The setting of Shakespeare's Richard III is deeply intertwined with the play's plot, characters, and themes. Set in 15th century England, its events are situated at the tail end of the Wars of the Roses. These were a a series of civil wars for the English throne that dragged on for just over 30 years. They were fought between the “Red Rose” of Lancaster and the “White Rose” of York, two powerful rival houses. This historical setting is fundamental to understanding the characters' motivations, as family infighting and dynastic rivalries are at the center of the action.
The majority of the plot in the play's first half takes place in the royal court and in the houses and palaces of London. The palatial surroundings and busy, sophisticated city setting emphasize the opulence and power that come with the throne. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, wants to get on the throne, stay on the throne, and stay in London, which is why he is so desperately scheming to acquire the crown. As the play continues, the audience also sees a few glimpses of English “towns” like Tamworth and Sailsbury.
As the drama unfolds, the setting transitions to the battlefields: perhaps most notably the Battle of Bosworth Field. This battle is the heart of the play’s climax. On Bosworth Field, Richard’s ambition finally catches up with him. Rather than losing his life in the gold-encrusted setting of his home, he faces the consequences of his ruthless pursuit of power alone in the mud.
Amidst these physical settings, the play is pervaded by an atmosphere of claustrophobia and political intrigue. The halls of power are filled with scheming, alliances, betrayals, and power struggles between the two warring houses of York and Lancaster. Brother betrays brother and friend turns into foe at every turn: there’s very little trust between people in the English court. This creates a tension-filled backdrop, where Shakespeare’s audience is constantly reminded of the precarious nature of power and the hunger some people have to possess it.