The True Tragedy of Richard the Third
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE TRUE TRAGEDY
OF RICHARD THE THIRD
See Ramon Jiménez, “‘The True Tragedy of Richard the Third’: Another History Play by Edward de Vere.” The Oxfordian 7 (2004): 115-151.
The play was printed anonymously in 1594 and combines Senecan revenge drama with English history (Farina 146). It has been considered a source for Shakespeare’s Richard III, but has largely been ignored even among the apocrypha. It may have been a collaborative effort of de Vere along with Munday, Greene, and/or other “former Fisher’s Folly-ites” (Anderson 238).
Jiménez explores the extensive and distinctive parallels, hendiadys, the embellishment of the roles of the Stanley family and the thirteenth Earl of Oxford, and makes the sturdy case for de Vere’s authorship after Famous Victories but before Edmund Ironside.
The Ghost of George, Duke of Clarence, recites two lines of Latin. Personified abstractions, Poetry and Truth, converse. Truth asks Poetry, “what makes thou upon a stage?” (8). “Shadowes,” replies Poetry (9). Truth will infuse the production with some relatively recent tragedy, picking up with the Wars of the Roses at the end of Edward IV’s reign and the time of his brother Richard of Gloster’s rise. George, the third brother, Richard “drowned in a but of wine” (49). Truth, go figure, describes Richard as “A man ill shaped, crooked backed, lame armed, withall, / Valiantly minded, but tyrannous in authoritie” (57); but he is now Lord Protector. Poetry and Truth “Exeunt,” but I suppose I’m not to take that symbolically.
The dying Edward IV patches up a quarrel between Lord Hastings and Lord Marcus, then gives his last farewells.
Shore’s Wife, Edward IV’s mistress, frets about Fortune with her maid. She has heard only that the King was sick but fears his foes now. The servant Lodwicke ambiguously reports that the King has “recovered / That he long lookt for” (234-235). Eventually Shore’s Wife understands that he has died, laments her future, and is particularly woeful on learning that Richard, Duke of Gloster, is now Protector.
A Citizen hopes servant Morton will repay a loan; Morton speaks of general uncertainty in light of the King’s death. Mistress Shore has been kind to them both, but now all seems grim.
Richard dismisses his entourage: “The houre commands your absence, / Leave me, and every man looke to his charge” (342-343). In a soliloquy, Richard considers his situation: “my father got the Crowne, my brother won the Crowne, / And I will weare the Crowne, Or ile make them hop without their crownes that denies me” (366-368). “Why what are the babes but a puffe of / Gun-pouder? a marke for the soldiers, food for fishes…?” (376-377). A letter arrives from the Duke of Buckingham, who will end up being Richard’s right-hand man. The young new King, Richard’s nephew, travels towards his coronation with Earl Rivers, Lord Gray, and others of the widow Queen’s kin. When Richard departs, the Page remaining remarks, “I see my Lord is fully resolved to climbe, but how hee climbes ile leave that to your judgements” (475-476). With Richard as Protector, nobles are fleeing the country. “Ile set a locke on my lips, for feare my tongue grow too wide for my mouth” (488-489).
Before various lords, the new young King, and his brother the Duke of York, Earl Rivers notes that between “the two houses of Lancaster and Yorke, the league of friendship is yet but greene betwixt them, and little cause of variance may cause it breake” (500-502). The King hopes to live long enough to “roote out this malice & envie sowne among the nobilitie” (530-531). They continue towards London.
Richard’s Page instructs an Inn-keeper, or Hoste, that he must prepare a room for the Protector as close as possible to Lord Rivers’ room and give Richard the keys to all chambers. Disobedience is considered treason, and the Hoste laments, “what a troublesome vocation am I crept into” (581-582).
Earl Rivers finds himself a prisoner. Richard, with Buckingham in tow, calls him “Judas” (600) and treacherous “ringleader” (604). Rivers protests his innocence but Richard orders his conveyance to Pomphret Castle. Richard tells Buckingham to block all highways: “If any aske the cause why they may not passe, use my authoritie, and if he resist shoot him through” (671-672). Next, they “take post horse to Stony Stratford” (673).
Gray, in the compnay of the new King and others, worries about the absence of Rivers. Soon Richard and Buckingham arrive, with Richard pretending fiercely to be protecting his nephew from enemies. The young man wants to bail out his kin, especially Lord Gray, but Richard claims these traitors are treating the boy like a child and taking advantage of him. Off we all go to the coronation.
