Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 3, Scene 6 | Summary

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Summary

Later that day at the Tower, a scrivener (a scribe or clerk) has just finished copying out the formal accusation against Hastings. The indictment, he notes, is clearly a sham, since the order for Hastings's arrest came yesterday, but his arrest took place only a few hours before, while a copy was already being drawn up for public proclamation. In the meantime, Hastings was "untainted, unexamined, free, at liberty," with no clue he would be arrested and executed for treason. The scrivener laments the corrupt and fallen nature of the world in which he lives.

Analysis

At first, this short scene may seem to uncover a potential flaw in Richard's plan: if even a simple scribe is wary of foul play, then perhaps Richard's whole edifice of lies will come tumbling down. This point of view is only partly correct: Richard may be losing the trust of his subjects, but he is now so powerful it no longer matters. The scrivener drives this point home when he complains,

Here's a good world the while! Who is so gross
That cannot see this palpable device?
Yet who so bold but says he sees it not?

In other words, the common people are not stupid (which is what "gross" means here). They know Richard is killing and cheating his way to the top; his treatment of Hastings is just a particularly egregious example. What keeps Richard in power at this point is not ignorance or confusion, but fear: his subjects are not "bold" enough to speak out against his abuses. Now that this dynamic is established, it will take substantial outside intervention—e.g., a foreign invasion—to unseat him from the throne.

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