Richard III

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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Richard III, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
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Richard III compresses fourteen years of British history into a five-act play whose action takes place over about a month. The effect of this compression is palpable and the drama seems to race by, even though it is, line for line, one of Shakespeare's longest plays. The plot takes place at breakneck speed and the terrifying spectacle of Richard's behavior is made to feel more terrifying because it happens so quickly, his violent scheme tearing onwards, gaining momentum, seemingly unstoppable. Indeed, Richard at first uses this speed to his advantage, successfully wooing Anne while her mind is still grief-addled by the death of her husband and father-in-law and vulnerable to making a regrettable choice. Richard takes similar advantage of time by arranging for Clarence to be killed before King Edward can pardon him, then pretending to everyone in court that the death was the result of Edward's own order too hastily fulfilled. Time likewise serves Richard in the court of opinion: many of the nobles surrounding Richard – including Hastings, Edward Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, and Buckingham – don't realize how malicious Richard is until it's too late for them to escape him.

However, as the play progresses, time no longer works so smoothly in Richard's favor. He seems to lose control of time and frequently asks what hour it is. Before the final battle, a clock strikes ominously, alerting Richard to a disturbing temporal phenomenon: though the time has come for the sun to rise, the sky remains black. This disconnect between mechanical and natural time unsettles Richard and he reads it as a threatening sign. "A black day will it be to somebody," he reflects, and tries to comfort himself by imagining that the sky must be just as black over his opponent's camp and that the omen might thus be for Richmond. Yet Richmond's camp has in fact already spotted dawn and the sky's dark forecast is for Richard, whose death that day brings the hurtling play to a sudden halt.

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Time Quotes in Richard III

Below you will find the important quotes in Richard III related to the theme of Time.
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 2, Scene 1 Quotes

But he, poor man, by your first order died,
And that a winged Mercury did bear:
Some tardy cripple bore the countermand,
That came too lag to see him buried.

Related Characters: Richard, Duke of Gloucester, King Richard III (speaker), King Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence
Page Number: 2.1.90-93
Explanation and Analysis:

Though he is physically ill, King Edward uses his powers to heal the relationships of his subjects in an attempt to keep the peace. He is seemingly successful, and determines that if Richard swears like everyone else, the peace will be kept. Richard then enters, and after being commanded, he swears to keep peace and declares that he has no enemies in England. With peace supposedly made, Queen Elizabeth asks the King to pardon Clarence. At this point Richard interjects that Clarence has been killed, to which Edward protests that the order to kill Clarence was reversed.

The lines quoted give Richard's response to Edward's protest. Richard explains that Clarence (called ironically a "poor man," since Richard was the one who ordered the murder) was killed by the first order, which was carried by a a "wingéd Mercury"--the classical messenger of the gods. Contrasted to the speed of the first order, the second ("the countermand") was delivered by "some tardy cripple" (like Richard himself). Richard claims the reversal on the killing order came too late to save Clarence. The truth, of course, is that Richard sent the murderers himself, and here he manipulates ideas of time and speed in order to again make himself seem innocent, and to make Clarence's death seem like an accident.

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.