Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Prince Edward arrives in London to the sound of trumpets, accompanied by Richard, Buckingham, the cardinal, Catesby, and miscellaneous followers. Richard and Buckingham welcome young Prince Edward, who expresses his regret that Clarence has been killed and Lord Rivers imprisoned: "I want more uncles here to welcome me." Richard insists the missing uncles were dangerous traitors, but the prince is not fooled.

The mayor of London comes to greet the prince, and Lord Hastings appears a moment later to announce Queen Elizabeth and the young Duke of York have fled to the sanctuary. Buckingham complains the queen is being "peevish" (i.e., difficult and willful). He asks the cardinal and Hastings to go to the sanctuary and try to reason with the queen; if she does not yield York up willingly, Hastings is to seize him by force. The cardinal is shocked by the suggestion anyone would attempt to drag someone from sanctuary against their will, but Buckingham convinces him nobody's rights are being violated, since York is a minor and therefore not entitled to sanctuary. The cardinal and Hastings leave to carry out Buckingham's command.

This leaves the question of Prince Edward's lodgings prior to the coronation. Richard proposes the prince stay at the Tower of London for a couple days until better accommodations can be figured out. Prince Edward is not thrilled with this suggestion, but he contents himself by asking questions about the Tower's history. York returns in the custody of Hastings and the cardinal; after joking for a while with their uncle Richard, the boys leave for the Tower with Hastings. Catesby and Buckingham remain onstage with Richard to discuss his plan for seizing the throne. The key, they decide, will be sounding out Hastings, who may or may not be willing to support Richard's bid for the crown. If not, Richard suggests, Hastings will have to be killed. Richard promises Buckingham the earldom of Hereford and all its possessions for his help.

Analysis

This superficially cheerful family scene gives the audience their first glimpse of Prince Edward, heir apparent to the English throne. The crown prince is more circumspect than Clarence's son: he does not instantly assume Richard is a friend, but he is tactful enough not to insult Richard via an open show of distrust. Instead, when Richard asks if Edward is afraid of him, the prince toes the line by saying, "I hope I need not fear." York, the younger brother, is less diplomatic—despite his mother's warnings in Act 2, Scene 4 he spars verbally with Richard and makes a great show of his cleverness. Unfortunately, the two princes' intelligence—Edward's reserved thoughtfulness and York's splashy wit—only galvanizes Richard's resolve to be rid of them: "So wise so young," he says in an aside, " ... never do live long." Buckingham, though impressed and even delighted with York's repartee, further encourages Richard to see the princes as a nuisance.

The fact that York leaves the sanctuary at all is the result of a somewhat legalistic plot point: Buckingham successfully argues the right of sanctuary does not extend to children, since children cannot be criminals nor assert legal rights on their own behalf. This is surprisingly quick thinking on the part of Buckingham, who makes great strides as a villain in Acts 3 and 4 before ultimately rebelling against Richard. At the same time, it's a gross breach of responsibility on the part of the cardinal, who is one of the highest-ranking churchmen in England and therefore should not be relying on laymen for canon law advice. Ultimately, the interpretation of the rules of sanctuary is the cardinal's prerogative, not Buckingham's; without his blessing, any attempt to seize the Duke of York would be a blasphemous act of trespass. Thus, by lending his authority to this action, the cardinal renders himself an accomplice, albeit an unwitting one, in York's eventual death.

In order to gain the throne, Richard does not hesitate to slaughter his young nephews later in the play, demonstrating, yet again, how family ties—even when children are involved—are easily cut, especially if they get in the way of grand ambitions. An undercurrent of menace defines his interactions with the boys, beginning with Richard's recommendation his nephews spend the night before the coronation in the Tower of London. This is the same building in which their uncle, Clarence, was imprisoned and murdered, and in which they, too, will be killed. Richard's wordplay in this scene is especially daring because his language, often in the guise of lighthearted banter with the boys, hints repeatedly at the fate he has planned for them. For example, York asks playfully for Richard's sword: "I pray you, uncle, give me this dagger." Richard gives a chilling reply: "My dagger, little cousin? With all my heart." The boys may get their digs in at their uncle, even jesting about his deformity in the Duke of York's case, but Richard will have the last word.

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