Richard questions Buckingham about his loyalty and his capabilities. Buckingham answers that he is able to lie, cheat, and kill, and is willing to use any of those skills to help Richard. Now that Lord Hastings and Elizabeth’s family have been killed, and the court is under Richard’s control, Richard and Buckingham know that they need to start manipulating the common people of England in order to ensure the crowning of Richard as king. The first thing to do is to manipulate the lord mayor of London into believing that Hastings was a traitor. Buckingham assures Richard that he is a good enough actor to pull off this feat.
The lord mayor enters the castle, followed by Catesby with Hastings’s head. Buckingham tells the mayor about Hastings’s alleged betrayal. He says that Hastings turned out to be a traitor, plotting to kill him and Richard. Richard tells the lord mayor that Hastings confessed everything before his death. The mayor, who is either very gullible or eager to go along with the claims of people in power, says he believes Richard and Buckingham just as if he has heard Hastings’s confession himself. He says that he will go and tell all the people of London what a dangerous traitor Hastings was, and that Richard was right to have him killed.
After the mayor departs, Richard, very pleased with their progress, tells Buckingham the next part of the plan: Buckingham is to make speeches to the people of London in which he will try to stir up bad feeling against the dead King Edward IV and the young princes, implying that the princes aren’t even Edward’s legitimate heirs. The goal is to make the people turn against the princes and demand that Richard be crowned king instead. While Buckingham is on this errand, Richard sends his other henchmen to gather some more allies, and he himself makes arrangements to get rid of Clarence’s children and to ensure that no one can visit the young princes imprisoned in the tower.
On the streets of London, a scrivener (someone who writes and copies letters and documents for a living) says that he has just finished his last assignment, which was to copy the paper that will be read aloud to all of London later that day. The paper says that Hastings was a traitor. The scrivener condemns the hypocrisy of the world, for he, like everybody else, can see that the claim in the paper is a lie invented by Richard to justify killing his political rival.
Buckingham returns to Richard, and reports that his speech to the Londoners was received very badly. Buckingham says that he tried to stir up bad feelings about King Edward and his sons and then proposed that Richard should be king instead. But, instead of cheering, the crowd just stared at him in terrified silence. Only a few of Buckingham’s own men, at the back of the crowd, threw their hats into the air and cheered for the idea of King Richard, and Buckingham had to end his speech quickly and leave.
Richard is furious to hear that the people do not like him, but he and Buckingham decide to go ahead with their plan anyway. Their strategy is to press the suggestible lord mayor to ask Richard to be king, pretending that this request would represent the will of the people. Richard, instead of seeming to desire the crown, will pretend to have to be begged before he will finally accept it. They successfully carry out this trick, with various clever embellishments. Richard shuts himself up with two priests before Buckingham leads the lord mayor to him to give the impression that he spends a great deal of time in prayer. In a long and elaborately structured speech, Buckingham makes a show of pleading with Richard to become king, and Richard finally accepts. Buckingham suggests that Richard be crowned the very next day, to which Richard consents.
Richard III is a fun read because the king is so evil. I'm reading all of Shakespeare by his 450th birthday, and this play gave me a great gift idea. See my blog about Richard III and a present for the Bard:
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