Summary and Analysis Act III



A flourish of trumpets announces the arrival of the young prince, followed by Gloucester and Buckingham, Cardinal Bourchier, Catesby, and others. From the first the prince is melancholy. He wants (that is, lacks) "more uncles" to welcome him and is not convinced when Richard implies that they were false friends from whom he is better protected. The lord mayor, appropriately attended, enters and greets the uncrowned king. The youth responds courteously and then again complains about not seeing his mother and brother.


A flourish of trumpets announces the arrival of the young prince, followed by Gloucester and Buckingham, Cardinal Bourchier, Catesby, and others. From the first the prince is melancholy. He wants (that is, lacks) "more uncles" to welcome him and is not convinced when Richard implies that they were false friends from whom he is better protected. The lord mayor, appropriately attended, enters and greets the uncrowned king. The youth responds courteously and then again complains about not seeing his mother and brother.

As the prince further complains about the absence of Hastings, that lord enters with the news that the queen has taken the young Duke of York into sanctuary, he knows not why. Buckingham tells Cardinal Bourchier to fetch the boy by force if necessary, but that dignitary objects to violating the "holy privilege." Buckingham overcomes the objections by reasoning that the law of sanctuary is not valid in such a "gross" age and that the boy is too young and innocent to need or ask for sanctuary in any case. The cardinal is easily convinced, and he sets out, accompanied by Hastings.

The prince asks his uncle where he will stay until the coronation. Richard advises him to resort to the Tower, the thought of which does not appeal to the prince. Since Julius Caesar was then credited with having built the Tower of London, the prince and Gloucester engage in a dialogue concerning Julius Caesar and the nature of reputation and fame.

Hastings and the cardinal return, bringing with them the young Duke of York, who, after greeting his brother and referring to his father's death. quickly takes the opportunity to flout his uncle. He refers to his own growth, trying to make Richard repeat the compromising speech about the young king's idleness referred to in the previous scene. He next begs a dagger from his uncle and jests about the possibility of Richard's giving him his sword. This sharp speech culminates in the boy's joking allusion to his uncle's crooked shoulders. Buckingham expresses admiration for the young duke's precocity, but Richard apparently ignores it. He urges Edward and his brother to leave for the Tower. Meanwhile, he will entreat Elizabeth, the queen-mother, to join them there. The duke demurs, saying that he will not sleep quiet in the place where his uncle Clarence had been murdered. Edward, however, says that he fears no uncles dead. And to Gloucester's "nor none that live, I hope," he retorts "and if they live, I hope I need not fear." His thoughts, obviously, are about Lord Rivers. The children go unhappily to the Tower.

Buckingham again comments on the wit of the young duke, suggesting that he may have been incited by his mother to taunt Richard. Richard's reply, "No doubt . . . he is all his mother's," brings out at once the contrast between the two children and Gloucester's deep hatred of the queen-mother and her faction. Buckingham calls Catesby over and takes the initiative in sounding him out as to the possibilities of winning Hastings over to their side. Catesby suggests that Hasting's great loyalty to Edward IV will keep him from doing anything against the prince and that Stanley will do whatever Hastings does. Buckingham sends him off to sound out Hastings and summon him to the Tower to join the counsel in discussing the coronation. It is Richard who gives Catesby the final order: "Shall we hear from you, Catesby, ere we sleep?"

After Catesby has left, Buckingham wonders what will be done with Hastings if he proves unwilling to go along with their plots. As if there were no possible question, Richard says, "Chop off his head," and reminds Buckingham to ask for the earldom of Hereford and related properties when Richard becomes king. Buckingham replies that he will indeed claim the promised reward, and the two retire to sup and arrange their plans.

Scene 2 begins with the arrival of a messenger at Lord Hasting's house at four o'clock in the morning. The messenger comes from Lord Stanley, who has had a premonitory dream about "the boar" that destroyed his helmet. Stanley is so disturbed that he wishes Hastings to flee with him to the north. Hastings scorns the advice and sends the messenger back. He knows of the two councils that are to be held, but since he will be in one and his servant Catesby in the other, there can be nothing to fear. Moreover, "To fly the boar before the boar pursues / Were to incense the boar to follow us, / And make pursuit where he did mean no chase" (28-30). Stanley is instead to rise and go with him to the Tower. As the messenger leaves, Catesby enters and cunningly tests Hastings' loyalty by saying that things will never be right in the kingdom until Richard wears the crown. Hastings remains loyal to the young prince and does not waver in his devotion even when told that his enemies, members of the queen's family, have been put to death at Pomfret. Not even if his life were at stake would Hastings move to prevent the "true descent" of Edward IV's heirs. The wary Catesby, his mission accomplished, sanctimoniously approves Hastings' declaration of loyalty: "God keep your lordship in that gracious mind!" (56).

