Richard III

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Richard III Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Shakespeare's Richard III. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's father was a glove-maker, and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later.
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Historical Context of Richard III

The Wars of the Roses were a series of English wars fought between 1455 and 1485 among the House of Lancaster and the House of York, two rival lines of the royal House of Plantagenet who both claimed the right to rule England. The war got its name from the two houses' heraldic symbols: York was symbolized by a white rose and Lancaster by a red rose. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and a member of the House of Lancaster, ended the wars by defeating King Richard III (a York). He then married Elizabeth of York, uniting the Yorks and the Lancasters. Henry Tudor founded the Tudor line of Kings and Queens that continued to Elizabeth I, who was Queen when Shakespeare wrote Richard III.

Other Books Related to Richard III

Richard III is related to the tetralogy of history plays including Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V that is sometimes called the Henriad. Those plays track the reigns of King Richard II, King Henry IV, and Henry V, the father of Henry VI, Queen Margaret's husband and Lady Anne's father-in-law, whom Richard murders right before the play Richard III opens.
Key Facts about Richard III
  • Full Title: The Tragedy of King Richard the Third
  • When Written: c. 1592
  • Where Written: London
  • When Published: 1597
  • Literary Period: The Renaissance
  • Genre: History play
  • Setting: England
  • Climax: Richard pretending not to want the crown, then finally deferring to Buckingham and the Lord Mayor's entreaties to take it.
  • Antagonist: Richard

Extra Credit for Richard III

Not Really a Hunchback. Though Shakespeare chose to portray Richard with a serious hunchback, the historical king had scoliosis, not a hunchback, and would not have appeared as severely deformed as he looks in the play. Sources available at Shakespeare's time described Richard's condition accurately, but the playwright may have chosen to exaggerate Richard's outward deformity in order to emphasize his inner crookedness.

Real Life Omens. The day the historical Lady Anne died was marked by a solar eclipse – a threatening omen that would fit right in among the prophetic dreams and ominous signs of the play Richard III. Some at the time thought the eclipse signaled King Richard III's fall from divine grace.