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Shakespeare Study Questions for Richard III (Folger Library Edition)

Concepts: Deuteronomic Law, history play, Machiavelli, machiavelle, primogeniture, tetralogy,Wars of the Roses, You can find many of these defined at the list of literary terms. Others we will discuss in class. Click here for material on The Wars of the Roses.

Identify the Following Characters:

  • Richard Gloucester (i.e., Richard III)
  • Lady Anne
  • King Edward IV
  • Young Prince Edward of York
  • Young Prince Richard of York
  • George the Duke of Clarence
  • Duchess of York
  • Queen Margaret
  • Elizabeth
  • Buckingham
  • Richmond (aka Henry Tudor)
  • Tyrol


  • Who finally unites the houses of York and Lancaster?
  • How accurate historically is Shakespeare's depiction of the character of Richard III?
  • The hero of the story (Henry Tudor of Richmond) has what familial relationship to Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare's early patron?
  • What were the Wars of the Roses fought over, and how does that connect back to the play Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke?
  • Why is that conflict known as the Wars of the Roses? (i.e., from where or what does the name come?

  • ACT I; Scene 1
  • In the opening lines, what political change has cheered up Richard of Gloucester?
  • In his "Winter of our discontent" speech, what explanation does Gloucester (Richard III) give for his evil behavior? Why has he decided to become a bad guy?
  • Why is Richard III annoyed that a lull of peace has fallen over England?
  • Why does Richard
  • Why does King Edward IV order his younger brother George of Clarence to be imprisoned? (i.e., what rumor has Richard started to cause this event?)
  • What reason does Richard III give Anne for killing her husband? How is that reason contrived in such a manner as to convince Anne to marry Richard?
  • What "forensic" evidence does the corpse behind Anne offer as proof of the killer?
  • How is Queen Margaret a prophet? Explain.
  • When the two murderers plan to kill George of Clarence, and one hesitates, how does the other convince him to continue with the wicked deed?
  • When Clarence tries to talk the two murderers out of killing him, he tells them that he has a relative who loves him who will pay them money not to kill him. Who is this relative? Why do the murderers find this funny?
  • How do the two murderers kill Clarence?
  • When King Edward hears the news of Clarence's death, who does Richard suggest to the courtiers is actually behind the murder?
  • Who or what does Prince Edward say he wants to greet him when he arrives in London? Why is that not possible?
  • Richard of Gloucester warns the young Prince not to trust what or whom?
  • Why is the younger Prince (the younger Richard of York) afraid to stay in the tower of London? What does the older prince say in response to this fear?
  • What evidence does Richard provide to the council to prove that Queen Elizabeth has worked witchcraft to against him "with hellish charms"?
  • What skills does Buckingham have that he offers to Richard to further their plots? What reward was Richard supposed to give Buckingham for his part in the conspiracy?
  • What rumors does Richard III order spread about the Guildhall concerning Edward's children?
  • At Baynard Castle, when the various citizens comke to attend on Richard and beg him to claim the throne, what rhetorical props and tricks do the conspirators use to depict Richard III in a fair light?
  • What does Queen Elizabeth ask the Tower's stones to do for her, since she cannot do it herself?
  • What does Buckingham fail to do for Richard that loses King Richard's favor? Who does King Richard get to do this task?
  • After Tyrrell has arranged the young princes' murder along with Forrest and Dighton, he recounts the behavior of his two assistants. How did the two assistants react to successfully completing their task?
  • Why do both King Richard III and Henry Tudor of Richmond both want to marry the young daughter of Elizabeth of York?
  • What arguments does King Richard III offer Elizabeth concerning this marriage?
  • Who (or what) comes to visit Richard III as he sleeps in his tent in the night before the Battle of Bosworth field? Why do they tell him to "Despair and die"?
  • What bad news do the messengers have for Richard III have before the Battle of Bosworth field? Why does he strike or stab the third messenger? Why is that ironic?
  • What strange atmospheric phenomena occur in Richard III? What signs of disorder in the macrocosm?
  • What does King Richard claim he will trade his kingdom for during the final battle at Bosworth Field?
  • What treatment does Richmond order for the bodies of the Yorkist forces after he is victorious? What hidden stage direction in his words suggest that the winning troops are initially reluctant to do this?
  • What does Richmond will happen in the coming generations after the death of Richard? For whom in the audience does Shakespeare possibly address these lines?

IDENTIFICATION PASSAGES: Become familiar with these passages. I might require you to identify the speaker, or identify who or what the speaker describes. Be able to paraphrase them, summarize them, and discuss their importance to the play generally through close reading or identification of themes.

A. 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.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

B: I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

C: Go, tread the path that thou shalt ne'er return.
Simple, plain Clarence! I do love thee so,
That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven,
If heaven will take the present at our hands.

D: Nay, do not pause; for I did kill King Henry,
But 'twas thy beauty that provoked me.
Nay, now dispatch; 'twas I that stabb'd young Edward,
But 'twas thy heavenly face that set me on.

E: Was ever woman in this humour woo'd?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I'll have her; but I will not keep her long.
What! I, that kill'd her husband and his father,
To take her in her heart's extremest hate,
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of her hatred by;
Having God, her conscience, and these bars against me,
And I nothing to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!

F: But then I sigh; and, with a piece of scripture,
Tell them that God bids us do good for evil:
And thus I clothe my naked villany
With old odd ends stolen out of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.

