home contact

Richard III

Please see the bottom of this page for full explanatory notes.

ACT I SCENE IV          London. A Room in the Tower.

BRAKENBURY Why looks your grace so heavily to-day? 
CLARENCE O, I have pass'd a miserable night, 
 So full of ugly sights, of ghastly dreams, 
 That, as I am a Christian faithful man,
 I would not spend another such a night,
 Though 'twere to buy a world of happy days, 
 So full of dismal terror was the time! 
BRAKENBURY What was your dream? I long to hear you tell it. 
CLARENCE Methought that I had broken from the Tower,
 And was embark'd to cross to Burgundy;  10
 And, in my company, my brother Gloucester; 
 Who from my cabin tempted me to walk 
 Upon the hatches: thence we look'd toward England, 
 And cited up a thousand fearful times,
 During the wars of York and Lancaster 
 That had befall'n us. As we paced along 
 Upon the giddy footing of the hatches, 
 Methought that Gloucester stumbled; and, in falling, 
 Struck me, that thought to stay him, overboard,
 Into the tumbling billows of the main.  20
 Lord, Lord! methought, what pain it was to drown! 
 What dreadful noise of waters in mine ears! 
 What ugly sights of death within mine eyes! 
 Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks;
 Ten thousand men that fishes gnaw'd upon;
 Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl, 
 Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels, 
 All scatter'd in the bottom of the sea: 
 Some lay in dead men's skulls; and, in those holes
 Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept,  30
 As 'twere in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems, 
 Which woo'd the slimy bottom of the deep, 
 And mock'd the dead bones that lay scatter'd by. 
BRAKENBURY Had you such leisure in the time of death
 To gaze upon the secrets of the deep? 
CLARENCE Methought I had; and often did I strive 
 To yield the ghost: but still the envious flood 
 Kept in my soul, and would not let it forth 
 To seek the empty, vast and wandering air;
 But smother'd it within my panting bulk,  40
 Which almost burst to belch it in the sea. 
BRAKENBURY Awaked you not with this sore agony? 
CLARENCE O, no, my dream was lengthen'd after life; 
 O, then began the tempest to my soul,
 Who pass'd, methought, the melancholy flood,
 With that grim ferryman which poets write of, 
 Unto the kingdom of perpetual night. 
 The first that there did greet my stranger soul, 
 Was my great father-in-law, renowned Warwick;
 Who cried aloud, 'What scourge for perjury  50
 Can this dark monarchy afford false Clarence?' 
 And so he vanish'd: then came wandering by 

