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The tragedy Richard the Third
by Thomas Legge, Doctor of Laws,
Master and Rector of Gonville and Caius College
in the University of Cambridge,
performed over three nights at the College of
St. John the Evangelist,
at the Bachelor’s Commencement
A. D. 1579.
A tragedy divided into three


KING EDWARD fifteen years old
THE DUKE OF GLOUCESTER afterwards the King
HOWARD afterwards the Duke of Norfolk
CATESBY a lawyer
HOWARD, a knight
HASTINGS a pursuivant

Nonspeaking parts

RICHARD the young Duke of York
the young LORD GREY


EDWARD IV, King of England, died, leaving two sons. Of these, the elder, Edward Prince of Wales, was fifteen years old, and the other, Richard Duke of York, was eleven. The King’s brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, was a man extremely prompted by ambition; perceiving the tender years of his nephew, he thought he could easily gain the throne. First, therefore, by means of his friends he persuaded the Queen that Edward should not be protected as he made his way from Wales to London. Meanwhile he secretly advised his friends how much danger would be created for them, should the guardianship of the King be entrusted solely to the Queen’s relatives: since they were jealous of the other lords, they could easily destroy the nobility in the King’s name. Therefore he threw into prison Lord Rivers, the noble uncle of the King, and his half-brother Lord Grey, snatched from the King’s own side, who were both beheaded soon thereafter at Pomfret Castle. And being proclaimed Regent by the Royal Council, he took the King under his personal protection, far from his mother the Queen. She had betaken herself to asylum, but the Archbishop of York (then suspecting nothing) persuaded her to yield up the Duke of York. Richard shut them up in the Tower, as if in a prison. And first he unjustly killed off Lord Hastings, whom he expected of being too devoted to his nephews. He imprisoned the Cardinal Bishop of Ely and Lord Stanley, lest they stand in the way of his undertakings, since he feared their loyalty towards the little princes. Finally he inflicted disgrace on Shore’s wife, as if she were a harlot, since he was not able to condemn her to death.


