Shakespeare’s blazing melodrama
* Richard, Duke of Gloucester – Later King Richard III. Misshapen in
physique as in mind, but facially very handsome. After Hamlet, the
longest part in a Shakespeare play (1,164 lines).
* Lady Anne – Daughter-in-law of Henry VI, married Richard after
wooing over the coffin of her husband, murdered by Richard. She vanishes
from the play after being crowned queen.
* Duke of Buckingham – The deep revolving witty guy who helps Richard
to the throne,
dies a horrible death later.
* Queen Margaret – Foul, wrinkled with Richard remembers her as a
* George, Duke of Clarence – Valued for his narrative dream in the
Tower when the dead Prince
of Wales cries to him.
* William, Lord Hastings – An uprighteous Lord Chamber lain whose
support for Edward’s heirs, lead him to sudden death.
* Sir James Tyrrel – The vicious associate of Richard who assigns him
to murder the innocent Princes at the Tower. He speaks the soliloquy,
quoting one of the murderers and informs Richard about the deaths.
Later, he is murdered (presumed) letting out a horrified, smothered cry.
* Henry, Earl of Richmond – Later King Henry VII. Richmond fulfills
Henry’s prophecy in
Henry VI – Part 3, IV.6 and is the Tudor equivalent to St George
destroying the dragon.
* Ghosts – They torture Richard in his dream before Bosworth and urge
him to ‘despair and die’ while Richmond in his quiet sleep, ‘live and
flourish’ ready to meet the enemy next morning,
Of dukes and knights, of murder and injustice, of greed and power,
Shakespeare wrought in a hundred characters to make Richard III his
foulest tragedy. How he depended upon history to draw his characters, no
one knows and as always, Shakespeare in his writing, was least concerned
about the accuracy of characters and events when he evolved a nasty plot
into a tragedy.
In Richard III, the greatest injustice was done in the name of power
in English history when Richard ordered the murder of his two innocent
nephews at the Tower of London for him to become the king. The pitiful
deaths of the young royals, have no parallel to date.
Written in 1592-3 and sited in England at a time of corrupt royalty.
Richard III is one whole sinister story full of foul deeds and murder
where King Richard plots against his own brother, Clarence and the
pitiful murder of innocence and tyrannical usurpation. Shakespeare has
no more dramatic opening than that in a London street where after they
Strangely, today, there exists a society to clear Richard’s name and
to prove that historians such as Thomas More, in a section of Halle’s
chronicles, vilified him in the Tudor cause. Yet, little can soften
Shakespeare’s blazing melodrama and the first scene here Richard limps
downstage to reveal himself in a soliloquy that begins: “Now is the
winter of our discontent and made glorious summer by this son of
York...” and he continues further, “I am determined to prove a villain
and hate the idle pleasures of these days. But Richard has to dispose
six people between himself and the throne.
The innocent, young princes, murdered
at the Tower of London by Richard III is the greatest
injustice done in the annals of English history and perhaps
second to shedding of innocent blood after the death of our
Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross
When his dying brother, Edward IV has gone, he takes the crown when
he has already removed one and the others to be dealt with later. First
comes the dissimulation with his elder brother, the Duke of Clarence. By
playing an Edward’s fears, he sends Clarence to the Tower.
Displaying false pity and concern, he confronts the bearers of the
coffin of Henry VI whom he had murdered followed by his daughter-in-law,
Lady Anne whose husband and her brothers too are killed by Richard. Out
of arrogance or mischief, he woos her over the coffin. Out of fear for
her life, she yields.
Later, he stirs trouble at courts while the former Queen Margaret,
unleashes hatred and humiliation at him. Richard orders the murder of
Clarence at the Tower and his corpse pushed into a butt of sweet wine.
Overwhelmed by Clarence’s death, King Edward dies.
Gloster : ‘This is the fruit of rashness, Mark’d you not, How that
the guilty kindred of the queen,
Look’d pale when they did hear of Clarence’s death
O’ they did urge it still unto the king
God will revenge it, Come lords, will you go To comfort Edward with
(Act II Scene I)
With Clarence’s death, the young Prince of Wales is brought from
Ludlow. Around this time, Richard and Buckingham along with their
associates, have taken charge of the situation, directing affairs the
way they wished. When the boy-prince arrives, he is ‘lodged’ in the
Tower along with his younger brother, both in their early teens.
According to their uncle, Richard, it is for the purpose of the
Richard orders the execution of all the men in the Queen’s party whom
he considers dangerous, few at a time. With their last enemy put to
death. Buckingham primed and secure, urges the Lord Mayor and citizens
of London to urge the unwilling Richard to accept the throne. Once
crowned, he makes sure to safeguard himself and inciting Tyrrel to
murder the two innocent Princes at the Tower.
‘The tyrannous and bloody act is done – The most arch deed of piteous
That ever yet this land was guilty of – Dighton and Forrest whom I
To do this piece of ruthless butchery – Albeit they were fleshed
villains, bloody dogs.
Melted with tenderness and mild compassion Wept like to children in
their death’s sad story – Oh thus lay the gentle babes Within their
alabaster innocent arms. Their lips were four red roses on a stalk And
in their summer beauty, kissed each other, a book of prayer on their
(Act IV Scene III)
Richard forsakes his wife to marry to wed his niece, Edward’s
daughter, Elizabeth. Buckingham revolts against him and raises an army.
The Earl of Richmond lands from France. Richard caught in a web he sees
no escape, must fight to keep the throne.
When he goes to war, he meets the invader at Bosworth Field, near
Leicester. Buckingham has been captured and executed. But his first
danger is Richmond.
The dominant part of the play is the scene in which Richard sees
Richmond in a harassed dream prior to the battle and is desperate to
kill him. He fights with despair, shouting, “A horse, A horse, my
kingdom for a horse, only to be defeated and killed.
A heavily performed play and recognized as melodrama of genius, where
Henry VI has too little history. This play has a tremendous advance on
its forerunners. The first edition was anonymous but the second that
appeared five years later, was in 1623.
Many character actors from around the world acted on stage the role
of Richard wallowing in its classicism of past royalty at their
deadliest hunger for power. The role offered them to display their
histrionics on talents and virtuousity.
Gifted theatre actors like Alan Howard, Alec Guiness, Sir Laurence
Olivier, etc fought their way to portray the role of deformed Richard.
And there was also the great John Barrymore who joined the parade in
1920. In July 1953, Sir Alec Guinness was a ‘dagger in the heart’ from
his first appearance at the opening festival in Stratford, Ontario.
The press called it the most exciting night in the history of the