Richard III

by: William Shakespeare

Act V, scenes vii–viii

Richmond’s final speech primarily serves a narrative purpose, showing that Richard, the villain of the play, has been definitively vanquished, although his death has occurred offstage. Richmond’s simple, judgmental declaration that “[T]he bloody dog is dead” indicates the relief and exhaustion that he (and everyone else) feels after Richard’s long campaign of cruelty (V.viii.2). Many dead kings, even wicked ones, are remembered kindly by their enemies after they die, but Richard is so universally hated that he is spoken of merely as a “bloody dog.” Symbolically, then, Richard’s death and Richmond’s ascension to the throne suggest that the conflicts that have plagued England for so long are at an end. “England hath long been mad, and scarred herself,” says Richmond, referring to the wars among the royalty (V.viii.23). Richmond’s intention to claim the kingdom’s “long usurpèd royalty,” as Stanley puts it, heralds the symbolic end not just of the particular conflict with Richard but of the Wars of the Roses in general (V.viii.4). Moreover, with his marriage to young Elizabeth, Richmond will meld the houses of York and Lancaster in a fertile and peaceful union, uniting “the white rose and the red”—the symbols of the houses of York and Lancaster, respectively (V.viii.19). Richard’s long reign of terror has come to an end as the play closes with the promise of a marriage, and with the new King Henry’s fervent prayer for “this fair land’s peace” (V.viii.39). The play, then, ends tragically for Richard but happily for England.