Richard III is a play that evokes outrage and unease in its viewers. It’s one of Shakespeare’s longest works, but the playwright manages to keep a general sense of tension and discomfort brewing through all five acts.
From the outset, the audience is made to feel uneasy. This is mainly due to the protagonist Richard’s dark ambitions, which are revealed to them openly from the first Scene of the first Act. The sinister nature of his plots and manipulations creates a sense of dread and apprehension. There’s an abundance of dramatic irony, as Richard pretends to be good while the audience is aware of his malicious intent toward everyone around him.
As the play progresses, scenes of mourning and loss become more and more frequent. The mood shifts to being sympathetic and sorrowful. The countless deaths—including those of innocent children and trusting, unsuspecting characters who stand up for Richard—lead to scenes that give off deep grief and mourning. The audience can’t help but feel sadness for Richard’s many victims in his insatiable quest for power. As Richard’s machinations continue, the mood gets increasingly anxious. The conflicts and betrayals between characters escalate, and the audience is left on edge, anxious about what will come next. The twisting plots and dark schemes keep them gripped in a state of worry and anticipation.
There’s a sense of injustice by the end of Act 4. The audience is made to feel that Richard must have some consequences for his actions incoming. Through foreshadowing and prophetic warnings from ghosts, Shakespeare prepares them for Richard's impending downfall and the tragic consequences it will bring.
The tension builds and builds, and by the climax, the audience is in horrified anticipation. Richard is well and truly humbled in his final battle. His violent scheming culminates in chaos, humiliation, and bloodshed. After Richmond wins the Battle of Bosworth Field and kills Richard, the play concludes with a mood of cautious optimism. The tyranny has ended, and with Richmond as England's king, a more stable and honest monarchy is restored.