Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Elsewhere in the palace, the Duchess of York is attempting to comfort the two children of Clarence. As the mother to King Edward, Richard, and Clarence, she has a difficult task in explaining Clarence's death to his own son and daughter. She tells them although it may seem Edward wanted Clarence dead, their uncle Richard is the one truly responsible.

Queen Elizabeth enters the room in obvious distress (the stage direction reads "with her hair about her ears"), followed by her brother Earl Rivers and her son Lord Dorset. She announces Edward has died and says she too would rather die on the spot than go on living. The duchess, who has now lost two of her sons in close succession, protests she has even greater cause to weep than Elizabeth does. The two children join them in mourning.

Into this gloomy scene arrives Richard, with an entourage consisting of Buckingham, Stanley, Hastings, and Ratcliffe. He offers his condolences to Elizabeth, then kneels to ask a motherly blessing of the duchess. Buckingham proposes the young Prince Edward be brought to London at once to be crowned king, making him Edward V. Once the other lords agree to this plan, Richard and Buckingham leave for Ludlow, where the prince currently resides.

Analysis

Although he does not yet wear the crown, Richard's reign of terror is fast approaching. His ability to cajole, flatter, and deceive remains his greatest strength, as evidenced by the love and trust Clarence's children show for their murderous uncle. Unlike his wholesale lies to Anne in Act 1, Scene 2 Richard's account of Clarence's death is a half-truth: Edward did call for Clarence's imprisonment, and his decision was supported—or at least unopposed—by Queen Elizabeth. In his offstage chat with Clarence's son, Richard has carefully avoided any mention of his own role in the late duke's demise. Consequently, Clarence's children not only love their uncle Richard, but deeply mistrust and resent Queen Elizabeth, whom they see as responsible for their father's death. From Richard's perspective, this is a win-win situation.

Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth appears to have undergone a striking change of attitude. In Act 1, Scene 3 the queen was more than happy to give Richard a piece of her mind, defending herself against his insults and returning a few barbs of her own. She clearly does not trust him on any level. In this scene, however, Queen Elizabeth is literally speechless from the moment Richard comes onstage. Because she says so little, it is impossible to know for certain what has brought about this change in her demeanor. A reasonable guess is fear: Queen Elizabeth is smart enough to read between the lines and recognize Richard is the one who reversed Clarence's stay of execution only after Clarence's death. More to the point, she surely understands her own children may be in for a similar treatment with Richard as Lord Protector, a role in which he is supposed to watch over his young and vulnerable nephews. In her previous encounters with Richard, Queen Elizabeth was able to fall back on her husband's authority as king. As a widow, she no longer has that option.

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