A shadow like an angel, with bright hair
 Dabbled in blood; and he squeak'd out aloud,
 'Clarence is come; false, fleeting, perjured Clarence,
 That stabb'd me in the field by Tewksbury; 
 Seize on him, Furies, take him to your torments!' 
 With that, methoughts, a legion of foul fiends 
 Environ'd me about, and howled in mine ears
 Such hideous cries, that with the very noise  60
 I trembling waked, and for a season after 
 Could not believe but that I was in hell, 
 Such terrible impression made the dream. 
BRAKENBURY No marvel, my lord, though it affrighted you;
 I promise, I am afraid to hear you tell it.
CLARENCE O Brakenbury, I have done those things, 
 Which now bear evidence against my soul, 
 For Edward's sake; and see how he requites me! 
 O God! if my deep prayers cannot appease thee,
 But thou wilt be avenged on my misdeeds,  70
 Yet execute thy wrath in me alone, 
 O, spare my guiltless wife and my poor children! 
 I pray thee, gentle keeper, stay by me; 
 My soul is heavy, and I fain would sleep.
BRAKENBURY I will, my lord: God give your grace good rest!
 CLARENCE sleeps. 
 Sorrow breaks seasons and reposing hours, 
 Makes the night morning, and the noontide night. 
 Princes have but their titles for their glories, 
 An outward honour for an inward toil;
 And, for unfelt imagination,  80
 They often feel a world of restless cares: 
 So that, betwixt their tides and low names, 
 There's nothing differs but the outward fame. 
 Enter the two Murderers. 
First Murderer Ho! who's here?
BRAKENBURY What wouldst thou, fellow? and how cam'st you hither?
First Murderer I would speak with Clarence, and I came hither on my legs. 
BRAKENBURY What, so brief? 
Second Murderer 'Tis better, sir, than to be tedious. Show 
 him our commission; talk no more.  90
 [ A paper is delivered to BRAKENBURY who reads it. 
BRAKENBURY I am, in this, commanded to deliver
 The noble Duke of Clarence to your hands: 
 I will not reason what is meant hereby, 
 Because I will be guiltless of the meaning.
 There lies the duke alseep -- and there the keys,
 I'll to the king; and signify to him 
 That thus I have resign'd to you my charge. 
First Murderer You may sir, 'tis a point of wisdom: fare you well.  100
Second Murderer What, shall we stab him as he sleeps? 
First Murderer No; then he will say 'twas done cowardly, when he wakes.
Second Murderer Why, he shall never wake till 
 the judgment-day. 
First Murderer Why, then he will say we stabb'd him sleeping. 
Second Murderer The urging of that word 'judgment' hath bred a kind 
 of remorse in me.
First Murderer What, art thou afraid? 
Second Murderer Not to kill him, having a warrant for it; but to be 
 damned for killing him, from which no warrant can defend me. 
First Murderer I thought thou hadst been resolute. 
Second Murderer So I am, to let him live.
First Murderer I'll back to the Duke of Gloucester, and tell him so. 
Second Murderer Nay, I pray thee, stay a little: I hope my holy humour  120
 will change; 'twas wont to hold me but while one 
 would tell twenty. 
First Murderer How dost thou feel thyself now?
Second Murderer 'Faith, some certain dregs of conscience are yet 
 within me. 
First Murderer Remember our reward, when the deed is done. 
Second Murderer 'Zounds, he dies: I had forgot the reward. 
First Murderer Where is thy conscience now?  130
Second Murderer In the Duke of Gloucester's purse. 
First Murderer So when he opens his purse to give us our reward, 
 thy conscience flies out. 
Second Murderer Let it go; there's few or none will entertain it. 
First Murderer What if it come to thee again?
Second Murderer I'll not meddle with it: it 
 makes a man a coward: a man cannot steal, but it 
 accuseth him; a man cannot swear, but it cheques him;  140
 a man cannot lie with his neighbour's wife, but it 
 detects him: 'tis a blushing shamefast spirit that
 mutinies in a man's bosom; it fills one full of 
 obstacles: it made me once restore a purse of gold 
 that by chance I found; it beggars any man that keeps it: it 
 is turned out of all towns and cities for a 
 dangerous thing; and every man that means to live
 well endeavours to trust to himself and to live 
 without it. 
First Murderer 'Zounds, it is even now at my elbow, persuading me 
 not to kill the duke. 
Second Murderer Take the devil in thy mind, and believe him not: he  150
 would insinuate with thee but to make thee sigh. 
First Murderer Tut, I am strong-fram'd, he cannot prevail with me. 
Second Murderer Spoke like a tail fellow that respects his 
 reputation. Come, shall we to this gear?
First Murderer Take him over the costard with the hilts of thy 
 sword, and then throw him into the malmsey-butt 
 in the next room.  160
Second Murderer O excellent device! make a sop of him. 
First Murderer Soft! he wakes.
Second Murderer Strike!
First Murderer No, we'll reason with him. 
CLARENCE Where art thou, keeper? give me a cup of wine. 
Second murderer You shall have wine enough, my lord, anon. 
CLARENCE In God's name, what art thou?  170
Second Murderer A man, as you are.
CLARENCE But not, as I am, royal. 
Second Murderer Nor you, as we are, loyal. 
CLARENCE Thy voice is thunder, but thy looks are humble. 
Second Murderer My voice is now the king's, my looks mine own. 
CLARENCE How darkly and how deadly dost thou speak!
 Your eyes do menace me: why look you pale? 
 Who sent you hither? Wherefore do you come? 
Both To, to, to--  180
CLARENCE To murder me? 