The fretful Queen Mother, her child the Duke of York, and her daughter Elizabeth confer. A messenger brings news that Rivers, Gray, and other kin are now imprisoned by Richard “Where I feare he will butcher them all” (829). The Archbishop of York comes to take the Duke of York to his brother the new King. The Queen Mother resists, not wanting to “send him to be butchered” (862). But the Archbishop (or Cardinal) reassures her that the two brothers “shall both this night sleepe in the Tower” before tomorrow’s coronation (867). The Duke will be taken away by force if necessary, even though the Queen Mother points out that it’s a violation of sancutary. The Archbishop remarks, “A heavie case when Princes flie for aide, where cut-throates, rebels, and bankerouts should be” (877-878).
Richard’s Page informs us that the Queen’s kin have been
secretly put to death without judgement: the like was never seen in England. He spares none whom he mistrusteth to be a hinderer to his proceedings, he is straight chopt up in prison. The valiant Earle of Oxford being but mistrusted, is kept close prisoner in Hames Castle. (903-908)
Word is being spread that the two princes are bastards. The Lord Mayor and Aldermen offered to make Richard king, “which he refused so faintly, that if it had bene offered once more, I know he would have taken it” (913-914). Richard enters, conspiring with Catesby. Soon he starts a meeting accusing the Queen Mother of witchcraft with the assistance of Shore’s Wife: “my withered arme is a sufficient testimony, deny it if thou canst” (946). Richard accuses Hastings of having an affair with Shore’s Wife and being another traitor. Hastings is taken away. Richard tells Catesby that Buckingham is drumming up support for Richard as king among the citizens of London. Richard turns to his Page and acts reluctant and coy about his next wish. After the Page begs for him to tell what it is he would like, Richard reveals, “Why thus it is, I would have my two Nephewes the young Prince and his brother secretly murthered” (992-993). The Page refers to “one James Terrell” (996) who will receive instructions.
Shore’s Wife is reduced to beggary. She seeks help from Lodowicke, whose lands she had helped restore to him. But for fear of being seen speaking with her, Lodowicke resolves, “I will shun her company and get me to my chamber, and there set downe in heroicall verse, the shameful end of a Kings Concubin, which is no doubt as wonderfull as the desolation of a kingdome” (xi.1076-1079). Shore’s Wife’s laments resemble Timon’s: “all my friends now forsake mee: In prosperitie I had many, but in adversitie none” (xi.1082-1084). Two Citizens approach, but “hedges have eyes, and high-wayes have eares” (xi.1102-1103). She had saved the life of the one man’s son, but “if thou hadst not, another would: and for my part, I would he had been hanged seven yeeres ago, it had saved me a great deale of mony then” (xi. 1126-1128). Next, Morton and a servant come along, speaking of Richard and Buckingham haven fallen out and of rumors concerning the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Shore’s Wife gets no help from them either.
Brokenbery gives Terrell the keys to the Princes’ prison. Terrell has Myles Forest enlist Will Sluter, a.k.a. “blacke Will” (xii.1215), and Jack Denten as murderers. They consider options, many of which Will regards as involving “more adoo then needes, I pray bring mee where they are, and ile take them by the heeles and beate their braines against the walles” (xii.1238-1240). Terrell thinks that’s “too tyrannous” (xii.1241) and decides they should be smothered. The Princes enter and chat with Forest, the young King noticing potential wordplay with the name Will Slawter. When the murders are committed, Forest instructs, “goe and bury them at the heape of stones at the stair foote” (xii.1314-1315); “and anon ile carry them where they shall be no more found againe, nor all the cronicles shall nere make mention what shall become of them” (xii.1323-1325).
An attempt is made to arrest the Duke of Buckingham for helping to bring who he considers the “lawfull King, which is Henry Earle of Richmond now in Brittaine, and meanes ere long to land at Milford Haven in Wales” (xiii.1369-1371). Buckingham regrets his aid to Richard and loses sleep over the Princes’ murders: “But vaunt Buckingham, thou wast altogether innocent of their deaths” (xiii.1385-1386). Ha. He curses Richard: “Let vengeance, mischiefes, tortures, light on thee and thine. And after death thou maist more torture feele, then when Exeon turnes the restlesse wheele” (xiii.1388-1390.
Richard is losing his composure, acknowledging his guilty conscience. But he quickly sneers at the notion of his repentence. He is paranoid, even of Catesbie who reports the execution of the Duke of Buckingham at Salisbury. Richard is nervous about Richmond, especially his being decended from Henry IV. Lord Standley is Richmond’s father, so when he requests a travel permit from Richard, Richard accuses him of aiding Richmond and demands that his other son George remain essentially as a hostage with Richard and the court to ensure Standley’s loyalty. Standley reluctantly agrees to this, and Richard sends the boy to prison. Lovell brings the response of Lady Elizabeth (sister to the dead Princes) to Richard’s proposal of marriage. The former Queen will come to court with her daughters. Then a messenger brings news of the Peeres other plans and that the Earl of Oxford has escaped imprisonment and joined Richmond. Richard vows to face Richmond: “I wil meet him with such melodie, that the singing of a bullet shal send him merily to his longest home” (xiv.1637-1638).
