Act Two, Scene One
King Edward enters, followed by most of court who previously went to his chambers. He carefully orchestrates a scene of friendship after ordering them to forgive each other. His orders to each man tell them exactly how he wants them to behave, including whose hand to shake, or who should kiss the hand of the queen.
Richard enters this farce and is ordered to forget his hatred of the Queen and her family. He does this, but when the Queen tells him to bring Clarence back to court, he immediately destroys the entire scene. Richard replies, "Who knows not that the gentle Duke is dead?" (2.1.80), at which all the other actors are shocked.
King Edward delivers a brief speech lamenting the fact that his brother Clarence has been killed by his orders. He recalls the many times that Clarence saved his life or helped him attain the throne. King Edward then departs. Richard asks Buckingham if he noticed how guilty the Queen's kindred looked when the news of Clarence's death was announced.
Act Two, Scene Two
The old Duchess of York, the mother of King Edward, Clarence and Richard, enters with Clarence's two children. She is mourning the death of Clarence, but for the children's sake instead pretends to be upset about Edward's bad health. However, after a few moments Queen Elizabeth enters with her hair disheveled, and announces that King Edward has also died.
The Duchess of York remarks that all she has left is Richard, about whom she says, "And I for comfort have but one false glass" (2.2.53). The children tell the Queen that since she did not grieve for their father, they will not grieve for King Edward. The Duchess tells them all that she accepts all of their suffering and will lament for them.
Richard enters and convinces them to travel to Ludlow where the young Prince Edward is staying. They all agree that it is safer for them all to go, before leaving the stage. Buckingham tells Richard to go with them, so that no one will think that he is plotting to seize the throne.
Act Two, Scene Three
Some citizens discuss the fact that King Edward is dead. They are afraid of a fight to seize the thrown, with one of them commenting, "Woe to the land that's governed by a child" (2.3.11). Their fear is that Richard or the sons and brother of the Queen will attempt to overthrow the young monarch.
Act Two, Scene Four
Queen Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, the Lord Cardinal, and the young Duke of York discuss the the stories of Richard's childhood. Shakespeare alludes to a myth that he was born with teeth. Dorset enters the room with bad news.
He tells them that Buckingham and Richard have imprisoned Lord Rivers and Lord Gray. The Queen is frightened for her family, which she clearly sees being wiped out if Richard can get his way. She decides to go into sanctuary, meaning a church, with the young Duke of York so that they will have protection. The sanctuary is initially for forty days.
Richard III is a play within a play. It is primarily Richard's play, evidenced by the skillful plots which he executes in each scene. This act starts with King Edward attempting to direct his own little play, getting Buckingham, Hastings, Rivers to pretend to be friends. Richard destroys this quaint scene with a single phrase, "Who knows not that the gentle Duke is dead?" (2.1.80).
The way in which Richard intervenes and destroys the false unity shows both the fact that Richard is in charge of the play, and that he is a divisive force. He again plays a fake role by implicating the Queen's brother and sons in the death of Clarence. Richard skillfully asks who among them standing there is guilty, "And yet go current from suspicion" (2.1.95). The irony of course is that he is speaking about himself.
One of the themes which emerges in Shakespeare is that the state of the throne is reflected in the state of the country. Thus, with a sickly Edward on the throne, the overall health of the country is also sick. This is reflected by the citizens who are worried about having a child king, which implies that the country will now degenerate into turmoil.
The imagery of Richard as a false glass appears again, this time being used by his own mother. Throughout the scenes in this act, Richard does not have to be present to have an impact. He is mentioned as having spoken to both the young children, and even the citizens are afraid of what he is capable of.