Act Three: The Rise of Richard and Buckingham (or is that, Buckingham and Richard?)

I can totally see playing this up in performance… nothing like an insufferable little brat to further align the audience with Richard… (at this point in the play, at least)

Act Three of Richard the Third begins with Prince Edward’s arrival in London, escorted by Richard and Buckingham (and some others, including the Lord Cardinal Bourchier).  Edward comes off as a bit of a whiner here; he’s disappointed that there aren’t more uncles to greet him. (His actual words are “I want more uncles here to welcome me” [III.i.6], with that “want” meaning both desire AND lack)  Richard tries to remind him that those uncles Rivers and Grey ([actually a half-brother], you know… the ARRESTED ones) were “dangerous” (III.i.12), but Edward isn’t buying it, and his whining continues when that “slug” (III.i.22) Hastings–Edward’s words–is slow in delivering word about his mother’s arrival to greet him.

Hasting arrives with word that Elizabeth and young Richard have taken sanctuary, and that Richard wanted to visit Edward but their mother restrained him.  Buckingham immediately demands that the Cardinal “persuade the queen to send the Duke of York” (III.i.33), and if that doesn’t work, then to take him by force.  The Cardinal tries to defend the right of “blessed sanctuary” (III.i.42).  Buckingham, however, will have none of it:

You are too senseless-obstinate, my lord,
Too ceremonious and traditional.
Weigh it but with the grossness of this age,
You break not sanctuary in seizing him.
This prince hath neither claim'd it nor deserved it;
And therefore, in mine opinion, cannot have it:
Then, taking him from thence that is not there,
You break no privilege nor charter there.
Oft have I heard of sanctuary men;
But sanctuary children ne'er till now.

— III.i.44-47, 51-56

Buckingham is defining law as he sees fit, twisting it like Dick Cheney’s torture logic, even making a sarcastic, demeaning joke at the end.  The Cardinal feels “overrule(d)” (III.i.57) and leaves to fetch the boy.  In the meantime, Prince Edward asks where he’ll be staying, and Richard is subtle, saying Edward may stay wherever he feels is best, BUT… “If I may counsel you, some day or two // Your highness shall repose you at the Tower” (III.i.64-65).

As the uncle and nephew discuss the Tower and its merits and historical significance (with Richard’s responses filled with asides full of foreboding), young brother Richard arrives.  Richard then begins to banter with both nephews and the banter goes well until the younger brother tells Richard,

Uncle, my brother mocks both you and me;
Because that I am little, like an ape,
He thinks that you should bear me on your shoulders.

— III.i.129-131

The reference here to carry an ape or monkey on one’s shoulder, like a jester or bear, making Richard either a clown or a subhuman (the hunchback).  Buckingham can only muster an aside to Hastings that the boy maybe have too “sharp-provided (a) wit” (III.i.132). Regardless, by the time Richard speaks again, his tone is all-business, as he sends the boys off, telling them that he and Buckingham will go to Elizabeth to “entreat of her // To meet (them) at the Tower” (III.i.138-139).

Richard, Buckingham and Catesby remain behind.  Buckingham (who is speaking first more and more lately) asks Catesby if he believes that Hastings would support Richard as king.  Catesby doubts it, but Buckingham sends Catesby to sound Hastings on the matter.  Once Catesby is gone, Buckingham asks Richard what they should do if Hastings withholds support.  Richard’s response is simple, short, and brutal:  “Chop off his head” (III.i.193).  The verbose and (yes) charming villain of the first Act is now completely gone, replaced by a surly politician handing out political favors, offering Buckingham the “earldom of Hereford” (III.i.195) once Richard is king.

Act Three, Scene Two takes place in Hastings’ house, where he learns that Lord Stanley (the father-in-law of Richmond) is fearful, having dreamed that “the boar had razed off his helm” (III.ii.11); Richard’s symbol being the white boar.  He’s also concerned that Richard might try to wrest control in one of two state councils to take place in the coming days.  Hastings has no such fears as he will be at one council and his “good friend Catesby” (III.ii.22) at the other, so nothing can happen without Hastings knowing about it.

Catesby arrives and sounds Hastings on his feelings concerning Richard taking the throne; Hastings’ response is a simple as Richard’s was at the end of the last scene:  “I’ll have this crown of mine cut from my shoulders // Before I’ll see the crown so foul misplaced” (III.ii.43-44).

