Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Richard has just been crowned at the palace in London. His cronies—Buckingham, Catesby, Ratcliffe, and Lovell—are all in attendance, as are other unnamed courtiers. Now that he is king, Richard wastes no time in asking Buckingham to deal with the princes in the Tower, whose presence is a threat to his continued rule. Unwilling to assent to the murder of the princes, Buckingham asks to be excused. This frustrates Richard, who asks his page to find somebody greedy enough to undergo a "close exploit of death." The page knows just the man for the job: the corrupt and avaricious James Tyrrel.

Lord Stanley enters, bringing word the Marquess of Dorset has fled to join Richmond abroad. Richard, now even more annoyed, orders Catesby to circulate a rumor that Lady (Queen) Anne is very ill, and to find a lowly suitor for his brother Clarence's daughter; by killing off Anne and marrying off Clarence's child, he hopes to consolidate his power and head off potential rivals. In a brief aside, Richard outlines his next step: once Anne is dead, he will marry Queen Elizabeth's daughter (his niece) in order to prevent any other noblemen from joining the royal family.

Tyrrel enters, and Richard sends him off to murder the two princes in the Tower. Buckingham returns too, having thought about Richard's request. He is willing to cooperate—if Richard will fulfill an earlier promise to give him an earldom and a share of the late King Edward's wealth. Richard, however, is still upset Buckingham has not immediately agreed to the princes' murders; moreover, he is preoccupied with Dorset's escape. Feeling betrayed by Richard's evasion, Buckingham decides to defect while he still can.

Analysis

It's lonely at the top. Now that Richard is king, he feels the need to be even more circumspect in his dealings with his noblemen, preferring to work with "iron-witted fools" (Catesby surely qualifies) and "unrespective boys" (like the page) and to steer clear of anyone who might see through to his real intentions. Buckingham now falls into the latter category—or at least dangerously close to it, since he no longer reflexively agrees to everything Richard demands. Richard, in turn, correctly interprets the duke's hesitation as a warning sign: "let me think it over" is not something a monarch wants to hear from his closest henchman.

"Where's my money?" is another line sure to annoy a king, yet it is Buckingham's constant refrain when he returns at the end of the scene. His confrontation with Richard, though brief, is a turning point that leaves Buckingham with no real choice but to flee for his life: if he sticks around and tries to smooth things over, he can expect no better than the summary execution dished out to Lord Hastings (Act 3, Scene 4). Buckingham is shrewd enough to know when he has crossed the line: his instinct for self-preservation ultimately proves stronger than his greed. Bad luck, not gullibility, will send him to the chopping block in Act 5.

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