Richmond commends his allies, “And here Earle of Oxford plites his faith to thee, / Never to leave in what we have undertane, / But follow still with resolution, / Till thou be crownd as conquerer in the field” (xv.1657-1660). Oxford refers to him as “cousin Richmond” (xv.1664). Richmond will be a good gardener to a realm “Where brambles, briars, and thornes, over-grow those sprigs” (xv.1689). Oxford vows some more:
Oxford did never beare so base a minde
He will not winke at murthers secretly put up,
Nor suffer upstarts to enjoy our rightes,
Nor live in England under an usurping king,
And this is Oxfords resolution.
A messenger tells Richmond of other allies. Although Arnoll Butler was an enemy in the past, Oxford asserts, “wee are now to strengthen our selves with friends, and not to reape up olde quarrels, say that Arnoll Butler did injurie you in the time of peace, the mendes is twice made, if he stand with you in the time of warres” (xv.1738-1741). Richmond presses onwards, with “My Lord of Oxford, you as our second self” (xv.1750).
Richard’s Page describes to us the King’s paranoia. He sees men fleeing Richard’s side to join Richmond’s camp. “Why these the villaines my Lord would have put his life into their hands” (xvi.1795-1796). Richmond dismisses Oxford, but Oxford worries: “Good my Lord have a care of your self, I like not these night walkes and scouting abroad in the evenings so disguised” (xvi.1810-1811), apparently like Henry V. Richmond responds, “Content thee good Oxford, and tho I confesse my self bound to thee for thy especiall care, yet at this time I pray thee hold me excused” (xvi.1818-1820). Standley, Richmond’s father, speaks with him, despite George as hostage. Tomorrow will be the battle at Bosworth.
Richard, like so many privileged Shakespeare characters, bemoans the lot of a king: “The hell of life that hangs upon the Crowne, / The daily cares, the nightly dreames…” (xvii.1874-1875). Catesbie reports that Lord Standley is defying Richard. Richard asks if it was clear that he’d be sending Standley’s son’s decapitated head to him. “My Lord … he answered, he has another sonne left to make Lord Standley” (xvii.1937-1938). No time for executions, though; the enemy is nigh. Richard expects betrayal even by his closest friends now. “Sirs you that be resolute follow me, the rest go hang your selves” (xvii.1981-1982).
Richard is wounded and shouts, “A horse, a horse, a fresh horse” (xviii.1985). Despite the advice of his Page, he refuses to flee. Richmond enters and kills Richard in battle.
“Report” asks the Page, “How may I know the certain true report of this victorious battel fought to day, my friend what ere thou beest, tel unto mee the true report, which part hath wonne the victorie, whether the King or no?” (xix.2003-2006). The Page says the King is slain, others are dead, Catesbie beheaded. The Page also reports the final battle between Richard and Richmond, emphasizing Richard’s heroism in the end: “Richard came to fielde mounted on horsback, with as high resolve as fierce Achillis mongst the sturdie Greekes” (xix.2018-2020); “worthie Richard that did never flie, but followed honour to the gates of death” (2026-2027).
Richmond, Oxford, Standley, and others rejoice. Oxford is first to be praised and the first to recite, “Henry the seventh, by the grace of God, King of England, France, and Lord of Ireland, God save the King” (xx.2093-2094). Richmond promises “to root abuses from this common welth, which now flowes faster then the furious tyde that overflowes beyond the bankes of Nile” (xx.2098-2100). He will marry an obedient Princess Elizabeth, “And we pray all, that faire Elizabeth may live for aye, and never yeeld to death” (xx.2116-2117), says the former Queen. Standley is saddened by the death of his son George, but messengers enter with the boy. Richard’s corpse will be drawn naked through the streets of Lester. Messengers address us, the audience, summarizing the coming royal generations up to Edward VI. The Princess Elizabeth actor mentions Mary Tudor’s reign. The Queen actor praises Queen Elizabeth I, “a mirrour in her age” (xx.2192), bringing “peace and plentie” (xx.2199). “The Turke admires to heare her government” (xx.2208); “The Turke hath sworne never to lift his hand, / To wrong the Princesse of this blessed land” (xx.2212-2213). “For if her Graces dayes be brought to end, / Your hope is gone, on whom did peace depend” (xx.2222-2223).