[file that under: be careful what you wish for…]

In Act Three, Scene Three, we see the aftermath of the arrest of Rivers, Grey and Vaughan.  They are led off to execution, and Grey realizes that “Margaret’s curse is fall’n upon our heads” (III.iii.15).

that would be curse #5 on your “Margaret’s Dozen” scorecard…

In Act Three, Scene Four, we see one of the councils Stanley was concerned about in Act Three, Scene Two.  Hastings, Derby, Buckingham, and others are seated with the Bishop of Ely, discussing the logistics for Edward’s coronation.  Richard arrives late, uses a diversion to get the Bishop out of the room, then calls Buckingham aside to tell him the intelligence gathered by Catesby.  The two then leave the room for a moment, and when they come back, it is with a vengeance.

Richard wants to know what the penalty should be for witchcraft used against his person.  Hastings immediately calls for death.  Richard then accuses both Queen Elizabeth and Mistress Jane Shore of witchcraft, displaying his “withered” (III.iv.69) arm as evidence.  Never mind that he’s referenced the arm before (though, interestingly, NOT explicitly in this play, but in The Third Part of Henry the Sixth: “mine arm…like a withered shrub” [3HenryVI: III.ii.156]).  Note, too, his implication of Mistress Shore, who on Richard’s petition had worked for Hastings’ release back in Act One (and who, after the death of Edward IV, became the mistress of BOTH Dorset AND Hastings… busy girl, that Jane).

Hastings calls for due process, saying,

If they have done this thing, my gracious lord--

If? thou protector of this damned strumpet--
Talk'st thou to me of 'ifs'? Thou art a traitor:
Off with his head!

— III.iv.73-76

The trap is sprung, and Richard calls for all that love him to follow him, stranding Hastings with Lovel and Ratcliff, guards left by Richard.  Hastings now realizes that Margaret’s “heavy curse” (III.iv.92) is now on his head.

that would be #7 on the scorecard

In the fifth scene of the act, Richard and Buckingham convince the Mayor of London of Hastings’ plot against them and their need for swift action (execution in the face of open attack).  It doesn’t take much convincing, especially after Lovel enters with Hastings head.

ya got any problem with our story, Mayor?  you sure?

The Mayor is easy to convince, but what about the people?  Richard has an answer and gives Buckingham marching orders to begin a whispering campaign:

Infer the bastardy of Edward's children
Moreover, urge his hateful luxury
And bestial appetite in change of lust
Tell them, when that my mother went with child
Of that insatiate Edward, noble York
My princely father then had wars in France
And, by just computation of the time,
Found that the issue was not his begot

— III.v.75, 80-81, 86-90

Major character assassination… but Richard doesn’t want to go too far since “you know, my lord, my mother lives” (III.v.94).  Charming, not so much anymore.

the scene is only fourteen lines, and I was hoping that it would fall into a sonnet’s rhyme scheme, but no such luck…

Act Three, Scene Six is a short one, in which a scrivener soliloquizes over changes made to official documents in the last few hours, pondering, “Who is so gross // That cannot see this palpable device?” (

The seventh and final scene in this very long Act Three takes place at Baynard’s Castle, where Richard asks Buckingham how the citizenry is taking the whispering campaign.  Unenthusiastic at best.  Buckingham goes over the laundry list of statements made to a mass gathering in London (fleshing out details Richard had only hinted at in his directions), and how at the end of it, he gave a cheer for Richard… and the equivalent of crickets was the response.  When he attempted it again, he had “some ten” (III.vii.36) ringers he had brought cried out, “God save King Richard!”  Hastily, he thanked the crowd for their response and left.

It seems the scrivener didn’t need to worry too much; the masses are underwhelmed with the possibility of a Richard reign.

Buckingham then devises (and as I mentioned earlier, he’s taking on a greater role with every scene) a ruse to convince the arriving mayor to support Richard’s claim: Richard is to hide for the moment, grab a prayer book, and get two churchmen to bring out when he appears next.  And Richard goes off.

What follows is a grossly depicted show of Richard as religious man, and in a display worthy of James Brown at the end of a concert, Richard keeps leaving and coming back, finally to take crown after Buckingham threatens,

Your brother's son shall never reign our king;
But we will plant some other in the throne,
To the disgrace and downfall of your house:

— III.vii.215-217

And on this, Buckingham announces that tomorrow Richard the Third will be crowned.

Thus ends Act Three.

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