Act 1, Scene 1 Setting: A London street

The play begins with a soliloquy from Richard, Duke of Gloucester, about his displeasure of the peaceful times that have come during the reign of his brother, Edward IV. Richard, who knows he could never fit in with a peaceful atmosphere because of his gross disfigurement, announces that he will do his best to be a villain. He starts his villainous deeds by purposely setting up his other brother George, Duke of Clarence. At this point, George is led in as a prisoner by Lord Brackenbury and tells Richard that he has been arrested because of a prophecy that "G" of Edward's heirs would usurp the throne. Richard tells George that it is Queen Elizabeth and her brother, Lord Rivers, that have set him up, just as they had set up Hastings. Brackenbury breaks up the conference between the two brothers, and Richard says he will speak with Edward. Hastings, who has just been released from prison, enters and says that he will be revenged on the people who put him in prison and informs Richard that King Edward is sick. Richard encourages Hastings to pursue his revenge. After Hastings departs, Richard says that George must die before Edward does, that he will make the hatred between the two grow and that, after they are dead he can pursue his ambitions. In addition, he says he will woo, and ultimately marry, Anne, the widow of Prince Edward, son to Henry VI.

Act 1, Scene 2 Setting: Unclear

Anne is delivering a sad lament during the funeral of King Henry VI, when Richard arrives and disrupts the proceedings. At first, Anne, who is well aware that Richard is responsible for the deaths of Henry and, in part, for Edward, is disgusted by him. Richard, however, uses his deceitful charms to woo Anne, claiming that he only killed her husband and father-in-law out of love for her and that he is repentant for doing so. Anne is ultimately wooed by Richard's words and gives in. Richard triumphs in his victory.

Act 1, Scene 3 Setting: The royal palace

Queen Margaret and her brother, Lord Rivers, and son, Lord Grey, discuss disapprovingly how King Edward is growing sicker and how the protectorship for her young son and heir to the throne would go to Richard. The Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Derby enter and inform the queen that Edward wishes for her and her kinsmen to make amends with Richard. Richard himself then angrily enters and begins a lengthy argument against the queen and her family. Many accusations are made on both sides, including one against the queen for setting up Clarence and Hastings and using her position as queen to advance her own friends and family. All the while Margaret (the former queen to Henry VI) is listening to the quarrel and ultimately comes forward. The former queen chastises all present at length, blaming them for the deaths of her husband and son, her loss of power and warning them that they shall all be punished for their misdeeds. After Margaret finally departs (leaving all present in fear) Catesby enters and informs them that King Edward wishes to see them. They all depart, leaving Richard alone. Richard is then joined by two men who he has hired to kill his brother Clarence. He gives them the warrant to be admitted to his chamber, and they depart.

Act 1, Scene 4 Setting: The Tower of  London

The scene begins with Clarence describing a fearful dream in which he is drowning to the keeper. Brackenbury enters, followed shortly by the two murderers. They show the warrant given to them by Richard, and Brackenbury, against his will, departs leaving Clarence alone with the murderers. As Clarence sleeps the murderers seem to have an attack of conscience, which is quickly remedied when they remember the reward they will receive from Richard. Clarence awakes and quickly realizes that the men are there to take his life. He pleads with them to spare him, but the men remind him of his past sins and that he must die for them. They originally tell Clarence that they are there under Edward's orders but ultimately tell the duke that it was Richard that ordered his death. Despite Clarence's continued pleadings, they stab him and then drown him in the malmsey butt (a cask of wine). The two men are immediately repentant for their heinous crime but still set off to Richard to receive their reward.

Act 2, Scene 1 Setting: The royal palace

A sickly King Edward gathers with the queen, her relatives and several lords in order to make peace between them before he dies. He persuades those gathered to embrace one another and forgive past indifferences, which they do. Richard then enters and does the same to all present. Queen Elizabeth requests that Edward take Clarence back into good favor, but Richard informs them that he is dead. This sorrowful news sends Edward into a frenzy, and when Lord Stanley (Derby) enters to request execution for a murderous servant of his, the king can only lament his poor brother's death. He then departs to his chambers, near death. Richard suggests to the lords that they revenge Clarence's death on the queen's relatives.

