Richard III | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Richard III | Characters

Character Description
King Richard III Richard begins the play as Duke of Gloucester but seizes the throne in the turbulent days after the death of his brother King Edward IV. He rules briefly as Richard III before being deposed by the Earl of Richmond. Read More
Lady Anne Lady Anne is the widow of the late Prince Edward, whom Richard has killed (not to be confused with the crown prince of the same name in this play). She reluctantly marries Richard and, once her usefulness is outlived, becomes one of his many victims. Read More
Queen Elizabeth Queen Elizabeth is the wife of King Edward IV and the mother of the young Prince Edward and the Duke of York. She is also the leader of the Woodeville clan. Their rise to power angers Richard, who sees the queen's brothers and sons as obstacles on his own path to the throne. Read More
Duke of Buckingham The Duke of Buckingham is Richard's right-hand man for much of the play, doing his bidding in exchange for the promise of wealth and power. He defects from Richard's faction near the end of the play, but is captured and executed soon thereafter. Read More
Earl of Richmond Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond, is Richard's primary opponent in the latter half of Richard III. He leads an uprising against Richard, slays him on the battlefield, and claims the crown to become Henry VII at the very end of the play. Read More
Queen Margaret Queen Margaret is the widow of the late King Henry VI, murdered by Richard before the play begins. She appears in two scenes to curse those who abetted Richard in killing her husband and son. Read More
Archbishop The archbishop is a high-ranking English cleric who appears only briefly in Richard III. As Richard begins imprisoning and killing his enemies, the archbishop urges Queen Elizabeth and her sons to seek sanctuary, promising to help them however he can.
Sir James Blunt Sir James Blunt is a supporter of Richmond who, like most of his faction, appears only in Act 5. His short speeches concern the progress of the war and the rightness of Richmond's cause.
Boy Clarence's young son (dialogue tags call him simply "Boy") is left in the care of the Duchess of York after his father's death. He is too young to be a real threat to Richard, who nonetheless has him imprisoned.
Sir Robert Brackenbury Sir Robert Brackenbury is the lieutenant of the Tower of London. In several scenes he controls entry to the Tower and enforces the king's orders regarding who may visit the prisoners.
Cardinal The cardinal represents the Church at the English royal court. Unlike the archbishop—whom he outranks—the cardinal is easily persuaded to deny sanctuary to the young Duke of York, leading to the boy's murder.
Sir William Catesby Sir William Catesby is perhaps the most devoted of Richard's many henchmen. Unlike most of his comrades, Catesby is (misguidedly) loyal to Richard right up to the end.
Sir Christopher Sir Christopher is a priest and a supporter of the Earl of Richmond. He acts as a messenger on behalf of Lord Stanley, who must communicate with Richmond in secret.
Citizens A trio of London citizens appears in Act 2 to discuss the death of King Edward and its consequences for England.
Duke of Clarence George, Duke of Clarence, is Richard's older brother and the younger brother of King Edward IV. His trusting nature makes him an easy target for Richard, who convinces Edward to imprison him and then hires murderers to finish the job. As a potential roadblock in Richard's quest for the crown, the Duke of Clarence never stands a chance. When he appears in the play's opening scene, he is already en route to the Tower of London, having been falsely accused of plotting to murder the heirs to the throne. Naïve and good-natured to a fault, he refuses to believe his brother Richard is scheming against him, even after his murderers confess Richard hired them.
Daughter Clarence's daughter is, like her brother, left with her grandmother, the Duchess of York, after Clarence is murdered. As king, Richard marries her off to a low-ranking gentleman to prevent her from becoming an ally of any of his powerful enemies.
Marquess of Dorset The Marquess of Dorset is a son of Queen Elizabeth from her previous marriage. He flees England and joins Richmond in his rebellion against Richard.
King Edward IV King Edward IV, the reigning monarch at the start of the play and Richard's older brother, is the eldest son of the late Duke of York, who incited the Wars of the Roses by attempting to seize the crown. At the start of the play, he is dying of an unnamed illness and wishes idealistically and futilely to reconcile his feuding nobles before he passes away. Though a womanizer with many influential mistresses, he is married to Queen Elizabeth by whom he has two young sons, Prince Edward and the Duke of York. Edward dies relatively early in the play, leaving a power vacuum at the center of the English political world. Richard seizes upon Edward's poor reputation as a way of delegitimizing the late king's reign and paving the way for his own accession to the throne.
Prince Edward Prince Edward is the child of Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth, and the brother of the Duke of York. He is the heir apparent to the English throne. After Edward VI's death, Richard has Prince Edward confined in the Tower of London, then murdered before he can be crowned.
Bishop of Ely When he first appears onstage, John Morton, bishop of Ely seems to be a weak-willed character who will not oppose Richard's reign of terror. However, after Prince Edward and the Duke of York are murdered, Ely helps to raise an army to defeat Richard.
Ghosts On the eve of the Battle of Bosworth (Act 5, Scene 3), the ghosts of Richard's many victims appear in order to frighten him and to encourage his rival, Richmond. The specters include King Henry VI, the Duke of Clarence, and numerous others.
Lord Grey Lord Grey is Queen Elizabeth's son by a previous marriage. Like his uncle, Earl Rivers, he is executed as part of a purge orchestrated by Richard in Act 3.
Lord Hastings William, Lord Hastings is another of Richard's lackeys, but his principles ultimately betray him. When he refuses to assent to the killing of Prince Edward and the Duke of York, Richard has him executed on false pretenses.
Sir Walter Herbert Sir Walter Herbert is one of Richmond's supporters in Act 5. In his single line of dialogue (Act 5, Scene 2), he encourages Richmond with the thought Richard's troops will probably defect.
Gentleman attending Lady Anne The gentleman attends Lady Anne in Act 1, Scene 2 at the funeral procession of Henry VI. He tells Richard, who tries to halt the procession, to "stand back and let the coffin pass."
Keeper The keeper of the Tower of London is charged with guarding Clarence after King Edward orders his imprisonment. He expresses sympathy for the captive duke's plight.
Lord Lovell Lord Lovell is one of Richard's supporters. He oversees (and perhaps personally carries out) the execution of Lord Hastings in Act 3.
Lord Mayor of London The Lord Mayor represents the citizens of London in the uncertain days after King Edward's death. He eventually gives his blessing to the coronation of Richard as King of England.
Messengers Seven messengers appear throughout Richard III, generally bringing news of war, rebellion, and intrigue. They are particularly numerous in Act 4, where they describe the escalating conflict between Richard and Richmond.
Murderers Two murderers dispatch the Duke of Clarence at the end of Act 1. The first murderer is a ruthless assassin, but the second murderer takes part in the killing only reluctantly.
Duke of Norfolk The Duke of Norfolk is a powerful military commander loyal to Richard. His only lines come at the Battle of Bosworth (Act 5), where he helps to lead Richard's army, but is then killed offstage.
Earl of Oxford The Earl of Oxford is a supporter of Richmond in his uprising against King Richard. He speaks only in Act 5, Scene 2 where he joins Richmond in condemning Richard's actions.
Page The page attends Richard after his coronation and helps him secure the services of assassin James Tyrrel.
Pursuivant The pursuivant (which means "follower") is a minor hanger-on in the household of Lord Hastings. He happens to catch Hastings in a good mood and receives drinking money from him.
Sir Richard Ratcliffe Sir Richard Ratcliffe is one of Richard's henchmen. He oversees the execution of Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan in Act 3 and helps Richard prepare for battle in Act 5.
Earl Rivers Earl Rivers, a member of the influential Woodeville clan, is Queen Elizabeth's brother. Richard, his longtime enemy, has him imprisoned and executed about halfway through the play.
Scrivener The scrivener is tasked with copying out the order for Lord Hastings's arrest so it may be publicly proclaimed. He recognizes Hastings is probably not guilty, but holds his tongue.
Sheriff The sheriff, who appears only in Act 5, Scene 1, leads Buckingham to his execution, though he is seemingly reluctant to do so.
Lord Stanley Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby, initially seems to be a supporter of Richard, but ends up fearing his sudden rise to power. Richard eventually suspects Stanley of disloyalty and holds his son hostage to ensure his cooperation.
Earl of Surrey The Earl of Surrey fights on Richard's side in the Battle of Bosworth. He appears only in Act 5, Scene 3 and then only briefly.
James Tyrrel James Tyrrel is a corrupt gentleman of modest means and grand ambitions. Richard hires him to murder Prince Edward and his brother, the Duke of York.
Sir Thomas Vaughan Sir Thomas Vaughan is a supporter of Queen Elizabeth and her family, which makes him an enemy in Richard's book. He is executed at Pomfret Castle in Act 3.
Duchess of York The Duchess of York is the elderly mother of King Edward IV, Clarence, and Richard. Full of sorrow and regret, she distrusts Richard long before he embarks on his tyrannical reign and curses him near the end of the play with a bloody death.
Richard, Duke of York Richard, Duke of York, not to be confused with Richard, the play's main character, is the younger brother to Prince Edward. Along with his brother, he is murdered on Richard's orders in Act 4.
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