From Stories of Shakespeare’s English History Plays by Helene Adeline Guerber. New York: Dodd, Mead and company.
The first act opens in London, where Richard, Duke of Gloucester, states in a soliloquy, the winter of discontent is over, and the sun of York shines upon a glorious summer. Sarcastically he comments upon the way his brother is spending his time as King, and grimly determines since he cannot rival him as a lady’s man, to ‘prove a villain.’ He has, therefore, plotted to make the King suspect Clarence, by calling his attention to a prediction ‘that G. of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.’ While mentioning thus his brother, George, Duke of Clarence, Richard sees him enter, escorted by guards. In reply to his astonished question, Clarence bitterly rejoins he has been arrested, because his name begins with G., whereupon Richard sagely avers these troubles are due to the machinations of the Queen and her relatives, whom he accuses also of arresting Hastings, Clarence has just expressed a conviction that no one is safe, when the guards announce they must lead him straight to the Tower, without allowing him to communicate with his brother. Thereupon Richard flippantly retorts they two were merely discussing the virtues of their majesties and the charms of Mistress Shore, concerning whom jokes in bad taste are made, ere the brothers part, Richard promising to intercede in Clarence’s behalf.
When Clarence has gone, however, Richard grimly mutters he loves him so dearly he intends soon to send him to heaven, and hails with apparent joy the entrance of Lord Hastings, just released from prison. After solicitously inquiring how he stood his incarceration, Richard adds Clarence will probably fare equally well, since the same agency also caused his arrest. By asking if there is any news, Richard also learns the King is so ill his physicians seem alarmed about him. Bidding Hastings hasten to Edward — whither he will soon follow — Richard watches this interlocutor out of sight, before he declares that while he does not want Edward to live, he must not die until George’s fate is settled. Richard therefore proposes, by means of ‘lies well steel’d with weighty arguments,’ to hasten Clarence’s execution, and plans, after Edward’s death, to marry Warwick’s youngest daughter, although he murdered her husband and father. Before the scene closes, he mysteriously hints at another ‘secret close intent,’ when these awful preliminaries have been duly settled.
Through a street in London, winds the funeral procession of Henry VI, with his daughter-in-law Lady Anne as chief mourner. Bidding the bearers set down the bier, she laments the deaths which have desolated her heart, calling down curses upon those who caused them. Then, turning toward the bearers, she orders them to resume their burden and inter the King, just as Gloucester appears. In spite of Anne’s curses, and her declaration she does not see why the bearers should fear a devil with power over mortal bodies but none over souls, he checks their advance. But, although he ingratiatingly addresses her as ‘sweet saint,’ she continues to revile him as the instrument of Henry’s death, pointing out in confirmation that the wounds bleed anew in his presence.
When Gloucester, in return, appeals to her charity, she avers she has none for him, and answers all his wily remarks with vehement curses. But, when after a while he hints he may not have killed her kinsmen, she interrupts him by indignantly declaring Queen Margaret saw his sword in her lord’s breast! Changing tactics, Gloucester now claims he was provoked to murder by the Queen’s slanderous remarks, and piously adds that as the slain King was fitter for heaven than for earth, he did a meritorious deed in sending him thither. To compass his evil purpose, he next proceeds to woo this widow at her father-in-law’s bier, by vowing the crimes he committed could rightly be laid at her door, since they were done for the sake of her beauty. Rejoining if such is the case she will destroy it, Anne spits upon Richard when he protests love to her, and continues to curse him. Still, his tongue is so smooth, that he gradually succeeds in calming her, and when she wails she lost a husband and father at his hands, he dramatically offers to atone for these sorrows with his life, and baring his breast, offers her his sword that she may stab him. Unable to use it, although he urges her to do so by confessing he killed both Henry and Edward, Richard disarms her wrath by claiming all he did was done for love of her. Then, after a while, he gives Anne a ring, which he sentimentally describes as encompassing her finger as her breast encloses his poor heart! Finally he prevails upon Anne to let him take charge of the corpse and withdraw, granting him a later interview, wherein they will be able to continue this discussion. This whole scene is cleverly devised to show the fascination a snake exerts over a fluttering bird; but when Anne has gone, Richard’s humble bearing suddenly drops like a mask, for he curtly bids the bearers remove the corpse and await his further orders.
Left alone, he questions ‘was ever woman in this humour woo’d? was ever woman in this humour won?’ and states that although he intends to marry Anne ‘with curses in her mouth, and tears in her eyes,’ he is equally determined to get rid of her in short order. Then he chuckles he is evidently not such a monster as he has hitherto believed himself, since he has succeeded in captivating even his victim’s widow, and discusses the advisability of turning into a fop.
We return to the palace, where Queen Elizabeth, talking to Lords Rivers and Gray about the King’s illness, declares it serious, indeed, although they assure her Edward will soon be well. They also remind her her son is there to comfort her when her husband is gone, whereupon she sighs the Prince is but a minor, and in the care of Gloucester, a ‘man that loves not me, nor none of you.’ Just then Lords Buckingham and Derby enter, and after exchanging greetings with all present report the King much better and anxious to reconcile Gloucester to her and to her family. Elizabeth has barely declared it is unlikely such a reconciliation can ever be brought about, when Gloucester enters, proclaiming they wrong him by filling his brother’s ears with lying reports, all because he cannot flatter and speak them fair!
When Rivers hotly demands to whom he is addressing such a reproach, Gloucester rejoins by asking what harm he has ever done him or any of his faction, and why they trouble Edward while he is so ill? The Queen hoping to check the incipient quarrel, soothingly informs Gloucester the King wishes to reconcile them all; but when he betrays mistrust, she promptly answers him in kind. To justify himself, Richard finally accuses Elizabeth of having his brother George imprisoned, although she insists she had no part in his arrest or Hastings’. Nevertheless, Gloucester persists their lives are in danger, and accuses his sister-in-law of planning to marry again. Indignantly exclaiming she has borne his upbraiding too long, the Queen avers she would ‘rather be a country servant-maid than a great Queen, with this condition, to be thus taunted, scorn’d and baited at.’
