Richard III

Richard III Summary and Analysis of Act 5

Act Five, Scene One

Buckingham, having been captured, is led on stage and gives his last speech. He comments that it is All-Souls' Day, a day when all executions are normally postponed, and also a day when spirits are supposed to walk on the earth, as will happen in the next scenes. Buckingham then recalls Margaret's curse on him, and says, "Thus Margaret's curse falls heavy on my neck / .../ Remember Margaret was a prophetess" (5.1.25,27).

Act Five, Scene Two

Henry of Richmond enters and encourages his men. He gives them images of peace and prosperity as their payoff for defeating Richard. "The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar, / That spoils your summer fields and fruitful vines, / .../ In God's name, cheerly on, courageous friends, / To reap the harvest of perpetual peace" (5.2.7-8, 14-15).

Act Five, Scene Three

Richard enters on the other side of the stage and tells his men to set up camp on Bosworth field. He ascertains that his army is three times the size of Richmond's, and plans to be busy with the battle plans the next morning.

Act Five, Scene Four

Henry of Richmond enters and prophetically says, "the weary sun hath made a golden set," implying the demise of Richard (who now represents the sun, the symbol of the king). Richmond then sends a note to Stanley, who is willing to betray Richard. The men wish each other a "quiet rest tonight."

Act Five, Scene Five

Richard decides that he will not eat, saying, "I will not sup tonight" (5.5.3). He then has his men post several guards and makes Ratcliffe set up a pen and paper for him. Richard also orders Catesby to tell Stanley to bring his force the next morning, or have his son killed. He writes some, and then falls asleep.

On the other side of the stage Richmond enters, accompanied by Stanley. Stanley informs him that he will try to deceive Richard as best he can, and will delay for as long as possible. Richmond then attempts to fall asleep, worried that he will not be fresh for the battle. After a short prayer, he too falls asleep.

A parade of ghosts representing those whom Richard has killed during his lifetime comes out onto the stage. Each ghost stops and tells Richard, "Despair, and die." To Richmond they say, "Live and flourish." The ghosts appear almost in the order in which they were killed, starting with Prince Edward, King Henry, Clarence, Rivers, Gray, Vaughan, the two young Princes, Hastings, Lady Anne, and lastly Buckingham.

Richard awakes and holds an internal dialogue in which he berates his conscience for giving him bad dreams. "What do I fear? Myself? There's none else by" (5.5.136). He continues in this vein, first blaming and then defending himself for a short while. Ratcliffe enters and gets Richard to come join his troops.

Richmond awakes and happily remembers his dream in which the dead souls promised him victory. He then gives a speech to rally his troops, promising to protect their wives, free their children, and create peace throughout the land.

Act Five, Scene Six

The sun refuses to rise when it should, causing Richard to state that, "A black day will it be to somebody." He then gives his oration to his army. It is about disorder, and he encourages them to fight to prevent Richmond from destroying their lands and abusing their wives. His last words are, "Shall these enjoy our lands? Lie with our wives? Ravish our daughters?" (5.6.66).

A messenger then informs Richard that Stanley has defected to Richmond's side. Richard calls out for Stanley's son to be killed, but the enemy is already so close that he cannot carry out that command.

Act Five, Scene Seven

Richard's horse has been overthrown, and he now fights on foot. Richard calls out, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" (5.7.7) He then remarks that there must be six Richmonds on the field, since he has already slain five and none of them were Richmond. (This alludes to the practice of dressing common soldiers as kings, so that he enemy could be fooled into chasing the wrong man.)

Act Five, Scene Eight

Richmond and Richard both come out onto stage and fight, during which Richard is killed. Stanley takes the crown and places it on Richmond's head, making him King Henry VII. King Henry immediately pardons the enemy soldiers, and makes sure that Stanley's son is still alive. He then looks forward to marrying Elizabeth's daughter, which will unite the houses of Lancaster and York and end the War of the Roses. His final words are, "Peace lives again / That she may long live here, God say, 'Amen'."


Act five is marked by the further loss of power in Richard. There are many illusions to the falling sun, to dark days and shadows. Thus, on the day of the battle the sun refuses to rise, even though it is an hour later than it should be.

The scene of marching ghosts is important in two ways. First, it is All-Souls' Day, and thus the time when spirits are supposed to walk on the earth. Second, the spirits are actually present only as a dream. Thus, both Richard and Richmond wake up and remember having dreamt the ghosts, never actually seeing them.

There are obvious differences in the way the two armies prepare for battle. In his speech to his army, Richmond draws on the ideas of established peace, protected wives, and plentiful harvests. This stands in marked contrast to Richard, who invokes images of ravished wives, harmed daughters, and destroyed lands to encourage his army. This difference is the essential difference between Richard and other men, namely he enjoys destruction and disorder. Thus, even in his opening words we hear him say, "Now is the winter of our discontent" (1.1.1), meaning that he himself is the discontent and the winter.

There is a purposeful reason as to why Shakespeare only creates a part for Richmond at the end of the play. After all, he could have had Richmond be a central character straight from the beginning. His intention is purely dramatic, since only showing Richard creates a unique character with whom the audience identifies in spite of the atrocities he commits. Richard can only exist as one man, shown by Shakespeare on the battlefield when Richard kills five Richmonds. You could never say that there are five Richards the same way you can say that there are five Richmonds, because Richard is not duplicatable.

The scene of Richard's total destruction as a character and man is when he wakes up from his sleep. He is internally confused, and unable to understand himself. It is as if the mirror which he so often plays for other characters has been turned onto himself. Thus he speaks:

O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me?

The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.

Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.

What do I fear? Myself? There's none else by.

Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.

Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am.

Then fly! What, from myself Great reason. Why?

Lest I revenge. Myself upon myself?

Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good

That I myself have done unto myself?

O no, alas, I rather hate myself.

I am a villain. Yet I lie: I am not.

Fool, of thyself speak well.- Fool, do not flatter. (5.5.133-146)

There are clearly two separate voices talking within Richard, the internalized voices which he has shown throughout the play to the other characters. Now he is judging himself, and finds that he does not like what he sees. The "false looking glass" that Richard has been called has now been focused onto himself, and he cannot see himself clearly anymore.

What stands out in Richard III is the fact that Richard is still a seductive character, even after all the atrocities he commits. Shakespeare creates in Richard a singular character, a new character which has never been seen on stage before. And the audience finds that, much the way Lady Anne is seduced by Richard, so to is it seduced to find him at times likable, funny, and fascinating.