Richard III Act 4, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis
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At the Palace, Richard is now King and is surrounded by Buckingham, Catesby, Ratcliffe, Lovel, a Page, and others. Richard, pleased to be king but worried that his power might be usurped by Edward Prince of Wales, tells Buckingham to have the young prince and his little brother killed. Buckingham hesitates, infuriating Richard, but exits to think over the matter, promising to return shortly. Richard asks the Page if he knows any man who will kill for money and the Page recommends Sir James Tyrrel, whom Richard asks the Page to fetch. Richard resolves to spurn Buckingham from now on.
Richard has finally gotten the power he wanted – the English throne – but he's dissatisfied because he feels his power will not be secure until all threats to it are eliminated. Ferociously power-hungry, Richard thinks nothing of murdering two children (the young princes). When Buckingham expresses some humane reservations about such a murder, Richard immediately turns against him. He drops Buckingham in a flash.
Stanley enters and reports that Dorset has run off to the Earl of Richmond (a Lancaster). Richard tells Catesby to spread a rumor that Anne is deathly ill and to find some man of low rank to marry Margaret Plantagenet. Richard will lock Anne up (so no one can see the real state of her health). Catesby exits, and Richard declares that he must murder King Edward's sons and marry his daughter, Elizabeth, to secure his kingdom by eliminating any threat she might pose to his seat. "Uncertain way of gain!," Richard admits, "But I am in so far in blood that sin will luck on sin."
Furiously determined to protect his throne, Richard decides to discard Anne by locking her up and spreading rumors that she is ill, then marrying King Edward's daughter. By doing so, he'll extinguish any threat the daughter of the former king—and his own brother—could pose to his throne by bearing a child someone could one day claim, through its direct line to Edward, was the legitimate ruler of England. Still, even Richard admits that his plot is getting out of control.
The Page enters with Tyrrel, who gladly agrees to kill at Richard's bidding. Richard sends Tyrrel off to kill the princes. Buckingham enters ready to share his decision about the princes, but Richard dismisses the matter before he can speak and focuses on the news about Dorset and Richmond. Buckingham asks to claim the earl of Hereford and valuables that Richard promised him as reward for his loyal service. Richard ignores him and continues musing on Richmond, despite Buckingham's repeated requests. Richard recollects that King Henry VI prophesied that Richmond would be king, but thinks the prophecy must have mistakenly excluded the fact that Richard would kill Richmond. Then he recalls meeting an Irish bard who once told him "I should not live long after I saw Richmond."
Richard's muttered reflections are in part a strategic use of language to deflect Buckingham's pleas. Yet these reflections also convey crucial information: Richard is disturbed by the news about Richmond as it reminds him of an old prophesy that said he would be killed by Richmond, though Richard is pompous enough to assume the prophesier must have made a mistake. Buckingham is clearly having a crisis of faith in the wake of Richard's request that he murder the princes – he wants to make sure that Richard's promises of reward were actually true.
Richard finally acknowledges Buckingham by asking him for the time, saying that "like a Jack, thou keep'st the stroke betwixt thy begging and my meditation." He informs Buckingham that he's not in a giving mood today and exits. Buckingham, dumbfounded by Richard's fickleness and disloyalty, decides to run away before he is beheaded as Hastings was.
Richard's lightening-fast betrayal of his long-loyal friend shows just how fickle and selfish Richard is, unwilling to respect even the man who's done most for him. In this way, Richard can lie himself into power but cannot maintain the relationships that allow him to actually rule or remain on the throne.