While Elizabeth is thus showing she has had small joy in being England’s Queen, Margaret, widow of Henry VI, enters, and grimly retorts no joy is due to the usurper of her place! Although she denounces Gloucester, too, for having slain her husband and son, he protests he is ready to answer for his actions to the King, and pays no heed when she terms him a devil. Instead, he turns to Elizabeth, sadly protesting that although his brother Clarence forsook his father-in-law during the wars to join Edward, he is now in prison. Because Queen Margaret remarks, that whereas they were wrangling like pirates on her entrance, they now all seem ready to turn against her, Richard claims this is no more than she deserves, since she fiendishly mocked his father with a paper crown, and wiped his tears with a handkerchief steeped in the blood of his son!
Hearing all present, Elizabeth, Hastings, Rivers, Dorset and Buckingham, now unite in reviling her, Margaret elaborately curses them all, hoping Elizabeth may lose husband and son and outlive her glory like her wretched self. Then, in regard to the lords who stood by while her son was slain, she prays ‘that none of you may live your natural age, but by some unlook’d accident cut off!’
Because Gloucester attempts to silence Margaret she honours him with the direst curse of all, calling down upon his head every evil; but, before she concludes it with his name, he promptly substitutes her own, maliciously insisting she has cursed herself. Such a trick amuses Elizabeth, who in return is warned she is feeding a ‘bottled spider,’ in whose web she will ultimately be snared, and that when that time comes she will long for Margaret to help her curse ‘that poisonous, bunch-back’d toad,’ the choice epithet she coins for Gloucester.
Although all present have attempted it in turn, it proves impossible to silence Queen Margaret’s tide of invective. But, having warned Buckingham to beware of Gloucester, she leaves the stage, while Hastings ejaculates his hair rose on end at her curses! Gloucester, however, sentimentally admits Margaret has suffered great wrongs, and expresses hypocritical repentance for those he did her, while Elizabeth virtuously claims she never did any consciously. Still, Gloucester reminds her she reaps all the joys accruing from these wrongs, adding that Clarence is already being punished for his perjury, and hoping God will pardon the rest, a truly Virtuous and a Christian-like conclusion, ‘from Rivers’ point of view.
As the chamberlain reports Edward IV awaiting the Queen and nobles, all leave save Gloucester, who gloats over the fact that he has set ‘secret mischiefs’ afoot, has stirred the King up against his brother, and expects soon to be avenged upon these foolish lords.
Meantime, he intends to clothe his ‘naked villany with old odd ends stolen out of holy writ; and seem a saint,’ when most he plays the devil. Because two murderers for whom he has sent, now join him, he secretly gives them a warrant, bidding them hasten to the Tower, and ‘be sudden in the execution’ of what they have to do, without allowing their hearts to be moved to pity. Grimly assuring him they have come to use their hands and not their feelings, the murderers depart to dispatch Clarence.
In a Tower cell, Clarence is describing to the lieutenant on guard the fearful night he has spent, for he dreamt he was on shipboard, where, while talking to Gloucester, he fell overboard, only to experience all the horrors of drowning. Gifted with the clearness of vision said to aflFect people under such circumstances, Clarence describes all he saw at the bottom of the sea, as well as his frantic struggles to keep his head above water. His interlocutor seems particularly impressed when he depicts how, after life left him, he passed ‘the melancholy flood, with that grim ferry-man which poets write of,’ and was conscience-stricken to encounter his victims, Warwick and Edward. His description fairly makes the lieutentant’s blood run cold, although Clarence insists his crimes were all committed for the sake of the brother who requites him so ill, and fervently prays they may not be visited upon his wife and children. As long as such visions haunt him, he so dreads remaining alone, that he begs his jailor linger beside him while he drops off asleep. While watching, the jailor moralises ‘Princes have but their titles for their glories,’ and ‘often feel a world of restless cares,’ just as the two murderers steal noiselessly in. By silently exhibiting the warrant they hold, they compel him to leave the room, and while he hastens away to notify the King, the murderers discuss whether to stab Clarence asleep? One of them, thinking of the judgment day, is suddenly assailed by such remorse that he seems ready to relinquish the undertaking; but when his companion reminds him of the reward promised, he boldly asserts his conscience is ‘in the Duke of Gloucester’s purse.’
He and his companion are just preparing to stun Clarence by a blow on the head, previous to drowning him in a malmsey butt in the next room, when he suddenly awakes calling for wine. Their ominous rejoinder that he will soon have plenty, so terrifies Clarence, that he tremulously inquires who sent them. Thereupon they roughly bid him prepare to die, stating they are the instruments of the King’s will. In despair, Clarence finally implores them to seek Gloucester, whereupon they reveal this Prince sent them, and again urge their victim to make his peace with God. Because Clarence continues to plead for mercy, they abruptly bid him look behind him, and, taking advantage of this move, stab him. Then, after casting his corpse in the malmsey butt, one of them mutters that, like Pilate, he would fain wash his hands of this crime, while the other, — who has done all the work, — reviles his companion, vowing he will report how slack he has been. The repentant man, however, passes out of the Tower refusing to share in the reward which his companion coolly goes off to collect previous to his departure, for he realises ‘this will out, and here I must not stay.’
The second act opens in the palace, where Edward IV rejoices because he has reconciled the inimical peers, and feels he can face his Redeemer since he leaves his friends at peace. After seeing Rivers and Hastings shake hands in his presence, he urges Queen Elizabeth, Dorset and Buckingham to drop all animosity, too. These reconciliations effected, Edward remarks Gloucester alone is wanting to make ‘a perfect period’ of peace, just as that brother enters, jauntily bidding all present ‘good morrow.’ When the King joyfully boasts he has done deeds of charity, Gloucester sanctimonously approves, and, anxious to be at peace with all men too, begs pardon of all present, sentimentally averring, ”tis death to me to be at enmity.’ But when the Queen kindly suggests it might be well to include Clarence in the general pardon, Gloucester hotly reproaches her with levity, saying she must know the Duke is dead. On hearing this, all present exclaim, and the King cries out that the order was reversed. Gloucester, however, duly informs him ‘a winged Mercury’, evidently bore his first, and ‘a tardy cripple’ his second message, seeing it arrived too late.
It is now Derby appears, entreating that one of his servants, who has committed an accidental murder, may be pardoned. Sadly inquiring how the tongue which doomed a brother to death can be expected to pardon a slave. King Edward sinks back overcome with grief, for he remembers how Clarence assisted him in obtaining his crown, and fears God’s justice will visit this crime upon him and his. Such is his emotion, that, too ill to remain in public any longer, he begs to be taken back to his apartment; and, while the Queen leads Edward away, Gloucester slily inquires of the rest whether they noted how pale the guilty kindred of her Majesty became at mention of Clarence’s death, thereby subtly accusing them of the murder.
A little later the Duchess of York occupies the stage with Clarence’s children, who, noting her tears, wonder whether their father can be dead? Not daring otherwise to impart the terrible news, the Duchess assures them the King will henceforth be their father, whereupon the boy blurts out his uncle Gloucester said the Queen caused his father’s death, when he offered to replace his parent. Knowing what to think of Richard’s hypocritical offers, the Duchess exclaims ‘Oh, that deceit should steal such gentle shapes, and with a virtuous vizard hide foul guile!’ a remark the boy fails to understand, and which is closely followed by the entrance of Elizabeth, Rivers and Dorset.
So disheveled and woe-begone is the Queen’s appearance that her mother-in-law demands what it means, only to hear Elizabeth gasp the King is dead, and wonder that the branches remain green when their root is withered. While Elizabeth bitterly regrets her inability to follow her husband ‘to his new kingdom of perpetual rest,’ the Duchess cries she, too, has cause to grieve, since Edward was her son. Not only has she lost a husband, but ‘two mirrors of his princely semblance are crack’d in pieces by malignant death,’ and all that now remains to her is ‘one false glass,’ in the person of Richard! She reminds Elizabeth that she still possesses all her children, although death has deprived her of a husband, while Clarence’s offspring comment that their aunt shed no tears for their father. The recent losses all present have sustained, cause a general lament, the Duchess’ wail proving longest and loudest because she has the most dead to weep for. Meantime, Dorset and Rivers try to comfort Elizabeth by reminding her her son should be sent for, and crowned Edward V.
Just then Gloucester, Buckingham and other lords come in, the first obsequiously imploring the Queen to be comforted, and humbly craving his mother’s blessing. She gives it with the significant addition, may God ‘put meekness in thy mind, love, charity, obedience, and true duty,’ whereupon Gloucester adds a ribald aside. Then because Buckingham remarks that although the late King is no more, they hope to reap ‘the harvest of his son,’ and reminds all present the young Prince should be brought to London to be crowned, all immediately volunteer to serve as his escort, until the new monarch bids fair to be attended by uncles on both father’s and mother’s side, for the two factions now seem friends. All the rest now departing, Buckingham approaches Gloucester, artfully suggesting they go too, and devise on the way some means to separate ‘the Queen’s proud kindred from the King.’ This suggestion is hailed with rapture by Gloucester, who flatteringly promises to be guided by Buckingham, as they depart to meet Edward V.
Meantime; in the palace, the Archbishop informs the Queen-mother the royal party spent the night at Stony Stratford, and will soon arrive in London. Both mother and grandmother seem anxious to see young Edward, and wonder whether he has grown much since they last beheld him; while his little brother, the Duke of York, waxes indignant because told he is taller than Edward. When his grandmother wonderingly queries why he resents such a proud fact, the child explains Uncle Gloucester assured him ‘small herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace.’ But when the Duchess bitterly rejoins Richard himself does not exemplify this saying, the little fellow wishes he had known that sooner, and gives a sample of the wit he would have expended in twitting Gloucester about that fact.
Just as this conversation ends, a messenger announces grievous news, and when the Queen breathlessly inquires whether harm has befallen her son, rejoins it does not concern him, but the Lords Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan, who have been arrested by order of Gloucester and Buckingham, and despatched to Pomfret. This news terrifies Elizabeth, who, seeing herself suddenly deprived of the support of her kindred, apprehends the downfall of her house, a dread her mother-in-law shares, for she does not trust her son Richard. In her terror, Queen Elizabeth bids her second son accompany her to sanctuary, whither the Duchess proposes to follow them, a move the Archbishop approves since he offers to escort them thither.
The third act opens in a London street just as King Edward V arrives, closely attended by the Dukes of Gloucester, Buckingham and others. Bending down to the little monarch, Gloucester courteously bids him welcome, inquiring why he looks so melancholy on a festive occasion? Sadly rejoining he wants ‘more uncles here to welcome’ him, Edward listens perplexed while Glou- cester, with feigned gentleness, explains that these men were dangerous, because their ‘sugar’d words’ concealed the ‘poison of their hearts.’ Then he calls the little King’s attention to the fact that the Lord Mayor of London is coming to greet him. After duly welcoming this imposing official, Edward inquires why his mother and brother have not yet come to meet him, and why Hastings does not return with tidings of them? Just then this lord appears alone, stating that Elizabeth and her son have taken sanctuary, although the little Prince was so eager to join his brother that his mother had to restrain him by force. Angrily remarking the Queen Is acting foolishly, Buckingham bids the Cardinal and Hastings fetch young York by force, adding, when the Cardinal exclaims sanctuary privileges cannot be infringed, that such privileges are extended only to criminals and do not concern innocent children.
