As Richard III opens, Richard is Duke of Gloucester and his brother, Edward IV, is king. Richard is eager to clear his way to the crown. He manipulates Edward into imprisoning their brother, Clarence, and then has Clarence murdered in the Tower. Meanwhile, Richard succeeds in marrying Lady Anne, even though he killed her father-in-law, Henry VI, and her husband.
When the ailing King Edward dies, Prince Edward, the older of his two young sons, is next in line for the throne. Richard houses the Prince and his younger brother in the Tower. Richard then stages events that yield him the crown.
After Richard’s coronation, he has the boys secretly killed. He also disposes of Anne, his wife, in order to court his niece, Elizabeth of York. Rebellious nobles rally to Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. When their armies meet, Richard is defeated and killed. Richmond becomes Henry VII. His marriage to Elizabeth of York ends the Wars of the Roses and starts the Tudor dynasty.
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.
Picturing Richard III
As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Richard III is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.
More images of Richard III can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)