Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Richard III

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University



Even Queen Elizabeth, among others such as the Duchess of York and Anne (now “of Gloucester”), is turned away as a would-be visitor to the Tower. Brakenbury’s equating “Lord Protector” to “The King” (IV.i.17) is received with horror. Lord Stanley, though sympathetic and minimally helpful, must escort Anne to Westminster for the coronation. “Ah, cut my lace asunder, / That my pent-up heart may have some scope to beat, / Or else I swoon with this dead-killing news” (IV.i.33-35), exclaims Queen Elizabeth (as it seems the Tudor Queen Elizabeth must have uttered at some time or times too, especially given a similar Cleopatra anachronism). Anne would rather be tortured than become Queen at Richard’s side, and she recalls accidentally cursing herself by cursing whatever woman would marry Richard (IV.i.70ff). She says, revealingly, “never yet one hour in his bed / Did I enjoy the golden dew of sleep, / But with his timorous [fearful] dreams was still awak’d” (IV.i.82-84). The Marquess Dorset is sent to Richmond on the continent, and Elizabeth prays to the stones of the Tower.


Richard revels in kingship and expects Buckingham almost to read his mind: “Young Edward lives: think now what I would speak” (IV.ii.10). Buckingham is, or plays, obtuse. “Cousin, thou wast not wont to be so dull. / Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead” (IV.ii.17-18). And so “Richard incessantly surges on, from victim to victim” (Bloom 71). Buckingham needs a moment. So Richard instead asks a page, “Know’st thou not any whom corrupting gold / Will tempt into a close exploit of death?” (IV.ii.34-35).

I know a discontented gentleman
Whose humble means match not his haughty spirit.
Gold were as good as twenty orators,
And will, no doubt, tempt him to anything.

A fellow named Tyrrel will carry out the murders. De Vere’s stepfather was named Tyrrell, and at one point after his death, de Vere had a threatening dream about him with a whip (Ogburn and Ogburn 340; Farina 148-149).

Richard wants a commoner to marry Clarence’s daughter; the son is no problem, being dull-witted. Also, rumors should be spread that Anne is near death; Richard will want to marry his niece, Edward and Elizabeth’s daughter: sister to the about-to-die princes. (The historical fact is that Richmond worried that Richard would want to marry this girl; Tudors make assumptions about incest that most of us, including the historical Richard, are repelled by.)Richard acknowledges, “I am in / So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin” (IV.ii.63-64). He meets with Tyrrel to commission the murders.

Although Buckingham returns perhaps willing to carry out Richard’s whims, that moment of hesitation was enough for Richard to turn against him. “The actors are revolting against the director. The play is not proceeding as King Richard intends, and Buckingham refuses to take direction” (Garber 146). Buckingham persistently asks about the earldom and rewards Richard had promised before being crowned. But Richard deflects each attempt and finally says, “I am not in the giving vein to-day” (IV.ii.116). Buckingham knows Richard has turned against him and decides to flee.

We get a few first hints of inner trouble for Richard in this scene: he gnaws his lip (IV.ii.27), which Catesby takes to signify anger, “but it is the first indication that Richard’s will is slipping” (Goddard, I 37). He calls the princes “my sweet sleep’s disturbers” (IV.ii.73). He also starts recalling some ominous prophecies: “a bard of Ireland told me once / I should not live long after I saw Richmond” (IV.ii.106-107). Does Richard have a conscience after all?


The tyrannous and bloody act is done,
The most arch deed of piteous massacre
That ever yet this land was guilty of.

Tyrrel reports the murder of the princes, ascribing the crime indirectly to the nation. Somehow, the Yorks are symbols of national guilt. Tyrell claims that the two hired assassins, especially one of them, barely could manage the crime. Richard seems anxious for details far beyond the mere assurance of their deaths. But Tyrrel doesn’t know where the chaplain of the Tower buried the bodies (and they remained lost, walled up, until the 20th century).

* Why don’t we actually get to see the murder of the princes? After all, they did have lines earlier, so the children did have to be portrayed by reasonably good actors. And Shakespeare, bless him, will indeed kill kids onstage (witness little Winky MacDuff in Macbeth)….

Although Tyrrell seems like “some obscure ‘gunman for hire,'” he was actually Sir James Tyrrell — knight, Yorkist, and Member of Parliament in 1477 (Asimov 724-725). In 1502, under accusation of treason, he was reported to have confessed to supervising the killing of the boys, a confession that “was awfully convenient for Henry VII” (Asimov 725).

Richard has made arrangements for the kids of Clarence and intends to marry young Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV: “To her I go, a jolly thriving wooer” (IV.iii.43). Reports of rebellion arrive, and Buckingham has allied himself against Richard.

A warning regarding procrastination seems levelled at the Tudor Queen Elizabeth:

I have learn’d that fearful commenting
Is leaden servitor to dull delay;
Delay leads impotent and snail-pac’d beggary.

This echoes de Vere’s frustration which he expressed in a July 1581 letter to Burghley: “every little trifle gives her matter for a long delay” (qtd. in Ogburn and Ogburn 358).


The lamenting women play one-upwomanship over their grievous losses. Margaret almost gloats at the fulfillment of her predictions, but also curses herself: “From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept / A hell-dog that doth hunt us all to death: / That dog, that had his teeth before his eyes” (IV.iv.47-49). She is tempted not to be especially kind to former Queen Elizabeth: “Thous didst usurp my place, and dost thou not / Usurp the just proportion of my sorrow?” (IV.iv.109-110). Margaret will withdraw to France before the end of this tediously long scene. The Duchess of York asks, “Why should calamity be full of words?” (IV.iv.126). Elizabeth replies, “Let them have scope! though what they will impart / Help nothing else, yet do they ease the heart” (IV.iv.130-131).

Richard enters, and the Duchess and Elizabeth join in an attempt to afflict him with the names of his victims. Richard calls for military noise — trumpets and drums: “Either be patient and entreat me fair, / Or with the clamorous report of war / Thus will I drown your exclamations” (IV.iv.152-154). He is cursed by his mother again, who reports that he was “tetchy and wayward” as a child (IV.iv.169). Then, in an interchange reminiscent of the first scene with Lady Anne (I.ii), Richard makes his case with Elizabeth for wooing her daughter (whom Richmond, a.k.a. Henry Tudor intends to marry). It’s a long discussion, another brash outrage including a quick exchange of one-liners:

Richard      Say I will love her everlastingly.
Elizabeth     But how long shall that title “ever” last?

In the end, perhaps realizing all is hopeless, she consents. When she leaves, Richard sneers: “Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman” (IV.iv.431). Still, it’s possible that Elizabeth actually has not consented but is playing along, in which case the scene contrasts intriguingly with the one with Anne in Act I (Garber 135). This is a subject of interpretive debate.

As news trickles in, Richard seems to start losing his grip, forgetting to issue orders (IV.iv.486), hitting a messenger before finding out that the news is good (IV.iv.507), etc. Richard will hold Stanley’s son hostage to secure loyalty there. The Duke of Buckingham has reportedly been captured.


Lord Stanley sends word to his stepson Richmond that he cannot lend support since Richard is holding his son George as hostage. “Stanley was a twister and turner who never hesitated to be false to anyone, and in this way ended up always on top” (Asimov 732). Richmond is in Wales and has Elizabeth’s consent to marry her daughter. Many nobles including Oxford (IV.v.14) have joined Richmond.

Act V