In WhichRichard, Duke of Gloucester, decides to become king by Being Extremely Evil. It works pretty well until it doesn't.With the possible exception of The Taming of the Shrew, this is the earliest-written of William Shakespeare's plays to still be commonly performed today.The play opens as Edward IV lies dying. Hoping to prevent the generation of dynastic warfare that ended with his (second) ascension to the throne from starting up again, Edward calls together all of England's powerful factions and makes them shake hands and promise to be nice to each other and his young son once he croaks.They all do, and everyone lives happily ever after.Yeah, okay, not so much.With the aid of the Duke of Buckingham, and to the great delight of Lord Hastings and the rest of nobility, upon Edward IV's death his younger brother, Richard, after taking a brief detour to successfully woo the widow of a man he killed, quickly has several of the Queen's relatives arrested and executed and sends the young princes off to the Tower of London.Lord Hastings, under the impression that Richard was just going to chop the heads off of the Queen's relatives and leave it at that, is dismayed to find that Richard plans to have Edward's children declared illegitimate and to take the throne himself and refuses to go along.And so, with the aid of Buckingham, Richard has Hastings' head chopped off too.From there, Richard decides that the kids will be trouble as long as they're alive, and he might as well have them whacked too as long as he's got the ax out, but by this point even Buckingham begins to get squeamish and, not having noticed the pattern, leads a failed rebellion and gets his head chopped off. (For those keeping score at home, add the princes to the body count at this point as well.)Once Richard murders his wife so that he might marry his niece, the remaining non-villainous members of the cast finally DO manage to notice the pattern and band together under some guy who hasn't even appeared in the play yet, and, with a night before assist from the ghosts of everyone Richard has had killed, successfully kill Richard in battle and install Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond, on the throne.Sir Ian McKellen played Richard III in a 1995 film adaptation that was very well received by critics and audience alike.Trivial note: For all of the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century, any Richard III performed on stage was not Shakespeare's, but a reworking penned by Colley Cibber, which included only about 800 of the original's 3600 lines, excised several characters (including Clarence and Queen Margaret), and added a large amount of new material.This page is exclusively concerned with the play by Shakespeare. For the historical Richard III, please see Richard of Gloucester.
Tropes in Richard III include:
And Your Little Dog Too: The final straw leading to open rebellion is when Richard tries to forcibly marry his niece.
, 56-year-old Ian McKellen, and also 56-year-old Al Pacino. It should be noted that Richard was only 33 when he died at the battle of Bosworth Field, and only five years older than his usurper, Henry VII, who, unlike Richard, is usually played by a reasonably young actor. Then again, Shakespeare's Richard starts appearing in the Henry VI plays, as an adult, at a time when the historical Richard would have been a toddler, so playing him as older even in his own play makes a certain amount of sense.
Beam Me Up, Scotty: "Off with his head! So much for Buckingham." For many years one of Richard's most iconic lines — but not part of Shakespeare's play. It was added in 1700 by leading-man Colley Cibber.
Black and Grey Morality: Unsurprising, considering that this is part of a teratology on the War of the Roses. While Richard and Buckingham are unambigiously evil, the good guys (except for Richmond and the princes) aren't exactly saints, as seen by some of their actions in the previous installments.
To be sure, the root meaning of "villain" is "villein, serf" — and just as "noble" or "gentleman" became a term of praise, so it became an insult, starting with meaning unchivalrous and crude. In Shakespeare's time, it still carried some of the connotations. So it could be interpreted as, "If everyone thinks I'm just a common thug, by golly I'll show them how scary a thug I can be". Interpret that thought how you will. (C. S. Lewis discusses the term at length in Studies In Words.)
Faux Affably Evil: Richard. To the point where in a recent production, the audience was enjoined to chant his name to get him to take up the throne at the public urgings of Buckingham. The fact that he likes breaking the fourth wall to point out exactly what a Magnificent Bastard he is only adds to the allure.
Flat Character: Richmond's characterization can basically be summed up as "being the opposite of Richard".
Freudian Excuse: Freud argued that Richard does what he does because he was hated and belittled his whole life by his family for being ugly, giving that trope its name.
