This act opens with a gathering of those whom Richard has wronged and who will suffer far more acutely in the future. Queen Elizabeth, the old Duchess of York, and Dorset enter from one side. They are on their way to visit the princes in the Tower. At the same moment Richard's wife, Anne, Duchess of Gloucester, comes in leading Clarence's young daughter, Lady Margaret Plantagenet. They are also on their way to the Tower.
As they exchange greetings and make their errands known to one another, Brakenbury enters. Queen Elizabeth immediately asks how the princes are. He replies that they are well but that the king has ordered that they are to have no visitors. The reference to "the King" appalls Elizabeth, and she demands an explanation. Brakenbury begs her pardon and says that he means the lord protector. The women are now thoroughly alarmed, and each protests that she has special right to see the children. But Brakenbury insists that he cannot violate his oath.
The Earl of Derby (Stanley) enters and greets the Duchess of York as "the looker-on of two fair queens," meaning, of course, Elizabeth and Anne. He has come to escort Anne to Westminster for the coronation. Both women express utter horror at the news. When Dorset tries to comfort his mother, she immediately thinks of his danger and commands him to join Richmond in Brittany. Stanley, stepfather to Richmond (to whom he refers as his son), strongly approves of her counsel. The old duchess curses the womb that brought forth Richard.
Stanley urges Lady Anne to hurry. She replies that she would rather be tortured by the ancient method of encircling her brow with red hot steel than be crowned queen. Elizabeth, so far from being offended at Anne, voices words of commiseration. Anne recalls how she had denounced Richard for making her a widow and had uttered a curse on the woman who married him. Now she realizes that she is the victim of her own curse, for she has not known a moment's rest since her marriage because of Richard's "timorous" dreams. She fears that Richard will do away with her. With grief and foreboding the women part, the old duchess wishing for the grave and Queen Elizabeth remaining behind to look back at the rough outline of the Tower. She prays that it will use her young children well, knowing perhaps too well that her entreaty to the stones is useless.
In Scene 2, the climax of the play has been reached. Richard now wears the coveted crown. He enters the palace in pomp, acknowledges Buckingham, his right-hand man, and tries the duke's loyalty to the utmost by inciting him to arrange for the immediate murder of the little princes. The wary Buckingham does not pick up Richard's indirect suggestion, and the newly crowned king is forced to speak openly: He wishes the "bastards" dead. Now Buckingham's reply is circumspect, and when Richard taunts him, he asks leave to consider. Angry, Richard rails against Buckingham, saying he will speak only to unfeeling and thoughtless boys hereafter. He calls a page over to ask if he knows of anyone who would do murder for money. The page suggests one Tyrrell for whom "gold were as good as orators to tempt." While the page goes to get Tyrrell, the king resolves to confide no more in Buckingham.
Stanley enters with the news that Dorset has fled to Richmond. Without appearing to have heard, Richard orders Catesby to spread the rumor abroad that his wife Anne is ill and likely to die. He will make certain that she sees no one. Meanwhile he must find some commoner to marry and dispose of Clarence's daughter; Clarence's son poses no problem since he is weak-minded. Richard knows that to murder the princes and then to marry their sister Elizabeth, as he hopes to do, involves great risks: "Uncertain way of gain! But I am in / So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin" (64-65). Stanley, who had moved to one side, did not hear a word of this heartless speech.
Tyrrel enters and arrangements are made to dispose of the princes, whom Richard describes as foes to his rest and his "sweet sleep's disturbers." Buckingham, having considered the king's suggestion about murdering the children, returns. Richard ignores him and talks to Stanley, warning him to take care since Richmond is his stepson. The duke interrupts with a request for the rewards he has been promised, especially the earldom of Hereford. The king continues to ignore him. He recalls a prophecy of Henry VI that Richmond would be king and another made by an Irish bard that Richard himself would not live long after he saw Richmond. As Buckingham again interrupts, Richard asks the time and sarcastically compares the duke to the "Jack" on a clock, a mechanical figure that appears to strike the hour — in just such a way does Buckingham keep begging and interrupting Richard's thoughts. Left alone on the stage, the duke now fully understands his position. Recalling the fate of Hastings, he resolves to flee to his manor at Brecknock without his rewards but at least with his head.