After the Cardinal and Hastings have gone to fetch his brother, the young King inquires where he is to lodge, and seems disappointed when Gloucester informs him the Tower must be his present abode. Nevertheless, he inquires whether this building was not erected by Julius Caesar, making such precocious remarks In regard to it, that Richard takes occasion to mutter, wise children ‘never live long.’ When Edward V boasts, however, that should he live to be a man he will win back their ancient rights to France, his uncle further ominously adds, ‘short summers lightly have a forward spring.’
Just then Hastings and the Cardinal escort on the stage the little Duke of York, who greets his brother rapturously, and is duly welcomed by all the noblemen present. The meeting of the two little brothers proves very affectionate, but the younger Prince is soon so attracted by Gloucester’s jeweled dagger, that he begs for it, offending his uncle sorely a moment later by his sharp, unchildlike remarks. On hearing whither they are bound, this lad, too, shows a marked aversion to the Tower, whispering that his grandmother said his uncle Clarence was murdered there, and that he fears to encounter his ghost. But, when the young monarch stoutly avers he fears no uncles dead, Gloucester ostentatiously assuring him he need fear none living either, sends both Princes on to the Tower.
Left alone, on the scene, Gloucester, Buckingham and Catesby comment upon little York’s forward talk, and wonder whether Hastings can be bribed to share their views. Finally, it is suggested Catesby should sound Hastings and Stanley, breaking off negotiations should they betray unwillingness to further their plans, and merely inviting them instead to the Tower to arrange for the coronation. Meanwhile, Gloucester sends word by Catesby to the governor of Pomfret, to execute his prisoners on the morrow, jocosely concluding this grim message with a kiss for Mistress Shore. As Catesby goes out promising his friends shall hear from him ere they sleep, Buckingham wonders what shall be done with Hastings, in case he does not subscribe to their plans, to which question Gloucester briefly replies, ‘chop off his head,’ promising Buckingham this nobleman’s estates, ere they go off to supper together.
In the next scene, a messenger warns Hastings at early dawn that Stanley considers it unsafe to remain in England, since he dreamt a boar attacked them, and has heard rumours of a double council. The boar is, of course, Richard, whom Stanley dares not designate more openly, although it is quite clear he advises his friend to flee with him northward, and thus ‘shun the danger that his soul devines.’ In spite of this warning, Hastings, sure that Catesby will warn him should danger arise, decides to visit Edward V in the Tower on the morrow. Barely has Stanley’s messenger departed when Catesby enters, oracularly announcing the world ‘will never stand upright till Richard wear the garland of realm.’ At first, Hastings does not understand this remark, but when its significance finally dawns upon him, he loyally avers his head will have to be cut off before the crown can be so foully misplaced. Still, hearing next that the Queen’s kindred, — his personal foes, — are to be executed, Hastings openly rejoices, remarking that twelve months hence they will laugh over this tragedy. In return Catesby meaningly informs him many others are marked for death, including some men ‘who think themselves as safe as thou and I.’
Before this conversation with Catesby ends, Stanley himself appears to renew his warning to Hastings, for the news of the separate councils greatly disquiets him. He, therefore, personally urges Hastings to flee with him, reminding him how little Edward V’s uncles suspected what awaited them when they rode forth to escort him to London. When Hastings gleefully inquires whether he has heard these lords are to be beheaded, Stanley rejoins he is not surprised, just as a messenger comes in, whose appearance drives both Stanley and Catesby away. To this messenger Hastings rashly confides his satisfaction over the execution of the Queen’s kindred, and richly rewards him for the message he brings.
This man having gone, a priest appears, to whom Hastings also joyously promises a donation next Sunday, just as Buckingham enters, jokingly remarking that while his friends at Pomfret may stand in need of a priest’s offices, Hastings surely has no ‘shriving work in hand.’ Hearing Buckingham is on his way to the Tower, Hastings volunteers to accompany him thither, affirming he is due there for dinner, and never noticing his interlocutor’s grim aside that he will be there for supper also, although he does not now suspect this fact.
The curtain next rises on Pomfret castle, as the governor orders the prisoners brought forth to be executed. Rivers, Grey and Vaughan, addressing him in turn, claim they are dying ‘for truth, for duty and for loyalty,’ and predict that those who ordered this execution will live to rue it. Without heeding these threats, the governor bids the executioner proceed, while each of the prisoners solemnly curses Pomfret Castle, and Grey acknowledges Margaret’s curse has already fallen on their heads. Then all three pray their blood may not be visited on the young King, and having taken leave of each other until they ‘meet in heaven,’ are led away to the block.
In the Tower of London a council has assembled to appoint a day for the coronation. After some discussion in regard to the Lord Protector’s wishes, Hasting is about to decide the matter without consuiting him, when Richard suddenly enters the room. After graciously greeting all present, Gloucester turns to the Archbishop of Ely, declaring he has seen such fine strawberries in his garden that he is anxious to taste them. Pleased with such condescension, the Archbishop hurries out to send for the berries, while Gloucester, drawing Buckingham aside, whispers that Catesby reports Hastings vehemently opposed to their plans. To consult on their next move, Buckingham and Gloucester withdraw, while the rest converse about unimportant matters until the Archbishop returns, announcing he has sent for the coveted fruit. All now comment upon Gloucester’s particularly amiable mood, Hastings confidently asserting ‘there’s never a man in Christendom that can less hide his love or hate than he; for by his face straight shall you know his heart.’
They are still discussing Gloucester’s unwonted geniality, when he reenters with Buckingham, angrily demanding what punishment should be awarded to those who have practiced witchcraft upon him? When Hastings promptly rejoins such offenders deserve death, Gloucester suddenly exhibits an arm withered from birth, declaring It was brought to this state by the magic arts of Queen Elizabeth and Mistress Shore! Because Hastings ventures to say that if they have done this they deserve punishment, Gloucester hotly denounces him as a traitor, and orders him removed, vowing he will not dine until he sees his head! All now leave the apartment. In terror, save the guards who pinion Hastings, while he exclaims, ‘woe, woe for England,’ bitterly regrets having scorned Stanley’s warning, and especially having triumphed over foes he was to follow so soon. He, too, realises Margaret’s curse has fallen upon him, and leaves the room grimly reminding his guards, ‘they smile at me that shortly shall be dead.’
