David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s RICHARD III: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 1

 — 3.1 —

On a street in London stood the young Edward, Prince of Wales. With him were Richard, Buckingham, CardinalBourchier, Catesby, and others. CardinalBourchier was the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Buckingham said, “Welcome, sweet Prince, to London, your capitol.”

Richard said, “Welcome, dear nephew, who is the sovereign of my thoughts. The weary way has made you melancholy.”

“No, uncle,” Prince Edward said, “but our crosses — vexations — on the way have made it tedious, wearisome, and heavy.”

The crosses were the arrests of Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan.

Prince Edward continued, “I lack — and want — more uncles here to welcome me.”

“Sweet Prince,” Richard said, “the untainted and unsullied virtue of your young years has not yet dived into the world’s deceit. You cannot distinguish more of a man than his outward appearance, which God knows seldom or never coincides with the man’s heart. Those uncles whom you want were dangerous. Your grace attended to their sugared words, but you did not look on the poison of their hearts. May God keep you from them, and from such false friends!”

Rivers was the Prince’s uncle; Grey was the Prince’s step-brother; Vaughan was a family friend.

“May God keep me from false friends!” Prince Edward said. “But they were not false.”

Richard saw some people coming, and he said, “My lord, the Mayor of London comes to greet you.”

The Lord Mayor of London and his train of attendants came over to them.

The Lord Mayor said, “May God bless your grace with health and happy days!”

“I thank you, my good lord, and I thank you all,” Prince Edward said. “I thought my mother, and my brother, the young Duke of York, would long before this have met us on the way. What a sluggard Hastings is, because he hasn’t come to tell us whether they will come or not!”

Hastings arrived.

“And, in good time, here comes the sweating lord,” Buckingham said.

“Welcome, my lord,” Prince Edward said. Using the royal plural, he asked, “Will our mother come to meet us?”

“For what reason, God knows, not I,” Hastings said, “your mother, the Queen, and your brother, the young Duke of York, have taken sanctuary. The young Duke of York would gladly have come with me to meet your grace, but his mother kept him by force.”

“What a deceitful and perverse action is this of hers!” Buckingham said. “Lord Cardinal, will your grace persuade the Queen to send the young Duke of York to his Princely brother immediately? In case she denies this, Lord Hastings, go with him, and from her suspicious arms pluck him by force.”

The Cardinal replied, “My Lord of Buckingham, if my weak oratory can from his mother win the young Duke of York, expect him here soon, but if she resists mild entreaties, then may God in Heaven forbid we should infringe the holy privilege of blessed sanctuary! Not for all this land would I be guilty of so deep a sin.”

“You are too irrationally unyielding, my lord,” Buckingham said. “You are too scrupulous over formalities and you are too traditional. Weigh this action against the grossness and unrefined character of this age, and you will find that you do not break sanctuary in seizing him. The benefit of sanctuary is always granted to those whose actions have deserved the place of sanctuary, and those who have the intelligence to claim it. This Prince, the young Duke of York, has neither claimed sanctuary nor deserved it, and so, in my opinion, he cannot have it. Therefore, in taking him from thence that is not there — a place of sanctuary where there is no sanctuary for him — you break no privilege or prerogative there. I have often heardof sanctuary men, but I have never heard of sanctuary children until now.”

The Cardinal replied, “My lord, you shall overrule my mind for once.”

He then said, “Come on, Lord Hastings, will you go with me?”

“I will go, my lord,” Hastings replied.

Prince Edward said, “Good lords, do this quickly.”

The Cardinal and Hastings exited.

Using the royal plural, Prince Edward said, “Say, uncle Richard, if our brother comes, where shall we stay until our coronation?”

“Where it seems best to your royal self,” Richard replied. “If I may advise you, your highness should stay a day or two at the Tower of London. Then you can stay where you please, and where it shall be thought is most suitable for your best health and recreation.”

“I do not like the Tower, of all places,” Prince Edward said.

The Tower of London is where King Henry VI and Clarence had been killed.

Prince Edward asked, “Did Julius Caesar build that place, my lord?”

Buckingham answered, “He did, my gracious lord, begin that place; since that time, succeeding ages have re-built it.”

According to tradition, Julius Caesar had built a fort on the location where the Tower of London was later built. William the Conqueror started building the Tower.

“Is it upon written record, or else reported orally successively from age to age, that he built it?” Prince Edward asked.

“Upon written record, my gracious lord,” Buckingham replied.

“But if, my lord, it were not recorded in written documents, I still think that the truth would live from age to age, as if it were recounted orally to all posterity, even to the Day of Judgment.”

