Act 5, scene 3
At Bosworth Field, the two armies are encamped. Richard enters with some of his men. Norfolk says the enemy army numbers six or seven thousand men. Richard says he has three times that number. He calls on the men to pitch their tents, for the battle will be tomorrow.
They exit, and Richmond and some of his men enter. Richmond plans his tactics for the battle. He gives Blunt a note to take to Stanley, who is encamped just south of the king’s forces. Richmond and his men withdraw into their tent.
Richard, Norfolk, Ratcliffe, and Catesby enter. It is nine o’clock in the evening. Richard sends a message to Stanley, to bring his army up before sunrise, or his son will die. Richard feels uneasy, and sends for ink and paper. He then withdraws alone into his tent.
Stanley enters and addresses Richmond. Stanley says he will aid Richmond in the battle but cannot be too overt about it, owing to the predicament of his son. After Stanley exits, Richmond is left alone. He prays to God for success in the next day’s battle and then sleeps.
The Ghost of Prince Edward, Henry VI’s son, appears to Richard in a dream and reminds him of how he, Richard, stabbed him to death when he was a young boy. The Ghost tells him to despair, and die. The Ghost then appears to Richmond in a dream. He tells him to be cheerful because the souls of all those who have been wronged will fight on his behalf.
The Ghost of Henry VI appears to Richard. He too was killed by Richard, and like the Ghost of Prince Edward, he now tells Richard to despair and die. The Ghost then appears to Richmond and comforts him, describing him as virtuous and holy, and saying he will be victorious.
The Ghost of Clarence appears to Richard. He reminds Richard of his responsibility in Clarence’s death and has the same message for him that the other Ghosts have had: despair and die. To Richmond, he says that although Richmond is of the House of Lancaster, all the wronged members of the House of York pray for him.
The parade of Ghosts continues: Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan; then Hastings, then the two princes, then Anne, Richard’s wife; then finally Buckingham. Each delivers the same message: shame and death to Richard, divine protection and victory for Richmond.
The Ghosts vanish and Richard awakes. He is deeply disturbed by his dream and he confesses his fear to Radcliffe. The ghosts in his dream have scared him more than the army of Richmond ever could.
Meanwhile, in Richmond’s tent, he has awoken with good feelings following his dream. He gives an oration to his soldiers. He tells them that God is on their side. Richard is a tyrant and a murderer, and even his own army would sooner that Richmond wins the battle. Richmond tells them that if they fight against God’s enemy, God will guard them.
Richard cheers himself up with the knowledge that Richmond has never been formally trained in the use of arms. Norfolk enters, with the news that the enemy is already in the field. Richard orders that Stanley bring up his forces, and issues his final instructions for the battle. He gives an oration to his army in which he denounces Richmond’s army as a bunch of vagabonds and foreigners. He appeals to their patriotism.
A messenger arrives with the news that Stanley refuses to come. Richard gives the order for the execution of Stanley’s son, but Norfolk says that since the enemy is already so close, the execution can wait until after the battle.
This scene clearly shows the stark conflict between good and evil that is now playing out in the civil war in England. After he has dreamed of the ghosts, Richard at last shows a smidgeon of remorse: “O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!” But Richard has never been under any illusions about himself. He has always known he is a villain and a murderer. His conscience is now pricked by fear, rather than any moral awakening. Richmond, in contrast, is presented as an avenger sent by God. He is the agent of divine providence.