In the Tower, Gloucester next asks Buckingham why he quakes and changes colour, at the mere mention of a crime? Stung by this taunt, Buckingham boasts he can counterfeit, too, and offers to play the tragedian whenever his friend wishes. Meantime, he wonders where Catesby may be, only to learn he has gone to fetch the Lord Mayor, with whom he now appears.
No sooner has the Lord Mayor been ushered into the Tower precincts, than Gloucester orders the draw-bridge raised and the walls manned, proceedings which sorely frighten this official. A moment later some guards lay Hastings’ head at Gloucester’s feet as that of a traitor. With consummate hypocrisy, Gloucester now explains to the Mayor how dearly he loved Hastings and how he confided his secrets to him, only to fall victim of his and Mistress Shore’s magic. He adds that Hastings also wove dark plots to murder the Mayor, news which amazes his interlocutor. Still, the accusations which Gloucester piles up against Hastings, finally convince him so thoroughly of this nobleman’s guilt, that the Mayor declares he richly deserved death. Hearing this, Gloucester bids him go forth and explain this point to the people, who might else feel inclined to censure him, and the credulous official bustles out to make the necessary proclamation.
After he has gone, Gloucester directs Buckingham to follow him, and make use of the first opportunity to intimate Edward’s children are illegitimate, and that the late King himself had little right to the throne. Still, as this latter point reflects upon his mother’s honour, Richard wishes it touched upon very sparingly. Eager to play the orator and earn ‘his golden fee,’ Buckingham hastens out, promising in case he succeeds In convincing the people, to bring their representatives to Baynard Castle, where it is arranged Gloucester will be found absorbed In pious exercises. Bidding him expect news ere long, Buckingham disappears, while Gloucester gives orders that sundry divines meet him in his retreat, muttering that, meanwhile, he proposes to dispose privately of Clarence’s brats, and to prevent all access to the little Princes.
In a London street, a public writer contemplates the paper he has just engrossed, wherein Hastings’ crimes are duly set down, commenting that although this nobleman was not arrested when the task was entrusted to him, he is already dead! The scrivener concludes, — although he is not bold enough to denounce it, — that this is ‘a papable device,’ and that ‘all will come to nought, when such bad dealing must be seen in thought.’
In Bayard Castle Gloucester eagerly asks Buckingham how the citizens received his hints in regard to the illegitimacy of Edward IV’s children and his lack of right to the English crown. After explaining how clearly he set it all forth, — calling attention to the fact how little Edward resembled his father, while Richard is the exact counterpart of the Duke, of York, — Buckingham declares that although he had stationed men to cheer, ‘God save Richard, England’s royal King,’ at the end of his speech, less than ten voices finally took up the cry. Still, afraid to wait for greater concurrence, he avers he effusively thanked the people, declaring ‘this gen- eral applause and cheerful shout argues your wisdoms and your love to Richard.’ Although angry because no greater enthusiasm was shown, Gloucester seems relieved to learn the Lord Mayor has come to tender him the crown. Cunningly advising him to arm himself with a prayer-book, appear only between two clergymen, and ‘play the maid’s part’ and refuse the crown, Buckingham now leaves, assuring Richard he will act as people’s advocate, and that provided Gloucester act his role well, their trick will be brought ‘to a happy issue.’
After Gloucester has vanished, Buckingham receives the Lord Mayor and citizens, who are told by Catesby the Duke of Gloucester cannot see them for he is holding a day of prayer. Virtuously stating the great should sacrifice their own inclinations for public good, Buckingham sends Catesby back to Richard, assuring the Lord Mayor, meantime, that Gloucester is a very different sort of man from Edward, and that If England only had such a sovereign, all would be happy indeed. He ruefully adds, however, that there is little prospect Richard will accept the crown, thus causing the Mayor to express a most fervent hope he will not decline their proposals.
Just then Catesby returns, and when Buckingham inquires what message he brings, rejoins that Gloucester mistrusts so great a concourse of citizens. Pretending to be offended by such doubts, Buckingham sends Catesby back a third time, remarking to the Mayor it is hard indeed to draw a man from the sweet contemplation of religion. A moment later Gloucester appears above, — between two priests, — and Buckingham duly calls the Mayor’s attention both to his company and to the prayerbook in his hand. Addressing the crowd below, Gloucester now declares his readiness to serve his friends, and when Buckingham accuses him of wronging the country by refusing to assume the crown, pretends to hesitate whether to depart in silence or to reprove him. Still, Richard temperately admits he can see the people love him, but adds that even were the crown his own, he would shrink from assuming the duties of royalty, as he does not feel worthy of so great an honour. When he carefully reminds the people there is an heir to the English throne, Buckingham exclaims Edward V has no real claim to the sceptre, and fervently urges ‘good my lord, take to yourself this proffer’d benefit of dignity.’
The Mayor, listening with credulous ears, also Implores Gloucester to yield, although the latter continues reluctant until Buckingham, In feigned anger, chides him for refusing to do his duty, and vows If he does not accept, they will place some one else on the throne, for they are determined his brother’s son shall never reign over them! Buckingham is just marching off the scene in apparent dudgeon after this ultimatum, when Catesby prevails upon Gloucester to call him back. When Buckingham reappears, therefore, Richard piously exclaims since they are so determined to ‘buckle fortune’ on his back, he will patiently endure the load, hoping that having forced this unwelcome office upon him, they will ever hold him free from blame. The Mayor is first to express satisfaction at this acceptance, and Buckingham to salute Richard as King, an acclamation in which the citizens hastily join, ere they are told the new Monarch will be publicly crowned on the morrow. Then Richard ostentatiously returns to his holy duties, having throughout this scene maintained the attitude of the ultra-pious man.