Act 2, Scene 2 Setting: Unclear

The young son and daughter of Clarence inquire to their grandmother, the old Duchess of York, as to whether or not their father is dead. She attempts to hide the fact at first but ultimately tells her grandchildren that their father is indeed dead. At this point, Queen Elizabeth enters with her family and informs everyone that King Edward has passed away. All present lament over the deaths of the two brothers before Richard and the lords enter. Buckingham suggests that Edward's young son (also named Edward) should be taken to London with a small group of followers to be crowned king. Rivers and the others in Elizabeth's family do not approve of this and feel they all should be present. This is agreed upon, and Richard and Buckingham vow to continue to remove the Woodvilles from a place of power.

Act 2, Scene 3 Setting: A London street

Three citizens discuss the death of King Edward and the accsession of young Prince Edward to the throne. One citizen feels comfortable that the underage king shall reign well enough with his councilors by his side. Another citizen warns that both Richard and the Woodvilles will be dangerous for the realm. The citizens prophesy bad times to come before departing.

Act 2, Scene 4 Setting: The royal palace

Queen Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, the Archbishop of York and the young Duke of York (younger son to Elizabeth and Edward IV) talk of various topics (namely that Richard had teeth when he was born) when a messenger enters with news that Lord Rivers, Lord Grey and one Sir Thomas Vaughan have been arrested under orders from Richard and Buckingham. All present lament the sorrowful times that are just beginning, and Elizabeth says she will go with her young son into sanctuary. The archbishop agrees to protect them.

Act 3, Scene 1 Setting: A London street

The new King Edward V meets with his Uncle Richard, Cardinal Bouchier and the lords. Edward wonders where his mother and brother are, and Hastings arrives to inform him they have gone into sanctuary for an unknown reason. Buckingham then convinces the cardinal that they are there unnecessarily and should be taken out. The cardinal agrees and goes to retrieve them. Edward's brother York is brought in and ends up insulting Richard, who then recommends that the two children stay at the tower until the coronation ceremony. After they depart, Richard and Buckingham order Catesby to inform Lord Hastings that Richard plans to take the throne and inquire as to whether they can count on his support. Catesby departs towards his errand, and Richard says they shall have Hastings executed if he does not comply. He also promises Buckingham the earldom of Hereford when he becomes king, among other rewards.

Act 3, Scene 2 Setting: Lord Hastings' house

A messenger from Lord Stanley informs Lord Hastings of a dream Stanley had that showed Richard betraying him. Hastings thinks the dream is silly and dismisses the man. Catesby then arrives and informs Hastings that the Woodvilles are set to be executed and asks if he will support Richard in taking the crown. Hastings is happy to hear that his enemies are disposed of but says he will not help Richard take the throne. Lord Stanley enters and once again warns Hastings not to trust Richard. Hastings pays no heed to his words and is then separately visited by a persuviant and a priest. Finally, Buckingham enters to accompany Hastings to the tower.

Act 3, Scene 3 Setting: Pontefract Castle

Lords Hastings, Lord Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan are brought before Sir Richard Radcliffe to await their executions. They lament about how they are loyal subjects who are about to be unjustly put to death, how Margaret's prophecies have come true and that more bloodshed is on the way. The men are then led to their deaths.

Act 3, Scene 4 Setting: The Tower of London

The lords discuss when Edward's coronation ceremony should be and await Richard's arrival to confirm the date. Richard enters and seems happy that Hastings should make the decision for him. He then informs Buckingham that Hastings will not comply with their plot to put them on the throne, and the two depart. When they come back Richard claims that Queen Elizabeth and Jane Shore (a mistress of the former Edward IV) have joined together and laid a spell on him that shrivelled up his arm (his arm was obviously already deformed). When Hastings laughs at these accusations, Richard immediately orders that he be executed and departs. Hastings laments the fact that he wished his enemies dead and that Margaret's prophesies are gradually coming true. He is then led off by Ratcliffe and Lovel to the chopping block.

