Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Richard, the duke of Gloucester, afterward King Richard III, the sinister and Machiavellian brother of King Edward IV. A fiendish and ambitious monster, he shows the grisly humor of the medieval Devil or the Vice of the morality plays. An effective hypocrite, he successfully dissembles his ambition and his ruthlessness until he has won his kingdom. His character in this play is consistent with that established in King Henry VI. The role furnishes great opportunities for an acting virtuoso and has long been a favorite with great actors.
King Edward IV
King Edward IV, the eldest son of the deceased duke of York. An aging and ailing monarch with a sin-laden past and a remorseful present, he struggles futilely to bring about peace between the hostile factions of his court. Tricked by Gloucester into ordering the death of his brother Clarence, he tries too late to countermand the order. His grief over Clarence’s death hastens his own.
George, the duke of Clarence, the brother of King Edward and Richard. Guilty of treachery and perjury in placing his brother Edward on the throne, he is bewildered by his imprisonment and death. In prison, he is troubled by terrible dreams, partly begotten by his guilty conscience, and he fears being alone. He has no idea that his fair-seeming brother Richard is responsible for his miseries until his murderers tell him so at the moment...
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Lady Anne (Character Analysis)
Anne is the widow of Edward, prince of Wales, who was the son and heir of King Henry Vl. She hates Richard for murdering her husband and father- in-law, but Richard charms her into marrying him. As Richard's sad queen, she dies after he tires of her. Anne first appears in I.ii, sorrowfully following the coffin of her father-in-law, Henry VI. She laments King Henry's death and curses his murderer, Richard. Lady Anne puts a curse on any woman who would marry Richard, thus—ironically—cursing herself.
When Richard appears and tries to take over the funeral procession, Anne reacts in disgust. She calls him a "foul devil" and begs for lightning to strike him dead (I.ii.49). But Richard is determined: He flatters Anne and makes excuses for his crimes; he claims he loves her and invites her to kill him with his own sword. Eventually, Anne relents. "I would I knew thy heart," she tells him, and agrees to accept his ring (I.ii.192).
When Anne appears for the next and last time (IV.i), she has married Richard and is miserable. She remembers the curse she made on any woman "mad" enough to become his wife and bitterly regrets that "Within so small a time, my woman's heart / Grossly grew captive to his honey words / And proved the subject of mine own soul's curse" (IV.i.78-80). When called away to Westminster to be crowned Richard's queen, she goes reluctantly. In IV.ii, Richard starts the rumor that Anne is seriously ill. In IV.iii, he briefly mentions...
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Duke of Buckingham (Character Analysis)
Buckingham is Richard's co-conspirator. He helps Richard become king but falls from favor when he hesitates at murdering Edward IV's two young heirs. He then goes over to the earl of Richmond's side against Richard but is subsequently captured by Richard's forces and executed.
As Richard's co-conspirator, Buckingham's role in the play is important. Richard terms him "My other self" (II.ii.151) and uses him as an advisor and a spy.
Buckingham's first appearances in the play (I.iii and II.i) do not indicate that he is anything more than a minor character; at this point, Richard refers to him merely as one of several "simple gulls," or fools, whom he is deceiving (I.iii.327). However, once King Edward dies, Buckingham becomes more prominent. In II.ii, he plots to put the king's heir (Edward, prince of Wales) in Richard's grasp by bringing the child to London without the protection of his mother or her followers. When Elizabeth flees to sanctuary with her youngest son (the duke of York), Buckingham takes it upon himself to order the child back to London (III.i).
In III.v, Buckingham reveals that he is almost as good an actor as Richard is. "I can counterfeit the deep tragedian" (III.v.5), he says, as he and Richard are about to fool the mayor of London into thinking that Richard is a good man who has been cruelly betrayed. "Ghastly looks / Are at my service, like enforced smiles," he insists, "And both are ready in their offices / At...
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Queen Elizabeth (Character Analysis)
Formerly Lady Grey, she is the wife of King Edward IV and mother of Edward, prince of Wales, and Richard, duke of York, the king's two young heirs. She hates Richard for murdering her brother, Earl Rivers, and her sons; nevertheless, he persuades her to think of him as a suitor in marriage to her daughter Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth's appearance in three out of the play's five acts spotlights Richard's ruthless quest for the throne, for as the king's wife and the mother of the king's heir, she has a direct interest in whether or not Richard will succeed. As early as Li, he is spreading lies about her influence over the king, and it is evident that there are two factions at court—Elizabeth with her relatives and supporters, and Richard with his henchman Buckingham. The queen first enters in I.iii, expressing her concerns about the king's illness to her brother, Lord Rivers, and her two older sons from a previous marriage, Lord Grey and the marquess of Dorset. She knows that if the king dies, her young son Edward, prince of Wales and heir to the throne, could be put under Richard's protection, "a man," she tells her sons and brother, "that loves not me, nor none of you" (I.iii.13); indeed, Richard appears shortly afterward and insults her.
