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Richard III | Quotes


Since I cannot prove a lover / To entertain these fair well-spoken days, / I am determinèd to prove a villain.

King Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1

Richard claims his deformity has prevented him from pursuing romance, so he must turn to villainy instead. It has made him an outsider, and rather than pursue love, he must pursue evil instead. His words offer a template for Richard's own mindset, which is focused on oppositions. In his rise to power, he thrives on conflict, setting people against each other using rumors and gossip. He pretends to be loving and trustworthy, while secretly plotting to murder one person after another. This carries over to the language he uses, which often incorporates opposites—in this case, he pits being a lover against being a villain.


Simple, plain Clarence, I do love thee so / That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven.

King Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1

Clarence, it's true, has badly misplaced his trust in relying on Richard to intercede for him after he is sent by their brother, King Edward, to be executed in the Tower of London. His belief Richard will bail him out is wishful thinking at its finest. Richard's little quip, however, says at least as much about him as it does about Clarence; in his world, trust in one's family is a flaw, a weakness to be mocked and exploited. Richard doesn't love Clarence, but wants him dead. As far as Richard is concerned, those who blindly rely on others as Clarence does get what they deserve.


O, cursèd be the hand that made these holes; / Cursèd the heart that had the heart to do it; / Cursèd the blood that let this blood from hence.

Lady Anne, Act 1, Scene 2

Anne has good reason to curse Richard: he has killed not only her father-in-law Henry VI, whose split "blood" she alludes to here, but her husband Prince Edward as well. These three lines, whose parallel structure builds in intensity, are merely the tip of the iceberg. In the rest of her long and passionate monologue, Anne wishes all sorts of ills upon her enemy, including deformed children and an untimely death. By the time she finishes her speech, Anne is on record as absolutely despising Richard—which makes his successful wooing of her that much more remarkable.


Was ever woman in this humor wooed? / Was ever woman in this humor won?

King Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2

Richard's interaction with Lady Anne may formally resemble courtship, but it has more in common with bullying. He comes before her at an exhausting and emotionally fraught juncture in her life, then refuses to leave her alone until he gets what he wants. Since he is a duke and the king's brother, and Anne is a widow of the defeated Lancaster dynasty, Richard knows he can harass her without serious repercussions.

When Anne capitulates—notice, however, she does not agree to marry him, or even to forgive him—Richard immediately assumes he has won her over. It is utterly typical of him to credit this victory to his own charms, and not to Anne's emotional and political vulnerability. This is not necessarily an either-or proposition, even though Richard treats it as one: his "winning" of Anne may result from a mixture of flattery and intimidation. Whatever ingredients Richard stirs into his verbal poison, good looks are decidedly not a factor; his bragging about his own handsomeness later on is meant as a sarcastic joke.


Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog.

Queen Margaret, Act 1, Scene 3

Queen Margaret is the play's uncontested MVP of cursing others; her long life has given her much to be bitter about, and she has a genuine knack for channeling this bitterness into colorful insults. Like most people who hate Richard, Margaret lets loose with insults that emphasize his deformities: abortive in this context means "monstrous" or "unnatural," and elvish-marked suggests an evil spirit has blighted Richard's body.

In harping on Richard's physical features, Margaret likely believes she is hitting him where it hurts. In fact, as early as Henry VI, Part 3, Richard flaunts his misshapen appearance as a badge of distinctiveness. Consequently, he is unlikely to be too thin-skinned about anything Margaret has to say about his hunched back or his shriveled arm.


Gloucester, we have done deeds of charity, / Made peace of enmity, fair love of hate.

King Edward IV, Act 2, Scene 1

This is wishful thinking, plain and simple. King Edward longs for peace between his family and the queen's, but the truce he commands in this scene is forced, awkward, and unlikely to last long after his death. Richard, Hastings, and Buckingham cheerfully agree to set aside their grievances against Queen Elizabeth and her relatives, knowing that as soon as Edward dies, they can resume the feud. This is another instance, among many in the play, of the dangers of not seeing the truth even when it is evident, of which Richard often takes full advantage. His brother, Clarence, for example, dies believing Richard, who is responsible for his murder, loves him dearly.


Ay me! I see the ruin of my house. / The tiger now hath seized the gentle hind.

Queen Elizabeth, Act 2, Scene 4

The queen's right: now that Richard is Lord Protector, her family (the Woodevilles) will be at his mercy—and there's not a lot of mercy to go around. Like a tiger, Richard will strike without warning, camouflaging his intentions until it is too late to stop him from devouring them all.

