Richard III

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The Throne and the State Theme Analysis

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The seat of power Richard so ruthlessly seeks is the English throne, whose rightful holder, the play suggests, will be worthy because of both blood and character. The blood claim to the throne derives from England's tradition of royal lineage. At the time the play opens, this tradition is embroiled in dispute: Richard's brother King Edward has just taken the throne after the Wars of the Roses, a drawn-out series of civil wars between two families - the Yorks (Richard's family) and the Lancasters – who both claimed the right to rule England through their bloodline. Even aside from the Lancastrian claim to the throne (frequently articulated by Queen Margaret), Richard does not have a legitimate right to be king at play's start. His brother King Edward has two sons and Richard has another older brother, Clarence, all three of whom stand ahead of Richard in succession. Richard kills them all to claim the throne. Later, he wheedles Queen Elizabeth into giving him her daughter's hand in marriage as an attempt to solidify that claim. By marrying King Edward's daughter, Richard would deactivate any threat she might pose to his seat. Richard's brief rule is cut off by Richmond, a Lancaster, who kills Richard, ends the Wars of the Roses, and becomes King Henry VII, ushering in the Tudor dynasty of which Queen Elizabeth I (ruler during Shakespeare's time) was a representative.

Yet apart from addressing the complex intricacies of the royal bloodlines, the play also suggests that the rightful ruler of England will be a person of good character and strong ethics. The play frequently compares the state of England to a human body or a natural landscape whose health and fertility depends on the moral rectitude of England's ruler. Richmond combines the figures of body and landscape in describing Richard as, "The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar, that spoil'd your summer fields and fruitful vines, swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough in your embowell'd bosoms." Later, he says that England has "scarr'd herself" under Richard's brutal leadership and looks forward to "smooth'd-fac'd peace." Queen Margaret calls Richard "the troubler of the poor world's peace," and compares him to an "elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog" – an unnatural and deformed animal. Queen Elizabeth's retort to Richard implies that Richard is the opposite of nature: "As long as heaven and nature," Richard says, and Elizabeth responds, "as long as hell and Richard." A London citizen likens the precautions people should take against a dangerous ruler to the measures people prepare against bad weather: "When clouds are seen, wise men put on their cloaks." In keeping with the metaphor of the state as a human body or a landscape, the common people are able to feel the onset of illness and blight even as Richard's circle of supporters publicly proclaims England's health. Early on, one of the London citizens note, "By a divine instinct, men's minds mistrust ensuing danger, as by proof, we see the water swell before a boisterous storm." Later the scrivener asks, "Who is so gross that cannot see this palpable device? Yet who so bold but says he sees it not? Bad is the world, and all will come to naught…" And, when Buckingham gladly declares Richard's impending coronation to the public, his announcement is met with the unyielding, stony silence of deep fear. Try as he might, Buckingham can't elicit cheers from a public that knows Richard's reign is not good news.

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The Throne and the State Quotes in Richard III

Below you will find the important quotes in Richard III related to the theme of The Throne and the State.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York

Related Characters: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.1-2
Explanation and Analysis:

These opening lines of the play are among Shakespeare's most famous. They are spoken as a soliloquy by the play's title character, Richard III. Note that it begins with the very present now, and marks the time by mentioning the seasons. The house of York has won the throne in the Wars of the Roses, turning the "winter of our discontent," filled with tragedy, death, and war, into "glorious summer."

The "son of York" Richard refers to is his brother King Edward, who has ascended to the throne. Here Richard III puns on "sun," shining down in greatness and eliminating "all the clouds that loured upon our house." Richard goes on to describe the joyous celebrations taking place in England and the effects of the war's end. These lines are often delivered sarcastically, as Richard goes on to say that he cannot enjoy the festivities and wishes the war were still going on. Richard wishes for a wintery war instead of the boring, peaceful summer, as he himself cannot enjoy the pleasures of such peace. It is for this reason, outlined below, that he decides to "prove a villain."


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Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Poor key-cold figure of a holy king,
Pale ashes of the house of Lancaster,
Thou bloodless remnant of that royal blood

Related Characters: Lady Anne, Queen Anne (speaker), Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III
Page Number: 1.2.5-7
Explanation and Analysis:

This scene begins with the entrance of Lady Anne and a funeral procession bearing King Henry VI's coffin. Henry VI was Lady Anne's father-in-law, as she was married to his son Edward of Westminster; both men were killed by Richard. With the lines quoted here, Lady Anne begins a long monologue in which she mourns her father-in-law and husband and curses the man who killed them (Richard).