Act 3, Scene 5 Setting: Unclear

Richard and Buckingham are joined first by the mayor and Catesby and then by Ratcliffe and Lovel, who enter with the head of Hastings. The mayor is appalled by this appearance, and Richard explains to them that they were forced to execute them because he had been plotting against their lives. He claims that Hastings had been in contact with Mistress Shore and meant to kill them. The mayor believes the lords and departs. Richard orders Buckingham to follow the mayor and inform him that his brother Edward was illegitimate and that, therefore, his sons are barred from ever becoming king. After Buckingham's departure, Richard reveals that he will do what he can to eliminate the children of both Clarence and Edward.

Act 3, Scene 6 Setting: London

A scrivener enters with the indictment papers on Hastings. He claims that Catesby sent the papers several hours before Hastings was ever charged and that he knows some sort of foul play was at hand.

Act 3, Scene 7 Setting: Baynard's Castle

Buckingham informs Richard that he has announced the bastardy of Edward's children and recommended that Richard become the new king. The crowd did not react to these exclamations so Buckingham suggests that Richard get a bible, surround himself with churchmen and seem pious and modest to the citizens. This would be meant to win their love and, when they offer him the crown, he should not take it at first to seem genuine. The mayor of London enters, and Catesby delivers messages from Richard that he is at prayer and cannot be disturbed. Finally, Richard is "convinced" to address the masses and does so with two bishops at his sides. Richard is offered the crown several times by Buckingham but each time refuses, claiming he is not worthy of it. Throughout the conversation, Buckingham informs all that the current King Edward V was born from a mistress of Edward IV's. Ultimately, Richard gives in to the peoples' requests and says he shall become king even though he is loath to do so. Buckingham sets his coronation for the following day.

Act 4, Scene 1 Setting: Before the tower

Queen Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, Dorset (Elizabeth's son), and Anne (who is now Richard's wife) meet at the tower to visit the princes. Lord Brackenbury, however, informs them that he is under strict orders from Richard not to allow any visitors to them. This upsets the women who are then informed by Lord Stanley that Richard has been declared king and that Anne must joined him to be crowned queen. The news brought by Stanley makes the women even sadder. Elizabeth commands her son Dorset to seek refuge with the Earl of Richmond, Stanley's stepson and a Lancastrian candidate for the throne. Anne regretfully joins her husband for her coronation, and the others prepare for a sorrowful time to come.

Act 4, Scene 2 Setting: The royal palace

Richard and the lords enter to his coronation. As Buckingham approaches the king to congratulate him, Richard tells him that he will not feel safe on the throne until his nephews are dead and asks Buckingham to perform the bloody deed. The duke does not know what to say and departs to think of the request. Richard becomes impatient and asks a page if he knows anyone who would do something deceitful for money. Lord Stanley then informs the king that Dorset has left to join Richmond, which makes Richard uneasy. Richard orders Catesby to spread rumors that Queen Anne is sick so he may imprison her and also says he will marry Clarence's daughter to a lower class person and that he need not worry about Clarence's son. The page returns with one James Tyrrel. Tyrrel immediately agrees to murder the two princes in the tower and departs. Buckingham returns and asks the king for the Earldom of Hereford that he was promised. Richard attempts to ignore him and simply worries about the threat of Richmond. Finally, the king dismisses Buckingham, tells him he is not in a giving mood and departs. Buckingham regrets having helped Richard ascend the throne.

Act 4, Scene 3 Setting: Unclear

James Tyrrel, who has just murdered Richard's two nephews, delivers a soliloquy telling of his guilty conscience because of the grievous act. The king then enters and is happy that Tyrrel has done the task assigned to him. He tells him to meet him after supper to tell him the details. Richard then reveals that he has somehow gotten Clarence's son out of the way, has married off Clarence's daughter, that Queen Anne is dead and that he soon means to attempt to marry his niece Elizabeth. Ratcliffe then enters and informs Richard that the Bishop of Ely has defected to Richmond and that Buckingham has gathered a force and is in open rebellion. The king is more worried about Ely defecting but prepares to do battle with Buckingham, his former ally.

