Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

At his home, Lord Hastings receives a messenger from Lord Stanley, who has been troubled by strange dreams. The messenger reports Stanley has dreamed of a boar who "razèd off his helm," which he takes as an omen of danger. (The boar, as both men know, is Richard's emblem.) Stanley therefore urges Hastings to flee northward with him, but Hastings rejects this suggestion, arguing that

To fly the boar before the boar pursues
Were to incense the boar to follow us
And make pursuit where he did mean no chase.

In other words, he contends fleeing now would only arouse Richard's suspicion and put both himself and Stanley in danger. Having heard Hastings's reply, the messenger leaves.

A moment later, Catesby arrives and offers two bits of news for Hastings's consideration: Rivers and the rest of the Pomfret prisoners have been executed, and Richard now has his eye on the crown. Hastings is pleased his enemies are dead but disgusted by the thought of Richard as king. As Catesby and Hastings are conversing, Stanley arrives in person. Hastings chides him for fearing Richard (again via "boar" imagery), but Stanley insists fleeing is the wisest course. He and Catesby exit the stage.

Hastings is not, however, done with receiving visitors. A pursuivant (an attendant or follower) approaches him next, and Hastings—still elated Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan have been put to death—gives him some money. A priest comes onstage after that, apparently to ask a favor of some kind; Hastings says they will confer next week. Finally, Buckingham arrives on his way to the Tower of London, where Hastings is expected for dinner ("and supper too," he mutters under his breath, indicating Hastings's stay may be involuntarily prolonged).

Analysis

Dreams in Shakespeare's works have a way of coming true: the more foreboding a dream is, the likelier it is to prove prophetic, though not necessarily in the way one might expect. Like Margaret's curses, Lord Stanley's boar vision is a big neon warning sign—not for Stanley himself, who takes the dream seriously enough, but for Hastings, who underestimates the danger to himself. Stanley, in fact, seems to take Hastings's advice and abandon his plans of escape: he remains under Richard's watchful eye right up until the Battle of Bosworth in Act 5. Hastings, however, does not live to see that battle: in a sort of dramatic irony chain reaction, he warns Stanley to be cautious but then grows presumptuous and overbold himself, leaving himself open to a deadly reprisal from Richard in Act 3, Scene 4.

Richard's allies are beginning to grow wary of him and ambivalent, laying the groundwork for the betrayals prophesied by Queen Margaret in Act 1, Scene 3. Lord Stanley, who appears only in this play, is at best a lukewarm supporter of Richard; Hastings, however, has served the Yorkist dynasty for many years (i.e., since Henry VI, Part 3), so his loss of confidence is a more serious matter. Both agree Richard is dangerous, though for now they fall short of saying he must be stopped. They differ primarily in their analysis of how great a threat he poses: Stanley wants to flee now, but Hastings thinks it is worth putting up with Richard's violent behavior for a while longer, presumably in the hope of a greater reward if he sticks around.

This scene is also notable for its mobilization of boar imagery to describe Richard, whose personal emblem was a white boar. On one level, these images give Stanley and Hastings a kind of code for talking about their benefactor, though few in late 15th-century England would have been fooled by this ruse: boar badges in various materials circulated widely among Richard's followers long before he assumed the throne. More important are the boar-like qualities the two lords impute to Richard: craftiness, unpredictability, and a propensity to charge when provoked. In succeeding scenes others will build on this foundation, describing Richard not only as fearsome and majestic but also as violent and piggish.

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