In II.i, Elizabeth and her followers make peace with Richard at the king's request. By II.ii, the king has died, and the distraught queen agrees with Richard that Prince Edward of Wales—the king's chosen...
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Queen Margaret (Character Analysis)
Margaret is the widow of Henry VI (a Lancastrian king who was murdered by Richard in Henry VI, Part Three). During the play, she accurately forecasts vengeance for herself and destruction for her enemies.
Shakespeare's Margaret remains in England where the play takes place rather than sailing home to France as she did according to history. Onstage, she becomes a choric figure: offering her opinion on the play's action, and prophesying doom and misery on Richard and his supporters. (In drama, an individual choric figure or a chorus is sometimes used to describe events which occur before the beginning of the play or to comment on the action of the play as it unfolds.)
Although she appears in just two scenes, her influence is evident throughout the play. She first enters in I.iii, speaking—as she often does—in asides. (An aside occurs when a character talks to the audience and is not overheard by the other characters onstage.) In this instance, Margaret comments to the audience on the bickering between her Yorkist enemies—Elizabeth and her followers on one side, and Richard and his on the other. When Margaret at last speaks directly to these characters ("Hear me, you wrangling pirates, that fall out / In sharing that which you have pill'd from me!" [I.iii.157-58]), she curses them; and in doing so, she affects the play's action.
Margaret prays for the death of King Edward as well as his heirs and for a life of misery...
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Richard (Character Analysis)
Also: Gloucester; Richard, Duke of Gloucester; afterwards, King Richard III of England
Also known as Gloucester, Richard is the duke of Gloucester and later becomes King Richard III. He is the title character of the play and the scheming younger brother of King Edward IV and George, duke of Clarence.
The opening couplet in Richard III ("Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York" [I.i.1-2]) and the final line of V.iv ("A horse, a horse! my kingdom for a horse!" [V.iv.13]) are probably the most famous lines in the play; appropriately, they are also the first and the last words that Richard speaks. Richard is the energizing force in the play. He is responsible for most of the play's dark comedy—which usually happens when he is mocking himself or ridiculing his victims. He has been called a Machiavel (one who views politics as amoral and that any means, however unscrupulous, can justifiably be used to achieve power) because of his ruthless drive for power. Almost as soon as he appears onstage, he tells us that he is "determined to prove a villain" and mentions the traps he is laying against his own brothers (I.i.30-40). Richard describes himself as "deform'd, unfinish'd," and so unpleasant to look at that dogs bark at him, and he blames his wickedness on his looks (I.i.20-23).
A persistent thread of comedy runs through Richard III, a lot of it generated by Richard himself. Since the...
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Duchess of York (Character Analysis)
She is the mother of King Edward IV; George, duke of Clarence; and Richard, duke of Gloucester. She grieves for the death of King Edward and the murder of Clarence as well as for the murder of her two grandsons. Ultimately, she curses Richard for his wickedness.
During most of the play, the duchess behaves as a relatively powerless member of the royal family—she reacts to rather than causes the events going on around her. On her first appearance, for example, she mourns the duke of Clarence's death and acknowledges Richard's responsibility for his murder, but the most she can accomplish is to reproach her son in the form of a blessing and hope that he might change his ways: "God bless thee," she says to Richard, "and put meekness in thy breast, / Love, charity, obedience, and true duty!'' (II.ii.107-08).
Again, in II.iv and IV.i, as the duchess witnesses further indications of Richard's wickedness, she can only bewail her misfortunes and curse her own womb for having produced Richard (IV.i.53).
By IV.iv, however, Richard has murdered her two grandsons, and the duchess has had enough. Before leaving her son Richard forever, the duchess of York delivers to him her "most grievous curse" (IV.iv.188), and one that foreshadows his destruction in battle and the victory of Richmond's forces. "Bloody thou art, bloody will be thy end" she predicts, "Shame serves thy life and doth thy death attend" (IV.iv.195-96).
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Other Characters (Descriptions)
The aldermen are London officials ranking below the mayor in authority. Along with the mayor and the citizens of London, the aldermen are fooled in III.vii into asking Richard to become king.
Archbishop of Canterbury (Cardinal Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury)
Archbishop of York (Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York)
Because this is a play about war and politics between royal and noble families, many of the scenes are peopled with noble or royal retainers such as attendants, councillors, gentleman, lords, and soldiers, most of whom are without speaking parts or names and many of whom are simply referred to in the stage directions as "others."
Berekely and Tressel are two gentlemen attending on Lady Anne as she follows Henry VI's coffin in I.ii. Although Anne calls them by name at line 221, neither of them has a speaking part. They are named in the scene perhaps simply to emphasize how meager the funeral services are which have been allowed for the dead king.
Bishop of Ely (John Morton, Bishop of Ely)
To fool the people of London into thinking him holy and fit to rule, Richard appears in III.vii carrying a prayer book and walking "between two Bishops," neither...
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