Act Four of Richard the Third is another long one, the second longest in the play at 836 lines (just ahead of Act Three at 826, but way behind Act One, the longest act in all the Canon). And it begins at the Tower of London, where Dorset and the Yorkist women (the Duchess, Queen Elizabeth, and Lady Anne) have arrived to visit the boys, Edward V and Richard. They are met by the Lieutenant of the Tower Brakenbury who tells them they cannot be allowed to visit the children as “the king hath strictly charged the contrary” (IV.i.17). This prompts Elizabeth to ask,
The king? Who's that?
I mean the Lord Protector.
Whoops. Before the ladies realize what they’ve heard (they’re too focused on getting access to the boys), Derby arrives to bring Anne to Richard Duke of Gloucester so that she can “be crowned Richard’s royal queen” (IV.i.32).
hmmmm, Anne as queen, that would be #4 of Margaret’s Dozen
For the women, this is “dead-killing news” (IV.i.37), and Queen Elizabeth immediately tells Dorset (her son from a previous marriage) to “cross the seas, // And live with Richmond, from the reach of hell” (IV.i.41-42). Elizabeth can already envision curse Number Six of “Margaret’s curse” (IV.i.45) coming to pass, with Dorset’s possible death.
As Anne prepares to leave, she gives insight to her relationship to Richard:
Even in so short a space, my woman's heart
Grossly grew captive to his honey words
For never yet one hour in his bed
Have I enjoy'd the golden dew of sleep,
But have been waked by his timorous dreams.
— IV.i.78-79, 82-84
She admits that it was Richard’s “honey words” that charmed her… words from a charming Act One Richard, a Richard of whom we haven’t seen much recently, one that has been replaced with a Richard whose nights are filled with fearful (“timorous”) dreams.
this a hint at #10 of Margaret’s Dozen… but (SPOILER ALERT!) more (and better) evidence will follow
With Act Four, Scene Two’s entrance, Richard is already crowned King of England (we are robbed of that scene), and we see him take the throne for the first time (with Buckingham’s “advice // And … assistance” [IV.ii.3-4]). But Richard is neither happy nor secure: he “want(s) the bastards dead. // And (he) would have it suddenly performed” (IV.ii.18-19). And while we might have heard that desire in a soliloquy from the Act One Richard, here it’s a statement to Buckingham, who really has become Richard’s “other self, (his) counsel’s consistory” (II.ii.151). But Buckingham balks at the suggestion, and even excuses himself to give this more thought.
Richard is not happy with this, and calls for Tyrrel, a man who might be “tempt(ed) … to anything” (IV.ii.39), and with this request, Richard in an aside (not a soliloquy) decides to cut off Buckingham from being “the neighbor to (his) council” (IV.ii.43).
At this point, Richard receives news that Dorset has “fled // to Richmond” (IV.ii.47-48); he barely misses a beat, calling for Catesby to start a rumor “abroad // That Anne (his) wife is very grievous sick” (IV.ii.49-50)… he’s already planning a new political marriage… to Edward’s daughter (IV.ii.59), Elizabeth of York. This would be seen as incest (unless the whispering campaign regarding Edward’s own bastardy was successful); this is desperation. Richard feels he has no choice, however:
But I am in
So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin.
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.
Check out how this foreshadows another king who kills to get the throne, and who finds the “worm of conscience” gnawing at him:
For mine own good,
All causes shall give way: I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.
— Macbeth, III.iv.136-139
hmmmmm, interesting, very interesting
Tyrrel enters, and accepts the assassination order for the boys in the Tower. As Tyrrel then quickly exits, Buckingham returns and says that he has thought over the killing. But Richard has moved on: “Well, let that rest. Dorset is fled to Richmond” (IV.ii.83). Buckingham responds, but Richard is no longer talking to him; he’s talking to Lord Stanley (Earl of Derby). Buckingham then attempts to retrieve the “earldom of Hereford and the movables // Which (Richard had) promised” (IV.ii.88-89).
Richard ignores him. Buckingham repeatedly tries to bring the subject back to Hereford, but Richard continues to talk of other matters until he mocks his former advisor, comparing his repeated requests to a clock’s ticking hand:
thou keep'st the stroke
Betwixt thy begging and my meditation.
I am not in the giving vein today.
