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.
Time Quotes in Richard III
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York
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.
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.