She starts by addressing the dead body directly. "Key-cold" essentially means stone cold; the body is as lifeless as a cold key. She next characterizes the dead king as the "pale ashes of the house of Lancaster," which has now fallen out of power with the ascension of the house of York. The Lancaster royal bloodline has been theoretically ended, and thus we see a double meaning in "thou bloodless remnant of that royal blood." The king is literally bloodless since he is dead, and he is also bloodless in the sense that his son has been killed and his bloodline has been stopped. Note also that she calls him a "holy" king; kings and queens at the time were considered to be rulers by "divine right." The play will question this idea, and consider how important character is in a ruler--whether blood alone should be the deciding factor of who heads the state. 

Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

Ay me, I see the ruin of my house!
The tiger now hath seiz'd the gentle hind;
Insulting tyranny begins to jet
Upon the innocent and aweless throne.
Welcome, destruction, blood, and massacre!
I see, as in a map, the end of all.

Related Characters: Queen Elizabeth (speaker), Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III
Page Number: 2.4.54-59
Explanation and Analysis:

Edward is dead, and his son, Prince Edward of Wales, is in line to be crowned king. But Richard and his sidekick Buckingham plot to have Richard crowned; they imprison and plan to kill Queen Elizabeth's relatives Rivers, Dorset, and Grey. In this scene Elizabeth's younger son, Duke of York, has recounted a strange interaction with Richard, and Elizabeth sees through Richard's manipulation of her son. A messenger then enters and informs Elizabeth of her relatives' imprisonment.

To this news Queen Elizabeth responds with the lamentation excerpted in the quote. She claims to see the "ruin of her house," since by imprisoning or killing everyone, Richard has disempowered her family. She refers to him as a "tiger" that has pounced on his opportunity, characterizing him as tyranny ascending to the throne that should be pure ("innocent"). She dramatically welcomes "destruction, blood, and massacre," saying that she sees the end of everything like she's viewing a map. This language is powerful and dramatic, but Elizabeth is essentially correct--she sees what will happen, but can do nothing to stop it.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

Your are too senseless-obstinate, my lord,
Too ceremonious and traditional.
Weigh it but with the grossness of this age,
You break not sanctuary in seizing him.
The benefit thereof is always granted
To those whose dealings have deserv'd the place
And those who have the wit to claim the place.
The Prince hath neither claim'd it nor deserv'd it,
And therefore, in mine opinion, cannot have it.
Then, taking him from thence that is not there,
You break no privilege nor charter there.

Related Characters: Duke of Buckingham (speaker), Duke of York, Cardinal Bouchier
Page Number: 3.1.45-55
Explanation and Analysis:

After learning that her family was captured, Queen Elizabeth and her younger son Duke of York took sanctuary, meaning that they are hiding in a church, where they are supposed to be safe regardless of who is in power. In this scene, Edward, Prince of Wales and new uncrowned king, is greeted by Richard, Buckingham, and a Cardinal. Soon Hastings enters and reports the news that the king's mother and brother cannot greet the king since they have taken sanctuary, which is sacred.

But Buckingham instructs the cardinal to retrieve the Duke of York. When the Cardinal refuses, Buckingham uses a careful, twisted argument to justify doing so: seizing the Duke of York is not breaking sanctuary, since the benefits of sanctuary are only granted to those who have specifically requested it. Since the Prince hasn't requested sanctuary, instead being taken by his mother, Buckingham argues that technically he doesn't deserve protection. Thus the "obstinate" Cardinal is convinced (or forced) by a loophole into breaking sanctuary and fetching the young Prince. Here, we see Richard's power overstepping usual boundaries: he exerts his will over the young King and over what is usually allowed by the Church.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

Indeed, I am no mourner for that news,
Because they have been still my adversaries;
But that I'll give my voice on Richard's side
To bar my master's heirs in true descent,
God knows I will not do it to the death.

Related Characters: Lord Hastings (speaker), Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III, Edward, Prince of Wales
Page Number: 3.2.53-57
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Hastings has been warned by Lord Stanley of a dream in which Richard kills Hastings; Stanley has fled and with a message urges Hastings to do the same. But Hastings believes that everything is fine, and that Catesby is a good friend who can be trusted. Soon Catesby enters and begins to suggest to Hastings that Richard be crowned King. Hastings doesn't approve, even when Catesby delivers the "good news" that Richard is killing Hastings' enemies and hopes for support.

It is to this news that Hastings responds with the lines in the quote. He says that the news is indeed good (he's "no mourner for that news") because it does concern his enemies. However, Hastings says that the suggestion that he will support Richard and prevent the King's true heirs from taking power is preposterous. He "will not do it to the death." Here, Hastings stays true to the rules of bloodlines, the state, and honor, continuing to serve the King even after Edward's death and hoping to prevent Richard's usurpation. His language here is also slightly prophetic, as he will soon be killed for his refusal to endorse Richard.

Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

What! think you we are Turks or Infidels?
Or that we would, against the form of law,
Proceed thus rashly in the villain's death
But that the extreme peril of the case,
The peace of England and our person's safety,
Enforc'd us to this execution?

Related Characters: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III (speaker)
Page Number: 3.5.42-47
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines come from the performance in which Buckingham and Richard convince the Mayor (and through him the common people) that Hastings was a traitor who deserved death. Such a performance is key to maintain public image and ease Richard's pathway to the throne. Buckingham and Richard first claim that Hastings was a traitor, and that he plotted their deaths. When the mayor questions them, Richard responds with this quote.

He invokes both his status as Christian and Englishman, asking rhetorically, "think you we are Turks or Infidels?" He implies that since they are English Christians, they would never execute someone without a good reason (invoking a sense of racial superiority that is ironically undercut as soon as it leaves Richard's mouth--for Richard himself proves that Christian Europeans are as bloodthirsty as anyone else). He continues by saying that they wouldn't go against the law or kill Hastings so quickly unless the case was so extreme as they described. Richard fashions the killing as necessary for the peace of England and to save their own lives. Thus framed as moral and essential, the execution appears justified to the Mayor. Very quickly, the Mayor determines that Hastings deserved his death; the deceptive theatre of Richard and Buckingham is convincing. Note that again, language is Richard's weapon and method of obtaining power. He commits atrocities of violence, but it is through language that he is able to translate that violence into power, false innocence, and the crown.

Act 3, Scene 6 Quotes

Who is so gross
That cannot see this palpable device?
Yet who's so bold but says he sees it not?
Bad is the world; and all will come to nought,
When such ill dealing must be seen in thought.

Related Characters: Scrivener (speaker), Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III, Lord Hastings, Sir William Catesby
Page Number: 3.6.10-14
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines are spoken in a soliloquy by a Scrivener (basically a notetaker or transcriber) who enters the stage alone in this brief scene. With him, he carries the indictment of Hastings, which took him eleven hours to write. However, Hastings has been executed before his sentencing could even be read, indicating to the Scrivener (and the public) that the execution was extralegal and suspicious.

The Scrivener asks rhetorically who is so stupid or lacking in perception ("gross") that they cannot see what is clearly going on (the "palpable device" of Richard's deception). At the same time, the Scrivener comments on the frustrating dilemma by asking who is brave enough to speak out loud what everyone internally knows to be the truth about Richard--everyone knows, but because they are afraid, they pretend they don't. The Scrivener concludes that the world is bad and will come to nothing when people must think about such an evil as Richard. Note that the rhyming couplet of nought and thought end the scene with emphasis.

Act 3, Scene 7 Quotes

No, so God help me, they spake not a word;
But, like dumb statues or breathing stones,
Star'd each on other, and look'd deadly pale.
Which when I saw, I reprehended them,
And ask'd the mayor what meant this willful silence.

Related Characters: Duke of Buckingham (speaker), Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III, Edward, Prince of Wales, Duke of York
Page Number: 3.7.24-28
Explanation and Analysis:

Buckingham is reporting to Richard on the results of the rumors they spread and on the citizens' reaction to Richard's rise to power. The people were silent, so Buckingham tried rousing them, asking them to cry out "God save Richard, England's royal king!" But, as he explains in the quote, they were still silent and "spake not a word." Buckingham describes the people as "dumb statues or breathing stones," staring at each other and looking pale.

This response is deemed a "willful silence," meaning that there is an intention and clear message given by the lack of words. The silence of the citizens speaks loudly: they are scared to voice their opinions directly, but they resist Richard as a king. Their hesitancy to support him shows that their wishes can affect those in power, and the limitations of language. At a certain point, the manipulative rhetorical powers of Richard and his followers become insufficient to convince the common people that he is not corrupt. Likewise, the citizens are unable to articulate their discomfort or true opinions, instead being forced to communicate through their silent speech and resistance. 

Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

I must be married to my brother's daughter,
Or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass.
Murder her brothers, and then marry her!
Uncertain way of gain! But I am in
So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin:
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.

Related Characters: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III (speaker), King Edward IV, Edward, Prince of Wales, Duke of York
Page Number: 4.2.63-68
Explanation and Analysis:

Richard is now King, but he fears that he might lose his power to Edward Prince of Wales. Richard tells Buckingham to kill the young princes, and when Buckingham hesitates, Richard becomes irate and ultimately decides to hire someone else and drop Buckingham. Killing the young princes isn't the only precaution Richard will take to preserve his power--he also instructs Catesby to spread rumors that Anne is sick. He will then lock away Anne to hide her health so that he can marry someone else to solidify his position as king.