Richard thought, Those who are so wise when they are so young, people say, do never live long.

“What do you say, my uncle?” Prince Edward asked.

Richard replied, “I say that without characters, fame lives long.”

He thought, Thus, like the formal Vice, Iniquity, I draw lessons from two meanings in one word.

Richard was good with language. The word “characters” meant letters, as in written reports. Using that meaning, Richard was saying that fame could be long lasting even without written reports. Of course, the word “character” also means a kind of person, such as a good person. Using that meaning, Richard was saying that evil people — people without good characters — could have long-lasting fame. King Richard III is well known today, hundreds of years after he died. Also, of course, the word “character” can refer to the collection of qualities that make up a person. Using that meaning, Richard was saying that dead people could have long-lasting fame. Soon, two young Princes would be dead, but they would still have fame hundreds of years after their deaths.

The formal Vice, Iniquity, was a reference to the conventional Vice character in medieval morality plays. This character, which represented evil, was often named after a sin. The Vice often equivocated — used words that were ambiguous because they had more than one meaning.

“Julius Caesar was a famous man,” Prince Edward said. “With what his valor did enrich his wit, his wit set down to make his valor live. He was brave when he conquered Gaul, and his bravery increased his intelligence. With his intelligence he wrote the book Commentarii de Bello GallicoCommentaries on the Gallic Wars— and so knowledge of his bravery lives on in fame. Death makes no conquest of this conqueror because now he lives in fame, though not in life.

“I’ll tell you what, my kinsman Buckingham —”

“What, my gracious lord?” Buckingham asked.

“If I live until I become a man, I’ll win our ancient right to France again, or die a soldier as I lived a King.”

England and France had fought the Hundred Years’ War because English Kings believed that they had a right to rule France.

Richard thought, Short summers usually have a forward spring.

Richard was alluding to, and changing, this proverb: Sharp frosts bite forward springs. The word “forward” meant “early” or “precocious.” The word “springs” meant a certain season; it also meant “youth.” One meaning of Richard’s sentence was this: Those who die young are usually precocious.

The young Duke of York, Hastings, and the Cardinal arrived.

Buckingham said, “Now, at a good time, here comes the young Duke of York.”

“Richard of York!” Prince Edward said. “How are you, our loving brother?”

“I am well, my dread lord,” his brother replied. “I must call you ‘my dread lord’ now.”

The word “dread” means “revered, held in awe, deeply honored.”

“Yes, brother, you must call us that to our grief, as it is to yours,” Prince Edward said, using the royal plural. “Just recently, the man — our father, King Edward IV — died who ought to have kept that title, which by his death has lost much majesty.”

“How is our cousin, the noble Lord of York?” Richard asked.

“I thank you, noble uncle, for asking,” the young Duke of York replied. “Oh, my lord, you said that worthless weeds are fast in growth. Prince Edward, my brother, has outgrown me by far.”

“He has, my lord,” Richard said.

“And is he therefore worthless?”

“Oh, my fair nephew, I must not say so.”

“Then he is more beholden to you than I.”

The young Duke of York meant that Prince Edward was beholden to Richard for not calling him a worthless weed. Earlier, Richard had not been so polite when talking to and about the young Duke of York.

“Prince Edward may command me as my sovereign,” Richard said, “but you have power over me since you are a kinsman.”

“Please, uncle, give me this dagger of yours.”

“My dagger, little nephew?” Richard said. “With all my heart.”

He thought, With all my heart, I would like to give you this dagger in your heart.

“Are you a beggar, brother?” Prince Edward asked.

“Yes, of my kind uncle, whom I know will give,” the young Duke of York said. “And I begged for only a trifle, which will not hurt him to give away.”

“A greater gift than that I’ll willingly give my nephew,” Richard said.

He thought, I would like to give him the gift of Heaven, which I can do by having him killed.

“A greater gift!” the young Duke of York said. “Oh, you must mean the sword that goes with this dagger.”

“Yes, noble nephew, if the sword were light enough.”

“Oh, then I see that you will part only with light, trivial gifts,” the young Duke of York said. “In weightier things you’ll tell a beggar no.”

“The sword is too heavy for your grace to wear,” Richard said.

“I would weigh it lightly, even if it were heavier,” the young Duke of York said.

He was precocious, and he was punning. One meaning of what he had said was this: I would regard the gift lightly, even if it were heavier.

“Would you have my weapon, little lord?” Richard asked.

“I would, so that I might thank you as you call me.”

“What do I call you?”


The young Duke of York could be insulting; he was saying that he would little thank Richard for the gift.

