Act Three, Scene One
The young Prince Edward, accompanied by Richard and Buckingham and several other men, has arrived in London. He immediately asks where his mother and brother York are, and why they have not come to see him. Hastings tells the prince that his mother sought sanctuary. Buckingham cleverly argues that the young York may not have sanctuary since he is only a child and therefore has not reason to hide, since he has obviously not committed any crimes.
Richard then asks the prince if he is willing to spend the night in the Tower of London, which is the traditional place for kings to stay on the night before their coronation. Edward, however, fears the Tower as a prison and is reluctant. Richard convinces him it is better to stay there since it is so well protected.
The young York arrives and he and Prince Edward depart for the Tower. Richard tells Catesby to see whether Lord Hastings can be won over to his side, rather than supporting Prince Edward. Catesby thinks that Hastings will defend Prince Edward, and Richard indicates that he will kill him if that is the case. Richard also mentions that there will be "divided councels" the next morning, meaning a public council for Edward's coronation, and a private council to plot for Richard.
Act Three, Scene Two
Lord Hastings is rudely awakened at four in the morning by a messenger. He is told that Lord Stanley is there to see him, having had a bad dream in which he was beheaded by a boar (Richard's emblem is the boar). Catesby arrives before Stanley and tells Hastings that Richard wants the crown of England, but Hastings announces that he will die before Richard be allowed to wear the crown.
Catesby then tells Hastings that his enemies, the Queen's sons and her brother, are to be executed that day. Stanley arrives and announces that he is upset about the fact that there are two separate councils. He and Catesby leave for the Tower of London.
A pursuivant (basically, a messenger with the authority to serve an arrest warrant) enters and receives some money from Hastings. Buckingham then enters and Hastings tells him that he will eat lunch at the Tower. Buckingham indicates to the audience that Hastings will also eat supper there, although he does not yet know it.
Act Three, Scene Three
Gray and Rivers are forced onto stage as prisoners, while Ratcliffe watches over them. The two condemned men remark that it is Margaret's curse which has condemned them to die. Rivers remarks, "Then cursed she Hastings; then cursed she Buckingham; Then cursed she Richard." (3.3.16) The men then embrace and agree to meet again in heaven.
Act Three, Scene Four
A council meets in the Tower to discuss when the coronation day for Edward should be held. Richard enters late, bids the men a good day, and calls Buckingham aside. Buckingham tells Richard that Hastings will never support him.
Hastings says that it is a good thing that Richard is in such good spirits, because it means he does not dislike any of the men present. Buckingham and Richard reenter the room. Richard asks what the punishment for traitors should be, to which Hastings replies that they deserve death. Richard then blames the Queen and Mrs. Shore (who is the mistress of Hastings) with having caused his malformed arm. He accuses Hastings of protecting Shore, and orders the council to behead Hastings. Richard then leaves, followed by most of the council.
Act Three, Scene Five
The Lord Mayor of London arrives at the Tower. Catesby delivers Hastings' head, at which point both Buckingham and Richard must try to mollify the Lord Mayor. They tell him that Hastings was plotting against them both, and that he confessed as much in the Tower. They ask the Lord Mayor to inform the people of what happened, since he is better placed to placate the masses then they are.
Richard then sends Buckingham to follow the Lord Mayor. He wants Buckingham to tell the people that the children of Edward are illegitimate, which would require that the eldest illegitimate child should take the throne. Richard then wants Buckingham to convince the people that he is also an illegitimate child of Edward, and thus he should receive the throne.
Act Three, Scene Six
A scrivener enters, with a paper that fully details the treachery of Lord Hastings. The paper is meant to support Richard and Buckingham, but the scrivener points out that it took eleven hours to write, during which time Hastings was still alive. The scrivener asks who is so foolish that they cannot see the discrepancy in times, but he answers his own question by remarking, "Yet who so bold but says he sees it not?" (3.6.12)
Act Three, Scene Seven
Buckingham informs Richard that his speech to the crowd went over very badly. He says that having told the crowd everything, he asked them to shout out their support of Richard. Since not a single person responded, he then had the Recorder tell them again, at which point only a few of his own men threw up their caps and yelled, "God save King Richard!"
In order to overcome this problem, Buckingham and Richard plan to stage a silent play. Richard grabs a prayer book and goes to stands between two churchmen on the balcony. The Lord Mayor arrives with some aldermen and citizens. Buckingham tells them that Richard is currently meditating, and does not wish to speak with anyone.
Buckingham finally speaks to Richard, who remains on the balcony, and offers him the throne in front of all the assembled masses. Richard declines, saying it is better for Edward to be the king. Buckingham pleads with him, and Richard again turns him down. Buckingham then exits. A citizen tells Richard that the land will fall into chaos if he does not accept his position. Richard then calls them back, saying, "Call them again. I am not made of stone" (3.7.214) He accepts the throne and begs the Lord Mayor to tell everyone how reluctant he was to become the king.
This act is one of the most powerful, both due to the action and due to the events which follow. What stands out is the ability of Richard to play several roles with amazing dexterity and timing. His lines at the very beginning sum up what he stands for, "Nor more can you distinguish of a man / Than his outward show" (3.1.8-9). The implication is that people will believe what Richard shows them of himself.
There is a great deal of foreshadowing throughout this section, usually in the form of double-meanings.
Richard: [Aside] So wise so young, they say, do never live long
Prince Edward: What say you, uncle?
Richard: I say, "Without characters, fame lives long." [Aside] Thus like the formal Vice, Iniquity, I moralize two meanings in one word. (3.1.79-83)
This foreshadowing, accompanied by the comparison of himself to Vice, is apt given Richard's disposition. He does play Vice, a comic role, when he is speaking with the audience. However, he always also has two meanings, which is what allows him to also be the machiavel.
Prince Edward: I fear no uncles dead.
Richard: Nor none that live, I hope.
Prince Edward: An if they live, I hope I need not fear.
Richard can play both roles even here, where he again is able to say one thing and mean another. The uncle to fear is Richard, but Edward naively assumes that Richard means Lord Rivers.
An interesting feature of this act is that Queen Margaret's curse now comes true. Thus, Rivers and Gray both allude to the fact that although she cursed them first, Hastings, Buckingham and Richard are all destined to follow.
A mistake which is commonly made is for characters to assume they know another person by his outward appearance. Richard uses this fact for his own benefit, saying in the first scene that others cannot know him except for what he outwardly shows them. Hastings makes this fatal mistake with Richard, saying, "For by his face straight shall you know his heart" (3.4.53). Of course, only a few seconds later Richard orders Catesby to cut off his head.
In previous acts the reader could see that this play is mostly directed by Richard. This becomes extremely vital to the play in scene seven. Buckingham, having failed to convince the people, creates a miniature play staring Richard in a silent role. Richard thus emerges onto the balcony between, "Two props of virtue for a Christian prince" (3.7.96). Again, the fact that people only judge by outward appearance is played upon: "And see, a book of prayer in his hand- / True ornaments to know a holy man" (3.7.98-99).
This scene moves forward with Richard twice declining the throne. Having discouraged the assembled masses, and having let Buckingham leave, Richard then plays his trump card. He calls back Buckingham, saying, "I am not made of stone" (3.7.214) This beautiful reluctance to take the throne, yet his inability to really let it pass on to Edward, is Richard at his most devious.