Act 1, scene 3
At the royal palace, Lord Rivers tells QueenElizabeth that the king will soon recover. Lord Gray tells her to be cheerful around the king, to encourage him. Elizabeth is worried that if the king dies, her son Edward will be under the care of Richard, as Protector. She fears this because she knows Richard is not well disposed toward her and her family.
Buckingham and Stanley enter. They bring hope that the king is recovering. They also say that he wants to effect a reconciliation between Richard and the Queen’s brother (Rivers), and between Richard, Rivers, and Hastings.
Richard enters, demanding to know who is saying that he is not loyal to the king. He is indignant that he could be accused of such a thing. Queen Elizabeth tells him that it is the king himself who knows Richard is hostile to him, his wife, and her family. The Queen says she knows Richard envies the family’s advancement to the throne.
Richard accuses her of causing the imprisonment of Clarence, but she denies this. Richard makes some disparaging remarks to the Queen, and she protests.
Old Queen Margaret, the wife of the dead Henry VI, enters, at first unnoticed. Richard speaks out against the current queen, saying that he advanced the king’s interests in many ways, while she and her then-husband Grey (who is now dead), as well as Rivers, her brother, were actually on the Lancastrian side. He protests about Clarence’s imprisonment, saying that Clarence has always been the king’s supporter.
Rivers protests that they were merely showing their loyalty to the one who was at the time king. He says they would equally be loyal to Richard, should he become king. Richard says he has no desire to be king.
Queen Margaret, who has been speaking in a series of asides, now advances. She upbraids Richard for killing her husband and son and says that everyone in the room owes allegiance to her. Richard responds by reminding her of how his father, the Duke of York, cursed her when she abused and mocked him, and his curse fell upon her. It is, in effect, God who has cursed her, he says. The Queen and everyone else joins in denouncing Queen Margaret. Margaret responds by cursing the king and his son, hoping they will die untimely deaths. Then she curses everyone else present, including Richard, for whom she wishes an even worse fate than the others. She insults him with the most colorful language she can think of (“Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog!”). She also warns the Queen that Richard will prove her undoing. She exempts Buckingham from her curses, since he was not involved in killing her family. She also warns Buckingham about Richard, not knowing that Buckingham is Richard’s ally.
Finally, Margaret finishes her curses and exits. Richard pretends to feel remorse for the wrongs done to her. The Queen says she never did anything to harm her, but Richard points out that she has benefited from the wrongs Margaret suffered.
Everyone present is called away because the King wants to see them. Richard remains alone. In a soliloquy, he admits to all his schemes. It is he who is responsible for getting Clarence imprisoned, but he has told Stanley, Hastings, and Buckingham that it is the Queen and her allies who are responsible. Meanwhile, he plots to be revenged on Rivers, Dorset (another son of the Queen), and Grey (also a son of the Queen).
Two murderers enter, hired by Richard. He shows them the death warrant that has been signed by the king, authorizing Clarence’s death.
Richard continues to glory in his malevolence, and to confide in the audience about it. He is an accomplished liar, and some people seem convinced by his act.
This scene can be a difficult one for those who are unfamiliar with the preceding play, Henry VI, part 3. The events in that play concluded only a few years before the events in Richard III begin. Old Margaret, is, so to speak, a relic from the previous play. Historically, she was in France from 1476 until her death in 1482 and could not have participated in this scene. Perhaps Shakespeare included her here because he wanted to remind his audience of some of the events that took place in Henry VI part 3. This quarrel between the Lancastrians and Yorkists goes back a long way, and like many bitter quarrels, it has left a legacy of hatred and desire for revenge. Historically, Henry VI died in 1471 and Edward IV, who at this stage in Richard III is seriously ill, in 1483. Clarence was executed in 1478. As he often does in his history plays, Shakespeare telescopes events that took place over decades into a smaller time span so he can fit them into his plan with more dramatic economy.