Recognizing this, Prince Edward said, “My Lord of York will always be cross and perverse in his conversation. Uncle, you know how to bear with and endure him.”

The young Duke of York said, “You mean, to bear me, not to bear with me. Uncle, my brother mocks both you and me. Because I am little, like a monkey, he thinks that you should bear me on your shoulders.”

Trained bears sometimes carried monkeys on their backs. So did fools, and so the young Duke of York was calling Richard a fool. He was also saying that Richard’s humped back was a good place for a monkey to sit.

The young Duke of York was good with language; he had made a triple pun: 1) “to bear with” meant “to put up with,” 2) “to bear” meant “to endure,” and 3) “bear” referred to the animal.

Buckingham said, “With what a quick and ready, sharply equipped wit he reasons! To mitigate the scorn he gives his uncle, he prettily and aptly taunts himself by likening himself to a monkey. To be so cunning at so young an age is wonderful.”

Richard said to Prince Edward, “My lord, will it please you to continue on your way now? I and my good kinsman Buckingham will go to your mother to try to persuade her to meet you at the Tower of London and welcome you.”

The young Duke of York said to his brother, “Will you go to the Tower, my lord?”

“Richard, my Lord Protector, will have it so,” Prince Edward replied.

“I shall not sleep in peace at the Tower,” the young Duke of York said.

“Why, what should you fear in the Tower?” Richard asked.

“My uncle Clarence’s angry ghost. My grandmother told me he was murdered there.”

“I fear no dead uncles,” Prince Edward said.

“Nor none who live, I hope,” Richard — Prince Edward’s uncle — said.

“If they live, I hope I need not fear them. But come, my brother; with a heavy heart, thinking about my dead uncles, I go to the Tower.”

Everyone exited except Richard, Buckingham, and Catesby.

“Don’t you think, my lord,” Buckingham said, “that this little prattling Duke of York was incited by his devious mother to taunt and scorn you thus opprobriously and insultingly?”

“No doubt, no doubt,” Richard replied. “Oh, he is a perilous boy; he is bold, lively, ingenious, presumptuous, and intelligent. He completely takes after his mother, from the top of his head to his toe.”

“Well, let them rest. We will not think about them for a while,” Buckingham said. “Come here, Catesby. You have sworn as deeply to bring about what we intend as you have sworn closely to conceal the information we impart to you. You know our reasons for what we do. We told them to you as we were traveling together. What do you think? Will it be an easy matter to take Lord William Hastings into our confidence? Will he help us make the noble Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the King of this famous isle?”

Catesby replied, “Hastings so loves Prince Edward for the sake of his father, King Edward IV, that he will not be persuaded to do anything against Prince Edward.”

Buckingham then asked, “What do you think, then, about Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby?Whose side will he take?”

“He will do exactly what Hastings will do.”

“Well, then, I have no more to say but this,” Buckingham said. “Go, noble Catesby,and, subtly sound out Lord Hastings. See how he feels about our goal of making Richard King and summon him to go to the Tower of London tomorrow to attend a meeting about the coronation.If you find that he supports our goal,encourage him, and tell him all our reasons for wanting Richard to become King. If he is leaden, icy cold, and unwilling, then you be the same, too; and so break off your talk. Then give us notice of his inclination.Tomorrow we will hold two separate councils,wherein you yourself shall greatly be employed.”

“Commend me to Lord William Hastings,” Richard said. “Give him my greeting. And tell him, Catesby,that his ancient knot of dangerous adversaries— Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan — will be bled tomorrow at Pomfret Castle. Yes, they will be executed.And tell my friend, for joy of this good news,to give Mistress Shore one gentle kiss the more.”

After King Edward IV had died, his mistress, Jane Shore, became Hastings’ mistress.

“Good Catesby, go,” Buckingham said. “Do this business well and soundly.”

“My good lords, I will do this with all the care and attention I can,” Catesby said.

“Shall we hear from you, Catesby, before we sleep?” Richard asked.

“You shall, my lord.”

“Go to my house called Crosby Place,” Richard said. “There you shall find us both.”

Catesby exited.

“Now, my lord,” Buckingham said, “what shall we do, if we perceive that Lord Hastings will not join our treacheries?”

“Chop off his head,” Richard said. “We will decide something to do and then do it.”

He added, “When I am King, you will be able to claim from me the Earldom of Hereford, and all the moveable possessions that my brother King Edward IV had there.”

“I’ll claim that promise when you become King,” Buckingham said.

“And look to have it given to you very willingly,” Richard said. “Come, let us eat early, so that afterwards we may digest — arrange and organize — our treacheries and put them in good order.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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