Richard III condensed

Late in the last play Richard duke of Gloucester had stabbed Henry VI to death in his prison cell.  Just before he murdered Henry VI, this Richard, along with his brothers, had stabbed to death Henry VI’s only child, his eighteen year old Prince Edward.  Very late in the last play this Richard’s older brother, Edward IV (unilaterally appointed king by Warwick, The Kingmaker) and his wife had announced the birth of their son, the latest Prince Edward.  This is the Plantagenet brothers’ time. This is their play. They represent the York faction of this huge royal Plantagenet family, and they are now in charge.  The year is 1471.  The Lancaster side of the family has been in charge in England since 1400, when Henry IV succeeded his cousin Richard II.

Act 1. This Richard opens the play with “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.”  Richard quietly has his brother Clarence sent to prison.  Edward IV is reported to be “sickly, weak and melancholy.” This Richard successfully woos Lady Anne, the late Prince Edward’s widow and Henry VI’s daughter-in-law, acknowledging all along that he was party to her husband’s and father-in-law’s murders.  He’s cool and smooth. She accepts his ring.  The banned-from-England Queen Margaret, Henry VI’s widow, lashes out at Richard, she having never left England. She is one of the few who can stand up to him. This Richard has his brother Clarence killed, blaming his other brother the king. 

Act 2.  Being in very poor health, Edward IV reminisces.  He tries to bring harmony to the family.  A shrieking Queen Elizabeth, the Lady Grey, lets us know her husband, Edward IV, has died.  The Duchess of York, the Plantagenet brothers’ mother, mourns the deaths of three of her sons, blaming in part the fourth, Richard, for two of the deaths. Lady Grey’s brother tells his sister “bethink you of the young prince your son. Send straight for him. Let him be crowned.”  Buckingham, a close aide to Richard, overhears the comment.  He tells Richard “My lord, whoever journeys to the Prince, for God’s sake let not us two stay at home.” 

Act 3.  Richard has the young Prince Edward, heir to the throne, “intercepted” on his way to London.  Richard, having earlier been appointed Lord Protector of Edward IV’s sons, has this prince (and the prince’s younger brother) sent to London’s Tower, telling the young man that “the Tower is most fit for your best health and recreation.”  At about this same time Richard has the Lady Grey’s brothers (Rivers and Grey) executed at Pomfret Castle.  Richard and Buckingham believe that the quickest route to the crown for Richard is through London’s mayor.  Buckingham is glib.  He prepares to speak to the public from Guildhall.  He suggests Richard stand near him with “a prayer book in your hand and stand between two churchmen. Play the maid’s part: still answer ‘nay,’ and take it.”  It works.  Richard duke of Gloucester is now Richard III. 

Act 4. Queen Elizabeth (Lady Grey), the Duchess of York and Lady Anne leave for the Tower to visit the young Prince Edward and his brother Richard.  The prison official tells the ladies that the boys’ Lord Protector (now Richard III) has denied the boys all visitor rights.  Anne, by now Richard III’s wife, learns that she must rush to Westminster to be named England’s queen.  Edward IV’s widow, Elizabeth, fearing the worse, has her son by a previous marriage flee to the earl of Richmond, now living in France, Richmond being a prospective English king in waiting. Richard lets people know that his Queen Anne is “very grievous sick.”  He now plans to marry Elizabeth, the Lady Grey and his brother, the late Edward IV’s, daughter. His plan is to get young Elizabeth’s mother to make it all work.  Richard III instructs Buckingham to murder the two boys being held in the Tower.  Buckingham begs time to think about it.  Richard III hires a “discontented gentleman” to kill the prince and his brother. The man does. Richard dismisses Buckingham.  Buckingham forms an army of his own of “hardy Welshmen.”  Lady Grey agrees to help Richard win her daughter, but tells him “I will confess she was not Edward’s daughter.”  Shakespeare paints Richard III as both charming and despicable.  Richard III learns that “Richmond is on the seas.  He makes for England, here to claim the crown.” Richmond “with a mighty power” lands in Wales.  Richard III tells an aide “Away towards Salisbury!  A royal battle might be won and lost.”

Act 5.  Buckingham is captured. Richard III has him executed. Richard III and Richmond march separately towards war. Ghosts visit each of the men, both encamped, planning for a battle the next morning.  The ghosts tell Richard III “despair and die.”  The ghosts tell Richmond “live and flourish.”  Richmond eloquently addresses his troops the next morning.  Richard III’s words are less inspiring. In the battle, Richard III’s horse dies.  He famously cries “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”  Richard III is soon slain. Henry Tudor, the earl of Richmond, accepts the crown of England; he now known as Henry VII.  The year is 1485.  The reign of the Tudor kings begins.