What is the importance of act 4, scene 4, when Richard tries to seduce Queen Elizabeth in Richard III?

In act 4, scene 4 of Richard III, Richard uses his powers of persuasion and seduction to convince his brother Edward's widow, Queen Elizabeth, to give her approval for Richard to marry her daughter, Elizabeth of York, who Richard intends to marry in the hope of having a successor by her in order to justify his claim to the throne. Richard eventually convinces Queen Elizabeth that it's in young Elizabeth's best interest for him to marry her.

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In act 4, scene 4 of William Shakespeare's Richard III, it appears that Richard III is trying to seduce Queen Elizabeth, his brother Edward's widow. Richard uses essentially the same technique on Queen Elizabeth to win her to his side and to his way of thinking that he uses on Anne Neville near the beginning of the play.

Anne hates and despises Richard. Nevertheless, through flattery, his ability to dissemble at considerable length, and his powers of persuasion and seduction—and even though he admits to Anne that he killed both her husband and her father-in-law—he wins her over and eventually marries her.

In act 4, scene 4, Richard faces Queen Elizabeth, another woman who hates and despises him. Queen Elizabeth blames Richard for her husband's death and suspects, as does most of England, that Richard is responsible for the deaths of her young sons, Edward and Richard—known as the "princes in the tower"—for whom she is grieving, in much the same way that Anne was grieving for the death of her husband and father-in-law earlier in the play.

In act 4, scene 3, Richard has just sent Tyrell to kill the young princes. He sums up his accomplishments and outlines his plan for the future.

RICHARD. The son of Clarence have I pent up close,

His daughter meanly have I matched in marriage,

The sons of Edward [the young princes in the tower] sleep in Abraham’s bosom,

And Anne my wife hath bid this world goodnight.

Now, for I know the Breton Richmond [Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond] aims

At young Elizabeth, my brother’s daughter,

And by that knot looks proudly on the crown,

To her go I, a jolly thriving wooer.
(act 4, scene 3, lines 40–47)

In act 4, scene 4, Richard isn't trying to seduce Queen Elizabeth herself, but he's using his powers of seduction to persuade Queen Elizabeth to give her approval for Richard to marry her daughter, and Richard's own niece, Elizabeth of York.

Anne Neville is dead, and Richard and Anne's only son died around the age of ten, so Richard has no immediate successor. Richard intends to marry Elizabeth of York in the hope of having an heir by her and to solidify his own claim to the throne. He also intends to deny the throne to Henry Tudor, who is also wooing Elizabeth, if from a distance in exile in France, and who wants to marry Elizabeth to give legitimacy to his own claim to the throne.

Queen Elizabeth is appalled at the idea of Richard marrying her daughter and fears that Richard simply intends to use her for his own purposes, then kill her, like he killed her other children. As he did with Anne Neville, Richard flatters and cajoles Queen Elizabeth, answers her vehement objections with platitudes and calm, disarming, but insistent misdirection and outright lies, and finally seems to convince her that it's for her own good and in young Elizabeth's best interest for him to marry her.

QUEEN ELIZABETH. Shall I go win my daughter to thy will?

RICHARD. And be a happy mother by the deed.

QUEEN ELIZABETH. I go. Write to me very shortly,

And you shall understand from me her mind.

RICHARD. Bear her my true love’s kiss; and so, farewell.

Here, Richard gives Queen Elizabeth a kiss, and she exits. Then Richard reveals his true feelings and true intentions.

RICHARD. Relenting fool and shallow, changing woman!

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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