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Henry Irving, Richard III, Lyceum, 1877

Richard III

Summary of William Shakespeare's 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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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