Mocking. Cold. Political. Richard leaves, and Buckingham realizes his situation: “O, let me think on Hastings, and be gone // To Brecknock while my fearful head is on” (IV.ii.119-120). It’s time to cut and run.
now THAT‘s entertainment! … and calls back to Richard’s response to the news of his father’s death in The Third Part of Henry the Sixth: he wanted to hear details when Edward couldn’t bear to hear a word
Act Four, Scene Three is a short one, in which we find Tyrrel meeting with Richard after the murders. Tyrrel verifies the deed, and will recount the deed “after supper” (IV.iii.31) at Richard’s request.
oh, and by the way: that would also be #2 on your Margaret’s Dozen scorecard
He sends Tyrrel off, mutters a half-hearted soliloquy (which announces Clarence’s son’s imprisonment, Clarence’s daughter’s marriage, and his own wife Anne’s death; all prelude to his need to prove to his NEICE a “jolly thriving wooer” [IV.iii.43]) and then receives news that John Morton (the Bishop of Ely from Act Three, Scene Four) has also defected to Richmond. As the scene ends, Richard states, “My counsel is my shield” (IV.iii.56). Before this act, that advisor would have been Buckingham. But who is it now?
Act Four, Scene Four finds Old Queen Margaret “lurk(ing)” about the palace, enjoying the fall of the Yorkists before she leaves for France. When the Duchess of York and Queen Elizabeth arrive, Margaret hides. From Elizabeth’s first words (“Ah, my poor princes! ah, my tender babes!” [IV.iv.9]), we know that she knows the murders have taken place.
for those scoring at home, that would be #3 of Margaret’s Dozen
And as both the Duchess and Elizabeth bemoan their fates, Margaret punctuates each speech with a gloating, mocking, cruel aside (like some fairy-tale wicked witch), finally coming forward to taunt them face-to-face. Margaret is especially brutal to the old Duchess, telling her:
From forth the kennel of thy womb hath crept
A hell-hound that doth hunt us all to death:
That dog, that had his teeth before his eyes,
To worry lambs and lap their gentle blood,
That foul defacer of God's handiwork,
That excellent grand tyrant of the earth,
That reigns in galled eyes of weeping souls,
Thy womb let loose, to chase us to our graves.
what a beeeyotch
Margaret is “hungry for revenge” (IV.iv.61), and she is relishing every moment. Her only fear is that she won’t live long enough to say “The dog is dead” (IV.iv.78) at Richard’s death. But that doesn’t stop her from then tearing into Elizabeth, calling her “A queen in jest, only to fill the scene” (IV.iv.91), and finally summarizing, “Farwell, York’s wife, and queen of sad mischance. // These English woes shall make me smile in France” (IV.iv.114-115).
Elizabeth keeps Margaret from leaving with a simple request: “teach me how to curse mine enemies” (IV.iv.117).
and that, my friends, is #11 on your Margaret’s Dozen scorecard
Before leaving, Margaret tosses off simple advice: remember your lost ones sweeter than they were, and think of their killer as worse than he is.
fine historical advice for Shakespeare, as it turns out, too…
Richard and his train then happen upon the wailing women, who attack him with questions and accusations. He literally drowns them out with drums and alarums from his train…his version of “lalalala, I’m NOT LISTENING!” But the Duchess gets one last verbal broadside in, saying her curse will weigh heavy on him in battle, and then she leaves, presumably to her death (as we never see her again in the play).
This leaves Queen Elizabeth, JUST who Richard needed to talk to. And he begins to try to convince her to allow him to marry her daughter Elizabeth. He tries to work the same honey-worded magic that succeeded with Anne back in Act One, but this is not the same Richard. Elizabeth is better able to answer him rhetorically. His approach at times even seems clumsy.
and, yes, oh, yes, we’ll be dissecting this later in the month, fo shizzle
After quite the verbal spar, with Richard seemingly beginning to regain the upper hand, Queen Elizabeth brings the conversation to a close:
I go. Write to me very shortly.
And you shall understand from me her mind.
[quite a difference from “Was ever a woman in this humor wooed?”, no?]
This hearkens back to Anne’s statement to Richard, “That shalt you know hereafter” (I.ii.198); Richard must take this to mean success with Elizabeth, too, as he says behind her back, “Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!” (IV.iv.431).
Into this scene, Richard is greeted with messengers with bad tidings: Richmond has landed in England with a “mighty power” (IV.iv.533); Dorset, Buckingham, Morton and others are rallying to his side. In fear of losing Lord Stanley, too, Richard takes Stanley’s son George as a kind of collateral; if Stanley fails Richard in battle, off goes George’s head. Richard then calls for his troops to be put on the move to Salisbury immediately, as “While we reason here, A royal battle might be won and lost” (IV.iv.536).
AND nor OR… again, a Macbeth connection: “When the battle’s lost and won” (Macbeth, I.i.4)
guess Richard wasn’t as successful as he thought, eh?
The fifth and final scene of Act Four takes place at Lord Stanley’s home, where he meets with a priest who will secretly carry a message to his son-in-law Richmond: “the queen hat heartily consented // (Richmond) should espouse Elizabeth her daughter” (IV.v.7-8).
The message also includes a statement of Stanley’s situation (his son George, and how “fear of that holds off [his] present aid” [IV.v.5]).
The message is sent and the stage is set for a climactic Act Five.