In soliloquy in Scene 3, Tyrrel describes the murder of the children, which has taken place offstage. He is shaken with horror at the very thought of the bloody deed; even the underlings he had hired to do the actual killing melted with compassion. As he retells the story Dighton and Forrest had told him, he describes for the audience the children, sleeping in each other's arms, a prayer book lying on their pillow. For a moment, Forrest became conscience-stricken, but he recovered himself to join Dighton in smothering the innocent children. Now the latter is conscience-stricken and filled with remorse as he brings his report to the "bloody King."
Richard is pleased to learn that the princes are dead and buried. He instructs Tyrrel to see him after supper and give him all the details and receive the promised reward. As Tyrrel goes out, Richard summarizes his accomplishments: Clarence's son is in prison, his daughter "meanly . . . matched" in marriage, the princes are dead, Anne has "bid the world goodnight." And now, since Richmond wants to marry young Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, Richard must carry out his plan to marry her first. He is about to leave and to present himself to her as a "jolly thriving wooer" when Catesby enters.
Now the mood changes for Richard. Catesby brings the disquieting news that Ely has fled to Richmond and that Buckingham is gathering forces in Wales. The king is more distressed to hear of Ely's withdrawal. The news, however, instead of crushing him, fills him with a zest for battle. Urging speed, he goes off to muster men for the fight.
The first part of Scene 4, a long lament, opens appropriately with old Queen Margaret saying that she has lurked about and watched the waning of her adversaries. She is going to withdraw to France, confident that everything will continue as badly as it has begun. Queen Elizabeth enters with the Duchess of York, weeping for her children. Margaret declares that the loss is a deserved one since Edward IV, the children's father, had been a principal in the murder of Margaret's son Edward. When Elizabeth asks her when she could sleep when the little princes had been put to death, Margaret replies bitterly: "When holy Harry died, and my sweet son." The duchess, overcome with her own woes, sits down on the ground that has been "made drunk with innocents' blood." Elizabeth wishes that the earth would open up and offer her a grave as easily as it offers her a seat.
Queen Margaret joins them, insisting that her sorrows have precedence since they are the oldest. She begins a long recital of their joint woes, identifying Richard Ill as the author. The Duchess of York interrupts to accuse Margaret of being responsible for the deaths of her husband (Richard, Duke of York) and Rutland, one of her sons. Margaret continues, insisting that the deaths of Edward IV, the young princes, and Clarence were debts paid for crimes committed against the house of Lancaster. So died the "beholders of this tragic play," Hastings, Rivers, Vaughan, and Grey — yet Richard, "Hell's black intelligencer," still lives. She utters a prayer that she may yet survive to say "The dog is dead."
Elizabeth recalls Margaret's prophecy that the time would come when she would ask for Margaret's help in cursing Richard, "That bottled spider, that foul-backed toad!" Margaret reminds her of what she had said at greater length about Elizabeth. She compares Elizabeth to a flag borne by a standard-bearer that attracts all shots: "Where is thy husband now? Where be thy brothers? / Where are thy children? Wherein dost thou joy? / Who sues to thee, and cries 'God save the Queen'?" (92-94). Just as Elizabeth once usurped her place as queen, so now she usurps a just share of Margaret's sorrow. When she is about to leave after this tirade, Elizabeth asks her to stay and teach her how to curse. Margaret gives her a grim recipe, and, on further urging, points out that woe will teach Elizabeth what she wants to know. Finally she leaves. The duchess asks why calamity should be so full of words. Elizabeth describes them as "Windy attorneys to their clients woes" which "Help not at all, yet do they ease the heart." The duchess urges Elizabeth to accompany her and smother Richard in the breath of bitter words since he had smothered Elizabeth's children. At this point, the king himself enters, marching, with drums and trumpets.
Richard asks who intercepts his march, whereupon the duchess and Elizabeth attack him for his wrongs. He threatens to drown his mother's words in a flourish of trumpets unless she speaks fair of him. When he shows his impatience, she states that she can think of no single hour, from his birth onward, when he has not been a source of trouble to her. She warns him that, though this is their last meeting, she leaves him with a "heavy curse": "Bloody thou art, bloody will be thine end." Elizabeth voices her amen to all that the duchess has said, but Richard nevertheless detains her.
