Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Act 5, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

The Battle of Bosworth Field reaches its climax: Richmond slays Richard in single combat, and a flourish of trumpets signals his victory. Richard's body is carried offstage as Lord Stanley enters bearing the crown. In what is essentially a "crown acceptance speech," Richmond thanks God and his allies for helping him to triumph over Richard. He then gives orders the noble and knightly dead be given a proper burial, and the survivors among Richard's forces be pardoned. Finally, Richmond proposes to "unite the white rose and the red"—the Houses of York and Lancaster—by marrying Lady Elizabeth, daughter of the late King Edward. This, he hopes, will usher in an era of "smiling plenty and fair prosperous days."

Analysis

With this scene, Shakespeare dramatizes the end of the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty, whose rule will continue uninterrupted for the next 120 years. Richmond, already established as a hero, becomes both victor and king; Richard, arguably the Bard's most fully realized villain, dies in disgrace. Historically, it's worth pointing out, Henry Tudor's hopes of "fair prosperous days" were not entirely fulfilled during his lifetime: after Richard's death, many Yorkist partisans lived on, advancing their own rival claimants to the throne well into the 1500s. For the purposes of the play and its tetralogy, however, this is a happy ending—a binding together of opposing forces and a moment of genuine healing and repose after three decades of civil war.

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