The confident Hastings now begins to boast of those he will get rid of within a fortnight, relying as he does on the favor of Richard and Buckingham. Catesby encourages this opinion, but his aside makes clear that Hastings has, as it were, pronounced sentence upon himself and that Richard and Buckingham will see to it that Hastings is put to death as a traitor.

Stanley appears, still uneasy, and Hastings reasserts his buoyant confidence. Stanley reminds him that the lords imprisoned at Pomfret had been no less sure of themselves. When he is told that those lords are to be beheaded, he again voices his fears, suggesting that those who are to die may be better men than some who have brought charges against them. When Catesby and Stanley leave, Hastings continues to express his complete confidence in an exchange with a pursuivant whom he had met earlier when on his way to be imprisoned in the Tower. A priest enters and greets him. Hastings thanks him, acknowledges indebtedness for the priest's service, and promises to reward him on the next Sabbath. Buckingham enters and remarks that, unlike his friends at Pomfret, Hastings has no need for a priest — that is, no urgent need for confession and absolution. Hastings replies that the thoughts of Rivers, Vaughan, and Grey had indeed come to his mind as he talked with the priest. He then asks whether Buckingham is going to the Tower. The latter's reply is sinister enough, although Hastings is unaware of the fact: "I do, my lord, but long I shall not stay. / I shall return before your lordship thence" (120-2 1).

Scene 3 at Pomfret Castle concludes the story of the queen's relatives. Ratcliff, one of Richard's henchmen, enters leading Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan to death. Rivers protests that he is dying "For truth, for duty, and for loyalty." Grey thinks of the prince and prays that he may be kept safe from this pack of bloodsuckers. As Ratcliff hurries them, Rivers speaks again, remembering that Pomfret was the scene of Richard II's murder. Grey thinks of Margaret's curse, and Rivers recalls that she cursed Hastings, Buckingham, and Richard also. He prays in one breath that those curses will be fulfilled and in the next asks God to consider the blood about to be shed enough to save Elizabeth and the prince. Again enjoined by Ratcliff to hurry, they embrace each other and leave to meet their doom.

Scene 4 contains the meeting at the Tower to which Hastings and Stanley have been summoned to discuss the date of the coronation. The Bishop of Ely suggests the following day, but as Richard is not yet present they hesitate to decide without him. Cunningly, Buckingham asks who is most intimate with Richard. To the bishops reply that he himself is, Buckingham answers ironically that, unlike faces, hearts remain unrevealed. He then calls upon Hastings, who, confident that he stands high in Gloucester's affections, offers to speak for him. At that very moment, Gloucester enters, and Buckingham is careful to let him know what Hastings had said.

For no apparent reason other than unusually high spirits, Richard begs the bishop to send for some fine strawberries Richard had seen in his garden. When the bishop leaves, Richard calls Buckingham aside to report that Hastings will never consent to oppose the coronation of the prince. The two leave the stage. Lord Stanley (called Derby in this scene) expresses the opinion that the coronation should be postponed until the next day. The bishop returns, looking about for Richard, and Hastings remarks that Gloucester "looks most cheerfully and smooth"; he is sure that Richard's face reveals the heart of a man who is offended with no one. As Stanley, still uneasy, prays that this is true, Gloucester and Buckingham return.

Richard's mood has changed completely. He demands to know what should be done with those who have planned his death by means of witchcraft. Hastings has the answer: They should be put to death. Drawing back his sleeve to show his withered arm, Richard blames the queen and Mistress Shore. "If they have done this, my gracious Lord — ," Hastings begins. He is not allowed to finish. Gloucester seized upon the conditional If and denounces him as the "protector of this damned strumpet," Jane Shore. Hastings further hears himself declared to be a traitor and sentenced to death. Lovel and Ratcliff are ordered to carry out the sentence.