Both Ay, ay.
CLARENCE You scarcely have the hearts to tell me so, 
 And therefore cannot have the hearts to do it. 
 Wherein, my friends, have I offended you? 
First Murderer Offended us you have not, but the king. 
CLARENCE I shall be reconcil'd to him again.
Second Murderer Never, my lord; therefore prepare to die.  190
CLARENCE Are you call'd forth from out a world of men 
 To slay the innocent? What is my offence? 
 Where are the evidence that do accuse me? 
 What lawful quest have given their verdict up
 Unto the frowning judge? or who pronounced 
 The bitter sentence of poor Clarence' death? 
 Before I be convict by course of law, 
 To threaten me with death is most unlawful. 
 I charge you, as you hope to have redemption
 By Christ's dear blood shed for our grievous sins,  200
 That you depart and lay no hands on me 
 The deed you undertake is damnable. 
First Murderer What we will do, we do upon command. 
Second Murderer And he that hath commanded is the king.
CLARENCE Erroneous vassal! the great King of kings 
 Hath in the tables of his law commanded 
 That thou shalt do no murder: and wilt thou, then, 
 Spurn at his edict and fulfill a man's?  210
 Take heed; for he holds vengeance in his hands,
 To hurl upon their heads that break his law. 
Second Murderer And that same vengeance doth he hurl on thee, 
 For false forswearing and for murder too: 
 Thou didst receive the holy sacrament, 
 To fight in quarrel of the house of Lancaster.
First Murderer And, like a traitor to the name of God, 
 Didst break that vow; and with thy treacherous blade 
 Unrip'dst the bowels of thy sovereign's son.  220
Second Murderer Whom thou wert sworn to cherish and defend. 
First Murderer How canst thou urge God's dreadful law to us,
 When thou hast broke it in so dear degree? 
CLARENCE Alas! for whose sake did I that ill deed? 
 For Edward, for my brother, for his sake: Why, sirs, 
 He sends ye not to murder me for this 
 For in this sin he is as deep as I.
 If God will be revenged for this deed. 
 O, know you yet, he doth it publicly, 
 Take not the quarrel from his powerful arm;  230
 He needs no indirect nor lawless course 
 To cut off those that have offended him.
First Murderer Who made thee, then, a bloody minister, 
 When gallant-springing brave Plantagenet, 
 That princely novice, was struck dead by thee? 
CLARENCE My brother's love, the devil, and my rage. 
First Murderer Thy brother's love, our duty, and thy fault,
 Provoke us hither now to slaughter thee. 
CLARENCE Oh, if you love my brother, hate not me; 
 I am his brother, and I love him well.  240
 If you be hir'd for meed, go back again, 
 And I will send you to my brother Gloucester,
 Who shall reward you better for my life 
 Than Edward will for tidings of my death. 
Second Murderer You are deceived, your brother Gloucester hates you. 
CLARENCE O, no, he loves me, and he holds me dear: 
 Go you to him from me.
Both Ay, so we will. 
CLARENCE Tell him, when that our princely father York 
 Bless'd his three sons with his victorious arm, 
 And charged us from his soul to love each other,  250
 He little thought of this divided friendship:
 Bid Gloucester think of this, and he will weep. 
First Murderer Ay, millstones; as be lesson'd us to weep. 
CLARENCE O, do not slander him, for he is kind. 
First Murderer Right, 
 As snow in harvest. Thou deceivest thyself:
 'Tis he that sends us to destroy you here. 
CLARENCE It cannot be; for when I parted with him, 
 He hugg'd me in his arms, and swore, with sobs, 
 That he would labour my delivery. 
Second Murderer Why, so he doth, now he delivers you  260
 From this world's thraldom to the joys of heaven. 
First Murderer Make peace with God, for you must die, my lord. 
CLARENCE Hast thou that holy feeling in thy soul, 
 To counsel me to make my peace with God, 
 And art thou yet to thy own soul so blind,
 That thou wilt war with God by murdering me? 
 Ah, sirs, consider, he that set you on 
 To do this deed will hate you for the deed. 
Second Murderer What shall we do? 
CLARENCE Relent, and save your souls.
First Murderer Relent! 'tis cowardly and womanish.  270
CLARENCE Not to relent is beastly, savage, devilish. 
 Which of you, if you were a prince's son, 
 Being pent from liberty, as I am now, 
 if two such murderers as yourselves came to you,
 Would not entreat for life? 
 My friend, I spy some pity in thy looks: 
 O, if thine eye be not a flatterer, 
 Come thou on my side, and entreat for me, 
 As you would beg, were you in my distress
 A begging prince what beggar pities not?  280
Second Murderer Look behind you, my lord. 
First Murderer Take that, and that: if all this will not do, 
 [ Stabs him. 
 I'll drown you in the malmsey-butt within. 
 [ Exit, with the body. 
Second Murderer A bloody deed, and desperately dispatch'd!
 How fain, like Pilate, would I wash my hands 
 Of this most grievous guilty murder done! 
 Re-enter First Murderer. 
First Murderer How now! what mean'st thou, that thou help'st me not? 
 By heavens, the duke shall know how slack thou art! 
Second Murderer I would he knew that I had sav'd his brother!
 Take thou the fee, and tell him what I say;  290
 For I repent me that the duke is slain. 
 [ Exit 
First Murderer So do not I: go, coward as thou art. 
 Now must I hide his body in some hole, 
 Until the duke take order for his burial:
 And when I have my meed, I must away; 
 For this will out, and here I must not stay. 
 [ Exit 

