Outisde the Tower of London, Elizabeth, her son Dorset, and the duchess of York meet Lady Anne (who is now Richard’s wife) and Clarence’s young daughter. Lady Anne tells Elizabeth that they have come to visit the princes who are imprisoned in the tower, and Elizabeth says that her group is there for the same reason. But the women learn from the guardian of the tower that Richard has forbidden anyone to see the princes.
Stanley, earl of Derby, suddenly arrives with the news that Richard is about to be crowned king, so Anne must go to the coronation to be crowned as his queen. The horrified Anne fears that Richard’s coronation will mean ruin for England, and says that she should have resisted marrying Richard—after all, she herself has cursed him (in Act I, scene ii) for killing her first husband. Her curses have come true. As his wife, she has no peace, and Richard is continually haunted by bad dreams. The duchess of York instructs Dorset to flee to France and join the forces of the earl of Richmond, a nobleman with a claim to the royal throne.Read a translation of Act IV, scene i →
Back in the palace, the gloating Richard—who has now been crowned king of England—enters in triumph with Buckingham and Catesby. But Richard says that he does not yet feel secure in his position of power. He tells Buckingham that he wants the two young princes, the rightful heirs to the throne, to be murdered in the tower. For the first time, Buckingham does not obey Richard immediately, saying that he needs more time to think about the request. Richard murmurs to himself that Buckingham is too weak to continue to be his right-hand man and summons a lowlife named Tyrrell who is willing to accept the mission. In almost the same breath, Richard instructs Catesby to spread a rumor that Queen Anne is sick and likely to die, and gives orders to keep the queen confined. He then announces his intention to marry the late King Edward’s daughter, Elizabeth of York. The implication is that he plans to murder Queen Anne.
Buckingham, uneasy about his future, asks Richard to give him what Richard promised him earlier: the earldom of Hereford. But Richard angrily rejects Buckingham’s demands and walks out on him. Buckingham, left alone, realizes that he has fallen out of Richard’s favor and decides to flee to his family home in Wales before he meets the fate of Richard’s other enemies.Read a translation of Act IV, scene ii →
Tyrrell returns to the palace and tells Richard that the princes are dead. He says that he has been deeply shaken by the deed and that the two men he commissioned to perform the murders are also full of regrets after smothering the two children to death in their sleep. But Richard is delighted to hear the news, and offers Tyrrell a rich reward. After Tyrrell leaves, Richard explains the development of his various plots to get rid of everyone who might threaten his grasp on power. The two young princes are now dead. Richard has married off Clarence’s daughter to an unimportant man and has locked up Clarence’s son (who is not very smart and does not present a threat). Moreover, Richard gloats that Queen Anne is now dead—we can assume Richard has had her murdered—and he announces once again that his next step will be to woo and marry young Elizabeth, the daughter of the former King Edward and Queen Elizabeth. He believes that this alliance with her family will cement his hold on the throne.
Ratcliffe enters suddenly with the bad news that some of Richard’s noblemen are fleeing to join Richmond in France, and that Buckingham has returned to Wales and is now leading a large army against Richard. Richard, startled out of his contemplation, decides that it is time to gather his own army and head out to face battle.