Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 688
On a street in London, the young Prince of Wales arrives and meets with his uncle Richard and his confederate Buckingham. Richard tells the young prince that he and his younger brother are to be housed in the Tower of London until the ceremony takes place. The young Prince of Wales says that he does not like the Tower; and in an exchange with his uncle Richard, the youth shows himself to be wise beyond his years, and we sense that he sees through Richard's false, tender front. The Prince's younger brother arrives, and the two are sent to the Tower to repose. When the other characters exit, Richard conspires with Buckingham. He says that he has sent the noble Catesby to sound out Lord Hastings about whether he would support Richard's plans to become king. If Hastings refuses to support this plot, then Richard will have him executed. Richard also tells Buckingham that his loyal service will be rewarded with an earldom once he becomes king.
At the home of Lord Hastings, a messenger arrives from Lord Stanley who says that a plot is afoot, that two councils of state will be held, and that Hastings should flee with him at once. Hastings tells Stanley's messenger that he does not fear the divided council. Just then, Catesby arrives and reveals Richard's plan to become King of England. Hastings refuses to join Richard's side, affirming his support for the Prince of Wales and thereby inadvertently seals his own doom.
At the execution grounds of Pomfret Castle, several of Richard's political opponents (the nobles Rivers, Grey and Vaughn) are seen in chains and bound for execution. They curse Richard and the fate that has befallen them.
At the Tower of London a council of state is in session, with Buckingham and several of Richard's other minions in attendance, including the defiant Hastings. Richard leaves for a moment and then returns in a furor, claiming that he is under a spell of black magic cast by Edward's widow, Queen Elizabeth. When Hastings defends her honor, Richard calls him a traitor and commands that Hastings's head be cut off. The victim now realizes what Richard has had in mind all the time, and he predicts that Richard and his ilk will soon be in the grave alongside him.
In front of the Tower walls, Richard and Buckingham tell the Mayor of London that Hastings is a traitor and is about to be executed without trial. The Mayor believes their false stories about Hastings and says that he will report Hastings's execution to the people as being justly caused. When the Mayor leaves, Richard instructs Buckingham to raise questions about the legitimacy of Edward's two sons. This, in turn, will provide a pretext for the Protector of the Prince of Wales, Richard himself, to replace the boy as England's king.
In another common Shakespearean device, a scrivener (or herald) reads an indictment of Hastings to the citizens of London that speaks of the (already executed) nobleman as a traitor who deserves death.
At his home (or lair) in London's Baynard's Castle, Richard is told by Buckingham that the Mayor of London has been persuaded to speak to the people on behalf of making him King of England, bypassing the illegitimate Prince of Wales. But the Mayor's words have fallen on deaf ears, for the citizens are dumbstruck by this proposal and refuse to join in on the cry of "Long live Richard, King of England." Richard must appear before the people himself and pretend to be a reluctant candidate for the throne. Led by the Mayor, a crowd of citizens appears. Buckingham addresses them as Richard stands between two clergymen. Buckingham puts forth a full spiel to the people of London: he says that the Prince of Wales (and his younger brother) are bastards and the Richard of Gloucester is the rightful successor to his brother Edward. Richard feigns a reluctance to become king, crown, but then returns and announces that he will take the crown for England's sake, naming tomorrow as his coronation day.