The fourth act opens before the Tower, where Queen Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, and Anne, — Duchess of Gloucester, — appear with other ladles. After exchanging greetings with the rest, Anne volunteers she has come hither to congratulate the young Princes, and all are about to step In when stopped by the lleutentant, from whom Elizabeth eagerly begs news of her sons. When told that although well, she cannot see them, — the King having forblden her admittance, — Elizabeth wonderlngly Inquires ‘the King! why, who’s that?’ Then, the lieutenant confusedly states the order was given by the Lord Protector, whose arbitrary prohibition is hotly resented by mother, grandmother and aunt. The lieutenant has just vanished, reiterating he cannot admit them, when Lord Stanley joins the ladles, politely stating he will soon be able to greet the Duchess of York as mother of two Queens. Then, turning to Anne, he bids her accompany him immediately to Westminster Abbey, for she is to be crowned there with Richard!
This first intimation that little Edward V’s claims have been set aside, causes Queen Elizabeth to fall half swooning into the arms of her son Dorset, whom she feebly implores to hurry away since she perceives her children are doomed to fall beneath ‘the thrall of Margaret’s curse.’ So pertinent does this advice seem to Stanley, that he, too, urges the youth to depart, promising to forward by him letters to his son.
Meanwhile, the Duchess of York wails she hatched a ‘cockatrice,’ and Anne, although reluctant, prepares to accompany Stanley, sadly hoping she may die ere men can cry ‘God save the Queen!’ Urging her to obey lest she prejudice her interests, Elizabeth further assures her she does not envy her, and Anne leaves, wailing that even as she followed her father-in-law to the grave, Richard wooed and won her, although she never felt affection for him, and has never been able to sleep in peace at his side. Besides, she realises that Richard hates her, and means to get rid of her, and gently pities Elizabeth, who in return compassionates her. Meantime, the aged Duchess of York urges Dorset to join Richmond, bids Anne obey Richard, and implores Elizabeth to return to sanctuary, adding that having lived eighty odd years in sorrow, her sole hope is now the grave! Leaving the scene, Elizabeth gazes mournfully up at the Tower, — a rough cradle for her tender babes, — and fervently prays it will use them well.
The newly-crowned Richard enters his London palace escorted by Buckingham, Catesby and others. Bidding the rest withdraw, Richard, addressing the obsequious Buckingham, states that as he has mounted the steps of the throne with his assistance, he intends to bestow upon him a fitting reward. Then, in a whisper, Richard III adds he wishes first to put Buckingham’s fidelity to the touch, and thus ascertain whether he is ‘current gold indeed.’ Invited to speak plainly, and so make his wishes clear, Richard avers that as long as Edward V lives, he cannot reign in peace. Then, perceiving Buckingham does not understand this hint, Richard plainly states he wishes the ‘bastards dead,’ showing marked displeasure when Buckingham begs permission to withdraw, so as to think the matter over.
Meantime, Catesby, watching the new monarch, concludes he is very angry since he bites his lips. After muttering that Buckingham has grown strangely circumspect, Richard summons his page, from whom he inquires whether he knows a man who could be bribed ‘unto a close exploit of death?’ When the page rejoins there is ‘a discontented gentleman,’ for whom gold would be as persuasive ‘as twenty orators,’ Richard eagerly sends for this Tyrrel, grimly averring ‘the deep-revolving witty Buckingham no more shall be the neighbour to my counsel.’
Just then Stanley enters, reporting that Dorset has gone to join Richmond beyond the seas. These tidings seem not altogether unwelcome to Richard, who immediately bids Catesby spread the news that his wife Anne is likely soon to die. He adds, that he intends shortly to marry Clarence’s daughter to some mean born gentleman, to imprison the foolish boy, and as soon as his wife is removed, to murder the young Princes and marry their sister, exclaiming ‘I am in so far in blood that sin will pluck on sin.’ Just then the page ushers in the murderer Tyrrel, who presents himself as the King’s ‘most obedient subject,’ and who, when asked whether he has sufficient resolution to kill one of his Majesty’s friends, bluntly retorts he had rather kill two of his enemies. When Richard informs Tyrrel he has two such foes in the Princes in the Tower, the murderer promptly pledges himself to dispose of them both, provided he is given free access to their persons. Then, after a short whispered conference, Tyrrel leaves, Richard inquiring as he does so, whether he shall hear from him before he sleeps, and receiving an affirmative answer.
A moment after Tyrrel has gone, Buckingham reenters, stating he has duly considered the King’s proposal. To his surprise, however, Richard seems utterly indifferent, and will talk of nothing but Dorset’s flight. But, when Buckingham reminds his new master that Hastings’ estates were promised him, Richard suddenly turns a deaf ear and warns Stanley should his stepson correspond with the fugitives, he will be held answerable for such treason. Then Richard muses aloud that Henry VI. once prophesied that Richmond should be King, and wonders why he failed to add that Richard would kill him? Undeterred by a tacit refusal, Buckingham again pleads for his promised reward, only to hear Richard remark an Irish bard predicted he would not live long after seeing Richmond, which he takes to mean a castle of that name. When Buckingham a third time emphatically claims Hastings’ spoils, Richard petulantly informs him he is not in the giving vein to-day, and leaves the room, an act of discourtesy which so angers Buckingham that he mutters, ‘made I him King for this?’ Then, remembering Hastings’ speedy end, he suddenly decides to escape while his ‘fearful head is on!’
A moment later Tyrrel returns, declaring ‘the tyrannous and bloody deed Is done,’ and describing how the men hired to perform the crime, melted with tenderness and compassion when they related how they found the little Princes asleep in each others’ arms, a book of prayer beside them on their pillow. Tyrrel adds that these wretches smothered ‘the most replenished sweet work of nature, that from the prime creation e’er she framed,’ and stole away conscience-stricken, leaving him to notify King Richard his wishes have been fulfilled. Just then Richard joins Tyrrel, seems delighted to learn all is over, inquires whether he saw the children dead and buried, and bids him return after supper to receive his reward and describe ‘the process of their death.’
