Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Tyrrel returns to the palace and mournfully describes the last moments of Prince Edward and the Duke of York. When Richard arrives, he reports the deed is done, then quickly takes his leave. Richard, alone onstage for a moment, tallies up the score: Clarence's son is imprisoned; his daughter is married off; Anne and both princes have been killed. All that remains is for Richard to marry his niece Elizabeth before his rival Richmond can do so.

In the midst of this self-congratulatory speech Ratcliffe enters, bearing bad news: the bishop of Ely has joined Richmond's cause, and Buckingham is raising a rebellion of his own in Wales. Richard orders Ratcliffe to muster an army and take to the field as soon as possible.

Analysis

Tyrrel, despite the unfavorable first impression in Act 4, Scene 2, ends up being another foil to the ruthless Richard. Tyrrel's remorse over the murders of the two princes stands in stark contrast to Richard's utterly cold-blooded response. Like Clarence's murderers in Act 1, Tyrrel is initially billed as an unrepentant baddie who will gladly kill for cash. In fact, the page describes him as even more money hungry than Act 1's anonymous killers: "Gold were as good as twenty orators / And will, no doubt, tempt him to anything." When Tyrrel himself appears onstage, he seems eerily businesslike, an exterminator making a house call.

Yet Tyrrel—again like the earlier murderers—is not as stonehearted as he first lets on: in this scene, he brims over with sorrow and shame at the "ruthless butchery" he has overseen. To be clear, he didn't even carry out the murder himself: he outsourced it to two others, whose mere retelling of the deed is enough to overwhelm him. His associates, who smothered the princes in their bed, were themselves so tortured by guilt they left Tyrrel to report back to the king. To sum up: all three of the men who plotted the murder are emotionally scarred by what they have done and witnessed. Richard, in contrast, is "happy" the princes are dead; he even asks Tyrrel to recount the whole "process of their death" after dinner.

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