Richard III

by: William Shakespeare

Act III, scene i

Richard’s boundless hypocrisy promptly comes to the surface. He assures the boy that his mother’s kinsmen were “dangerous,” since “[y]our grace attended to their sugared words, / But looked not on the poison of their hearts” (III.i.13–14). When he adds, “God keep you from them, and from such false friends,” the irony is vast. Richard himself, of course, has poison in his heart, and is a false friend to the young princes (III.i.15). That the boy is aware of this is suggested in his suspicious reply: “God keep me from false friends; but they were none” (III.i.16). Prince Edward implies that he knows who his false friends really are, and that he is speaking to one of them—Richard.

Buckingham’s urging of the cardinal to “pluck” the younger prince from the safety of his sanctuary is obviously unconvincing on either moral or theological grounds (III.i.36). His argument is based on the idea that a child who is too young to understand the technicalities of sanctuary must therefore be thought of as too young to claim he deserves it. Buckingham is clearly misinterpreting the very aim of sanctuary, which is to defend the helpless, but the cardinal is willing to let himself be persuaded by Buckingham, who is backed by Richard’s threatening power. The cardinal, alas, does not provide a very admirable example of a clergyman willing to stand up for the right. “Not for all this land / Would I be guilty of so deep a sin” (III.i.42–43), he says at first, but it takes only thirteen lines of argument by Buckingham to “o’er-rule [his] mind” (III.i.57).

The young princes seem to have inherited a family intelligence and quickness with words. The younger prince, the young duke of York, jabs at Richard deliberately when he says he will not be able to sleep well in the tower for fear of his “uncle Clarence’s angry ghost” (III.i.144). His older brother responds, “I fear no uncles dead,” and to Richard’s pointed response—“Nor none that live, I hope”—the boy answers, “I hope I need not fear” (III.i.146–147).

Richard demonstrates his political acumen once more later in the scene, when he accepts Buckingham’s suggestion of the “divided counsels” for the following day (III.i.176). He sends Catesby off with what sound like reasonable instructions to find out surreptitiously whether Hastings is likely to be swayed to his side. However, after Catesby leaves, when Buckingham asks Richard what the contingency plan is, Richard replies simply, “Chop off his head” (III.i.190). Yet Richard wisely makes a generous offer to Buckingham a moment later, promising him an earldom when Richard obtains the throne.