When Elizabeth states that she has no more sons for Richard to murder and that her daughters will be "praying nuns, not weeping queens," the king begins his suit for the hand of her daughter Elizabeth, whom he praises as "Virtuous and fair, royal and gracious." Understandably, the queen-mother wonders what new torture Richard has in store for her, and she is provoked into a violent harangue against him. He protests that he means to do her good — he will marry her daughter if she will only forget past grievances and give her consent. Elizabeth is horrified. When he asks how to go about winning the young lady, she bitterly suggests that he has done everything calculated to win a girl's heart — murdered her brothers, her aunt (Anne), her uncles (Clarence and Rivers). Making use of all of his persuasive powers, the king claims that what is done cannot be undone; he will make up for the loss of the princes, her children, by making her daughter the mother of kings and herself the happy grandmother. Elizabeth obviously is moved by the proposal and agrees to let him know her daughter's mind shortly. This jolly, thriving wooer asks her to bear to the girl his "true love's kiss." Once she has left, however, he refers to Elizabeth with amusement: "Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!"
Ratcliff and Catesby come with the news that Richmond, with a powerful navy, is off the coast of Wales waiting for Buckingham's support. Richard orders Catesby to go immediately to the Duke of Norfolk, and Ratcliff to leave for Salisbury. Not until he has upbraided Catesby for delaying does he become aware of the fact that he had neglected to give instructions. Norfolk is to be told to raise the greatest possible "strength and power" and to meet Richard at Salisbury.
Lord Stanley (Derby) enters with the news that Richmond, aroused by Dorset, Buckingham, and Ely, "makes for England, there to claim the crown." Richard asks why should this be since the royal throne is occupied and no other heir of York survives. He accuses Stanley of planning to rebel against him and fly to his enemies. Stanley protests that he is loyal to Richard and promises to bring his forces down from the north. But the king still does not trust him; he insists that Stanley leave his son George as assurance of his loyalty.
As Stanley leaves, messengers enter successively with news of the revolt of Courtney and the Bishop of Exeter in Devonshire, and of the Guilfords in Kent — that is, risings in the southeast and southwest parts of the kingdom. Furious, Richard strikes the third messenger before he has a chance to speak and then learns that this time the news is good: Buckingham's forces have been dispersed by flood. Still another messenger reports that Sir Thomas Lovel and Dorset head a force in Yorkshire to the north. But this bad news for Richard is offset by the report that Richmond, his fleet broken up by a tempest and mistrusting those on shore who said they came from Buckingham, has hoisted sail and made for Brittany.
Catesby comes in to say that Buckingham has been captured but that Richmond had landed with a "mighty power" at Milford. "Away for Salisbury!" exclaims Richard. There is no time to reason: "A royal battle might be won and lost." His final order is that Buckingham be brought to Salisbury.
Derby (Lord Stanley) sends Sir Christopher Urswick to his stepson Richmond with the message that his son George is held captive. For fear of causing his son's death, Derby cannot send aid to Richmond immediately. He learns that Richmond now is in Wales. Supporting the claimant to the throne are many "of noble fame and worth." They are headed for London. Derby finally instructs Sir Christopher to tell Richmond that the Queen-Mother Elizabeth heartily has given her consent to the marriage of Richmond and her daughter.
Scene 1 is important chiefly because we get the first hint of a possible turn of events that could lead to Gloucester's downfall. Queen Elizabeth says to Dorset, her son, "If thou wilt outslip death, go cross the seas, / And live with Richmond, from the reach of Hell" (42-43). This is the first mention of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. Since Shakespeare was dramatizing history, his audiences knew that Richmond would emerge as Richard's nemesis.
It is not without interest that Stanley, who had married the widow of Owen Tudor and is thus Richmond's stepfather, should endorse Elizabeth's advice so emphatically, although it is he who came to escort Anne to Westminster, where Richard is to be crowned King of England. His behavior here is quite consistent with what history tells us about the Stanleys. They flourished during the entire period of the Wars of the Roses by shifting loyalties when events seemed so to dictate to their advantage.
A turning point in the action is indicated also by the report of Richard's "timorous dreams." Here Shakespeare remained quite faithful to his sources. More reported that Gloucester was "sore weaned with care and watch, rather slumbered than slept, troubled with fearful dreams," and that he would sometimes leap out of bed and run about the chamber. Now, since Richard has been established as a Machiavellian villain devoid of conscience, some explanation is called for. It may be argued that conscience does not bother Richard at all but rather fear for his own life as he wades through blood on his journey to the crown. Or perhaps critic Stopford Brooke had the right answer: "Shakespeare, with his belief that in the far background of an evil nature the soul lives, but unknown, unbelieved in by its possessor, shows how it awakens at night when the will sleeps, and does its work on the unconscious man. Then, and only then, conscience stirs Richard. Then, and then only, fear besets him." What is most important is that Richard is suffering the unquiet mind. God's justice now is reaching out to him; his doom has begun even before he wears the coveted crown.