Only Hastings and his executioners remain onstage. In his dying speech, Hastings laments the fate of England and regrets his own foolish confidence, his ignoring of ominous portents. Even his horse, clad in ceremonial dress and proceeding at a walking pace, had stumbled three times on its way to the Tower, as if unwilling to carry its master to his death. He remembers the priest, whom he now needs for himself, and the pursuivant who had listened to him gloat over the impending deaths of Rivers, Vaughan, and Grey. He remembers also Queen Margaret's curse.

Catesby abruptly orders him to hurry in order not to delay Gloucester's dinner. Lovel rudely interrupts his final musings on the vanity of man and the shortness of life. Prophesying "the fearfulls't time" for England and the same fate as his for those who smile at him today, Hastings is led off to the block.

Outside the Tower, Richard and Buckingham come in wearing battered, rusty armor. They are engaged in further deception, namely to pretend that they are in terror of an attack on their lives. Richard instructs Buckingham to speak breathlessly and turn pale, and Buckingham replies that he can counterfeit like an experienced actor. Then the lord mayor enters, brought by Catesby. It is now apparent that the act is put on for his benefit. And it is a good act. The mayor witnesses an excited Richard rushing about as he gives incisive orders for defense against enemies who apparently are about to enter. Buckingham plays his role well enough as he exclaims, "God and innocency defend and guard us!" (20). And then Ratcliff and Lovel — "friends" — enter with Hastings' head.

Richard protests his unsuspecting love for Hastings and talks of having confided in him and of being convinced of his innocence in other things since he frankly acknowledged his relations with Jane Shore. Richard and Buckingham convince the lord mayor that Hastings had plotted to murder the two of them that day and that only this extreme peril forced them to execute him before the lord mayor arrived. Gloucester is careful to point out that the "peace of England" as well as their own lives was involved. Even after the mayor wholly agrees that Hastings fully deserved death, Richard protests that Lovel and Ratcliff had carried out his intentions too hastily, for he would have liked the lord mayor to hear the traitor's confession so that he, in turn, could reassure the citizens who might misinterpret Richard's action. After further assurances on both sides, the mayor leaves and Gloucester instructs Buckingham to follow and talk to the citizens at an advantageous moment. He is to imply that Edward IV's children are illegitimate, making the most of the late king's alleged notoriety in matters relating to sex. Further, Buckingham is to suggest that Edward himself was illegitimate. But the latter charge is to be handled skillfully since Edward's mother survives. Buckingham promises to do his work as well as if he were to gain the crown for himself. Thus having taken the necessary steps to prepare the populace to look on himself as the only true heir to the throne, Richard dispatches Lovel to a priest, Doctor Shaw, and Catesby to Friar Penker; both churchmen are to meet him at Baynard's Castle within the hour. Then he leaves to put Clarence's children out of sight so that no one will have access to them,

In the very brief Scene 6, a scrivener reads the indictment of Hastings which he has just copied so that it may be given a public reading at St. Paul's Cathedral without delay. It had taken him eleven hours to copy the original draft, which must have taken quite as long to prepare. Yet Hastings was executed only five hours ago. Obviously the whole proceeding is unjust. But the scribe departs, commenting that anyone with sense enough to see what is going on must also have sense enough to keep quiet about it.

Buckingham, returned from haranguing the mob, meets Richard at Baynard's Castle, as had been arranged. Richard asks at once about the reactions of the London citizens. Buckingham reports that they were silent and goes on to describe his own recital of Edward's engagements to Lady Lucy and the sister-in-law of the King of France before his marriage, He contrasted Edward's dissimilarity to their father and Richard's likeness and went on to dwell upon Richard's "discipline in war, wisdom in peace; . . . bounty, virtue, fair humility." When they said nothing, he asked the mayor the cause of their silence. The mayor explained that they were used to be spoken to on public matters only by the recorder, the chief legal authority of the City of London. At Buckingham's insistence, the recorder did report Buckingham's argument but took care to indicate that he was not speaking for himself. When he had finished, ten of Buckingham's paid followers cried, "God save King Richard!" Taking advantage of this, the duke thanked the multitude for their applause, complimented them on their wisdom, and came away. Buckingham explains that the mayor is coming and advises Richard to pretend to be afraid and to answer only after much urging. Richard is to retreat with two churchmen, while Buckingham makes out a case for his holiness. Above all, Richard is to appear most reluctant when he is requested to accept the crown. As a knock at the door is heard, Gloucester goes up the "leads" (the flat roof top) to prepare himself for his latest and perhaps most challenging role.