QUEEN Whoever naively trusts overmuch in prosperity, and desires to rule, powerful in a great hall, that person pursues an alluring evil. Although my station of birth bade me hope for nothing great, nevertheless I was joined in wedlock to King Edward after a sad fate had taken away our marriage, noble Grey. Gullibly I thirsted after this sweet poison. The distinction of high titles swept me off my feet, until the lord brother of the King grew to hate my lowly family and, an enemy, began to prepare ruin for my kinsmen. But my concern for my son is greater than for them, because he has been taken away from me and an uncle is caring for his royal nephew. I wanted to join my kinsmen to the King as friends, so that love for them would be more deeply implanted in his first years, as his tender age grew towards manhood. But sad destiny was not content with this plague: that first evil was a step towards greater ills. My husband breathed forth his last sick breath, and the savage Sisters cut short his life with their impious hands, begrudging me a husband. The human race is a plaything. It cannot assure itself anything so stable that Fortune cannot send it whirling topsy-turvy. A humble family remains happy so long as its great virtue fears a downfall.
After I had bestowed two sons upon the royal house, faraway Wales required its heir, and the Welshmen did not wish to go without their Prince. Thence my son hurries home. A short train of my people are escorting him, in order to place a royal crown upon his head. Although my son’s happy scepter bids his mother rejoice, my avid mind does not dare hope for this promised thing. It is anxious for the good already gained, and fear, once born, begets further fears. My timid heart burns with many cares. Even if thus far no foreign power has threatened any treachery, and if the House of Lancaster does not begrudge Edward a kingdom wrenched way, and can tolerate the fact that the scepter was once snatched from it by victorious hands, domestic dread still oppresses me. the mind accustomed to ills fears wrongdoing more greatly, and with varied upheavals dread and hope tear at my brain. Oh glory or rule, unlucky to many! It turns about and becomes its own punishment, after long cheating the gullible with its false splendor.
CARD. Most excellent Queen, dear Elizabeth, why do you brood over your anxieties in your heart and burden the public joy with your private sorrow? Rather, dismiss these phantoms of a distraught mind and, being happy, abandon a mother’s sad sighs as your son’s head is encircled with the royal diadem.
QUEEN Holy friend, right honorable Cardinal, distinguished Archbishop of Canterbury, may no wretch know more griefs than I! What time of my life was ever free from tears? I do not mourn the baleful loss of Edward, nor am I so foolish as to cry over the nobles’ bitter hatred. That is an old evil.
When Edward the heir departed Wales, close-guarded by armed men, to claim his father’s realm by right, the constant talk of many men wore out my ears. They never ceased warning me that Rivers should guard the King’s journey with no armed force, and that the King should present himself defenseless to his subjects. If by itself, they said, the House of Grey should protect the royal person with its troops, when the sovereign has nothing to fear, the nobility would soon think that all these soldiers are armed for their destruction. Their action would lend substance to recent grudges, and the nobles would suspect that healed wounds are being reopened. Thus, if the Greys are afraid to offer themselves to their enemies undefended, and guard their lives with steel, immediately the entire land will flood with the madness of war. The earth will echo fearfully with the sound of hoofbeats, and sick England will blaze with war’s upheaval. The truce will be broken immediately. The crime will rebound upon its doer, the fallen house of Grey will pay the price.
At first a chilling dread ran through my limbs. At last, shaken, I deferred to these admonitions. I revealed all to my brothers in letters: that they should guard the royal person with no soldiery, that they should relieve the royal progress of any great escort. When, alone, I wisely recall my secret fears, a new care strikes my heart with dread, that my son not be offered up to his enemies as defenseless prey. Great envy besets our house. Ambition rages, as it blindly fears no stain of sin. My son’s tender age offers him no protection. Gloucester has brought death to his brother, how will an uncle’s ambition spare the nephew?
CARD. Let unhappy mother-love cease to fear. You are mistaken Stop fabricating these empty deceits. Sorrow is an unfair judge of matters. How does it help to frighten your heart with vain dread? Amidst evils, fear is the worst soothsayer; always manufacturing imaginary things for itself, it invites ruin, no matter how unknown that ruin may have been before. With their quarrels buried at the death of the King, the nobles have sworn an enduring peace. England, now healed, does not fear these extinguished quarrels. The troublemaker who fears old hatreds only stirs up new ones. [Enter Messenger.]
MESS. The King has safely completed half his journey.
QUEEN What wayside now holds my exhausted son?
MESS. Twice the late day had faded into starry night, when he wearily arrived at Northampton.
QUEEN How large a throng protected him?
MESS. When he hastily abandoned his seat in Wales, many henchmen protected their lord: his uncles’ tireless efforts joined many to him. But after Lord Rivers received your letters, he stripped the royal person of all his guards. Now Rivers alone escorts him, together with Lord Grey, who joined his uncle.
QUEEN Did the Duke of Gloucester meet the King on the way?
MESS. In a letter he greeted the King and prayed eternal glory for his reign. With many a prayer he declared the public joy to be a blessed thing. And the honorable Duke of Buckingham paid the same respects to the prince. In a short time, they promised, they would join him as companions. And Gloucester wrote often to Lord Rivers. He also greeted Rivers’ nephew, Lord Grey, in a letter, benevolently promising all. And at the same time a large part of the nobility is worn out from receiving his messages. [Exit.]
QUEEN A favorable wind has carried our ship far. Now the breeze has slackened and leaves it becalmed on the deep, tossed by many waves. If ever good fortune bids me rejoice, I fall back into dread, nor does my mind cease to fear, no matter how many happy things it perceives.
CARD. Fear easily believes sinister prophecies.
QUEEN He is not wise whose wisdom is based on inexperience.
CARD. People believe this because they are unhappy and overly afraid.
QUEEN Whoever is careful about the future is less subject to anguish.
CARD. Great virtue never ceases to be hopeful.
QUEEN The more you vainly hope, the more you are thrown into turmoil.
CARD. Do the nobles’ sleeping hatreds still frighten you?
QUEEN. Old wounds are not healed at one.
CARD. With his death the King has sanctified this truce.
QUEEN Uneasy truces are wont to die along with the prince that makes them.
CARD. The common welfare overcomes private hatreds.
QUEEN Private ambition breaks the public peace.
CARD. Does it help, always being unhappy?
QUEEN Anybody in high place has learned to fear, and deep peace is excluded from great affairs. Poison is drunk from a golden cup, but evil is unknown to a humble house. Lofty buildings, buffeted by every wind, collapse from the top downward.

Go to Act II of the First Action