Never does Shakespeare let us forget the dominant theme of the play. Anne, who recalls how she had implored God that Richard's wife be made to suffer, again invites divine vengeance on herself when she exclaims, "Anointed let me be with deadly venom, / And die ere men can say God save the Queen" (62-63).
Certain other points of lesser significance in Scene 1 require comment. Note the ritualistic quality of the duchess' farewell addressed successively to Dorset, Anne, and Elizabeth (92-94) — further evidence that the language is highly rhetorical throughout this play. Queen Elizabeth's outburst beginning "Oh, cut my lace in sunder" (34-36) has been cited as an example of sheer rant. But in Tudor England, the husks or corsets worn by fashionable women so tightly controlled their figures that one can understand the queen's need for drastic relief in this moment of great emotion.
When Anne refers to herself as having been made "so young, so old a widow" (73), she means that she had been made old in sorrow. The Duchess of York, indeed an elderly lady, makes reference to her "eighty odd years" (97). Had her husband lived he would have been just seventy-three; the duchess actually was sixty-eight. Shakespeare purposely exaggerated her age as one means of showing how utterly devoid of virtue Richard was. Reverence for age, particularly for an aged parent, was an essential part of Elizabethan order. At the family level, as at the political level, Gloucester destroys order.
In the climactic Scene 2, wherein Richard enters in state amid the sounding of trumpets, preparation is made for the murder of the little princes, the death of Anne, and the plan for Richard to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. Even more important is the fact that the newly crowned Richard definitely begins his descent on Fortune's wheel. Crediting Buckingham for making possible this advancement to the throne, the king asks, "But shall we wear these honors for a day? / Or shall they last, and we rejoice in them?" (5-6). Anne's account of his "timorous dreams" told us that now Richard was a man beset with fears. Like Macbeth, he has murdered sleep. And as he explains to Tyrrel, the princes are foes to his rest and his "sweet sleep's disturbers" (74). His words concerning how "sin will pluck on sin" anticipate those of Macbeth, the later Shakespearean tragic hero who also willfully embraced evil, driven first by inordinate ambition and then by fear:
I am in blood
Stepped in so far that I should wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er. (Macbeth, III. iv. 136-38)
But Buckingham, the "deep-revolving [artful, cunning] witty Buckingham," who had been so pliant heretofore, cannot bring himself to be the agent in the murder of the princes. Such utter heartlessness belongs only to Richard, the self-avowed villain who would outdo Machiavelli. But surely this is not the sole answer. Buckingham knows quite as well as does Richard that here indeed is "uncertain way to gain."
For Richard, the disaffection of Buckingham is the first serious check in his fortunes. Shakespeare develops this part of the scene with consummate skill. When the king says "Edward lives" (10), he expects the duke to reply that Edward will not survive for long. Instead, Buckingham merely says, "True, noble Prince." And Richard's vehement exclamation, "Oh, bitter consequence, / That Edward should live true noble Prince!" implies that, in his opinion, the duke is acknowledging the prince's right to the throne.
The news of Dorset's flight to Richmond is additional evidence that Richard has begun his fall. That he should appear to ignore Stanley, who brought him this latest intelligence, and to proceed to instruct Catesby to spread the rumor that Anne "is sick, and like to die," and then to question and instruct the newly arrived Tyrrel as regards the little princes — all this is only new proof of his capacity for prompt action, for dealing with first things first. Earlier commentators suggested that, in view of Richard's words with Catesby, the king himself planned to poison his wife. However, it has been established that Anne was suffering from tuberculosis and that she had been crushed in spirit by the recent death of her son.
Henry VI's prophecy, recalled by Richard in Scene 2 (98-104), is to be found in Henry VI, Part 3, IV. iv. 68-74. The last of the Lancastrian rulers addressed young Richmond as "England's hope" and spoke of him as one "Likely in time to bless a royal throne." It is irrelevant that Richard himself was not present when the words were spoken, although he speaks of himself as "being by." The main thing is that Richmond is becoming an increasingly important figure, the very mention of whose name is ominous to Richard.