The mayor and the citizens enter, followed by Catesby, who tells them that Richard, "divinely bent to meditation," is in the company of "two right reverend Fathers" and begs them to return tomorrow or the next day thereafter. Buckingham then directs Catesby to plead with Richard to come and talk with them. While Catesby is gone, the duke takes the opportunity to point up the contrast of Richard's holy occupation with the late king's self-indulgence. He concludes with apparent fear that Richard will not accept the kingship. "Marry, God forbid His Grace should say us nay!" exclaims the mayor. Catesby comes back with the timely message that Richard is apprehensive as to the reason for the delegation that waits upon him. Again Catesby departs to convey Buckingham's reassurance. Just as the duke finishes a comment on the religiosity of men like Richard, the lord protector himself appears above, standing between two clergyman — "Two props of virtue for a Christian Prince," as Buckingham is quick to point out. The duke implores Richard to pardon them for interrupting him in his holy devotions and to listen to their request. The soul of humility, Richard protests that it is he who is at fault for neglecting his friends. Or, he continues, he may have been guilty unwittingly of greater offense. Buckingham follows this cue: Richard's fault is his failure to rescue the country by becoming king at this time of crisis.

In a nicely contrived refusal, Gloucester protests that he would turn away in reproof except that they might misinterpret his action as "Tongue-tied ambition." He argues that, even though he were to receive the crown as his due, he does not consider himself to be worthy of such greatness; fortunately the young prince, who merits the crown, will receive it in due course. According to Buckingham, this nicety of conscience shows his integrity. But, he points out, the prince cannot be the real heir since Edward married his mother when she was a widow and Edward himself betrothed successively to Lady Lucy and to Bona, sister of the King of France. Thus, only by courtesy is young Edward called the prince; it is Richard's duty to save the kingship from an impure line. The mayor, Buckingham once more, Catesby — all plead with him, but again Richard refuses. Buckingham lauds him for the compassion and nobility that cause him to refuse but points out that they will not accept the prince in any case, so that Richard's refusal would mean the downfall of the house of York. "Come, citizens," he concludes. "'Zounds! I'll entreat no more." Gloucester greets this with a pious injunction against swearing. When Catesby and one of the citizens urge him to call them back and accept, he does so sorrowfully.

Richard is at pains to make clear that he is accepting the burden on their entreaty, though to do so goes against his conscience. All have returned to the stage now, and Richard tells them that they must shoulder the blame if he does not fulfill his office well since they urged him to it. Buckingham salutes him with the title of king and promptly suggests that the coronation take place the very next day. "Even when you please," says Richard, "since you will have it so." The arrangements having been concluded, they depart. And Richard returns to his "holy meditations."


In Scene 1, we witness the always energetic Gloucester preparing for the removal of obstacles in his quest for the crown. The chief obstacles are, of course, the uncrowned boy, King Edward, and his brother, the Duke of York. But there are also Lords Stanley and Hastings to be considered, and they must be dealt with. Richard is nothing if not the capable executive. He leaves to the well-schooled Buckingham the task of making suggestions and arguments so that Richard himself usually appears as one seeking to be helpful and cooperative. Buckingham provides an interesting contrast to Catesby, who also serves Richard. Catesby awaits only instruction to carry out an order without question; he requires no special handling. But Buckingham is vain of his talents and responds readily to Gloucester's flattery, as when he is called "my thought's sovereignty" — king of my thoughts (2). He possesses considerable political ability and the powers of subtle contrivance. Sophistry characterizes his words to young Edward beginning "Sweet Prince, the untainted virtue of your years / Hath not yet dived into the world's deceit" (7-15) and his reply to the cardinal, whom he finds to be "too senseless obstinate, / Too ceremonial and traditional" (44-56). In pursuit of his own goal, he is not troubled much by conscience. When Richard informs him that, if Hastings does not prove pliable his head must be chopped off, Buckingham thinks only of the promised reward: the earldom of Hereford, together with all "movables" (goods) that had been confiscated by King Edward IV.