After Tyrrel has gone, Richard rejoices that Clarence’s son is imprisoned, his daughter meanly married, Edward’s boys dead, and Anne, his wife, dying. Knowing Richmond wishes to marry Princess Elizabeth, Richard is determined to anticipate him, and plumes himself fatuously upon being a ‘jolly thriving wooer.’ Just then Catesby appears unsummoned, to announce that Ely and Buckingham have fled to join Richmond, defections which determine Richard to muster his forces immediately, since ‘we must be brief when traitors brave the field.’
When the curtain next rises, Queen Margaret is seen standing before the palace, saying she is about to depart for France, having witnessed the downfall of some of her adversaries, and still hoping the ‘consequence will prove as bitter, black, and tragical’ for the rest. Just then Elizabeth enters, wailing over the death of her ‘unblown flowers,’ a lament which fails to touch Margaret’s heart. With Elizabeth comes the Duchess of York, who also mourns her many losses, until Margaret informs her she is merely paying for all that was taken from her! The three-fold lament of these women, — who sit down on the palace steps to bewail their losses, — proves heart-rending, since each enumerates the sorrows brought to her by the fatal Wars of the Roses. Finally, Elizabeth admits Margaret prophesied rightly when she foretold the time would come when they would ask her aid to curse ‘that bottled spider, that foul bunch-back’d toad,’ and all three unite in reviling Richard. Then Margaret expresses regret for the curses she uttered, and seeing her rivals’ sorrows fully equal hers, bids them a kindly farewell, assuring them their woes will ever haunt her.
When she has gone, the Duchess of York and Elizabeth give way to their grief, lamenting until Richard enters in all the panoply of war. Seeing these women block his pathway, he demands what their presence means, and to silence the elaborate curses his mother and sister-in-law lavish upon him, bids the trumpets drown their voices. Still, even then, under cover of the noise, his mother reproaches him, declaring how patient she was with him during a fretful childhood, and although he refuses to listen to her, she avers she will pray against him, and leaves the scene exclaiming, ‘bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end; shame serves thy life, and doth thy death attend.’
Meantime, Richard has joined Queen Elizabeth, all of whose denunciations he meets with tender inquiries for her daughter. Hearing him pronounce this Princess’ name, the terrified Elizabeth wonders whether this child must die, too, and frantically vows she will tell any lie to save her. Only gradually can Richard make her understand he has no designs against her daughter’s life, but wishes instead to marry her; and, in spite of her evident horror of the match, artfully tries to convince her she can recover all she has lost in this way. He promises, in case she brings about the marriage, to forgive Dorset and the other rebels, and thus gradually induces her to use her influence to persuade her daughter to listen to his suit. Throughout this dialogue, wherein Elizabeth shows great bitterness at first, Richard cleverly answers every objection, finally sending lover-like messages to the young Princess, whom he intends to espouse soon as he has chastised Richmond. But, after Elizabeth has left him, still gazing at him in fascinated horror, he shows his contempt for her character by terming her a ‘relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman !’
While he is still standing there, Ratcliff and Catesby report that a powerful fleet is sailing toward the western coast, where Buckingham has mustered an army to welcome Richmond. Sending messengers in different directions to summon aid, Richard, in his excitement, hotly terms Catesby a ‘dull, unmindful villain,’ simply because he does not hurry to execute orders before they are put into words!
While Richard is still in this whirl of emotion, Stanley enters reporting the news is only too true, and that Richmond, supported by Dorset, Buckingham and Ely, comes to claim the crown. In his indignation, Richard hotly demands whether the throne is empty, the sword unswayed, the King dead, or the empire unpossessed? Then after some conversation with his friends, — whom he accuses of being ready to join the foe, — he orders Stanley to depart, grimly warning him unless he remain faithful, his son, whom he retains as hostage, will be in dire peril. After Stanley’s departure, successive messengers announce defections and uprisals, until Richard chastises the last, angrily declaring they are all owls who sing ‘nothing but songs of death.’ The only encouragement he receives arises from a lying rumor that Richmond’s fleet has been destroyed by a tempest. Richard is about to leave to suppress the rebellion, when Catesby informs him Buckingham has been taken prisoner, and Richmond has landed; tidings which determine Richard to hasten away, exclaiming ‘a royal battle might be won and lost’ while they stand arguing.
We are now transferred to Stanley’s house, while he secretly confers with a friend, through whom he sends word to Richmond that he cannot join him without endangering the life of his son, now a hostage in Richard’s hands. Nevertheless, Stanley plainly shows which way he is inclined, since he notifies Richmond that Elizabeth consents to give him her daughter in marriage, as is set forth in the letters he delivers.
The fifth act opens near Salisbury, on the square where the sheriff leads Buckingham to execution. On learning he is not to see the King before perishing, Buckingham mournfully declares the murders he helped Richard commit are avenged, for he realises this is a just retribution of his crimes, and that he brought his fate down upon himself when he prayed destruction might visit him should he prove false to Edward and his children. He, too, recognises Margaret’s curse has been fulfilled, and bids the executioners convey him ‘to the block of shame’; saying, ‘Wrong hath but wrong, and blame the due of blame.’
We next behold the camp, where Richmond states his men have marched thus far without impediment, to dethrone ‘the wretched, bloody, and usurping boar,’ for it is thus he designates Richard III. All present feel so sure Richmond’s cause is just, that they expect many of Richard’s so-called friends to join their ranks.
The next scene is played on Bosworth Field, in Richard’s camp, just as he is giving orders to pitch his tent, and inquiring why his friends seem so depressed? When they attribute their dismay to certain desertions, Richard jauntily informs them ‘we must have knocks,’ and hearing the enemy’s army is only one-third as large as his own, expresses great confidence in a coming victory, and warns all to be ready, since ‘to-morrow is a busy day.’
