Richard III: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      The play, Richard III is interesting as a meeting point of the two genres the history play and tragedy. Convincing reasons could be cited to justify the play’s claim to either form. Tragedy stressing on a private calamity and history with a public one, find equal importance in Richard III. The treacherous plots of Richard against his brother Clarence, the gruesome murder of his innocent nephews, the cruel usurpation, the detested life and the well deserved death present a world of private as well as public sins giving at once the impression of a profound tragedy and a history play. Through usurpation and bloody tyranny Richard had offended the commonwealth and therefore the king was forced to take revenge on him.

      The play narrates the series of bloody acts caused by Richard before ascending the throne and how he continues to be bloodthirsty for fear of his rivals. First, he makes King Edward (the Yorkist survivor after the Wars of the Roses), imprison his brother the Duke of Clarance. And even while the funeral procession of the previous King, Henry VI is going on, he cunningly speaks to Lady Anne, the daughter-in-law of the dead King and wins her to his side by his pretended words of love, Soon King Edward is killed too just as his other brother, Clarence was killed in the Tower itself by Richard’s men. The queen’s kinsmen are killed. And the young prince, Edward’s elder son is taken to the Tower instead of being crowned the next king. Prince Edward and his young brother, the little Duke of York undergo a similar fate on Richard’s orders. By his pretended holiness praying with two holy bishops and his own agent’s cunning, the chief citizens of London invite him to accept the crown. The three women characters Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth and Anne know Richard’s true character. But his clever words get a promise from Edward’s widow to let him marry her daughter, the princess Elizabeth.

      Richard is crowned but he has no peace even after the murders of the innocent princess and Anne. The rebel army under the able leadership of the Lancastrian, Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond, faces Richard’s forces. Richard fights bravely to the end. With the victory of Henry Richmond, England is promised long years of peace.

      By his marriage with the princess Elizabeth, the two contending families, the Yorkists and Lancastrians are united. Richmond’s final speech expressed the popular opinion of the Elizabethans:

“And then, as we have taken to sacrament,
We will unite the White Rose and the Red
Smile heaven upon this foir conjunction,
That long have frown’d upon their enmity!”

      As a study of tyranny, the play warns the kings as to what depth a man’s ambition can take him and the resultant misery and confusion to be faced by all. Despite the thoroughbred villainy present in Richard, he nevertheless proves a strong and interesting personality. His ugly looks do not hinder him from achieving a mastery over others. His soliloquies only show him in his title colors. His hypocrisy and impressive speeches attract both men and even beautiful women to his side. The play shows England’s suffering under this villain. But gradually unity and harmony emerge out of discord and confusion. With Richard III Shakespeare completes his study of the Wars of the Roses.

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