Share this page

Henry Irving, Richard III, Lyceum, 1877

Richard III

Richard wants to become King no matter who he has to kill to get there; he kills everyone who stands in his way; spooky ghosts appear; Richard is killed.

Richard III Summary

Jealous and crippled, Richard of Gloucester wants to be King of England and uses manipulation and deceit to achieve his goal. He murders his brothers, nephews, and any opposition to become King Richard III. In the end, Henry of Richmond raises an army, kills Richard in battle, and becomes King Henry VII. 


More detail: 1.5 minute read

Act I

Following the events in Henry VI Part 3, Richard of Gloucester, the brother of King Edward IV, is determined to gain the crown of England for himself, no matter what. This plot begins as he romantically pursues Lady Anne, a widow, as she accompanies the funeral procession of her father-in-law, King Henry VI (who was murdered by Richard). Anne is unable to resist Richard's advances, and becomes Duchess of Gloucester. Richard engineers the imprisonment of his elder brother, Clarence, in the Tower of London. Clarence tells his jailer a dream he had of drowning; shortly afterwards, Richard's hired assassins kill him and place the body in a cask of wine.

SBT_Davies_RI3_2003_A31
Richard III, RSC, 2003

Act II

King Edward IV is ill, and Richard is appointed to govern in his place, aided by Lord Hastings and the Duke of Buckingham. Three women mourn their state: Margaret, former queen of Henry VI; Queen Elizabeth, Edward's wife; and the widowed Duchess of York, Richard's mother. Margaret curses Richard and the kingdom.

Now is the winter of our discontent.

— Richard III, Act 1 Scene I

Act III–IV

Richard confines his nephews, the young Prince of Wales and his brother, in the Tower of London to counter any of their claims to authority. Richard's rise to power is assisted by Buckingham, who helps persuade the Lord Mayor and the people of London to support their faction. When disease overcomes Edward, resulting in his death, his brother is proclaimed King Richard III, and Hastings is executed for attempting to thwart him. The princes in the Tower are smothered in their sleep. Buckingham suspects Richard's role in the death of the young princes, and when he is denied an earldom, Buckingham seeks to raise an army against Richard. Subsequently, he is captured and executed. Meanwhile, Richard wants Elizabeth of York, Edward IV's daughter, as a new wife to secure his position as King. 

Anthony Sher as Richard III
Antony Sher as ‘Richard III’, with foam ‘hump’ worn beneath black tunic, RSC, 1984

Act V

Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, is the heir to the Lancastrian claim to the throne. He gathers an army in France to oppose Richard's tyrannical reign. Their armies meet at Bosworth in Leicestershire. The night before the battle, the ghosts of his victims haunt and curse Richard, while appearing to Henry and blessing him for the battle. Richard III is killed on Bosworth Field, and Richmond is proclaimed Henry VII of England. He plans to end the ‘Wars of the Roses' by marrying Elizabeth of York, and therefore becomes the link between the white rose of York to the red of Lancaster.

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

— Richard III, Act 5 Scene 4

Visit Shakespeare's family homes

Find out more

Read more play summaries

Shakespeare's Plays

Learn about William Shakespeare

Shakespedia Index
This is where the story began Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of a working Tudor Farm Relive Shakespeare’s love story Walk in Shakespeare's footsteps The home of Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna