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A circa 1884 poster for William Shakespeare Richard III, starring Thos. W. Keene. Richard III is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1591, depicting the Machiavellian rise to power and subsequent short reign of Richard III of England. The play is grouped among the histories in the First Folio and is most often classified as such. Occasionally, however, as in the quarto edition, it is termed a tragedy. Richard III concludes Shakespeare's first tetralogy (also containing Henry VI parts 1–3). It is widely considered to be one of Shakespeare's greatest plays.
After Hamlet, it is the longest play in the canon and is the longest of the First Folio, whose version of Hamlet is shorter than its Quarto counterpart. The play is rarely performed unabridged; often, certain peripheral characters are removed entirely. In such instances extra lines are often invented or added from elsewhere in the sequence in order to establish the nature of characters' relationships. A further reason for abridgment is that Shakespeare assumed that his audiences would be familiar with the Henry VI plays, and frequently made indirect references to events in them, such as Richard's murder of Henry VI or the defeat of Henry's queen Margaret. Richard III is believed to be one of Shakespeare's earlier plays, preceded only by the three parts of Henry VI and perhaps a handful of comedies. It is believed to have been written circa 1591. Although Richard III was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on October 20, 1597 by the bookseller Andrew Wise, who published the first quarto (Q1) later that year (with printing done by Valentine Simmes), Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, which cannot have been written much later than 1592 (Marlowe died in 1593) is thought to have been influenced by it. A second quarto (Q2) followed in 1597, printed by Thomas Creede for Andrew Wise, containing an attribution to Shakespeare on its title page and may have been a memorial reconstruction. Q3 appeared in 1602, Q4 in 1605, Q5 in 1612, and Q6 in 1622; the frequency attesting to its popularity. The First Folio version followed in 1623. The earliest certain performance occurred on 17 November 1633, when Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria watched it on the Queen's birthday. Yet plainly it had been performed many times before that. The Diary of Philip Henslowe records a popular play he calls Buckingham, performed in December 1593 and January 1594, which might have been Shakespeare's play.
Colley Cibber produced the most successful of the Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare with his version of Richard III, at Drury Lane starting in 1700. Cibber himself played the role till 1739, and his version was on stage for the next century and a half. It contained the immortal line "Off with his head; so much for Buckingham" — possibly the most famous Shakespearean line that Shakespeare didn't write. The original Shakespearean version returned in a production at Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1845. The play begins with Richard describing the accession to the throne of his brother, King Edward IV of England, eldest son of the late Richard, Duke of York.
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
("sun of York" is a punning reference to the badge of the "blazing sun" which Edward IV adopted, and "son of York", i.e., the son of the Duke of York.)
The speech reveals Richard's jealousy and ambition, as his brother, King Edward the Fourth rules the country successfully. Richard is an ugly hunchback, describing himself as "rudely stamp'd" and "deformed, unfinish'd", who cannot "strut before a wanton ambling nymph." He responds to the anguish of his condition with an outcast's credo: "I am determined to prove a villain / And hate the idle pleasures of these days." Richard plots to have his brother Clarence, who stands before him in the line of succession, conducted to the Tower of London over a prophecy that "G of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be", which the king interprets as referring to George of Clarence (although the audience later realises that it was actually a reference to Richard of Gloucester).
Richard next ingratiates himself with "the Lady Anne"—Anne Neville, widow of the Lancastrian Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales. Richard confides to the audience:
"I'll marry Warwick's youngest daughter.
What, though I kill'd her husband and his father?"
Despite initially hating him, Anne is won over by his pleas of love and repentance and agrees to marry him. When she leaves, Richard exults in having won her over despite all he has done to her, and tells the audience that he will discard her once she has served her purpose.
The atmosphere at court is poisonous: the established nobles are at odds with the upwardly-mobile relatives of Queen Elizabeth, a hostility fuelled by Richard's machinations. Queen Margaret, Henry VI's widow, returns in defiance of her banishment and warns the squabbling nobles about Richard. Queen Margaret curses Richard and the rest who were present. The nobles, all Yorkists, reflexively unite against this last Lancastrian, and the warning falls on deaf ears.
Richard orders two murderers to kill his brother Clarence in the tower. Clarence, meanwhile, relates a dream to his keeper. The dream includes extremely visual language describing Clarence falling from an imaginary ship as a result of Gloucester, who had fallen from the hatches, striking him. Under the water Clarence sees the skeletons of thousands of men "that fishes gnawed upon." He also sees "wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl, inestimable stones, unvalued jewels." All of these are "scatterd in the bottom of the sea." Clarence adds that some of the jewels were in the skulls of the dead. Clarence then imagines dying and being tormented by the ghosts of his father-in-law (Warwick, Anne's father) and brother-in-law (Edward, Anne's former husband).
After Clarence falls asleep, Brakenbury, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, enters and observes that between the titles of princes and the low names of commoners there is nothing different but the "outward fame", meaning that they both have "inward toil" whether rich or poor. When the murderers arrive, he reads their warrant (which is falsely portrayed as being from the king), and exits with the Keeper, who disobeys Clarence's request to stand by him, and leaves the two murderers the keys.
