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Richard III

A scene from Richard III

Introduction to the play

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.

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Cover of the Folger Shakespeare edition of Richard III

The Folger Shakespeare

Our bestselling editions of Shakespeare's plays and poems

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

From the audio edition of Richard III

Full recording available from Simon & Schuster Audio on CD and for download.

Richard III in our collection

A selection of Folger collection items related to Richard III. Find more in our digital image collection

Edwin Booth as Richard III
Costume worn by Edwin Booth in the role of Richard III, Embroidered velvet
Act 4, scene 3. By Northcote del. ; engrav'd by Jas. Heath.
Playbill for King Richard III and The Lying Valet, 1798

Essays and resources from The Folger Shakespeare

Richard III

Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.

About Shakespeare’s Richard III
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play

Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay

An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition

Shakespeare and his world

Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.

Shakespeare’s Life
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived

Shakespeare’s Theater
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career

The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published

Related blog posts and podcasts

Teaching Richard III

Early printed texts

The textual history of Richard III is convoluted: the version of the play printed first (and reprinted many times) is probably a text that was written later than the second version of the play printed, but the source for both versions are not clear. The play was first printed in 1597 as a quarto (Q1). That text served as the basis for all subsequent quartos: 1598 (Q2), 1602 (Q3), 1605 (Q4), 1612 (Q5), 1622 (Q6), 1629 (Q7), and 1634 (Q8). A different version of the play was printed in the 1623 First Folio (F1) and reprinted in later folios. The differences between the two versions are both large and small: F has about 200 lines that aren’t in Q, sometimes individual lines but also including a passage of nearly 50 lines; Q, in turn, has about 40 lines that are not in F, including a passage of about 20 lines. (For a more detailed account, read the introduction in the Folger edition of the play.)

Although earlier editors preferred Q to F, in the 20th century, editors began to use F as their base text, although sometimes incorporating aspects of the Q version into their edition. The Folger edition follows F, on the basis that it has fewer errors and fewer gaps, although it does draw also on Q in some passages, particularly 3.1.1–169 and 5.3.52 though the end. In the part of the play that the editors have based on F, pointed brackets are used to indicate readings taken from Q; in the sections where the text is based on Q, square brackets are used to indicate readings taken from F. As with all Folger editions, readings that do not come from any of the early printed texts are indicated with half-brackets.