Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 5, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

The Battle of Bosworth Field is now in full swing. Catesby, one of the few partisans still loyal to Richard, informs the Duke of Norfolk Richard has been unhorsed and is fighting on foot; he calls on the duke to go to Richard's aid immediately. Richard rushes onstage and utters his famous, desperate exclamation: "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" Catesby offers to find the king a horse if he will retreat for a moment, but Richard proudly refuses to leave the fight.

Analysis

As he nears the end of his life (and the play), Richard is still full of surprises. On the one hand, it is hard not to admire his determination to see the battle through, given his previous habit of relying on others to do his dirty work. On the other hand, it may not be simple courage that motivates Richard to "stand the hazard of the die" (i.e., to risk his life on the outcome of the battle); after his guilt-ridden speech in Act 5, Scene 3 Richard may just as plausibly be driven by suicidal despair. Either way, in standing his ground, Richard seals his own fate: without a horse, he is an easy target for Richmond, as the next scene will show.

Richard's short speech also reveals he has underestimated Richmond: "I think there be six Richmonds in the field," he says; "five have I slain today instead of him." This suggests Richmond is sending decoys into the field to confuse and demoralize Richard. If so, this contradicts Richard's impression of Richmond as a "milksop" unschooled in the ways of war. Moreover, the decoy act speaks to the bravery and loyalty of Richmond's troops, who are putting themselves in grave danger to protect their leader.

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