Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary



On a field in Salisbury, the Duke of Buckingham is being led to his execution. He asks the sheriff if he may speak to King Richard, but his request is denied. Lamenting his sudden downfall and imminent death, Buckingham likens himself to all the other men and children killed by Richard. He ruefully recalls Queen Margaret's curse and confesses her words have proved prophetic. The sheriff and his officers lead Buckingham offstage.


This scene continues an important pattern of characterization: all of the villains in the play—except Richard—eventually repent of their deeds. Clarence's murderers (Act 1, Scene 4) suffered from pangs of conscience; James Tyrrel (Act 4, Scene 3) was downright morose after the murder of the princes in the Tower. Even hapless Hastings, who gloated over his own enemies' execution, recognized his own foolishness and complacency had hastened his death ("I, too fond, might have repented this"). Buckingham fits neatly into this trend of last-minute repentance: in his last moments onstage, he admits "wrong hath but wrong, and blame the due of blame." He imagines the victims looking down on him "through the clouds." It remains to be seen whether Richard, too, will be able to stifle his conscience as his final clash with Richmond draws near.

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