being deformed and thus not able to engage in the games of love that occupy the court. Therefore, he proposes to be a villain, and he reveals that he has convinced his eldest brother, King Edward IV, that his other brother, George, the Duke of Clarence, intends treason. Clarence appears, under arrest; Richard hypocritically sympathizes with him and promises to secure his release. As Clarence is taken away, Richard reveals in another soliloquy that he intends to have him killed. He discusses with Lord Hastings the news that the king is near death from illness. In a third soliloquy, Richard details his plans to kill Clarence and to marry Lady Anne, whose late husband Richard helped to murder in Henry VI, Part 3.
Act I, Scene 2: Lady Anne, attending the funeral procession of her father-in-law, the late King Henry VI, who was also murdered by Richard in Henry VI, Part 1 curses the murderer. Richard appears and accepts her scorn, asserting that his proper place in the world is in her bed and claiming that it was the thought of her beauty that caused him to kill her husband. She spits in his face as he asserts his love. He offers her his sword with which to kill him, but she cannot do it. He continues to talk, gradually hypnotizing her with words, and she finally accepts a ring from him and agrees to meet him again. She leaves, and in a soliloquy Richard hoots at her susceptibility.
Act I, Scene 3: Queen Elizabeth tells her brother Lord Rivers and her sons Dorset and Grey of her fear that, when the king dies, Richard will rule in the name other son the Prince of Wales. Other noblemen appear, including Richard, who argues with Elizabeth. Queen Margaret, the widow of Henry VI, enters and heaps curses on her old enemies. She desires an early death for the king and the Prince of Wales, as well as for Dorset, Rivers, and Hastings. She wishes on Elizabeth her own fate—to continue living after seeing her husband and sons killed and herself deposed. She curses Richard most elaborately, and, before departing, goes on to warn Buckingham against him. The others are called away, and Richard instructs two murderers whom he has hired to kill Clarence.
Act I, Scene 4: Clarence, in the Tower of London, tells of a nightmare in which he was drowned and went to hell, where he encountered the spirits of men whom he had betrayed and murdered. The murderers arrive. The Second Murderer feels pangs of conscience; in a comic exchange, the First Murderer reminds him of the money that Richard has promised them, and he recovers. Clarence pleads for mercy, and the Second Murderer begins to relent. But the First stabs Clarence and carries him off-stage to drown him in a large barrel of wine.
Act II, Scene 1: The ailing King Edward orders reconciliation among the peers, and vows of friendship are exchanged. Richard arrives and announces the death of Clarence, to the consternation of the king, who had cancelled the death warrant. Edward is stricken by remorse.
Act II, Scene 2: The son of Clarence, a Boy, reveals that Richard has told him that the king is responsible for his father's death. The Duchess of York curses Richard, her son, but the Boy refuses to believe that his uncle has lied. The queen arrives with news of the king's death, and mourning becomes general. Richard arrives with other nobles, and plans are made to bring the young Prince of Wales to London to be crowned. When the others depart, Richard and Buckingham conspire to join the Prince's escort and keep him from his protecting relatives.
Act II, Scene 3: Three Citizens discuss the rivalry between Richard and the queen's relatives. They conclude that there is trouble ahead for England.
Act II, Scene 4: The queen, the Duchess of York, and the Prince's younger brother, the Duke of York, await the arrival of the Prince. They are told that Richard has imprisoned several of the queen's allies. The queen decides that she and her son York must enter a church and claim sanctuary.
Act III, Scene 1: The Prince is formally welcomed. Cardinal Bourchier goes to remove his brother from his sanctuary. Richard informs the Prince that he and York will be housed in the Tower of London, a prospect that disturbs the boy. The younger prince arrives, and the two are escorted to the Tower. Richard makes plans with Buckingham and Catesby if Hastings resists Richard's proposed seizure of the throne, he is to be executed. Richard promises that when he is king, he will reward Buckingham with an earldom.
Act III, Scene 2: Hastings receives a message from Stanley telling of an ominous dream of danger from Richard, but he dismisses it. Catesby enters and suggests Richard's enthronement; Hastings disapproves. Stanley arrives, still full of misgivings. The naive Hastings engages in small talk, before leaving for a scheduled council meeting.
Act III, Scene 3: Richard Ratcliffe leads Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan to execution. The victims recollect Margaret's seemingly clairvoyant curses.
Act III, Scene 4: The council is in session. Richard withdraws to confer with Buckingham about Hastings. He reenters, raging about plots against himself, and, when Hastings speaks reassuringly, Richard accuses him of protecting the supposed plotters and sentences him to death.
Act III, Scene 5: Richard explains to the Mayor that the danger presented by Hastings' plot had made it necessary to execute him immediately, without a trial. The Mayor assures Richard of his approval and leaves. Richard instructs Buckingham to spread the rumor that the imprisoned princes are illegitimate sons of the late king's illicit liaisons.