Of interest also are the contrasting characters of the two royal brothers. Edward is grave, thoughtful, conscious already of his responsibilities; thus his rebuke to the Duke of York: "A beggar, brother?" (112) The ironic dialogue about Julius Caesar and the nature of fame leads him to express his own ambition to win renown: "I'll win our ancient right in France again" (92). The implication is that, if he be permitted to survive and to rule England, internecine conflict would no longer occur; rather, the ruler would win fame in fighting a foreign enemy. In the polemical literature of the age, the horrors of civil war were frequently contrasted with the glory to be won in a conflict legitimately waged against the country's foe. Tacitly suggested also is that Edward's villainous uncle will achieve not fame but infamy in the annals of history.

The Duke of York is a "parlous boy" (154) — that is, dangerously cunning from the points of view of Buckingham and Richard. He is "bold, quick, ingenious, forward, capable [intelligent]." Like his royal brother, he is deeply suspicious of his uncle Gloucester. Indeed, his instinctive dislike and distrust, established in the previous scene, is emphasized here. When he asks for his uncle's dagger, he means much more than that involved in a natural request made by a pert, forward lad; he intimates that Gloucester should be rendered harmless by being disarmed. Farther along in the dialogue he wittily alludes to Richard's deformity and tacitly calls him a fool. This is introduced with the play upon the word bear (127): "Because I am little, like an ape / He thinks that you should bear me on your shoulders" (130-31). In Buckingham's words, "With what sharp-provided wit he reasons!"

In Scene 1, Shakespeare arouses the tragic emotions of pity and fear for the boy king and his brother. He does so particularly by means of the double meanings typically found in Richard's discourse, as when he says "A greater gift I'll give my cousin" (115), and in his ominous asides: "So wise so young, they say, do not live long" (79) and "Short summers lightly have a forward spring" (94). Furthermore, established here are the probable positions of Hastings and Stanley.

The doctrinal element is not absent from Scene 1. That Buckingham, actually the voice of Richard, should reject the concept of sanctuary as a "holy privilege" and that Edward V is not to Richard a "dread sovereign" underscore the fact that the sins involved are sins against religion, against God — sins that invite His inexorable justice. For in accordance with politico-religious thinking in the Age of Elizabeth, the sovereign was indeed to be dreaded — to be held in awe or "feared" in the Biblical sense. Again let it be remembered that the ruler was accepted as God's lieutenant on earth by the orthodox.

In Romeo and Juliet, the romantic tragedy that dates some two years later than Richard III, Shakespeare assigns these lines to Romeo near the end of the play: "How oft when men are at the point of death / Have they been merry! Which their keepers call / A lightening before death" (V. iii. 88-90). "A lightening before death" — that is the theme of Scene 2 in which Hastings is the chief character. He remains merry and confident, unperturbed by the report of Stanley's ominous dream of the boar that razed the helmet. Since Gloucester's crest is the boar, the interpretation of this dream poses no problem: Those who stand in Richard's way invite death.

Shakespeare follows Holinshed in identifying Catesby as one of Hastings' servingmen. But already we have learned that Catesby had become dedicated to Richard, whose most recent orders he is now carrying out. As far as Hastings is concerned, the concept of tragedy in this scene is medieval. He is at the top of Fortune's Wheel, supremely confident of his own well-being and future. Stanley's dream, the ironical comments and the aside of Catesby, the appearance of the priest, and Buckingham's sinister remarks — all are either ignored or misunderstood by Hastings. But they indicate that Fortune's wheel is about to turn once more. He seems to invite disaster when he gloats over the thought of the impending executions of Rivers, Vaughan, and Grey, as well as to predict the downfall of others. Nevertheless, in his unshakable loyalty to Edward IV and to Edward's heir, he appears to be an exemplum of righteousness. By implication, at least, Catesby acknowledges as much when he says, "God keep your lordship in that gracious [holy] mind." Catesby, who is in the process of violating his trust to his master, is not moved by such graciousness. Then why, one may ask, should Hastings be marked for death? The answer is that, as an active adherent to the Yorkist cause, he also is guilty. Recall that Queen Margaret had identified him as one of the "standers-by" when her son had been "stabbed with bloody daggers" (I. iii. 210-12). All this, there-fore, is part of the fulfillment of the curse upon the house of York.

In Scene 3, the careful reader may be surprised to find Ratcliff at Pomfret, which is in Yorkshire, since he appears at the Tower of London in the next scene. Obviously Shakespeare trusted to the imagination of his audience rather than to their geographical knowledge. This, to be sure, is a minor point. There are two major ones to be made. First, it is again made clear that the dethronement and murder of Richard II, a lawful, anointed king, started all these bloody events, for that was the prime action that invited vengeance upon the guilty members of the houses of Lancaster and York. Second, Gloucester, arch-villain though he is, continues to be the immediate instrument of divine justice. Grey acknowledges his own guilt and that of Rivers and Vaughan: All three had been accessories to the murder of Queen Margaret's son.

In Scene 4, Buckingham's reply to the Bishop of Ely's questions ("Who knows the Lord Protector's mind herein? Who is most inward with the noble Duke?") sums up the whole extent of Buckingham's deception of others and of Richard's deception of him. It is, then, a prime example of irony in a scene packed with irony.

Richard's superior cunning, no less than his heartlessness, again is dramatized in Scene 4. With what skill he first presents himself plausibly as the man of good will. "I have been a sleeper," he explains to the "noble lords and cousins" assembled in the Tower (24). Richard a sleeper — he who continues to reveal himself as the most energetic character in the play! The apparently irrelevant bit relating to the strawberries in the bishop's garden, the details of which appear in More's account and in Holinshed, serves Shakespeare's purpose in this connection, for it shows Richard displaying affability and good humor, a careless ease in the midst of his crimes. Little wonder that Lord Hastings should be deceived completely. Hazlitt found Hastings' belief that "with no man here he [Richard] is offended" (58) to be one of the "finest strokes in the play," showing as it does "the deep, plausible manners of Richard." One conclusion to be drawn is that Hastings is not to be dismissed as incredibly naive, even if he is not wary as is Stanley. He is one of those individuals who, to borrow a line from another Shakespearean play, "believe men honest who but seem so." In no circumstance must one underestimate Gloucester's skill as a dissembler.

After Edward IV's death, Jane Shore had become Hastings' mistress. It will be recalled that Richard had told Catesby to inform Hastings that his "dangerous adversaries" were to be executed and to bid him "give Mistress Shore one gentle kiss the more" (III. i. 185). The attractive daughter of a London goldsmith had indeed been accused of witchcraft, and Hastings' relations with her therefore worked to Richard's advantage. Shakespeare's audiences would not have considered the accusation to be absurd. Although skepticism was widespread, most Elizabethans firmly believed that witches existed and practiced their evil craft.

It need hardly be pointed out again that Richard functions as God's Scourge, for Hastings also was guilty of heinous crime: He was among those who "stood by" when young Edward of Lancaster was stabbed at Tewkesbury. But Richard remains the most grievous sinner. In this instance, he takes vengeance into his own hands. Despite his title of lord protector, he has no right to act without due process of law; he makes use of a trumped-up charge.

Sir Richard Ratcliff and Lord William Lovel, whom we meet in Scene 4, survived to join Catesby as Richard's most confidential ministers during the usurper's short reign. The following lines were affixed to the door of St. Paul's Cathedral on July 18, 1484, at the instigation of William Colyngburne: "The Cat, the Rat, and Lord our dog / Ruleth all England under a Hog." Lovel became the king's chamberlain; Catesby, speaker in Parliament in 1484; and Ratcliff, sheriff of Westmorland. The last named was probably closest to Richard, as his role in this play suggests.

In his next-to-last speech in Scene 4 (98-103), Hastings moralizes in a completely medieval manner. He pictures himself as one among the many who thoughtlessly sought the "momentary grace of mortal men" rather than "the grace of God." Such reflections are typical of those expressed by the tragic figures in Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium and its progeny, including the Elizabethan Mirror for Magistrates, which is recognized as one of the sources for Shakespeare's Richard III.

In Scene 5, Shakespeare prepares for the scene in which Gloucester is offered the crown. Not without significance is the fact that it reveals a wary Richard who does not take into his confidence Buckingham, the man whom he had called his "other self," his "oracle" and "prophet," his "thought's sovereign."

The stage direction, "Enter Gloucester and Buckingham, in rotten armor, marvellously ill-favored," derives from the First Folio (1623). It follows More's account: "And at their coming, himself [Richard] with the Duke of Buckingham stood harnessed in old ill faring briganders [body armor for foot soldiers], such as no man should when that they would vouchsafe to put on their backs except that some sudden necessity had constrained them." Obviously the two have dressed themselves appropriately for the roles they are about to play for the benefit of the Lord Mayor of London — that is, to make him believe that their concern is for the safety of the state.

