Richard III

One of Shakespeare’s most famous villains destroys everything in his path to get the crown.

Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end.

Duchess of York, Act 4, Scene 4

Civil war is over. The Yorks have defeated the Lancasters, and the eldest son of the York family is crowned King Edward IV of England.

The citizens are looking forward to a period of peace and stability, but Edward’s youngest brother, the “bunch-backed” Richard, Duke of Gloucester, has other ideas. Richard betrays his brother Clarence, woos his dead enemy’s wife, undermines Queen Elizabeth, threatens his friends, and kills his rivals on his bloody path to the crown. Once he has attained the highest office in the land, Richard realises how short-lived power can be. Left with only a handful of loyal followers, Richard’s inevitable demise is brought about at the Battle of Bosworth, and he is killed by Richmond, who assumes the crown as King Henry VII.

Richard III was Shakespeare’s first big hit, and the first of his plays to offer a vehicle for a virtuosic performance in a leading role. The play has over 50 speaking roles and is second in length only to Hamlet. It remains a contentious play to this day as some believe that Shakespeare’s villainous depiction of Richard is historically inaccurate.

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Rose Riley as Lady Anne and Kate Mulvany as Richard (2017)

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Kate Mulvany as Richard and James Evans as Buckingham (2017)


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Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.

Richard, Act 1, Scene 1

England is enjoying a period of peace after a long civil war between the royal families of York and Lancaster. The Lancastrian King Henry VI has been murdered by Richard Gloucester (the youngest son of the late Duke of York) and York’s eldest son has been crowned King Edward IV. But Richard is resentful of his older brother’s power and the general happiness of the state. Driven by ruthless ambition and embittered by his own physical deformity, he initiates a secret plot to take the throne by eradicating anyone who stands in his path.

Richard has King Edward suspect their brother Clarence of treason and he is imprisoned in the Tower by Brakenbury. Richard convinces Clarence that Edward’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, and her brother, Rivers, are responsible for this slander and Lord Hastings’ earlier imprisonment, and he swears sympathy and allegiance to Clarence. Richard then interrupts the funeral procession of Henry VI to woo Lady Anne (previously betrothed to Henry VI’s deceased son, again killed by Richard). He falsely professes his love for her as the cause of his wrongdoing, and despite her deep hatred for Richard, she is won over and agrees to marry him.

Richard creates conflict with Queen Elizabeth’s family, accusing them of Clarence’s demise. Queen Margaret, a long sufferer of Richard’s vengeance, warns them all against him. Meanwhile, in the tower Clarence is beginning to lose hope, when two murderers arrive to kill him, at Richard’s orders.

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Richard III (2017)

Famous lines

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.

Richard, Act 1, Scene 1

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Historical background

The principal source of information available to Shakespeare about Richard III was Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III, and the chronicle histories of Edward Hall and Raphael Holinshed.

Richard III (2017)

Fast facts

The play has 52 named characters, the most of any in Shakespeare’s canon.

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Debatable points

Why do we love Richard so?

Why is it that this notable tyrant, capable of the foulest deeds, and seemingly irredeemable, is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters? Richard III is Shakespeare’s first character to gain iconic status. It is a part that many stage actors have yearned to play, and many have defined their career by it.

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