Richard's plan is to marry King Edward's (his brother's) daughter Elizabeth. He believes such a marriage is the only way to save the fragility of his power, which he suggests stands on "brittle glass." The disgusting irony of such a plan is not lost on Richard. Elizabeth is the sister of the Prince of Wales, and thus Richard plans to "Murder her brothers, and then marry her!" He calls the plan an "uncertain way of gain," suggesting for a moment that he feels some discomfort or remorse, but Richard soon clarifies that he is remorseless--his uncertainty seemingly only regards the feasibility of such a plan working out smoothly. But by now he is "so far in blood that sin will pluck on sin." He is literally and figuratively drenched in blood and sins, so much so that he is immune to pity, remorse, or tears.

Compare this line to murderous Macbeth, who also gains the throne through murder: "I am in blood / Stepped in so far" (3.4.167-168).

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar,
That spoil'd your summer fields and fruitful vines,
Swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough
In your embowelled bosoms—this foul swine
Is now even in the centre of this isle

Related Characters: Richmond, King Henry VII (speaker), Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III
Related Symbols: The Boar
Page Number: 5.2.7-12
Explanation and Analysis:

We have learned that Elizabeth lied to Richard and has in fact promised her daughter's hand in marriage to Richmond. Before being executed, Buckingham has cried out that he wishes he had repented during Edward's reign, and that Margaret's curses have come true. In this scene, we see Richmond with his troops, indicating that battle is eminent and Richard's hold on his throne is growing weaker and weaker.

In the quote, Richmond addresses his troops, whom he says have been "bruised" by Richard's "tyranny." He informs them that he has good news, information provided Lord Stanley. It is this information that Richmond delivers in the excerpted lines. He calls Richard a "wretched, bloody, and usurping boar," indicating that he is evil, violent, and that his claim to the throne is illegitimate. The boar has "spoil'd" the "summer fields and fruitful vines" of the people, and he "swills" their "warm blood like wash." His reign is terrible and is hurting the people, enraging them. In Richmond's language the boar (which should be noble, as the sign of Richard's herald) is transformed into a disgusting beast that feeds on the disembowelled "trough" of his victims. Richard is then characterized as a "foul swine." All of these insults and characterizations are to the service of Richmond's simple announcement: Richard is nearby ("at the centre of this isle").

Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

The sun will not be seen to-day;
The sky doth frown and lour upon our army.
I would these dewy tears were from the ground.
Not shine to-day! Why, what is that to me
More than to Richmond? For the selfsame heaven
That frowns on me looks sadly upon him.

Related Characters: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III (speaker), Richmond, King Henry VII
Related Symbols: The Clock
Page Number: 5.3.299-304
Explanation and Analysis:

At Richard's camp, everyone is preparing for battle; Richard notices the black sky, a bad omen, and wonders why the sun "disdains to time." As always, Richard is obsessed with the time, and now is out of sync with the clock, the sun, and nature. Richard determines that "the sun will not be seen to-day," and comments that "the sky doth frown and lour upon our army." The dew on the ground also disturbs Richard.

However, Richard here uses language to deceive himself. He knows the lack of sunshine to be a bad omen, but hopes this omen is for Richmond instead of himself. He asks why it should be for him any more than Richmond, since the same heavens frown on both of them. This clever interpretation of the sky and the bad omen it carries may be enough to momentarily maintain appearances and Richard's confidence, but ultimately, it proves futile, as Richard and his camp will be defeated by Richmond's forces.

Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

And then, as we have ta'en the sacrament,
We will unite the white rose and the red:
Smile heaven upon this fair conjunction,
That long have frown'd upon their enmity!
What traitor hears me, and says not amen?
England hath long been mad, and scarr'd herself

Related Characters: Richmond, King Henry VII (speaker)
Page Number: 5.5
Explanation and Analysis:

The chaotic battle has been fought and lost; the crazed Richard has fulfilled his prophetic nightmare and uttered the famous line, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" Richmond has killed Richard, and entered with the crown. In his final speech, he pardons all of the traitorous soldiers who fought for Richard. We see Richmond is a very different kind of ruler than Richard, truly seeking to bring peace and prosperity to England.

Richmond says that he will "unite the white rose and the red," meaning that, by marrying Queen Elizabeth's daughter (whom Richard planned to marry), he will unite the houses of Lancaster and York. He cries out for heaven to smile upon this union, and for England to cease being "mad, and scarr'd." Richmond goes on to proclaim that England will know peace, saying that he will end the injustices and the countless years of civil war that have plagued the country.

And so begins the Tudor dynasty, which provided the lineage of Elizabeth I, the Queen of England who ruled when Richard III was first written and performed. Thus, as in many of Shakespeare's "histories," the story at least partly ends up glorifying and justifying the current monarch.