called the duke of Gloucester, and eventually crowned King Richard
III. Deformed in body and twisted in mind, Richard is both the central
character and the villain of the play. He is evil, corrupt, sadistic, and
manipulative, and he will stop at nothing to become king. His intelligence,
political brilliance, and dazzling use of language keep the audience fascinated—and
his subjects and rivals under his thumb.
in-depth analysis of Richard.
right-hand man in his schemes to gain power. The duke of Buckingham
is almost as amoral and ambitious as Richard himself.
King Edward IV
older brother of Richard and Clarence, and the king of England at
the start of the play. Edward was deeply involved in the Yorkists’
brutal overthrow of the Lancaster regime, but as king he is devoted
to achieving a reconciliation among the various political factions
of his reign. He is unaware that Richard attempts to thwart him
at every turn.
gentle, trusting brother born between Edward and Richard in the
York family. Richard has Clarence murdered in order to get him out
of the way. Clarence leaves two children, a son and a daughter.
The wife of King Edward IV and the mother of the
two young princes (the heirs to the throne) and their older sister,
young Elizabeth. After Edward’s death, Queen Elizabeth (also called
Lady Gray) is at Richard’s mercy. Richard rightly views her as an
enemy because she opposes his rise to power, and because she is intelligent
and fairly strong-willed. Elizabeth is part of the Woodeville family;
her kinsmen—Dorset, Rivers, and Gray—are her allies in the court.
Dorset, Rivers, and Gray
The kinsmen and allies of Elizabeth, and members
of the Woodeville and Gray families. Rivers is Elizabeth’s brother,
while Gray and Dorset are her sons from her first marriage. Richard
eventually executes Rivers and Gray, but Dorset flees and survives.
young widow of Prince Edward, who was the son of the former king,
Henry VI. Lady Anne hates Richard for the death of her husband,
but for reasons of politics—and for sadistic pleasure—Richard persuades Anne
to marry him.
Duchess of York
Widowed mother of Richard, Clarence, and King Edward
IV. The duchess of York is Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, and she is
very protective of Elizabeth and her children, who are the duchess’s
grandchildren. She is angry with, and eventually curses, Richard
for his heinous actions.
of the dead King Henry VI, and mother of the slain Prince Edward.
In medieval times, when kings were deposed, their children were
often killed to remove any threat from the royal line of descent—but their
wives were left alive because they were considered harmless. Margaret
was the wife of the king before Edward, the Lancastrian Henry VI,
who was subsequently deposed and murdered (along with their children)
by the family of King Edward IV and Richard. She is embittered and
hates both Richard and the people he is trying to get rid of, all
of whom were complicit in the destruction of the Lancasters.
in-depth analysis of Margaret.
two young sons of King Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth, their
names are actually Prince Edward and the young duke of York, but
they are often referred to collectively. Agents of Richard murder
these boys—Richard’s nephews—in the Tower of London. Young Prince
Edward, the rightful heir to the throne, should not be confused
with the elder Edward, prince of Wales (the first husband of Lady
Anne, and the son of the former king, Henry VI.), who was killed
before the play begins.
The former Queen Elizabeth’s daughter. Young Elizabeth
enjoys the fate of many Renaissance noblewomen. She becomes a pawn
in political power-brokering, and is promised in marriage at the
end of the play to Richmond, the Lancastrian rebel leader, in order
to unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster.
Two of Richard’s flunkies among the nobility.
murderer whom Richard hires to kill his young cousins, the princes
in the Tower of London.
member of a branch of the Lancaster royal family. Richmond gathers
a force of rebels to challenge Richard for the throne. He is meant
to represent goodness, justice, and fairness—all the things Richard does
not. Richmond is portrayed in such a glowing light in part because
he founded the Tudor dynasty, which still ruled England in Shakespeare’s
lord who maintains his integrity, remaining loyal to the family
of King Edward IV. Hastings winds up dead for making the mistake
of trusting Richard.
stepfather of Richmond. Lord Stanley, earl of Derby, secretly helps
Richmond, although he cannot escape Richard’s watchful gaze.
Lord Mayor of London
A gullible and suggestible fellow whom Richard and
Buckingham use as a pawn in their ploy to make Richard king.
friend of Elizabeth, Dorset, Rivers, and Gray who is executed by
Richard along with Rivers and Grey.