Richard III, Act 2, Scene 1


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 4
From King Richard III. Ed. Brainerd Kellogg. New York: Clark & Maynard.

Abbreviations. — A.-S. = Anglo-Saxon: M.E. = Middle English (from the 13th to the 15th century) ; Fr. = French ; Ger. = German ; Gr. = Greek ; Cf. = compare (Lat. confer) ; Abbott refers to the excellent Shakespearean Grammar of Dr. Abbott; Schmidt, to Dr. Schmidt's invaluable Shakespeare Lexicon.

1. Heavily, sadly.

4. Faithful, as opposed to infidel or faithless.

5. Such a night. The a is inserted pleonastically here.

9. Methought. The reading of the folios is methoughts, the s having been incorrectly added to assimilate the termination to that of methinks.

27. Unvalued, invaluable.

37. To yield the ghost, to die. Envious, malignant, spiteful.

40. Bulk, body.

45. The melancholy flood is the river Styx, which flows seven times round the infernal regions.

46. Ferryman. Charon, whose task it is to convey in his boat the shades of the dead across the rivers of the lower world.

55. Fleeting, inconstant.

71. In me, on me.

80. Instead of the dreams they form but never realize.

94. Guiltless, innocent of, ignorant of.

119. Tell, count. A.-S. tellan, to number, talu, a number, narrative. Allied words are Dutch taal, speech; Icelandic tal, speech; German zahl, number.

141. Shamefast, modest. The word is now spelled shame-faced by a singular confusion with face, due to the fact that shame is commonly indicated by the face.

151. Insinuate, to meddle with.

155. Tall, stout, spirited.

158. Take him = strike him. Costard, a slang expression for the head.

160. According to Holinshed (Edward IV., p. 346, 1808 ed.), "finallie the duke was cast into the Tower, and therewith adiudged for a traitor, and priuilie drowned in a butt of malmesie."

166-176. The uses of thou and you may be seen very clearly in this passage. Thou is the customary address from superiors to inferiors, and is expressive, besides, of any excitement or sensibility, of familiar tenderness as well as of anger; of reverence as well as of contempt. Thus the constant address of Venus to Adonis in Shakespeare's poem is thou; of Adonis to Venus, you.

193. Evidence = the witnesses.

194. Quest, inquest or jury.

197. Convict, convicted.

215. Forswearing, perjury.

220. Unrip means simply to cut open.

220. Dear, used often as a kind of emphatic adjective, the sense being, in so great a degree.

229. For you the quartos read ye. Ye was originally the nominative form; you, the accusative. This distinction, though observed in our version of the Bible, was disregarded in the usage of Elizabethan writers.

234. Gallant-springing, putting forth the promise of beauty like buds opening in the Spring.

235. Novice, one new to anything, just entering on life.

236. This is love lor my brother.

238. Provoke, impel.

253. Millstones. To weep millstones was a common proverb = not to weep at all, to remain hard and unfeeling as a stone. Lesson'd, taught. Any noun or adjective, can be converted into a verb by the Elizabethan writers, generally in an active signification.

255. The reference is to Proverbs, 26:1 : "As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honor is not seemly for a fool." The first murderer understands kind in the sense of natural or foolish.

259. Labor, bring about.

263. Turning as he speaks to the second murderer.

How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Richard III. Ed. Brainerd Kellogg. New York: Clark & Maynard, 1886. Shakespeare Online. 22 Dec. 2011. < >.

How to cite the sidebar:
Mabillard, Amanda. Notes on Shakespeare. Shakespeare Online. 22 Dec. 2011. < >.


Related Articles

 Richard III: Plot Summary
 Richard III: Q & A
 Famous Quotes from Richard III
 Shakespeare's Sources for Richard III

 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels

Points to Ponder

"Macbeth, Richard III, were both villains, murderers. Both reached the thrones they occupied by wading through blood. In this respect they are like Iago. Yet, in their cases, Shakespeare uses but few soliloquies, and these very brief, while Iago constantly, and, in extenso, soliloquizes. Why this difference? Because between Macbeth and Richard III on the one hand, and Iago on the other, there is a radical difference. They accomplished their ends by means that were mostly open, undisguised, straightforward. Iago works not openly, but, like the mole, almost wholly underground, secretly. He trusts to deception to accomplish his purpose." (William Fleming, Shakespeare's Plots. p. 414.)

Shakespeare Quick Facts...

A rich and sweet wine brought to England from Greece in the 16th century, Malmsey is now produced on the island of Madeira. Shakespeare writes about Malmsey in Love's Labour's Lost (5.2.240) and 2 Henry IV (2.1.36), but the most famous reference to Malmsey in all of literature can be found in Richard III, when Richard orders the execution of his brother, the Duke of Clarence. Richard's hired assassins decide to drown Clarence in a large cask (butt) of the brew. Read on...


Establishing the chronology of Shakespeare's plays is a most frustrating and difficult task. It is impossible to know the exact order of succession because there is no record of the first production date of any of Shakespeare's works. However, scholars have decided upon a specific play chronology, based upon the following sources of information. Read on...

Ben Jonson anticipated Shakespeare's dazzling future when he declared, "He was not of an age, but for all time!" in the preface to the First Folio. While most people know that Shakespeare is the most popular dramatist and poet the world has ever produced, students new to his work often wonder why this is so. The following are the top reasons why Shakespeare has stood the test of time.


Some of Shakespeare's most violent plays were by far his most popular during his lifetime. Although modern audiences are often repulsed by its gore and brutality, Titus Andronicus was a huge success in Tudor England, coveted by several of the finest touring companies. Read on...