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Richard III

  • First Things First
    • This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
    • These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
    • Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
  • Background
    • Written 1591?
    • Taken from the short and bloody reign of Richard III of England, especially as recorded by Sir Thomas More
    • Contains many references to other Shakespeare plays, notably Henry IV
    • First published in 1597
  • Setting
    • England, late 1400s
    • Edward IV newly on the throne; Richard jealous
    • The Wars of the Roses
  • Major Characters
    • Richard III—Scheming prince who becomes king and acts as the antihero of the play
    • Edward, Prince of Wales, and Richard, Duke of York—Young sons of Edward IV, about to be murdered
    • Lady Anne—A noblewoman who marries Richard III, even though he killed her husband and father
    • Lord Buckingham—Richard’s chief advisor and right-hand man
    • Edward IV—Sickly king of England; brother of Richard
    • Clarence—Trusting brother of Richard and Edward
    • Queen Elizabeth—Wife of Edward, mother of the princes.
    • Dorset, Rivers and Gray—Kinsmen and allies of Elizabeth
    • Duchess of York—Grandmother of the princes, mother of Richard
    • Margaret—Widow of Henry VI, does a lot of cursing
    • Young Elizabeth—Daughter of Edward, pawn in various political games
    • Tyrell—A murderer
    • Richmond—Founder of the Tudor dynasty
    • Hastings—A nobleman who maintains his integrity and dies for trusting Richard
  • Plot
    • Richard’s jealousy
    • Clarence in the Tower of London
    • Marriage to the Lady Anne
    • Queen Margaret warns the court about Richard
    • Clarence is killed, Edward is blamed
    • The Princes in the Tower
      • Seeing through Richard
      • Richard’s show of humility
      • Hastings executed
      • Rumors of illegitimacy
      • Buckingham hesitates
      • James Tyrell doesn’t
    • Richard’s next marriage
      • Lady Anne poisoned
      • Courting his niece Elizabeth
      • The Queen demurs
    • Richard’s paranoia grows
    • The Earl of Richmond invades
    • Richard’s nightmare
    • The Battle of Bosworth Field
    • Richmond becomes King Henry VII, marries Elizabeth
  • Themes
    • Dichotomy and deception
    • Fate vs. free will
    • The allure of evil
    • The power of language
    • Hooray for the Tudors!
  • Major Passages
    • “Now is the winter of our discontent
    • Made glorious summer by this son of York…
      …I am determined to prove a villain
      And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”

      -Act I, Scene 1, 1-40

    • “Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou liv’st,
      And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends.
      No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
      Unless it be while some tormenting dream …”

      -Act I, Scene 3, 220-230

    • “Forbear to sleep the nights, and fast the days;
      Compare dead happiness with living woe;
      Think that thy babes were sweeter than they were,
      And he that slew them fouler than he is.
      Bett’ring thy loss makes the bad causer worse.
      Revolving this will teach thee how to curse.…”

      -Act IV Scene 4, 118-123

    • “…What do I fear? Myself? There’s none else by.
      Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
      Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am.
      …O no, alas, I rather hate myself
      For hateful deeds committed by myself.
      I am a villain.”

      -Act V, Scene 5, 134-145

  • Jumping-Off Points
    • Examine the character of Richard. Is he a hero or a villain? How does he change over the course of the play? To what extent is he shaped by his circumstances, and to what extent is he using those circumstances as an excuse for evil?
    • Examine the use of language in the play. It is primarily Richard’s weapon, but others use it too—Margaret and the other women in their cursing, the princes as they turn Richard’s word games against him. How does Shakespeare portray the power of language?
    • Richard III is renowned for its portrayal of evil. What form does evil take in this play? How does it interact with the many supernatural elements in this portrayal of history?
    • The so-called “window scenes” showcase how the action in the palace affects the world outside it. How does Shakespeare portray the relationship between monarchs and those they rule?
    • How does the portrayal of Richard, the last king before the rise of the Tudor dynasty, play against English history at the time Shakespeare was writing (under a notably paranoid Tudor queen)?
    • How does Shakespeare portray the roles of men and women in this play? Who has power, and what kind?
    • Examine the concept of loyalty in this play, especially as it is displayed in the characters of Buckingham and Hastings. What does loyalty mean? Who deserves loyalty? Who displays it, and how?
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
    • Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …

Richard III

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • First Things First 0:08
  • Lesson Overview 0:40
  • Background 1:16
  • Setting 2:04
  • Major Characters 2:58
    • Richard III
    • Edward, Prince of Wales and Richard, Duke of York
    • Lady Anne
    • Lord Buckingham
    • Edward IV
    • Clarence
    • Queen Elizabeth
    • Dorset, Rivers and Gray
    • Duchess of York
    • Margaret
    • Young Elizabeth
    • Tyrell
    • Richmon
    • Hastings
  • Plot 6:06
    • Richard's jealousy
    • Clarence in the Tower of London
    • Marriage to the Lady Anne
    • Queen Margaret warns the court about Richard
    • Clarence is killed, Edward is blamed
    • The Princes in the Tower
    • Richard's next marriage
  • Plot, cont. 12:12
    • Richard's paranoia grows
    • The Earl of Richmond invades
    • Richard's nightmare
    • The Battle of Bosworth Field
    • Richmond becomes King Hengry VII, marries Elizabeth
  • Themes 13:20
  • Major Passages 16:14
    • Act I, scene 1, 1-40
    • Act I, scene 3, 220-230
    • Act IV, scene 4, 118-123
    • Act V, scene 5, 134-145
  • Jumping-off Points 19:46
    • Is Richard a hero or a villain?
    • Examine the use of language in the play?
    • What form does evil take in the play?
    • How does Shakespeare portray the relationship between monarchs and those they rule?
    • Portrayal of Richard against history
    • The roles of men and women in the play, who has power?
    • Examine the concept of loyalty in the play?
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare 22:47