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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Elisa

King Richard III

Setting: 1477-1485 AD

London, UK


My really abridged plot summary: England is finally at peace under the reign of King Edward IV... but his youngest brother, Richard, is power hungry and bitter about his lot in life, especially his physical deformity. He plots to take the throne and kill anyone who stands in his way. He manipulates the recently-widowed Lady Anne into marrying him at the funeral of the late King Henry VI, after he admits to killing both him and her husband!!! He engineers the imprisonment, and then murder, of his brother Clarence; and then uses his death to guilt his eldest brother, the King, to such an extreme that he dies. After Edward's death, Richard is appointed Lord Protector and will be in charge of England until his nephews, Edward's heir (or spare) come of age. Richard has them sent to the Tower, and then orchestrates their murder (the infamous Princes in the Tower). Richard's efforts to secure his claim have been successful and he is finally accepted as King... but rebellions are rising in England. Henry, Earl of Richmond, is gaining support in opposition to Richard, and be begins to assemble forces. Richard has his wife, Anne, poisoned to further consolidate his power. He then plots to marry the young Princess Elizabeth (of York). He goes to her mother, Queen Elizabeth (Woodville), to ask for permission, but she stalls and seeks out Margaret (yes, that Margaret) to curse Richard. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth promises her daughter's hand to Henry. Richard's control begins to slip and he becomes increasingly paranoid. Both Buckingham and Henry lead rebellions against him. During the former, Buckingham is captured and executed. Both sides prepare for battle. That night, Richard is haunted by the ghosts of his victims in a dream. During the battle, Richard is abandoned by Lord Stanley, he tries to have him executed, but is unsuccessful. Richard is "unhorsed" and Henry kills him and claims the throne, he will go on to become Henry VII (Henry Tudor).

My favorite quotes:

But then I sigh, with a piece of Scripture

Tell them that God bids us to do evil for good;

And thus I clothe my naked villany

With odd old ends stolen out of Holy Writ;

And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.

~Richard, I.iii

I am hungry for revenge

~Queen Margaret, IV.iv


O, wonderful, when devils tell the truth!


More wonderful, when angels are so angry.



  • Overall Impression: 10- I LOVE this play. It's absolutely iconic and it's driven by a villain, which I really love.

  • Use of Language: 9- Richard has so many amazing speeches in this play. It's so good!

  • Protagonist Arc: 10- Richard is easily one of Shakespeare's most iconic villains. Literally this whole play is Richard being like "It's me, hi. I'm the problem, it's me!" He's such an anti-hero because you cannot help but be compelled by him, sort of like Iago in Othello. That compelling charisma comes from the sheer number of soliloquies he has. Right from the start, he has the audience wrapped around his finger. Much of history's interpretation and opinions about Richard III are based on Shakespeare's characterization of him. There's recently been a movement of historians who have begun to avidly call for a more fair assessment of his actual character and not villainize him to the extent that Shakespeare does. The mystery of the Princes in the Tower will ALWAYS remain a mystery, so much time and effort has gone into trying to debunk what actually happened to them. I personally do believe that Richard probably did have something to do with it... but that's just my opinion. There's certainly something to be said about the fact that Shakespeare's play was written during the Tudor period (which began when Henry VII defeated the "evil" Richard III), so there are a many royal and political biases against Richard III already, and I'm positive Shakespeare was eager to appeal to Elizabeth's Tudor Anti-Richard sentiments. It is also important to note that early modern ideas about the human body directly relates to the characterization of Richard. It was THE belief that bodily imperfections or abnormalities were a direct reflection of a person's soul/character. So Richard having a physical deformity was taken to mean that he was perceived to be inherently imperfect, and therefore more susceptible to villainy. This is an incredibly ableist world-view, but it is the one that all Elizabethan's, including Shakespeare, held.

  • Female Characters: 9- The debate about Anne's character is one that I find particularly interesting. The whole woo-ing scene has perplexed scholars for centuries now, and I completely understand why. We have a woman who is deep in mourning and is being manipulated by a very charismatic and powerful man. There's generally three interpretations of her character. The first being that she makes the choices she does out of fear. The second is that she's acting out of self-preservation and has more agency/cunningness than she's often given credit for. And the final one is that she's truly been manipulated/won over by Richard. I think this question should truly be up to actor's and director's choice. It makes for such interesting character choices! Elizabeth Woodville is such a bad b! And I can't forget to mention the queen of all queens, Margaret of Anjou who literally just shows up and curses at everyone the whole time. So iconic.

  • Fits Genre: 10- This is THE History play! It's the one that most people are familiar with, and it always does well in the box office.

  • Overall Enjoyment: 10- What a slay! Love an anti-hero play.

  • Hype Worthy: 9- It's probably the most popular History play, and honestly pretty popular in general. Some people are quick to judge because it is a History, but I've already talked at-length about how the Histories are categorized, so I won't bore you with my soap box on that again.

  • Emotional Impact: 9- This isn't the most existential or emotional play. Of course my heart goes out to all the poor women of this play. Ugh, none of them are treated well. The point was certainly not for anyone to feel "bad" for Richard, but I do think a protagonist has to be compelling in on way or another for a play to work.

Total: 76/80

Average: 9

5 out of 5 stars

Further Reading:

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