Shakespeare at Winedale

Richard III Play Synopsis

Richard III Graphic

Edward IV has become King of England after leading the House of York to victory over the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses.  His younger brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, plots to take the throne for himself.  Richard’s first move is to secure the arrest of his brother George, Duke of Clarence, who is ahead of him in the line of succession.  To consolidate his political position, Richard woos the Lady Anne, widow of the Lancastrian Prince Edward, whom Richard had killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

The King is ill and there is conflict at the court.  Queen Elizabeth and her relatives, the nouveau-riche Woodvilles (including her brother Rivers and her sons from her first marriage, Dorset and Grey), are resented by the old guard (Hastings, Buckingham and Stanley), a faction with which Richard aligns himself. Their squabbling is interrupted by a surprise visit from the old Lancastrian Queen Margaret, widow of the late King Henry VI.  She curses all of the Yorks for their seizure of the kingdom and murder of her family.

On Richard’s orders, Clarence is murdered.  News of his death proves fatal to the ailing King Edward.  His young sons, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, are summoned to London, but Richard moves quickly to place himself in line for the throne. Richard’s henchmen, Catesby, Ratcliffe and Lovell, put his plans in motion.  Richard has Lord Hastings, who opposes his intended usurpation, executed, as well as the Queen’s relatives. The young Princes are sent to the Tower. The Duke of Buckingham, in league with Richard, convinces the Mayor and Citizens of London that the Prince of Wales is illegitimate, and that Richard should be King.

Richard is crowned King Richard III.  To secure his hold on the throne, he orders the murder of the young Princes.  Refusing to go along, Buckingham falls from favor, but Tyrrell engineers the killing.  This crime turns many against Richard; he is even cursed by his own mother, the old Duchess of York. Forces opposed to Richard begin to join the Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor, who has a distant Lancastrian claim to the throne.  To strengthen his own claim, Richard decides to marry his niece, and arranges for the murder of Lady Anne, who is now his Queen.  Richard attempts to enlist the support of Queen Elizabeth in his plans to marry her daughter.

Richmond arrives in England and quickly gathers followers.  Richard’s forces capture and execute Buckingham, who had joined Richmond. The night before battle, the ghosts of Richard’s victims visit him and Richmond in their dreams, cursing the former and blessing the latter.  At the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richmond slays Richard, thus claiming the crown for the House of Tudor and ending the Plantagenet dynasty.