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Richard III

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Richard III

Shakespeare. Richard III. London, 1597

H. Linton after W.J. Hennessy. Edwin Booth as Richard III. Hand-colored wood engraving, 1872

Modeled by John Bacon. David Garrick as Richard III. Derby porcelain figurine, ca. 1775-80.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York

Act 1, scene 1, lines 1–2

A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!
Act 5, scene 4, line 7

In Richard III, Shakespeare invites us on a moral holiday. The play draws us to identify with Richard and his fantasy of total control of self and domination of others. Not yet king at the start of the play, Richard presents himself as an enterprising villain as he successfully plans to dispose of his brother Clarence. Richard achieves similar success in conquering the woman he chooses to marry. He carves a way to the throne through assassination and executions.

But Richard also meets resistance, most threateningly from Queen Margaret, widow of King Henry VI, whom he killed before the play's beginning. Margaret issues a stream of curses, including one on Richard.

Gradually, the curses are fulfilled, suggesting the curse on Richard may come true, too. Increasingly, the play directs our sympathies away from Richard. His supporters desert him; his victims pile up. We may begin to share in the desire for vengeance voiced by Margaret.

Shakespeare is thought to have written Richard III in 1592-94. It was published as a quarto in 1597. A major source is Sir Thomas More's The History of King Richard III.

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1996 Folger Shakespeare Library


Further reading
Charles A. Hallett and Elaine S. Hallett. The Artistic Links Between William Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More: Radically Different Richards. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

David Hipshon. Richard III. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Graham Holderness. Shakespeare: The Histories. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin. Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories. London; New York: Routledge, 1997.

Nina S. Levine. Women's Matters: Politics, Gender, and Nation in Shakespeare's Early History Plays. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998.

John Julius Norwich. Shakespeare’s Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages, 1337-1485. New York: Scribner, 1999.

Peter Saccio. Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Nigel Saul. The Three Richards: Richard I, Richard II and Richard III. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.

Richard III (1995, Baly/Pare Productions and United Artists). Directed by Richard Loncraine. Cast includes Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, and Robert Downey, Jr.

Richard III (1955, London Film Productions). Directed by Laurence Olivier. Cast includes Laurence Olivier, John Gielguid, Ralph Richardson, and Claire Bloom.

Related movies
Looking for Richard (1996, 20th Century Fox). Documentary. Directed by Al Pacino. Includes Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Pacino, Winona Ryder, Kenneth Branagh, John Gielgud, Derek Jacobi, Kevin Kline, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones, and others.

The Goodbye Girl (1977, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, and Rastar Pictures). Directed by Herbert Ross. Cast includes Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings, and Paul Benedict.

Edwin Booth's Costume as Richard III

David Garrick as Richard III

Popular Shakespeare Plays in the American Past

Francesca Royster on the African Grove Theater

Abraham Lincoln on Richard III's soliloquy

Inside the Collection

Folios and Quartos from the Collection: Richard III

Read the Play

Folger Digital Texts: Richard III

Teacher Resources

Lesson Plan: Exploring Rhythm in Richard III

Lesson Plan: "Let's Get Physical!"

Lesson Plan: I am determined to prove a villain

Lesson Plan: Color-Coding Richard III

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