William Shakespeare's Works/Histories/Richard III

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Act Summaries and Notes[edit]

Overview and Contextual Notes[edit]

Begun circa 1593 and first published in Quarto in 1597, Richard III was written as a sort of sequel to Shakespeare's immensely successful Henry VI plays, which portrayed the Wars of the Roses between the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Richard is portrayed--falsely, historians agree--as an evil hunchback with a lame arm and a short leg. This is largely due to the propaganda efforts of Queen Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of King Henry VII, who kills Richard at the end of our play. As such, there are numerous historical inaccuracies, and although many of these will be addressed in this text, the reader is advised to at least glance over the Wikipedia entry on King Richard III.

Richard has been portrayed both in film and in audio (not to mention onstage) by numerous actors, including Laurence Olivier, Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh, John Barrymore, and others.

Plot Summary[edit]

Richard III is about King Richard III of England, the last of the Plantagenet Kings. When the play begins, he is the Duke of Gloucester, a large province in southern England. Over the course of the play, Richard commits increasingly repulsive crimes against members of his own family in order to become king, and is finally slain in battle by the Earl of Richmond, who becomes King Henry VII

Richard in Henry VI[edit]

Richard first appears in Henry VI, Part 2 as the third of four sons of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (historically, he was actually the youngest). Though his relationship with his brothers appears warm enough, the only person who shows true affection for Richard is his father, York. Many outside his family ridicule him due to his physical deformities. At the end of Henry VI, Part 2, he kills the Duke of Somerset, his father's arch-rival, and enters in the first scene of Part 3 with the slain Duke's head, much to the delight of his family. After York's death near the beginning of Henry VI, Part 3, Richard's darker motivations begin to manifest themselves. After he is made Duke of Gloucester, he delivers one of the longest soliloquies--if not the longest--that Shakespeare ever wrote, in which he presents his motivations and his plans to seize the crown. After a series of battles, in which he kills Edward, Prince of Wales, heir apparent to the throne, Richard goes to the Tower of London and murders Henry VI, who has been imprisoned by the Yorkists' victorious army.

Character Notes[edit]

The Duke of Gloucester (King Richard III)[edit]

Lady Anne[edit]

King Edward IV[edit]

Queen Elizabeth[edit]

The Duke of Buckingham[edit]

The Earl of Richmond[edit]

Sources Cited (Historical/Contextual Information Only):[edit]

[The Folger Shakespeare Library]