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 of his death.
Queen Margaret, the maleficent widow of the murdered King Henry VI. Her long curse delivered near the beginning of the play, in which she singles out her enemies, is almost a scenario of the play.
The duke of Buckingham
The duke of Buckingham, Richard’s kinsman and powerful supporter. A cold and masterful politician, he is instrumental in placing Richard on the throne. Unwilling to consent to the murder of the helpless young princes, he loses favor, flees the court, rebels, and is captured and executed. As he goes to his death, he recalls the curses and prophecies of Queen Margaret, whose warning to him he ignored.
Edward, prince of Wales
Edward, prince of Wales, afterward King Edward V, the older son of King Edward IV. A bright and brave boy, he furnishes pathos by his conduct and by his early violent death.
Richard, the duke of York, King Edward’s second son. Impish and precocious, he bandies words even with his sinister uncle. He dies with his brother in the Tower of London.
Henry Tudor, the earl of Richmond, afterward King Henry VII, King Richard’s major antagonist. A heroic figure, he leads a successful invasion against King Richard and kills him in hand-to-hand combat at the Battle of Bosworth Field. His concluding speech promises the healing of the wounds of civil war and the union of the houses of York and Lancaster by his forthcoming marriage with Elizabeth, the daughter of King Edward IV.
Lord Thomas Stanley
Lord Thomas Stanley, the earl of Derby, the stepfather of Richmond. Suspicious of Richard of Gloucester from the beginning, he remains a token supporter through fear. His heart is with Richmond. At the Battle of Bosworth Field, he risks the life of his son George, a hostage to Richard, by failing to bring up his troops against Richmond. George Stanley’s death is prevented by the killing of King Richard.
Lord Hastings, Lord Chamberlain under Edward IV. He is devoted to King Edward and his sons, though an enemy to Queen Elizabeth and her family. His loyalty prevents his becoming a tool of Richard in the campaign to set aside the claims of small Edward V. He trusts Richard to the point of gullibility and pays for his trust and his loyalty to Edward with his life.
Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King Edward IV. A haughty and self-willed woman during her husband’s reign, she has powerful enemies at court, including Hastings and Richard of Gloucester. After the murder of her small sons, she is a grieving, almost deranged mother. Her terror for her daughter’s safety drives her to appear to consent to Richard’s monstrous proposal for the hand of her daughter, his niece. The horrible match is prevented by Richard’s death.
The duchess of York
The duchess of York, the mother of Edward IV, Clarence, and Richard III. A loving grandmother to the children of Edward and Clarence, she hates and despises her son Richard, whom she sends to his last battle with a heavy curse, prophesying and wishing for him a shameful death.
Cardinal Bourchier, the archbishop of Canterbury. He enables Richard to gain possession of the little duke of York to confine him in the Tower of London with his brother.
Thomas Rotherham, the archbishop of York. He conducts Queen Elizabeth and the little duke of York to sanctuary, but his kind action turns out to be in vain.
John Morton, the bishop of Ely. His gift to King Richard of strawberries from his garden is in grim contrast to the immediately following arrest and execution of Hastings.
The duke of Norfolk
The duke of Norfolk (Jockey of Norfolk), a loyal follower of Richard III. In spite of a warning that Richard has been betrayed, Norfolk remains faithful and dies in battle.
Anthony Woodville (Earl Rivers), the brother of Queen Elizabeth. An enemy of Hastings, he becomes reconciled with him at King Edward’s entreaty. He is arrested and executed at Richard’s commands.
The marquess of Dorset
The marquess of Dorset and
Lord Grey, Queen Elizabeth’s sons by her first husband. Dorset escapes to join Richmond, and Grey is executed by Richard’s orders.
Sir Thomas Vaughan
Sir Thomas Vaughan, one of Richard’s victims. He is beheaded with Earl Rivers and Lord Grey.
Sir Thomas, Lord Lovel
Sir Thomas, Lord Lovel,
Sir Richard Ratcliff
Sir Richard Ratcliff, and
Sir William Catesby
Sir William Catesby, Richard’s loyal henchmen. Catesby remains with the king almost to his death, leaving him only to try to find a horse for him.
Sir James Tyrrel
Sir James Tyrrel, a malcontent. Ambitious and haughty, he engineers for Richard the murder of the little princes in the Tower. He is later remorseful for his crime.
Sir Robert Brackenbury
Sir Robert Brackenbury, lieutenant of the Tower. He resigns the keys to the murderers of Clarence when he sees their warrant. He is killed at Bosworth Field.
The keeper in the Tower
The keeper in the Tower, a kind man. He does his best to ease Clarence’s captivity.
Christopher Urswick, a priest. He acts as a messenger from Lord Derby to Richmond to inform him that young George Stanley is held as a hostage by the king.
The Lord Mayor of London
The Lord Mayor of London, who allows himself to be used by Richard and his followers to help replace Edward V with Richard III.
Edward Plantagenet, the earl of Warwick, the young son of Clarence.
Margaret Plantagenet, the young daughter of Clarence.
The earl of Surrey
The earl of Surrey, the son of the duke of Norfolk. He remains with King Richard’s army.
The earl of Oxford
The earl of Oxford (John De Vere), one of the lords who join Richmond in his rebellion.
The sheriff of Wiltshire
The sheriff of Wiltshire, who conducts Buckingham to execution.
Berkeley, gentlemen attending Lady Anne and the body of Henry VI.
Sir William Brandon
Sir William Brandon,
Sir James Blunt
Sir James Blunt, and
Sir Walter Herbert
Sir Walter Herbert, supporters of Richmond.
Ghosts of Richard’s victims
Ghosts of Richard’s victims, who include, in addition to the characters killed in this play, King Henry VI and his son Edward, prince of Wales. All appear to both Richard and Richmond. They rouse uncharacteristic terror in Richard and give refreshing encouragement to Richmond.