Richard III – Shakespeare’s greatest villain sets the scene

Shakespeare’s plays usually start well. But none as well as Richard III. Macbeth comes close with the three witches.

Many of his plays begin prologue of some sort, Henry V starts pretty tamely with a chorus. Often it’s couple of lords or a couple of clowns strolling about giving a bit of background.

Richard is his own prologue and he doesn’t pull any punches. He leaves no one, himself included unscathed.

Richard coils and then launches himself headlong at the audience,


Antony Sher as Richard III

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

What actor would not kill for these lines?

And if you’ve been paying attention, particularly through Henry VI  Parts 1, 2 and 3 you’d know that this “sun of York”, Edward IV,  was not capable of creating glorious summers. It was his second shot at being king and he wasn’t particularly good at it.  if you had watched the BBC’s wonderful production of The Hollow Crown  you would have seen the young Richard played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

He is watching his elders and betters, particularly the Earl of Warwick known as the Kingmaker, as they fought their way through the Wars of the Roses.  Warwick shepherded Edward onto the throne.

Stanley Townsend as the Earl of Warwick

He had his doubts but Edward was next in line.

All along Richard must’ve been thinking, “I’m better than this lot.” when peace came, Richard has his chance.

Richard makes no attempt to conceal his sarcasm and contempt for this glorious summer where

Grim-visaged war….instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
…. capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.

And Shakespeare’s Richard is not cut out for the times

Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;

And so Richard sets the scene

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain

And when he says that aim of his villainy is to

To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:

the Elizabeth audience would have no doubt that Richard is setting out to be king and he is inviting the audience along for the ride.



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