Clarence wakes and pleads with the murderers, saying that men have no right to obey other men's requests for murder, because all men are under the rule of God not to commit murder. The murderers imply Clarence is a hypocrite because, as one says, "[t]hou [...] unripped'st the bowels of [your] sovereign's son [Edward] whom [you were] sworn to cherish and defend." Tactically trying to win them over, he tells them to go to his brother Gloucester, who will reward them better for his life than Edward will for his death. One murderer insists Gloucester himself sent them to perform the bloody act, but Clarence does not believe him. He recalls the unity of Richard Duke of York blessing his three sons with his victorious arm, bidding his brother Gloucester to "think on this and he will weep." Sardonically, a murderer says Gloucester weeps millstones — echoing Richard's earlier comment about the murderers' own eyes weeping millstones rather than "foolish tears" (Act I, Sc. 3).
Next, one of the murderers explains that his brother Gloucester hates him, and sent them to the Tower to kill him. Eventually, one murderer gives in to his conscience and does not participate, but the other killer stabs Clarence and drowns him in "the Malmsey butt within". The first act closes with the perpetrator needing to find a hole to bury Clarence.
Edward IV soon dies, leaving as Protector his brother Richard, who sets about removing the final obstacles to his accession. He meets his nephew, the young Edward V, who is en route to London for his coronation accompanied by relatives of Edward's widow. These Richard arrests and (eventually) beheads, and the young prince and his brother are coaxed into an extended stay at the Tower of London.
Assisted by his cousin Buckingham, Richard mounts a campaign to present himself as the true heir to the throne, pretending to be a modest, devout man with no pretensions to greatness. Lord Hastings, who objects to Richard's ascension, is arrested and executed on a trumped-up charge. Together, Richard and Buckingham spread the rumour that Edward's two sons are illegitimate, and therefore have no rightful claim to the throne. The other lords are cajoled into accepting Richard as king, in spite of the continued survival of his nephews (the Princes in the Tower). Richard asks Buckingham to secure the death of the princes, but Buckingham hesitates. Richard then recruits James Tyrrel, who kills both children. In the meantime, Richard turns against Buckingham for the latter's refusal to kill the princes, denying him the prior-promised land grant. At this, Buckingham turns against Richard and defects to the side of Henry, Earl of Richmond, who is currently in exile. Richard tries his old dissembling to get into princess Elizabeth's "nest of spicery", but her mother is not taken in by his eloquence.
In due course, the increasingly paranoid Richard loses what popularity he had. He soon faces rebellions led first by Buckingham and subsequently by the invading Richmond. Buckingham is captured and executed. Both sides arrive for a final battle at Bosworth Field. Prior to the battle, Richard is visited by the ghosts of his victims, all of whom tell him to "Despair and die!" He awakes screaming for "Jesu" (Jesus) to help him, slowly realizing that he is all alone in the world, and cannot even pity himself.
At the battle of Bosworth Field, Lord Stanley (who is also Richmond's stepfather) and his followers desert Richard's side, whereupon Richard calls for the execution of George Stanley, Lord Stanley's son. This does not happen, as the battle is in full swing, and Richard is left at a disadvantage. Richard is soon unhorsed on the field at the climax of the battle, and utters the often-quoted line, "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" Richmond kills Richard in the final duel. Subsequently, Richmond succeeds to the throne as Henry VII, and marries Elizabeth from the House of York, effectively ending the War of the Roses. The play resolutely avoids demonstrations of physical violence; only Clarence and Richard III die on-stage, while the rest (the two princes, Hastings, Grey, Vaughan, Rivers, Anne, Buckingham, and King Edward) all meet their ends off-stage. Despite the villainous nature of the title character and the grim storyline, Shakespeare infuses the action with comic material, as he does with most of his tragedies. Much of the humour rises from the dichotomy between what we know Richard's character to be and how Richard tries to appear.
Richard himself also provides some dry remarks in evaluating the situation, as when he plans to marry Queen Elizabeth's daughter: "Murder her brothers, then marry her; Uncertain way of gain...." Other examples of humour in this play include Clarence's reluctant murderers, and the Duke of Buckingham's report on his attempt to persuade the Londoners to accept Richard ("...I bid them that did love their country's good cry, God save Richard, England's royal king!" Richard: "And did they so?" Buckingham: "No, so God help me, they spake not a word....") Puns, a Shakespearean staple, are especially well-represented in the scene where Richard tries to persuade Queen Elizabeth to woo her daughter on his behalf. William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564; died 23 April 1616) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's preeminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of 38 plays,[c] 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who bore him three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as the King's Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare's private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the sixteenth century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.
Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. In 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare's.
Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century. The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed Shakespeare's genius, and the Victorians worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George Bernard Shaw called "bardolatry". In the twentieth century, his work was repeatedly adopted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly popular today and are constantly studied, performed and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world. In the First Folio, the plays of William Shakespeare were grouped into three categories: comedies, histories, and tragedies. This categorisation has become established, although some critics have argued for a fourth category, the romance. The histories were those plays based on the lives of English kings. The plays that depict older historical figures such as Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Julius Caesar, and the legendary King Lear were not included in that classification. Macbeth, which is based on a Scottish king, was also classed as a tragedy, not a history. List of Shakespeare's histories
Edward III (attributed)
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 3
Henry VIII Description Source Wikipedia