In the play's famous opening speech, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, announces to the audience that "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York; / And all the clouds that low'rd upon our house / In the deep bosom of the ocean buried." In other words, the bitter civil war between the royal families of Lancaster and York has finally come to an end; the Lancastrian Henry VI has been deposed, and Richard's eldest brother, the heir to the house of York, has been crowned as King Edward IV. The sun now shines brightly on the house of York, which was in eclipse during the reign of the Lancastrian King Henry VI. Although Richard fought valiantly in the wars-in 1.2. we find that he killed both Henry VI and Henry's son, the Prince of Wales, to help bring his own family to the throne-he finds himself ill at ease now that the country is at peace. Those who were soldiers before are courtiers now, having given over military exercises for the courtly pastimes of dancing and courtship.
Richard feels left out of the fun because he was born deformed and unhandsome, "deform'd, unfinish'd. sent before my time / Into this breathing world, scarce half made up." Dogs bark at him when he passes by, and he does not admire his reflection in the mirror; even a glimpse of his own shadow cast by the sun reminds him of his deformity. Richard resents his unpopularity with the ladies, and secretly aspires to become king himself in place of his older brothers. He gloats over his ingenious plan to set his two brothers against one another by spreading the rumored prophecy that someone named "G" will murder Edward's heirs (the king's two young sons).
King Edward has already jumped to the conclusion that the prophecy refers to his brother George, Duke of Clarence, and has ordered his arrest. Armed guards enter, carrying Clarence off to prison. Clarence is outraged that the king has lent credit to the crazed reports of a "wizard" who has picked a letter at random from the alphabet. Richard pretends to feel sorry for his brother, and claims that Edward's new wife, a widow named Lady Grey, is actually behind his arrest. The long-standing quarrel between the queen and Edward's loyal supporters enables Richard to blame his own secret treachery on her. Probably for Clarence's benefit, Richard complains that the kingdom is going to pot because the king pays too much attention to the advice of his wife and her relatives, who have also become powerful at court. He feigns disgust at the notion that he might be forced to ask Edward's mistress, Jane Shore, to intercede on Clarence's behalf, just as Lord Hastings was forced to do when the queen had him imprisoned. When Clarence's guard, Brakenbury, interrupts and warns Richard that no one is allowed to talk privately to the prisoner, Richard jokes that he is only saying what everyone knows, that Mistress Shore is fair and that the queen's relatives have been given titles. Richard promises his brother that he will swallow his pride and seek the queen's help in freeing him. Brakenbury leads Clarence away.
Lord Hastings passes by on his way from prison. Richard welcomes him back to freedom and asks about his time in prison, which Hastings vows he endured with patience. Richard asks Hastings for news from abroad, but Hastings is more worried by events closer to home, where the king is very sick and may be on his deathbed. Richard professes concern for his brother, whom he claims has over-indulged in fast living. After Hastings leaves, Richard tells the audience that he hopes that Edward will live only until he signs Clarence's death warrant. With his elder brothers dead, Richard expects that his way to the crown will be easy. In the meantime, Richard will try to woo and marry Lady Anne, the widow of the dead Prince of Wales and daughter-in-law of Henry VI. No one seems to have noticed yet that Richard's title, Gloucester, also begins with a "G."
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Scenes 2.3 and 2.4
Scenes 3.3 and 3.4
Scene 3.6 and 3.7
Scenes 4.2 and 4.3
Scenes 4.4 and 4.5
Scenes 5.1 and 5.2
Scenes 5.4 and 5.5