Richard III Characters
by William Shakespeare

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Richard, the duke of Gloucester, afterward King Richard III, the sinister and Machiavellian brother of King Edward IV. A fiendish and ambitious monster, he shows the grisly humor of the medieval Devil or the Vice of the morality plays. An effective hypocrite, he successfully dissembles his ambition and his ruthlessness until he has won his kingdom. His character in this play is consistent with that established in King Henry VI. The role furnishes great opportunities for an acting virtuoso and has long been a favorite with great actors.

King Edward IV

King Edward IV, the eldest son of the deceased duke of York. An aging and ailing monarch with a sin-laden past and a remorseful present, he struggles futilely to bring about peace between the hostile factions of his court. Tricked by Gloucester into ordering the death of his brother Clarence, he tries too late to countermand the order. His grief over Clarence’s death hastens his own.


George, the duke of Clarence, the brother of King Edward and Richard. Guilty of treachery and perjury in placing his brother Edward on the throne, he is bewildered by his imprisonment and death. In prison, he is troubled by terrible dreams, partly begotten by his guilty conscience, and he fears being alone. He has no idea that his fair-seeming brother Richard is responsible for his miseries until his murderers tell him so at the moment of his death.

Queen Margaret

Queen Margaret, the maleficent widow of the murdered King Henry VI. Her long curse delivered near the beginning of the play, in which she singles out her enemies, is almost a scenario of the play.

The duke of Buckingham

The duke of Buckingham, Richard’s kinsman and powerful supporter. A cold and masterful politician, he is instrumental in placing Richard on the throne. Unwilling to consent to the murder of the helpless young princes, he loses favor, flees the court, rebels, and is captured and executed. As he goes to his death, he recalls the curses and prophecies of Queen Margaret, whose warning to him he ignored.

Edward, prince of Wales

Edward, prince of Wales, afterward King Edward V, the older son of King Edward IV. A bright and brave boy, he furnishes pathos by his conduct and by his early violent death.


Richard, the duke of York, King Edward’s second son. Impish and precocious, he bandies words even with his sinister uncle. He dies with his brother in the Tower of London.

Henry Tudor

Henry Tudor, the earl of Richmond, afterward King Henry VII, King Richard’s major antagonist. A heroic figure, he leads a successful invasion against King Richard and kills him in hand-to-hand combat at the Battle of Bosworth Field. His concluding speech promises the healing of the wounds of civil war and the union of the houses of York and Lancaster by his forthcoming marriage with Elizabeth, the daughter of King Edward IV.

Lord Thomas Stanley

Lord Thomas Stanley, the earl of Derby, the stepfather of Richmond. Suspicious of Richard of Gloucester from the beginning, he remains a token supporter through fear. His heart is with Richmond. At the Battle of Bosworth Field, he risks the life of his son George, a hostage to Richard, by failing to bring up his troops against Richmond. George Stanley’s death is prevented by the killing of King Richard.

Lord Hastings

Lord Hastings, Lord Chamberlain under Edward IV. He is devoted to King Edward and his sons, though an enemy to Queen Elizabeth and her family. His loyalty prevents his becoming a tool of Richard in the campaign to set aside the claims of small Edward V. He trusts Richard to the point of gullibility and pays for his trust and his loyalty to Edward with his life.

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King Edward IV. A haughty and self-willed woman during her husband’s reign, she has powerful enemies at court, including Hastings and Richard of Gloucester. After the murder of her small sons, she is a grieving, almost deranged mother. Her terror for her daughter’s safety drives her to...

(The entire section is 1,332 words.)