At the beginning of Scene 5, we find Gloucester schooling Buckingham in the devices and methods of the Machiavellian villain. And Buckingham proves to be an apt pupil. His first speech (5-11) incorporates an interesting bit of dramatic criticism, a commentary on "ham" acting. This play is sufficiently melodramatic, one that lends itself to the rhetorical school of acting with all its excesses. But Shakespeare tells us thus early in his career that he recognizes such acting for what it is. It should be recalled that he himself was an actor as well as a playwright. The student will find relevant a more famous expression of dramatic criticism written by the mature Shakespeare in Hamlet, III. ii. 1-40.

The lord mayor was Sir Edmund Shaw (or Shaa), who had been elected in 1482. History reports that he indeed took an active part in influencing the succession of the crown on the death of Edward IV. The grateful Richard later made him a privy councilor. Doctor Shaw, whom Gloucester sends for at the end of the scene, was the lord mayor's brother. He was chosen by Richard to preach a sermon at St. Paul's Cross on June 22, 1483, wherein he impugned the validity of Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and even asserted that Edward and Clarence were bastards. More states that both Shaw and Friar Penker were great preachers but adds that both were "of more learning than virtue, of more fame than learning." He further states that the brothers Shaw were taken into the confidence of Richard and Buckingham after Hastings' death.

Although the audience already is fully aware of why Hastings has been rushed to his death, Shakespeare chose to emphasize the complete illegality of Richard's action. He does so in Scene 6 by introducing the professional writer of legal documents with his non-dramatic but pointed speech. Like the lengthy exchange between Clarence and his murderers (I. iv.), the scene underscores the fact that the Shakespeare of Richard III was especially interested in the theme of revenge and develops it from more than one point of view. Further, the scrivener gives expression to what one critic has called "the smothered feeling of indignation that boils in men's minds under a tyrannical dynasty." Recall how Shakespeare had used the three London citizens for a comparable purpose in Act II, Scene 3.

It may be argued that Scene 7, the final scene of Act III, is quite as contrived as is the scene in which Richard woos and wins Lady Anne (I. ii.), but in its way it is no less entertaining and theatrically effective. The element of suspense is first introduced. We learn that Buckingham has followed his directions to the letter but that there is little evidence of popular support for Richard, who inveighs against the citizens, calling them "tongueless blockheads." Yet this apparent setback is really a challenge that, ably assisted by Buckingham and Catesby, he meets successfully. He succeeds in making the mayor and his group believe that the office seeks the man, not the man the office, and that they must assume responsibility accordingly. The arrival of the mayor and others and the dramatic appearance of Richard aloft, standing between two bishops, provide first-rate spectacle.

Much already has been said about Richard's superior intellect and cunning; his entire performance in this scene substantiates all that. But Buckingham's accomplishments must not be ignored. As a matter of fact, they add to those of Gloucester, who picked and schooled him in the art of dissembling. Here Buckingham proves himself capable enough to coach his master on how to present himself to the lord mayor and the citizens. The duke has even picked up Richard's trick of using pious oaths, as when he swears "by the holy Mother of Our Lord" (2), which, in context, is deeply ironical.

Once more much is made of the allegation that Edward IV's heirs are not legitimate. Lady Elizabeth Lucy had been one of the king's mistresses, but there is no record of a betrothal despite Buckingham's assertion that the Duchess of York had been a witness to such a ceremony (180). But all chroniclers agree that Edward was secretly married to Elizabeth Woodville when the Earl of Warwick had already succeeded in obtaining King Louis of France's consent to the marriage of the Lady Bona. These events are dramatized in Henry VI, Part Three, Act III, Scene 3. In accordance with canon law that prevailed before the Reformation, Edward could not have married Elizabeth Woodville legally. But, of course, Edward remained in England and may not have had news of Warwick's action. More telling is the accusation of "loathed bigamy" (189). Bigamy, defined as either marrying two virgins successively or once marrying a widow, had been declared unlawful and infamous by canon law in the thirteenth century. The reader will recall, however, that Lady Anne was a widow when Richard wooed her. The essential point is that Buckingham marshals every possible argument in an attempt to prove that Richard is the rightful heir to the throne.

It should be understood that when he salutes Richard as "England's royal king" (240), he is using the term royal in a very special sense well understood by Shakespeare's generation. It meant that Richard was not merely royal in rank, having been chosen king, but royal in descent. Essential to Richard's purpose is that he be accepted as a lawful king, not as a usurper.

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