Chelsea Lindwall on Richard III, Act 2

Published by admin_main on Wed 29 Sep, 2010

5. In Act 2, Scene 1, what figure does the soon-to-be-departed Edward IV, Richard's Yorkist elder brother, cut in this scene: namely, what hopes does he express for the future of his dynasty? What does he expect of his family? And to what self-analysis is he driven when Richard deftly undercuts him with the news that Clarence is dead?

After the death of Henry VI in Act 1, Scene 2, Edward IV has once again become the king of England. His first act is to pardon his brother Clarence, whom he had imprisoned in the Tower of London with a death sentence on his head. Edward has seen that his reasons for condemning Clarence were wrong, as well as the matter is tearing his court in half. The courtiers Hastings, Derby, and Buckingham are allies of Clarence, whereas Rivers, Vaughn, and Gray are allies of Queen Elizabeth Woodville. It had been rumored that the Queen was the one who convinced Edward to send Clarence to the tower, as she had done the same to Hastings. Edward wants to start his reign peacefully, and feels that by lifting Clarence's sentence he can dissolve any of the conflicts in court.

This appears to be the case, as in the beginning of Act 2, Scene 1, these two groups of courtiers, namely Hastings, are being persuaded to undying friendship and love for one another by the King. All seems to be going well, and even the Queen and Hastings have made peace with one another, until Richard comes in. He starts out innocently enough, applauding Edward's efforts and making nice with the other courtiers, as well as the queen. Everything looks to be going splendidly until Elizabeth asks Richard to pardon Clarence as well. Richard then says in Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 82-85, "Why, madam, have I offered love for this, To be so flouted in this royal presence? Who knows not that the gentle duke is dead? You do him injury to scorn his corpse." Richard plays innocent and acts hurt that she would bring up a dead man, and the entire court is shocked, as this is the first they have heard of Clarence's death. Now the whole mood has changed: everyone is stunned and heartbroken to hear of the news, except maybe Rivers, Vaughn, and Gray, who in Richard's eyes appear to have grown very white, as they wanted Clarence dead in the first place and are somewhat guilty. Richard blames the fact that the messenger sent with Clarence's original sentence was quick and the one sent to revoke the sentence was too slow to prevent the act from being done.

At this time, Lord Stanley enters, asking for a pardon for his servant who is being given a death sentence. Upon hearing this, King Edward begins to beat himself up about his mistake. At first he blames others for not pleading Clarence's case to him when he originally condemned him, In Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 111-113, Edward says "Who sued to me for him? Who, in my wrath, Kneeled at my feet, and bade me be advised? Who spoke of brotherhood? Who spoke of love?" but begins to feel his own guilt and pain as he remembers how kind Clarence was to him. Clarence left his alliance to the Duke of Warwick to fight for him, rescued him from death saying in Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 118 "Dear brother, live, and be king" and lay freezing and naked on the battlefield so Edward could be warm in his clothes. King Edward is not only angry at himself for this wrongdoing, but at his court as well, and now feels they are all doomed in the eyes of God. What had started as a diplomatic day, has now turned into one of mourning, not only for Clarence himself but for the short time of peace and love in the court.


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