William Shakespeare's "King Richard III".
"Richard III" is the fourth of William Shakespeare's plays, a History following on from the "Henry VI" History trilogy.
The Lancastrian Henry is dead, murdered at the Tower of London by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, youngest son of the Duke of York. Richard's elder brother, Edward, reigns but is the victim of his brother's
"inductions dangerous", as is the middle brother, George, Duke of Clarence .
Gloucester has already made clear in "Henry Vi Pt III" that the throne is his sole aim:
"I'll make my heaven to dream upon the crown
And, whiles I live, t'account this world but hell
Until my mis-shaped trunk that bears this head
Be round impaled with a glorious crown"
and, for that prize, he will pay any and all costs:
"I have no brother, I am like no brother...
I am myself alone -
Clarence, beware; thou keep'st me from the light;
But I will sort a pitchy day for thee
...thy turn is next, and then the rest;
Counting myself but bad till I be best."
Now , in "Richard III", these schemes to remove those who stand between him and the crown are set in full motion.
Edward has imprisoned Clarence in the Tower because he "hearkens after prophecies and dreams" (and Gloucester's insidious machinations)
"...a wizard told him that by G
His issue disinherited should be
And, for my name of George begins with G,
It follows in his thought that I am he".
Notice here Shakespeare's superb use of dramatic irony
; the audience know (or should do) what Edward (or Clarence, for that matter) doesn't, that it's Gloucester, not George, who is the danger.
Once in the Tower, Clarence - followiing a guilt-ridden preomonitory torment (he broke an pledge to support Henry in the previous play) is murdered by drowning in a butt of Malmsey wine.
Edward follows - we are given to believe he dies of a broken and, perhaps, mortified, heart - leaving the two princes, yet to reach their majority.
Turn And Turn About.,
Swiftly, Richard places the young duke of York and the new king Edward V in the Tower "for your best health and recreation", as he tells the prince. They are also speedily despatched and now follows, perhaps, the crux of the play.
Richard now has it all, crown, country, treasury. But no loyalty, certainly no friends; the Duke of Buckingham, was, not so very long ago,
My other self, my counsel's consistory
My oracle, my prophet - my dear cousin"
Now he is
"like a Jack...troublest me"
. Now Richard, too, fears "prophecies and dreams", now he sees treason, sees enemies all around - corporeal and otherwise.
"Despair and die!"; the ghostly refrain is almost incessant, as are the benedictions to his foe, the earl of Richmond, future Tudor king, Henry VII.
"I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die
I think there be six Richmonds in the field;
Five have I slain today instead of him"
It has been suggested more than once that Richard was, in all likelihood, nowhere near as black as Shakespeare paints him; that, with Richmond being an usurper, the religious tumult of his son Henry VIII's reign and then with many English considering their present monarch, his granddaughter Elizabeth I, illegitimate and, therefore, also an usurper, the Tudor dynasty was sorely in need of popular legitimisation.
Whatever the historical truth, there can be little doubt that, artistically, Shakespeare's Richard is a triumph, a tour-de-force in drama.To be able to make one as ruthlessly, venomously evil not only attractive but almost heroic is a dazzling achievement.