Act 2 is considerably shorter than Act 1. It begins with Edward IV arranging a reconciliation of minor enemies within the House of York. But he seems to ignore the major conflicts within his own house, with his two brothers, and his own instruction to have Clarence killed. So Edward, though he may in one sense be Richard’s opposite, in another is Richard’s double, does not emerge as a model king. And when he hears that Clarence has been killed, he blames his courtiers for not advising him against it, thereby losing any respect that the audience might have still held for him.
In 2.2. we get yet another woman to denounce Richard — his mother! She has now turned her maternal attentions to Clarence’s children (her grandchildren). Maybe they serve as a preview of two of her other grandchildren, Edward IV’s two boys, who will be killed before long. More doubling? Edward’s queen enters, with news of King Edward’s death, so now we get a kind of three-part madrigal, in which Elizabeth weeps for Edward, the children weep for Clarence, and the Duchess for both Edward and Clarence. But the Yorkists still have one hope, and look forward to the crowning of Edward IV’s son, Prince Edward.
2.3 is a typical Shakespearean scene in which “citizens” comment on their betters, but it struck me that they sound a lot like their betters. 2.4 is another scene dominated by women, this time just Edward IV’s widow (Elizabeth) and her mother-in-law, the Duchess of York. We also have one of the young princes. It’s interesting that it’s not the elder, Prince Edward, heir to the throne, but the younger, Richard, Duke of York. My note says Edward was in fact 13 and Richard 11. The innocent chatter about who’s taller, and who is growing faster, makes this a kind of quiet interlude before more murderous violence. But we are reminded again about “uncle” Richard, who reportedly grew “so fast/ That he could gnaw a crust at two hours old.” Having come into the world with sharp teeth, he is about to use them again.
Edward’s speech in 2.2 expresses a brotherly regard, after Clarence’s death, for what Clarence has been to him, even to the point of blaming the court that no one encouraged him to spare Clarence. The duchess of York provides a mother’s sense of the tragedy of Clarence’s death and the nefas of Richard’s mockery of her as well as his guilt over Clarence. Women seem to provide a ground against which we understand the evil of Richard and Buckingham.