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    Summary of Act 1 Essay (986 words)

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    The first scene opens with a long soliloquy from the main character, Richard, who informs us that the country is at peace under his brother, Edward’s, rule. Richard, however, finds peacetime pleasures unwelcoming, partly because he is ‘is not shaped for sportive tricks’ (line 16) and ‘rudely stamped” (line 14). Because he cannot find a lover, his main intention is to be a villain. To progress, he has set his elder brothers, King Edward IV and Clarence, in dispute with each other, and he expects to see Clarence imprisoned shortly.

    Clarence is brought under armed guard on his way to the Tower of London, where he is to be held. Richard expresses sympathy for his brother, blaming Queen Elizabeth and her family for Clarence’s arrest. He promises to negotiate with Edward to get Clarence released. When his brother is led away by Brakenbury, Lord Hastings enters. He has just been released from the Tower. He tells Richard that Edward is ‘sickly, weak and melancholy ‘ (line 136), and that his doctors fear for his life. When Hastings leaves, Richard uses dramatic irony to outline his plans to have Clarence killed before Edward dies. He is also determined too marry the Earl of Warwick’s daughter, Anne, who was formerly engaged to Prince Edward, who was Henry VI’s son.

    Henry VI’s body is being taken for burial. Lady Anne accompanies the ‘hearse’ (line 2). She is mourning for her husband, Edward, as well as his father, Henry VI. She curses Richard, who was responsible for both deaths. When he enters the scene, she condemns him as inhuman, unnatural and as an extremely evil butcher. Richard defends himself, saying that he committed the murders because he loves Anne and wishes to marry her. Initially, Anne is disrespectful of, and disgusted, by Richard.

    She spits on him, but as he continues to woo her, she finds it impossible to resist him. When Richard offers her his sword so that she may take revenge on him, she finds that she cannot be his ‘executioner’ (line 189). Richard asks her to wear his ring, swearing that he will be a devoted husband, and says that he will visit her after he has seen Henry buried and has wet his grave with his tears. Anne is glad to observe his penitence and leaves the scene feeling willing to her skilful wooer. Richard is overjoyed. He celebrates in his talent as a lover and ironically suggests that he is a normal man after all.

    Elizabeth’s brother, Lord Rivers, and her son by her first marriage, Lord Grey, attempt to comfort the queen, but she is concerned about the fate of her family if Edward dies. Richard is to be recognised as Protector, and she knows that he is her enemy. Buckingham and Stanley have been visiting Edward, who is in good spirit, despite his poor health. Elizabeth’s heart remains heavy; she cannot bring herself to believe that a settlement is really possible. Richard bursts in complaining that he has been distorted by the ‘lewd complaints’ (line 61) of the queen. He is resentful about the progression of her relations.

    He accuses Richard of having Clarence and Hastings imprisoned and insults her. While Elizabeth and Richard quarrel, Queen Margaret enters. She reminds everyone of Richard’s crimes, interrupting the argument to condemn the people who were responsible for overthrowing her husband, Henry VI. They all respond with accusations of their own. Margaret is not put off from her purpose though. She curses each of the characters in turn and predicts their destruction. She warns the crowd against Richard.

    When she leaves, Buckingham and Rivers seem surprised, however, Richard is calm. He says that he regrets everything that he has done wrong. He then returns to the controversial topic of Clarence. Just as the bickering resumes, Catesby arrives. Edward wishes to see Elizabeth. Richard uses dramatic irony again to tell everyone that he is very satisfied with the trouble that he has caused. He sends out two murderers to the Tower, warning them not to listen to Clarence’s appeals.

    Imprisoned in the Tower, Clarence describes a terrible dream he has had to his keeper. He dreamt that he was sailing to Burgundy with his brother, Richard, who stumbled on deck and pushed Clarence overboard. Clarence paints a terrifying picture of ‘the slimy bottom of the deep’ (line 32) and the ‘tempest to my soul’ (line 44) that occurred while he was drowning. He asks the keeper to sit by him for a while because he is frightened and wishes to sleep. Brakenbury, Lieutenant of the Tower enters, shortly followed by the two murderers, who announce that Clarence must be handed over into their hands. Brakenbury seems to fear the worst, but lets down his charge. The second murderer is unsure of himself. He fears damnation. His lack of certainty affects the first murderer, whose conscience is awakened.

    By this point, the second murderer has found his courage, claiming that conscience makes men cowards. The two men decide to drag Clarence into the next room and drown him in a butt of malmsey. Their victim wakes up. The murderers hesitate but Clarence guesses why they have come. He urges them not to kill him because it is unlawful, and because murder is a sin. The murderers remind Clarence of the crimes he committed during the war.

    When Clarence tells them to go to his brother Richard, who, he says, will reward them for saving his life, the murderers tell him the truth that it was not Edward but Richard who sent them to kill him. Again, Clarence urges the murderers to give in and save their souls, but it is too late. He is stabbed and dragged out by the first murderer. The second murderer is full of remorse; the first knows that he will not be safe when Clarence’s death is discovered. When he has buried the corpse and collected his reward, he will flee.

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