Act 4, Scene 4 Setting: Before the royal palace

Margaret is triumphing in the fact that all she prophesied has come true when Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York enter, lamenting the death of the two princes. The former queen approaches the two women and tells them that she had warned them that they should be punished for the sins of their family members and that they should not trust Richard. After Margaret departs, the two women vow to take down Richard for all the death and destruction he has caused. Richard and his army then enter. The Duchess chides her son for his heinous acts and departs. Queen Elizabeth then begins to reprimand the king before Richard brakes in to inform her of his intention of marrying her daughter. A long "seduction" scene follows (similar to Richard's wooing of Anne earlier in the play) and Elizabeth, begrudgingly, gives in at the end, saying that she shall speak with her daughter on the issue. Ratcliffe and Catesby arrive to inform the king that a navy, under Richmond's command, has landed on English soil and await to join with Buckingham's forces. The king sends his men out on various errands to prepare for battle when Stanley arrives and informs the king that Richmond himself is on the way to England to claim the throne. Richard is worried that Stanley (who is Richmond's stepfather) will defect to his side. Stanley assures him that he will not defect. Richard asks him to leave his son George behind for purposes of assurance, which he is forced to do. Two messengers arrive to deliver news that various others are in rebellion against the king. A third arrives, however, to announce that Buckingham's army has been destroyed at sea. After a fourth messenger arrives with news of more rebels, Catesby enters and announces that Buckingham has been taken and that Richmond has landed in England with a large army. The king prepares for battle.

Act 4, Scene 5 Setting: Lord Stanley's house

Lord Stanley tells a priest, Christopher Urswick, to inform Richmond that Richard has his son as a hostage and, therefore, cannot count on his reinforcements at the present time. He also says that Queen Elizabeth has consented for Richmond to marry her eldest daughter (over Richard). The priest tells Stanley that Richmond and his followers are marching towards London, and the two men part.

Act 5, Scene 1 Setting: Salisbury

Buckingham is informed by a sheriff that the king will not speak with him, and therefore, he must die. He laments on the destruction he, in part, caused and remembers Margaret's prophesies and how they have come true, before being led off to execution.

Act 5, Scene 2 Setting: Tamworth, Staffordshire

The Earl of Richmond delivers a speech to his men about Richard's tyranny and how they must remove him from England's throne. He and the troops prepare to march towards Richard's army.

Act 5, Scene 3 Setting: Bosworth Field

In this scene, which switches back and forth between the tents of Richard and Richmond, the king and his lords (Ratcliffe, Catesby, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Surrey) prepare for the battle at Bosworth, while Richmond and his followers do the same. Richmond meets with his stepfather Lord Stanley, who informs him that he must be cautious as to how he helps him, or his son shall be killed by Richard. The two leaders than go to sleep in their respective tents. Richard has an ominous dream in which he is visited by the ghosts of all the people he has killed. The ghosts all curse Richard and wish him dead and bless Richmond and wish him well in the coming battle. Richard awakes and delivers a soliloquy telling how he will soon die and be unmourned. The king tells of his ominous dream, and Richmond tells of his promising dream before he delivers a speech and preps his troops for battle. Richard is informed that Richmond is ready to do battle and prepares by giving a speech to his troops. He is then informed that Lord Stanley refuses to give help to him and orders his son George to be killed. Norfolk convinces Richard to postpone the execution until after the battle; the Battle of Bosworth begins.

Act 5, Scene 4 Setting: Bosworth Field

Catesby and Norfolk frantically run about the battlefield while King Richard searches for a horse.

Act 5, Scene 5 Setting: Bosworth Field

Richard and Richmond fight in single combat, and the king is slain. Stanley enters with the crown, crowns Richmond King of England and announces that his son is safe. Some of the casualties are announced, and they include the Duke of Norfolk and Sir Robert Brackenbury. Richmond ends the play by telling all that he will marry Princess Elizabeth, eldest daughter of King Edward IV, to unite the houses of York and Lancaster, officially ending the Wars of the Roses. He thanks God for his victory and prepares for peaceful times as king.

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