Authentic classical drama never included scenes of violence on the stage but depended upon reports usually made by a messenger. In Elizabethan drama, notably the Seneca of the popular stage, such scenes were presented in full sight of the audience. But Shakespeare was not influenced by classical tradition here. Surely a matter of good taste was involved. In Scene 3, the actual scene of the two children being put to death would have been intolerable even for audiences nurtured on scenes of violence. Actually, Tyrrel's recital is far more effective as a means of arousing the emotions of pity and horror. The utter bestiality of the crime is first emphasized by identifying Dighton and Forrest as "two fleshed villains, bloody dogs" — that is, they are like vicious animals that have been allowed to taste human blood. The description of the victims, "those tender babes," more than suffices for Shakespeare's purpose. Now we are fully ready emotionally to witness the bloody king's downfall. Richard's hurried questions — ". . . am I happy in thy news? . . . But didst thou see them dead? . . . And buried?" — and his concern to hear all the details of the murders reveal the state of his anxiety.
In the summary of his accomplishments that precedes the bad news he is to receive, we learn that Anne has died and the king is free to marry Elizabeth of York. Holinshed wrote that she died "either by inward thought and pensiveness, or by infection of poison, which is affirmed most likely." Richard's public reputation, made clear by the discourse of the two London citizens (II. iii.), is such that, whatever the true facts may be, he is suspect.
Richard, whose intellectuality is never to be underestimated, is perceptive enough to realize that, in seeking to marry Elizabeth, Richmond aspires to wrest the crown from him. Characteristically, he will not delay wooing her for himself.
John Morton, Bishop of Ely, who was among those present in the Tower of London to make arrangements for the coronation of Edward V (III. iv.), fled to join Richmond after plotting with Buckingham, according to Holinshed. News of his flight especially oppresses Richard. But once more the villain-hero proves himself to be a man of action above all else. "My counsel is my shield," he exclaims (56) — that is, he will waste no time in deliberation; he will fight.
In Scene 4, Queen Margaret makes her last appearance and once more, in a completely ritualistic manner, "tells o'er [the Yorkist] woes again" by viewing her own. Her grim forebodings are now being fully realized, and she stresses that mathematical kind of justice that is involved — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Probably most would agree with the Duchess of York. Queen Margaret does represent "Blind sight, dead life" (26); but she is also the "Brief abstract and record of tedious days" (28), the grim commentator upon bloody deeds who never tires of pointing out the inevitability of God's punishment for grievous sins.
As we follow her long discourse, which is briefly interrupted twice, we might well ask as does the Duchess of York: "Why should calamity be full of words?" (126) But Shakespeare forestalls criticism of Margaret's extreme volubility by providing Queen Elizabeth's explanation. In Henry VI, Part 3, this same Margaret, having just witnessed the slaughter of her princely son, had said: "No, no, my heart will burst an if I speak; / And I will speak that so my heart will burst" (V. v. 58-59). So in Titus Andronicus, the titular hero, who had sought to ransom his captive sons by cutting off his hand as directed and sending it to the emperor, voiced similar thoughts: "Then give me leave, for losses will have leave / To ease their stomachs with their bitter tongues" (III. i. 233-34). And in Macbeth, written late in Shakespeare's career, Malcolm counsels the distraught Macduff, who has just learned that his wife and children have been killed: "Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak / Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break" (IV. iii. 208-09). The main thing, however, is that in her recital in Scene 4, Margaret brings focus upon Richard as the arch-criminal:
I had an Edward — till a Richard killed him.
I had a Harry — till a Richard killed him.
Thou hadst an Edward — till a Richard killed him.
Thou hadst a Richard — till a Richard killed him. (40-43)
Granted that later she indicts Edward IV and Clarence, along with Hastings, Rivers, Vaughan, and Grey, but the emphasis remains on the villain-hero who "yet lives" (71), the recipient of Margaret's most vehement curses. Once she leaves the stage, the Duchess of York and Queen Elizabeth read the catalogue of Richard's crimes in ritualistic manner, now addressing the king himself. The force of the duchess' words — "Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end. / Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend (194-95) — strikes home when one recalls her blessing of her son early in the play. Whether present or absent, then, Richard remains the center of interest.
As the king urges the queen-mother to let him marry her daughter, he argues that he will advance her "to the dignity and height of honor, the high imperial type of this earth's glory" (243-44). Here indeed is the key to Richard's own ambition that drove him to extreme cruelty and bloodshed. He was beset with the same "thirst and sweetness of a Crown" that motivated Marlowe's Tamburlaine and that made Macbeth willing "to jump the life to come."