G. Speaker #1: Now, my lord, what shall we do, if we perceive Lord Hastings will not
yield to our complots?
Speaker #2: Chop off his head, man. . . .

H: His grace looks cheerfully and smooth to-day;
There's some conceit or other likes him well,
When he doth bid good morrow with such a spirit.
I think 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.

I: Then be your eyes the witness of this ill:
See how I am bewitch'd; behold mine arm
Is, like a blasted sapling, wither'd up:
And this is Edward's wife, that monstrous witch,
Consorted with that harlot strumpet Shore,
That by their witchcraft thus have marked me.

J. O bloody Richard! miserable England!
I prophesy the fearful'st time to thee
That ever wretched age hath look'd upon.
Come, lead me to the block; bear him my head.
They smile at me that shortly shall be dead.

K. Speaker #1: See, where he stands between two clergymen!
Speaker #2: Two props of virtue for a Christian prince,
To stay him from the fall of vanity:
And, see, a book of prayer in his hand,
True ornaments to know a holy man.

L. Where it seems best unto your royal self.
If I may counsel you, some day or two
Your highness shall repose you at the Tower:
Then where you please, and shall be thought most fit
For your best health and recreation.

M. Sweet prince, the untainted virtue of your years
Hath not yet dived into the world's deceit
Nor more can you distinguish of a man
Than of his outward show; which, God he knows,
Seldom or never jumpeth with the heart.
Those uncles which you want were dangerous;
Your grace attended to their sugar'd words,
But look'd not on the poison of their hearts :
God keep you from them, and from such false friends!

N. Speaker #1: Marry, my uncle Clarence' angry ghost:
My grandam told me he was murdered there.
Speaker #2: I fear no uncles dead.
Speaker #3: Nor none that live, I hope.
Speaker #2: An if they live, I hope I need not fear.
But come, my lord; and with a heavy heart,
Thinking on them, go I unto the Tower.

O. Stay, yet look back with me unto the Tower.
Pity, you ancient stones, those tender babes
Whom envy hath immured within your walls!
Rough cradle for such little pretty ones!
Rude ragged nurse, old sullen playfellow
For tender princes, use my babies well!
So foolish sorrow bids your stones farewell.

P. The tyrannous and bloody deed is done.
The most arch of piteous massacre
That ever yet this land was guilty of.
Dighton and Forrest, whom I did suborn
To do this ruthless piece of butchery,
Although they were flesh'd villains, bloody dogs,
Melting with tenderness and kind compassion
Wept like two children in their deaths' sad stories.
'Lo, thus' quoth Dighton, 'lay those tender babes:'
'Thus, thus,' quoth Forrest, 'girdling one another
Within their innocent alabaster arms:
Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,
Which in their summer beauty kiss'd each other.
A book of prayers on their pillow lay;
Which once,' quoth Forrest, 'almost changed my mind;
But O! the devil'--there the villain stopp'd
Whilst Dighton thus told on: 'We smothered
The most replenished sweet work of nature,
That from the prime creation e'er she framed.'
Thus both are gone with conscience and remorse;
They could not speak; and so I left them both,
To bring this tidings to the bloody king.

Q. Speaker #1:
If so, then be not tongue-tied: go with me.
And in the breath of bitter words let's smother
My damned son, which thy two sweet sons smother'd.
I hear his drum: be copious in exclaims.
[Enter the King marching, with drums and trumpets]
Speaker #2: Who intercepts my expedition?
Speaker #1: O, she that might have intercepted thee,
By strangling thee in her accursed womb
From all the slaughters, wretch, that thou hast done!

R. A flourish, trumpets! strike alarum, drums!
Let not the heavens hear these tell-tale women
Rail on the Lord's enointed: strike, I say!

S. Either thou wilt die, by God's just ordinance,
Ere from this war thou turn a conqueror,
Or I with grief and extreme age shall perish
And never look upon thy face again.
Therefore take with thee my most heavy curse;
Which, in the day of battle, tire thee more
Than all the complete armour that thou wear'st!
My prayers on the adverse party fight;
And there the little souls of Edward's children
Whisper the spirits of thine enemies
And promise them success and victory.
Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end;
Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend.

T. To make amends, I'll give it to your daughter.
If I have kill'd the issue of your womb,
To quicken your increase, I will beget
Mine issue of your blood upon your daughter
A grandam's name is little less in love
Than is the doting title of a mother;
They are as children but one step below,
Even of your mettle, of your very blood;
Of an one pain, save for a night of groans
Endured of her, for whom you bid like sorrow.
Your children were vexation to your youth,
But mine shall be a comfort to your age.
The loss you have is but a son being king,
And by that loss your daughter is made queen.

U. Speaker #1: Shall I be tempted of the devil thus?
Speaker #2: Aye, if the devil tempt thee to do good.

V. O no, my reasons are too deep and dead;
Too deep and dead, poor infants, in their grave.

W. O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!
The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What do I fear? myself? there's none else by:
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O, no! alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself!
I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.

X. A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

Y. England hath long been mad, and scarr'd herself;
The brother blindly shed the brother's blood,
The father rashly slaughter'd his own son,
The son, compell'd, been butcher to the sire:
All this divided York and Lancaster,
Divided in their dire division,
O, now, let Richmond and Elizabeth,
The true succeeders of each royal house,
By God's fair ordinance conjoin together!
And let their heirs, God, if thy will be so.
Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace,
With smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!




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