What is Richard III about?

Richard III is a Shakespeare play about a villainous, insecure duke who schemes and kills so that he can become the king of England.

Expert Answers

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

William Shakespeare’s play Richard III is about a scheming, malicious, and insecure man named Richard. Richard is the duke of Gloucester. This title is not prestigious enough for him. Richard wants to be king. Unfortunately, Richard’s brother Edward is king of England.

In the play, the War of Roses has ended. These series of civil wars pitted the royal Yorks against the royal Lancasters, with the Yorks eventually winning. The peace brings Richard “no delight.” Deformed and devoid of romantic prospects, Richard is “determined to prove a villain.”

The first casualty of his villainous project is his older brother George, who’s the duke of Clarence. Richard puts it into King Edward IV’s head that his heirs will be killed by a family member with a g in their name. Richard's stratagem gets George put in prison.

Next up, Richard strategically marries Lady Anne. He then commissions two men to go to George’s prison and murder him. Not exactly a pillar of strength to begin with, the news of George’s death weakens King Edward IV. He seems to blame himself, and the guilt kills him. Richard takes the throne and becomes King Richard III.

Alas, Richard is still not content. Now, he’s worried about the people still loyal to his brother and the princes. His paranoia produces a host of dead bodies. He murders Anne and hires a "haughty mind," Tyrrel, to kill the young sons of the felled King Edward IV.

Soon, the bloodletting starts to take its toll on Richard. Before a battle with the earl of Richmond, who aims to take down Richard and his rapacious regime, Richard has a terrible dream. The people that he’s killed, including George, come back to life. The ghosts chant, “Despair and die!”

At the actual battle, things go horrible for Richard. He’s knocked off his horse and killed by Richmond. Now, Richmond is king and “peace lives again.”

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Illustration of a paper plane soaring out of a book

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial