Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University




Richard and Buckingham welcome Prince Edward, presumably the next king to London, followed by a welcome from the Lord Mayor. "I want more uncles here to welcome me" (III.i.6), mourns the boy. Although Elizabeth has claimed sanctuary, as Hastings reports, Buckingham convinces Cardinal Bourchier that sanctuary is inappropriate for the Prince's younger brother, the Duke of York.

Prince Edward asks Richard where they will reside until the coronation. "The mention of the Tower brings up Shakespeare's favorite historical character, and the young King talks sententiously of Julius Caesar" (Asimov 708). The discussion of Julius Caesar building the Tower (he didn't) and the nature of historical record is intriguing in light of this play's own evolution and the issue of who controls historical "text."

But say, my lord, it were not regist'red,
Methinks the truth should live from age to age,
As 'twere retail'd to all posterity,
Even to the general all-ending day.
"So wise so young, they say do never live long" (III.i.79), Richard privately remarks.

Little Richard (!), the Duke of York, is brought by Hastings and the Cardinal. He also seems precocious but more perceptive, toying, we know dangerously, with uncle Richard over the topic of his weapons and ending with a reference to Richard's deformed back (III.i.130-131). Buckingham considers the kid "cunning" (III.i.135). Richard thinks "He is all the mother's, from top to toe" (III.i.156).The boys will be housed in the Tower.

Richard sends Catesby to sound out Hastings regarding succession options. Stanley will be loyal to Hastings. If Hastings proves unsupportive of their plots, Richard tells Buckingham, "Chop off his head" (III.i.193). Richard tells Buckingham that he'll inherit an earldom and properties when Richard is king. The elder Ogburns think Oxford has Raleigh in mind as Buckingham in the final revision of the play (Ogburn and Ogburn 1119).


According to a messenger to Hastings, Lord Stanley has had a dream of a boar (an armorial identification of Richard) that "rased off his helm" (III.ii.11). This and a further boar reference (III.ii.28-30) function well as warnings from de Vere to his former friends in 1581 (Ogburn and Ogburn 320). That possibility notwithstanding, Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby, enjoys a prominent place in the play (Ogburn and Ogburn 1121), and his descendant William was de Vere's son-in-law and possibly his last secretary.

Catesby finds that Hastings does not support Richard: "I'll have this crown of mine cut from my shoulders / Before I'll see the crown so foul misplac'd" (III.ii.43-44). Stanley arrives and wants to flee northwards, but Hastings trusts in the coming councils. Hastings acts overconfident that Fortune now favors him, what with former enemies of his having been arrested, and so he is obviously doomed.


Three nobles on Elizabeth Woodville's side (Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan) are sentenced by Ratcliffe to death in Pomfret.

O Pomfret, Pomfret! O thou bloody prison!
Fatal and ominous to noble peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls
Richard the Second here was hack'd to death;
And for more slander to thy dismal seat,
We give to thee our guiltless blood to drink.
Grey realizes that Queen Margaret's curse is being actualized.


Nobles gather to decide on the coronation, presumably to rubberstamp young Edward's succession. Richard enters late, casually, and self-dismissively: "I have been long a sleeper; but I trust / My absence doth neglect no great design, / Which by my presence might have been concluded" (III.iv.23-25). He seems pleasant and compliments the Bishop of Ely on the strawberries from his garden, which the Lord sends for. Richard draws Buckingham aside for a private word.

The Bishop has the strawberries but where is Richard? Hastings remains cheery and confident of amity. But Richard returns to the assembly outraged and insisting that Queen Elizabeth and the mistress Jane Shore (now Hastings' lover) are witches responsible for Richard's withered arm. (One wants to ask about the logic of this concerning the timeframe.) Hastings is declared a traitor: "Off with his head!" (III.iv.76). Hastings laments the future of England, but Ratcliffe tells him to "Make a short shrift" (III.iv.95) -- a brief final confession -- before the execution, because Richard is anxious to start his dinner.

Passages in this scene (esp. III.iv.96-101) seem applicable to the Tudor Queen Elizabeth's fickleness and unreliability (Ogburn and Ogburn 321).


Richard helps Buckingham hone his acting craft, asking,

Come, cousin, canst thou quake and change thy color,
Murther thy breath in middle of a word,
And then again begin, and stop again,
As if thou were distraught and mad with terror?
Buckingham assures him:
Tut, I can counterfeit the deep tragedian,
Speak and look back, pry on every side,
Tremble and start at wagging of a straw;
Intending deep suspicion, ghastly looks
Are at my service, like enforced smiles;
And both are ready in their offices
At any time to grace my strategems.

They put on a show of righteous sorrow in front of the Lord Mayor regarding the "traitor" Hastings, whose severed head Ratcliffe brings in. They successfully convince the Mayor that Hastings had been hatching murderous plots. Richard afterwards instructs Buckingham to spread rumors about the illegitimacy of Edward's line. This is historically implausible, since it could cast a shadow on Richard himself and would be unnecessary and irrelevant: "It sufficed that Edward V and the young Duke of York were illegitimate" (Asimov 718). But "we are once again led by the Bard into a prolonged dramatic conflict over the issue of bastardy" -- another perpetual de Vere concern (Farina 148). Consider the scene (esp. III.v.71-77) in light of the Prince Tudor hypothesis (Ogburn and Ogburn 1120).


A scribe realizes that the indictment against Hastings must have been prepared suspiciously long before the accusation, but that it's best to shut up:

Here's a good world the while! Who is so gross
That cannot see this palpable device?
Yet who's so bold but says he sees it not?
Why does Shakespeare include this scene? Is this play about the gems of truth being swallowed up by oceanic oblivion?


Buckingham reports that he has spread lies about bastardy, but that the English people were mute about the notion of Richard as king, "like dumb statuës, or breathing stones" (III.vii.25). So "despite his avowed theatricality [at the start of III.v], Buckingham's performance fails.... the response is disappointing" (Garber 143). Plants in the crowd had to do the cheering. Richard calls the citizens "tongueless block[head]s" (III.vii.42), but the entire play betrays an "elitist distrust of the commons" (Anderson 243).

Through Cateby and Buckingham, Richard sets up a scene whereby the Lord Mayor, city officials, and citizens enter to see Richard in pious poses, apparently taken by surprise with Buckingham's pleadings that Richard accept the crown. Buckingham insists his country needs him:

The noble isle doth want her proper limbs;
Her face defac'd with scars of infamy,
Her royal stock graft with ignoble plants,
And almost should'red in the swallowing gulf
Of dark forgetfulness and deep oblivion.
Richard is o so reluctant: "That I would rather hide me from my greatness ... Than in my greatness covet to be hid / And in the vapor of my glory smother'd" (III.vii.161-164). There is a perverse delight taken here in the power of "acting" -- a perpetual enthusiasm within Shakespeare's plays. "This staged appearance, like a modern 'photo opportunity,' is glossed by interested parties for the benefit of the candidate" (Garber 144). Buckingham threatens: "Your brother's son shall never reign our king, / But we will plant some other on the throne, / To the disgrace and downfall of your house" (III.vii.215-217). Richard finally agrees, "Albeit against my conscience and my soul" (III.vii.226).

Act IV

Shakespeare Index