Richard III, Act 3


The irony of 3.1 where Prince Edward notices the lack of uncles to protect him. The maternal uncles are missing as well as Clarence. And the remaining uncle, Richard, is his greatest danger. The breaking of sanctuary, encouraged by Buckingham, follows the prince’s being sent to the Tower, which he fears. And fears rightly of course. What do we make of the prince’s sense of the significance of Julius Caesar’s beginning of the Tower — and its fame of his building, even beyond documentation, lasting to the last judgment? It seems a curse. And the curse will be enacted for the prince and his brother. When that brother, young York, enters, he appears like many of Shakespeare’s children characters, precocious and clever. And he too seems apprehensive about the Tower. Edward says he fears no uncles dead, and Richard tries to except also uncles living, even as he is leading him to the Tower. The coming treachery toward them responds to Catesby’s treachery to Hastings. The scene at Pomfret seems to double that at the Tower; there the queen’s relatives are being led to death. Rivers recalls that it was the spot of origin of all the following treachery in the death of Richard II.

As preparations for the Prince’s coronation are supposedly going forward, Richard inquires of the strawberries in the Bishop of Ely’s garden. Is this a feint to avoid Ely? When Ely returns, Hastings remarks on Richard’s even temper and cheerfulness. But his put-on anger at Edward’s queen interrupts that; it seems to be a way to trap Hastings, who has seemed to doubt Richard’s accusation of Edward’s queen. Hastings leaves with a prophecy of disaster under Richard.

3.5 consolidates Richard’s power and claims to the throne. The prop head is now Hastings’, brought on by Catesby. Richard and Buckingham pretend pity and express disbelief at Hastings’ supposed treachery. It’s all to take in the lord mayor of London, which happens. And Buckingham is dispatched to doubt the legitimacy of Edward’s sons as well as his own. This is followed up by Buckingham’s report of his sowing doubt about Edward and his incitement of the London crowd to proclaim Richard’s kingship. But this requires encouragement, it seems, and the staging of his scene of pious reflection with two divines or two bishops. Buckingham enforces the contrast with Edward’s lasciviousness. Richard pretends a Caesar-like indifference to the crown, as Catesby and Buckingham stage manage the encouragement of kingship for Richard. Richard’s pretended reticence echoes his performance in the wooing of Lady Anne. Buckingham trowels it on in his pretense of Richard’s virtue, so that all seem eager to acclaim Richard as king at the end of the scene.

I think part of the appeal of these scenes is Richard’s actor-like presence; the actor is playing a Richard who is playing a role. I think Richard Burbage played Richard, and Burbage must have been a part of the inspiration.


When the young prince says he wants more uncles, he presumably means those on his father’s and his mother’s side, e.g., Clarence and Rivers, the latter now a prisoner at Pomfret. But the poor prince has more uncles than are good for him. There’s blatant irony in Richard’s words about “false friends.” (Much of the irony in the play is quite obvious. Richard is utterly shameless in his fair speech. And I guess he knows it. He explicitly compares himself to Iniquity in the old morality plays.) Do the princes “taunt and scorn” their uncle, or are they merely joking?

I don’t know what to make of the reference to Caesar. (He comes back in 4.4 when Richard says that Queen Elizabeth’s daughter will be “Caesar’s Caesar.”) Your suggestion about the request for strawberries makes sense. I had thought it just a deceptive make-nice gesture on Richard’s part.

In 3.1 the prince prepares for his coronation, and I kept expecting it to take place, but Shakespeare keeps to the historical record here: Prince Edward did indeed become Edward V but was never crowned.

In 3.4 Richard charges Hastings with “devilish plots” against his life. I think this is the first time Hastings — and the audience — has heard of them. And it’s a sign that Richard will turn on his friends.

In 3.7 Buckingham tries to persuade the citizens that Edward IV’s two children are bastards, but the citizens don’t buy it. He and Richard then put on a little play in which Buckingham calls on Richard to take the crown, and he modestly refuses, while B. insists. Why do citizens not object?

Dusty Griffin & Michael O'Connell