How does the concept of in media res apply to the opening scene of Richard III?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In medias res is Latin for "in the middle of things." A story that begins in medias res typically starts off with a bang, so to speak. The audience is thrown into the action right away with the characters, rather than slowly building to the action.

Richard III begins with...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In medias res is Latin for "in the middle of things." A story that begins in medias res typically starts off with a bang, so to speak. The audience is thrown into the action right away with the characters, rather than slowly building to the action.

Richard III begins with the titular character laying out the context of the setting in a famous soliloquy: he says who is in power, how badly he wants that power for himself, and how far he's willing to go to get what he wants. Right after, Richard puts his evil plans into motion almost immediately.

That Richard III opens in this immediate way makes sense. Richard III is technically a sequel, following the plot of the Henry VI plays. By this point, the House of York has claimed the throne after deposing Henry VI, and they are celebrating their victory, unaware that one of their own plans on carrying out such nefarious schemes.

By introducing the cunning, crafty Richard in the midst of these joyful proceedings, already underway in his plans to seize the crown for himself, Shakespeare is already setting up an atmosphere of suspenseful intrigue. He gives the audience no time to settle comfortably into the world of the story. They are on the edge of their seats from the beginning.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, begins the play with a soliloquy dripping with irony, in which he praises the current regime for ending "the winter of our discontent" and making everyone happy—except him. Peace is not to Richard's taste. He is too ugly and ill-formed to enjoy its delights. Therefore, he has decided to cause trouble, initially between the King and the Duke of Clarence.

These words are no sooner out of his mouth than the Duke of Clarence enter under armed guard. We realize that Richard's plots have been maturing for some time, particularly when Clarence describes the events leading up to his arrest. The prophecy that "G" would murder the Princes (who will shortly be murdered by Richard) would have taken time to set up, as would the murders that are to form the unlikely background to Richard's wooing of Lady Anne in the next scene. It quickly becomes apparent that the speeches which acquaint us with the background of these plots take place in the midst of the events that bring them to fruition: in other words, in media res.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In media res is a Latin expression meaning "in the middle of things." In relation to drama, it refers to action that takes place, not at the beginning of a significant event nor at the end, but in the middle of it. The opening scene of Richard III takes place after the noble House of York has defeated its bitter rival, the House of Lancaster. The Yorkists wear the wreath of victory and all seems well. The winter of discontent has been turned into a glorious summer. Richard's opening soliloquy, then, comes at the end of a significant event rather than in the middle of one.

Nevertheless, the concept of in media res still applies. Richard makes it explicitly clear that he's already decided to set his brother Clarence against the King, with the intention of securing the throne for himself. This isn't the beginning of Richard's treacherous plot, because it's something he's already decided upon; nor is it the end, of course, because he hasn't yet carried out his plan. So in media res it is.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team