There are similarities between this wooing scene and the earlier one. For example, at one point the king says, "Say I did all this for love of her," when Elizabeth denounces him for the murders of Clarence and Lord Rivers (281-88). Moreover, the same kind of one-line speeches (stichomythia) serves to link the two wooing scenes. Finally, Richard's last words (431) are somewhat reminiscent of those he spoke just after Anne had left him. How do the scenes differ? Chiefly in that sardonic humor finds no place in this later scene: Tragic gloom now pervades the action.
This has been called an "outrageous courtship." And so it is. In the chronicle histories, both Hall and Holinshed are appalled at the queen's inconstancy. They record that the queen-mother had already promised the princess to Richmond and later was persuaded by Richard to grant his suit. It may be added that in these prose histories Elizabeth even sends orders for Dorset to desert Richmond and return to England. But not until Scene 5 does Shakespeare let us know that the queen has "heartily consented to the match with Richmond." Judged solely by the action in this scene, Queen Elizabeth may indeed be a "shallow, changing woman" who is moved by selfish ambition. Or one may argue that she saw in such a match the only chance to bring an end to the bloody strife. Did not Richard argue:
Without her, follows to this land and me,
To thee, herself, and many a Christian soul,
Death, desolation, ruin and decay. (407-09)
If the villain refers to "this land" first, he makes reference to himself before he mentions others who will suffer. But perhaps Elizabeth is no less concerned about her own fate than is the egotistical Richard.
Again one must anticipate Elizabeth's action in Scene 5. Many critics conclude that Shakespeare intended us to believe that Richard is tricked in this, his second courtship. That this interpretation would seem to be the correct one is consistent with what we learn in Richard's talk with Catesby, Ratcliff, Stanley, and the messengers. Clearly he is losing his grip on himself. Note how he fails to instruct Catesby and how he changes his mind about Ratcliff's mission. Most of the news is bad now. As Richard hears the tidings, he cries: "Out on you, owls" (509). The owl, of course, is a symbol and portent of death.
There is one piece of good news for Richard. Buckingham's army has been dispersed and scattered by sudden floods. A bit later we learn that the duke himself has been captured. How does this fit into the scheme of things? Buckingham is a perjurer and an accessory to murder; it would not do to have him survive and fight on the side of righteousness. Again we recall Margaret's dire prophecy when Buckingham ignored her counsel and allied himself with one upon whom "Sin, death, and Hell have set their marks" (I.
iii. 297-301). No Tudor loyalist would have failed to see divine intervention evident in the sudden floods that were the immediate cause of Buckingham's downfall.
The latter part of Scene 4 provides a good illustration of how Shakespeare telescoped historical events for his purpose. Richard did lead a force toward Salisbury to meet Buckingham in October 1483. Cut off from his Welsh levies, Buckingham was captured and put to death on October 31. Shortly thereafter, Richmond embarked from Brittany with an invading army, but his ships were dispersed by a storm. He did appear in one vessel off Poole. Richard, endeavoring to lure him ashore, sent false information to the effect that the troops ashore were led by Buckingham. But Richmond did not fall into the trap; instead he returned to France. Not until two years later did he invade England. To help him repel this invasion, Richard sent for the Duke of Norfolk.
In Scene 5, the powerful forces mustered to oppose Richard are identified. Those who will join Richmond are led by such nobles as Sir Walter Herbert, son of the Earl of Pembroke, who had been a staunch Yorkist; Sir Gilbert Talbot, uncle to the Earl of Shrewsbury; and Sir William Stanley, Derby's brother. Derby's real feelings toward Richard are finally made clear, although he dares not openly oppose the king. Thus, by the end of this act, Richard is supported only by Ratcliff, Catesby, and Lovel. That Richard's last stratagem has failed is also revealed: Elizabeth of York will marry Richmond.
Derby's reference to Richard as "this most bloody boar" emphasizes the king's heartless cruelty, which has led him to the brink of ruin. The student will recall that, in Act I, Scene 3, Anne had denounced him as a "hedgehog," the first insulting reference to Richard's crest of the wild boar. In Act I, Scene 4, the villain-hero had referred to Clarence as being "franked up to fattening for his pains." A frank is a sty for fattening hogs. But it is Richard himself, of course, who is bestial. Here, in the lines assigned to Derby, Shakespeare sustains the metaphor.