Just after King Richard has marched off with his forces, Richmond appears with his, declaring he has beheld in the sunset satisfactory omens of good fortune for the morrow. After apportioning positions to his different followers, he inquires where Stanley’s force is quartered, and seems surprised to learn it is nearly a mile away from Richard’s. Then, after charging a messenger to bear a letter to Stanley, — a charge this gentleman is ready to perform at the risk of his life, — Richmond Invites the rest of his officers into his tent, to confer about the morrow’s business.
The interior of Richard’s tent is next revealed, just as he inquires the time, begs for ink and paper, and wonders whether the necessary alterations have been made in his armor. Besides, he warns his gentlemen to ‘stir with the lark to-morrow,’ and after they have retired, directs Catesby to charge Stanley to join him before sunrise, ‘lest his son George fall Into the blind cave of eternal night.’ Catesby having gone, too, Richard orders a steed for the morrow, and Inquires about sundry followers, ere calling for wine, wondering because he has not ‘that alacrity of spirit, nor cheer of mind’ that he was wont to have.
Meanwhile, Richmond, too. Is making final arrangements, and inquires of his step-father Stanley news of his mother, who sends him her blessing and prays for his success, as well as for that of his young step-brother, who is to fight beneath his orders for the first time. Bidding his step-father watch over the youth, whose regiment is stationed a short distance from his own, Richmond prepares to sleep, ‘lest leaden slumber peise me down to-morrow, when I should mount with wings of victory.’ Then, having dismissed his men, and breathed a fervent prayer, commending ‘his watchful soul’ to God, he falls asleep.
While he and Richard are both wrapped in slumber on either side of the battle-field, ghosts appear in the space between the two tents, and alternately address the two sleepers. Thus, we first behold the spectre of Prince Edward, — son of Henry VI, — accusing Richard of slaying him, and bidding him ‘despair and die,’ ere he turns to Richmond, charging him to ‘live and flourish.’ The spirit of Clarence next denounces Richard and encourages Richmond, and is followed by the shades of Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and Hastings, all of whom predict woe to Richard and success to Richmond. Then come the slender wraiths of two little princes, bidding Richard die, and Richmond live to ‘beget a happy race of kings,’ ere Lady Anne glides in, sighing she never knew quiet as Richard’s wife, and wishes all success to his adversary. Last of all appears Buckingham, — Richard’s most recent victim, — bidding him dream of bloody deeds and death, but charging his opponent not to be dismayed, since ‘God and good angels fight on Richmond’s side; and Richard falls in height of all his pride.’
As this last ghost vanishes, Richard rouses from his restless slumber, thinking he has been in the fray and is sorely wounded. On discovering it is midnight, that he is in his tent, and that cold drops stand out all over his body, he confesses, ‘my conscience hath a thousand several tongues, and every tongue brings in a several tale, and every tale condemns me for a villain.’ Nevertheless, although he hates himself for hateful deeds committed, he clings to life, and is determined to defend it to the utmost. While he is meditating on these visions, a servant announces the cock has crowed, and it is time to buckle on his armor. To this man Richard confides his awful dream, wondering whether his friends will prove true? When the man avers he need not fear shadows, Richard ruefully admits ‘shadows to-night have struck more terror to the soul of Richard than can the substance of ten thousand soldiers armed in proof, and led by shallow Richmond.’ Then, he decides to prowl around the tents and play eaves-dropper so as to ascertain whether any of his adherents are likely to desert him.
Meantime, the lords rouse Richmond, only to hear him declare he has enjoyed ‘the sweetest sleep, and fairest-boding dreams that ever enter’d in a drowsy head,’ adding he was visited by Richard’s victims who all promised him victory. On hearing it is time to arm, he eloquently addresses his soldiers, urging them to fight for the right, and use his name as their battle cry.
A moment after he has gone, Richard appears, remarking to his attendants that Richmond is an untrained soldier, and wondering that the sun has not yet risen. Although Richard fears ‘the sky doth frown and lour upon our army,’ he is comforted by the thought it is equally menacing to his foe. Just then, Norfolk joins him, urging him to arm as the enemy is already in the field, so Richard gives his last directions for the battle. After he has done so, Norfolk exhibits a paper he found pinned on his tent with a mysterious warning, ‘Jockey of Norfolk, be not too bold, for Dickon thy master is bought and sold.’ This rude rhyme seems a device on the part of the enemy to frighten Richard, who pays little heed to it, and stepping forward addresses his men, claiming his adversary should be promptly driven out of England since his intentions are evil. In the midst of this address, drums sound, and at its close a messenger reports the elder Stanley refuses obedience. In hot anger, Richard is about to order young Stanley beheaded, when those around him remind him it behooves them to meet the advancing foe, and that it will be well to postpone revenge until later.
In another part of the battle-field, fighting forces hurry to and fro, until Catesby is heard imploring Norfolk to hasten to their rescue, for although the King has done wonders, his horse has been slain and he is now fighting on foot. Unless Norfolk succor him the day will be lost. Just then Richard rushes on the stage, frantically calling, ‘a horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!’ When Catesby tries to entice him away, he declares he has set his life upon a cast, and ‘will stand the hazard of the die,’ adding that five times already he fancied he had slain his rival! He hurries off the scene still vainly clamouring for a steed.
In another part of the field, Richmond finally exclaims victory is his, and receives the congratulations of Stanley, who brings him the crown, plucked from Richard’s corpse, and still stained with his blood! After returning thanks for his victory, Richmond eagerly inquires which lords have perished in the fray. Then, giving precise orders for the burial of the dead, he offers pardon to ‘the soldiers fled that in submission will return to us,’ adding that after taking the sacrament, he proposes to be wedded to Elizabeth of York, thus uniting the ‘white rose and the red.’ He piously hopes heaven will smile upon this fair conjunction, so that their houses may ‘enrich the time to come, with smooth-faced peace, with smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!’ Finally he leaves the stage proclaiming, ‘civil wounds are stopp’d, peace lives again: that she may long live here, God say, amen!’