At the same time, something rings false about this analogy: Richard may be a "tiger," but the Woodevilles are hardly "gentle hinds" (harmless deer). Queen Elizabeth, in particular, is at least partly responsible for Clarence's death and Hastings's imprisonment. By the end of the play, she is certainly more sinned against than sinning, but she's not the innocent victim she makes herself out to be here.


I do not like the Tower, of any place.

Prince Edward, Act 3, Scene 1

This bit of foreshadowing helps to establish Prince Edward as a thoughtful, precocious young man, unlike Clarence's son, who still views Uncle Richard as a trustworthy friend. His dislike of the Tower of London may be instinctive, but it also reflects the Tower's long history as a prison and a place of execution. To make matters even more ominous, Julius Caesar, the Tower's early architect, was a leader who was assassinated in a political coup.


To fly the boar before the boar pursues / Were to incense the boar to follow us.

Lord Hastings, Act 3, Scene 2

Hastings has a point here: fleeing abruptly might arouse Richard's suspicions and provoke a violent response. Unfortunately, like Lewis Carroll's Alice, Hastings is better at giving advice than following it: in Act 3, Scene 4 he walks right into the trap Richard and Buckingham have set for him.


O, would to God that the inclusive verge / Of golden metal that must round my brow / Were red-hot steel to sear me to the brains!

Lady Anne, Act 4, Scene 1

Things are heating up (no pun intended) at the royal court; Anne, who already repents her decision to marry Richard, is about to be crowned his queen. Her reaction may seem a little extreme, but it captures the general sentiment among the ladies of the royal family as Richard rises to power: a sickening brew of guilt, sorrow, and world-weariness, combined with the dreadful feeling the worst is yet to come.


I will converse with iron-witted fools / And unrespective boys. None are for me / That look into me with considerate eyes.

King Richard III, Act 4, Scene 2

Having finally attained the throne, Richard grows warier and more isolated than ever. He is no longer willing to admit the more powerful noblemen (like Buckingham) into his confidence, for fear they will detect his plans and mobilize against him. Instead, he increasingly relies on low-ranking intermediaries (such as Catesby and Ratcliffe) and hired muscle like James Tyrrel and his goons.


The tyrannous and bloody act is done, / The most arch deed of piteous massacre / That ever yet this land was guilty of.

James Tyrrel, Act 4, Scene 3

At this point in the play, morale is seriously flagging on Team Richard. Tyrrel was specifically chosen for this job because he is a remorseless mercenary, but even he is not immune from feelings of guilt. For him, as for Hastings and Buckingham, the murder of the young princes represents a point of no return, and he despises what he's been involved in. Unlike those two noblemen, however, Tyrrel shrewdly hides his feelings when he reports the princes' deaths to Richard. He dispatches the news to him in a cool, businesslike fashion. Richard, in turn, seems to positively relish the death of his nephews and would likely consider a show of remorse from anyone involved in their deaths to be a threat to himself.


By the apostle Paul, shadows tonight / Have struck more terror to the soul of Richard / Than can the substance of ten thousand soldiers.

King Richard III, Act 5, Scene 3

The ghosts have done their job well: Richard is guilt-ridden, profoundly unnerved, and maybe a bit sleep-deprived too. However we might describe his condition, one thing is clear: Richard III is in no fit state to lead an army. Richmond, meanwhile, is so cheered and encouraged by his dream, which foretells his victory, he nearly sleeps in.

Although Shakespeare chooses to include actual ghosts in his play, the psychological point is more important than any spooky special effects: Richard is having a crisis of conscience on the morning of an important battle. He is no longer certain of victory; worse yet, he has begun to doubt the rightness of his cause. Up until now, Richard has been able to overlook the moral dimension of his actions, granting him a ruthless efficiency in his rise to power. In this scene his conscience rears its head at a most inopportune time.


A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!

King Richard III, Act 5, Scene 4

This is arguably the most famous line in Richard III: a cry of desperation as King Richard realizes he has been cornered by Richmond's forces and may well lose the battle. The performative possibilities of this line are rich: depending on how it is spoken, in his final moments, Richard can be portrayed in several different ways: as a defiant monarch, a foiled and frustrated schemer, or a wild animal finally brought to bay.


We will unite the white rose and the red; / Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction, / That long have frowned upon their enmity.

Earl of Richmond, Act 5, Scene 5

With this closing speech, Richmond announces his intention to unite the two warring houses of York and Lancaster after three decades of strife: himself a descendant of the House of Lancaster (the "red rose"), Richmond will marry Princess Elizabeth of the House of York (the "white rose"). This alliance will give rise to the Tudor dynasty, whose emblem, fittingly enough, consists of the two roses superimposed in a single design.

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