Act III, Scene 6: A Scrivener shows a document approving the execution of Hastings. He knows that this justification was prepared long beforehand. He grieves that such deceitfulness should prevail.
Act III, Scene 7: Buckingham reports that the Mayor has been induced to discuss the possibility of Richard's becoming king. He recommends that Richard feign reluctance to rule. When the Mayor arrives, he is told that Richard is engaged in religious devotions and cannot be disturbed. Buckingham leads the Mayor to insist, and finally Richard appears, accompanied by clergymen. Buckingham, purporting to speak for the Mayor and people, asks Richard to take the throne. Richard refuses, and Buckingham leads the delegation away, but Richard has them called back and accepts their acclaim as king.
Act IV, Scene 1: Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York, with Dorset, meet Lady Anne, now Richard's wife. They are not permitted to enter the Tower to visit the princes, by Richard's order. Stanley arrives to say that Richard has been declared king. He helps the women make plans: Dorset is sent abroad to join the Earl of Richmond; Anne goes to be crowned, having no choice; Elizabeth will return to sanctuary.
Act IV, Scene 2: Buckingham shows reluctance as Richard, now king, insinuates that the princes should be murdered. Richard, angry, summons TYRELL. Richard orders a rumor started that Anne is deathly ill; he reveals his intention to marry the daughter of Queen Elizabeth. Tyrell agrees to murder the princes. Buckingham returns and wishes to claim the earldom promised him in 3.1; Richard refuses him and departs. Left alone, Buckingham plans his desertion of Richard.
Act IV, Scene 3: Tyrell reports that he has killed the princes; Richard reflects that he has imprisoned Clarence's son and married his daughter to a commoner who cannot claim the crown, and that the princes and Anne are all dead. Knowing that Richmond thinks of marrying Queen Elizabeth's daughter, he proposes again to do so himself. News arrives that the Bishop of Ely has fled to join Richmond, and that Buckingham has raised an army against Richard.
Act IV, Scene 4: Margaret joins Elizabeth and the Duchess of York, who are bewailing Richard's murder of the princes. Margaret thanks God for this development but goes on to call for vengeance on Richard. She gloats over Elizabeth's misfortunes and departs, just before Richard arrives, with a military entourage. Elizabeth and the Duchess confront him with his misdeeds; he orders his drummers and trumpeters to drown them out with noise. The Duchess delivers a tirade against her son before departing. Richard now proposes to Elizabeth that he marry her daughter. After an ex- tended argument, she pretends to agree and leaves. News arrives of Richmond's invasion fleet, and Richard panics, blurting out confused orders and curses. Fearing treachery from Stanley, Richard orders him to leave his son as a hostage. More news arrives of Buckingham's growing rebellion, but then comes a message that his forces and Richmond's fleet have been dispersed by a great storm, followed by word that Buckingham has been captured. His spirits restored, Richard takes command and orders his troops to march.
Act IV, Scene 5: Stanley meets with Sir Urswick, a representative of Richmond, and says that he will have to postpone his intended defection to the invading Earl because Richard has seized his son.
Act V, Scene 1: Buckingham is escorted to his execution. He remembers Margaret's warning to him in 1.3.
Act V, Scene 2: Richmond, in England, speaks cheerfully of the coming battle with Richard's forces.
Act V, Scene 3: Richard arrives at Bosworth field and has his tent pitched at one side of the stage. Richmond arrives and has his tent pitched at the other side. He sends a messenger to Stanley. Richard sends his own message to Stanley, a threat that his son will be killed if he deserts. Richard retires to his tent. Stanley comes to Richmond, promising at least to delay his troops. Richmond prays and goes to bed. Between the tents, a succession of spirits appears, each the Ghost of a character murdered by Richard. Each delivers a similar set of messages: they remind Richard of his misdeeds and bid him 'despair and die'; turning to Richmond, they assure him of supernatural aid. Richard wakes and despairingly acknowledges his guilt.. Richmond awakens, refreshed by the visions, and addresses his troops, asserting that Richard's soldiers will willingly lose, to escape being governed by such a villain. Richard curses his pangs of conscience and speaks to his army, heaping insults on his foes. A messenger reports that Stanley refuses to march; Richard orders the hostage killed but postpones the action, for the combat has begun.
Act V, Scene 4: During the battle, Richard enters, crying out for a horse, rhetorically offering his kingdom in exchange for one.
Act V, Scene 5: Richmond kills Richard in hand-to-hand combat and declares victory. Stanley offers him Richard's crown. Richmond proclaims an end to England's civil wars. He announces his intention to marry Elizabeth's daughter, thus uniting the feuding factions, and prays for continued peace.
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