The Ghost: Princess Elizabeth of York, much talked-about and crucial to the plot as a bargaining chip but never seen (in the 1995 film, she's in a lot of the royal family scenes and gets a line reassigned from another character (in a completely different context).
Heel Face Turn: Meta-example with the entire Yorkist faction other than Richard. In the preceding Henry VI play cycle they were the villains, but (in a process beginning in the final scene of Henry VI, Part 3) in this one they're all quite nice. Particularly pronounced with George, Duke of Clarence, who in the earlier plays was a fairly historically-accurate opportunistic bastard but here becomes utterly harmless and a bit of a fool.
In the case of Clarence there's also an in-universe case of this trope (as well as Face Heel Turn) because he was originally fighting for the House of Lancaster until the very end, when he switched sides to York.
Karmic Death: Richard, who after spending the entire play scheming to gain the crown ends the play (and his life) with the line "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"
Kavorka Man: Despite Richard being deformed and a Card-Carrying Villain, he still manages to woo Anne... over the corpse of her first husband's father, King Henry VI, whom Richard had killed prior to the events in the play.
King On His Deathbed: Edward IV's illness creates this situation at the beginning of the play, since Edward's son is too young to be an effective ruler, and Richard not-yet-III devotes a great deal of his energy to knocking off everyone who'd be a more respectable regent than himself.
Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Buckingham helps Richard to the throne; in return, Richard promises him an extra title of nobility. When Richard refuses to grant it to him, he soliloquizes, "Made I him king for this?" and runs off to join the nascent rebellion.
Richard's coronation scene was straight out of Triumph of the Will
In this version, Edward IV is heavily implied to be Edward VIII, while his wife Elizabeth and the rest of the Woodvilles are played by Americans, suggesting Wallis Simpson. The Earl of Richmond and Princess Elizabeth rather resemble Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. Maggie Smith, as the Duchess of York (who is combined with Queen Margaret in this movie), is a dead ringer for Queen Mary, Edward VIII's mother.
Offstage Villainy: Most of Richard's acts. Justified by the fact that in Shakespeare's time the stage had no curtains (or only on the innermost portion), and it required considerable "business" to get "dead" characters removed. (The Elizabethans weren't all that squeamish - they loved them some bear-baitings and public hangings.)
Pet Rat: Tyrell as well as the murderers of Clarence.
Prophecies Are Always Right: Margaret shows up at the beginning to predict everyone's eventual horrible fate, and then reappears at the end to rub their noses in how right she was.
Pun: The opening lines are a pun on "Sun of York" (the commonly used symbol of the Yorkists, more so than the White Rose) and Richard describing his brother King Edward as a "son of York".
Rasputinian Death: Clarence, stabbed multiple times and then drowned in a barrel of wine.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: In Act IV, Queen Elizabeth (the ancestor of the most well known one) gives one to Richard when he tries to get her help in wooing her daughter. She not only calls him out on everything he's done, but whenever he tries to swear by something, she cuts him off deconstructing why he has no right to swear by it (including himself).
Red Right Hand: The Richard character being a hunchback (which, incidentally, his historical counterpart was not).
Remember the New Guy: Practically two thirds into the story, Richmond suddenly shows up and he and his wife are treated as if they have been in the story the whole time, and need no introduction or explanation. (Because, to an Elizabethan audience, they wouldn't have; he's Queen Elizabeth's grandfather.)
Smug Snake: Hastings does little to hide his hate of the house of Lancaster, only pretends to be friendly with them in front of Edward IV, celebrates the fact that Rivers, Dorset and Vaughan are going to be executed by Richard and refuses to listen to Stanley about his visions of Richard decapitating him, saying that Richard and Duke Buckingham would never turn against him. Unfortunately for him, he makes the mistake of refusing to support Richard's claim to the throne and only realizes it when it's far too late.
Supporting Leader: Averted, by making Richmond the battlefield commander at Bosworth Field. In Real Life he wisely confined himself to politicking and left the fighting to his crack general, the Earl of Oxford.