Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 2, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

On the streets of London, word of King Edward's death has begun to circulate among the public. Three citizens have met in the street and are discussing England's uncertain future with a child on the throne and Richard (the Duke of Gloucester) ruling as Lord Protector. The first citizen (i.e., the first one to speak) attempts to reassure the others "all will be well," but the second is less sure, and the third is downright fearful:

When clouds are seen, wise men put on their cloaks;
When great leaves fall, then winter is at hand;
... All may be well; but if God sort it so,
'Tis more than we deserve or I expect.

On this somber note, the three citizens part ways and go about their business in town.

Analysis

Like a chorus in a classical Greek drama, the three citizens serve to amplify the feelings of fear and uncertainty already witnessed among the royal family. In a play positively crammed with princes and nobles, it is easy to forget King Edward's death is a moment of national crisis whose implications extend far beyond the palace elite; in this regard, the third citizen's speech serves as a powerful wake-up call. Conflict is the norm in England, which has witnessed the effects of civil war in the form of the Wars of the Roses. He trusts neither Richard nor Queen Elizabeth's "sons and brothers" to bring stability to the realm: "Were they to be ruled, and not to rule, / This sickly land might solace as before." The royal succession, he says, is like a sudden storm or the turning of the seasons: universal, unstoppable phenomena whose effects will be felt throughout the realm. Individuals—commoners most of all—cannot hope to counteract such changes, but only to endure them.

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