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Richard III's career before and after he becomes England's king is marked by a long succession of heinous crimes that serve as milestones of his rise to power. But of all the evil things he does, it is the murder of the young Prince of Wales (named Edward and twelve years old at the time) and his younger brother, the Duke of York (named Richard and seven or eight years old) that stands out. Having planted the rumor that the two boys are illegitimate, Richard intimates to Buckingham that he wants to dispatch with these heirs apparent all together. When Buckingham proves slow to get his drift, Richard III declares: "Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead/And I would have it suddenly performed" (IV, ii, ll.18-19). Buckingham demurs at the thought of slaughtering two innocent children, and so Richard must enlist the aid of Tyrell. At the start of Act IV, scene iii, Tyrell reports back to his evil benefector, "The tyrannous and bloody act is done./The most arch deed of piteous massacre/That ever this land was guilty of" (IV, iii, ll.1-3). Unlike the murder of Clarence, the killing of the two princes is not portrayed on stage. More than a century after the actual deed, the slaughter of the two princes remained so emotionally charged that Shakespeare elected to acknowledge it only indirectly through Tyrell's report, fearing that his audiences would be inflamed by the crime's enactment.

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Richard III

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