Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Outside the Tower of London, members of the royal family have gathered to greet Prince Edward and the young Duke of York. Queen Elizabeth is present, accompanied by the Marquess of Dorset (her son) and the Duchess of York. Richard's wife, Lady Anne (a.k.a. the Duchess of Gloucester), comes onstage with Clarence's daughter.

As the four attempt to enter the Tower, they are stopped by Brackenbury, who has been ordered to admit no one. He apologizes and leaves the stage immediately. Next comes Lord Stanley, who has been sent to fetch Lady Anne to Westminster for Richard's coronation. Fearing the worst, Queen Elizabeth orders Dorset to leave the country and seek out the Earl of Richmond overseas; Stanley offers to assist Dorset in whatever way he can. Together, the three women—Lady Anne, the Duchess of York, and Queen Elizabeth—lament what has become of their family since Richard rose to power. Anne reluctantly accompanies Stanley to the coronation, while Elizabeth stays behind for a moment to say farewell to the princes in the Tower.

Analysis

The royal family—what's left of it anyway—seems finally to have banded together, albeit rather late in the game. Back in Act 2, Scene 2 the duchess and Queen Elizabeth were too busy arguing over who had suffered most to leave any room for genuine sympathy. Now, however, they are united in shared sorrow. The duchess, still bitter about the mess her family has become, rises above those feelings and offers some apparently heartfelt blessings to her grandson and daughters-in-law:

[to Dorset] Go thou to Richmond, and good fortune guide thee.
[to Anne] Go thou to Richard, and good angels tend thee.
[to Queen Elizabeth] Go thou to sanctuary, and good thoughts possess thee.

Lord Stanley, too, has grown more overtly sympathetic to the family's plight: over the course of Act 3, he has gone from silently colluding in Richard's schemes, to fearing for his own life, to quietly offering support to Richard's enemies. Richard, who is wary by nature and only grows more paranoid once he wears the crown, will detect this change in Stanley's behavior and soon find a means to test his loyalty.

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