Buckingham is an example of one of Shakespeare’s most commonly used archetypes: the villain's right-hand man. Many of Shakespeare’s villains have someone that they manipulate into doing their bidding. In most cases, the villain is successfully able to maintain control over the other character due to a power imbalance. This is the case for Buckingham, who aligns himself with Richard and participates in his dastardly schemes because Richard promises Buckingham the earldom of Hereford if he assists Richard in seizing the throne. Buckingham also has an additional textual role because he is often the recipient of Richard’s scheming, and it is often during conversations between the two of them that plans are both revealed and set in motion.
However, Buckingham’s most important narrative function does not occur until Act 4, Scene 2 when he hesitates after Richard asks him to murder the two princes. Buckingham’s unwillingness to kill the princes prompts him to flee to Wales and support Richmond in the fight against Richard. Buckingham’s defection is crucial to Shakespeare’s narrative because it demonstrates that Richard has gone too far in his tyrannical bid for power. Up until that moment, Buckingham has been an active participant in Richard’s plots. For example, he spreads lies about the legitimacy of King Edward’s children and celebrates Hastings’ death. However, Richard’s request to murder two innocent children forces Buckingham to realize how much of a monster Richard is. Shakespeare has Richard’s right-hand man desert him towards the end of the play to convey that Richard’s lack of morality will be his undoing.