The first performance of Richard III was perhaps given
late in 1591 by the conglomerate of the Admiral’s
Men and Lord
Strange’s Men (although there is no certain evidence to
link Shakespeare to this company). The play was popular and received
regular performances by the Lord
Chamberlain’s Men into the 1600s, when it would have been
performed at the Globe.
It was given at court as late as 16 November 1633, the only early
performance of which there is a record, and may well have remained
in the repertory of the King’s
Men until the theatres closed in 1642. By the early 1600s, Richard
Burbage was playing the title role in Richard III.
Publication in quarto and folio
Richard III appeared in 10 editions before 1642.
- First quarto, 1597. Printed from a manuscript believed to have
been prepared from memory by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men
(including Shakespeare himself) to replace a missing prompt-book.
Shakespeare’s name does not appear on the title-page.
- Second quarto, 1598. Printed from the first quarto. Shakespeare’s
name is added to the title-page.
- Third quarto, 1602. Printed from the second quarto.
- Fourth quarto, 1605. Printed from the third quarto.
- Fifth quarto, 1612. Printed partly from the fourth quarto and
partly from the third. (Copy with titlepage only from the British
Library. Complete copy from the Folger Shakespeare Library.)
- Sixth quarto, 1622. Printed from the fifth quarto.
- First folio, 1623. Printed from a manuscript believed to be
Shakespeare’s foul papers, collated with the third quarto
and probably for some parts of the text with the sixth quarto.
The text is longer than the quarto version, but also omits lines
found in the latter. It has many other variants from the quarto
- Seventh quarto, 1629. Printed from the sixth quarto.
- Second folio, 1632. Printed from the first folio.
- Eighth quarto, 1634. Printed from the seventh quarto.
The bookseller Andrew Wise paid the Stationers’ Company for
a licence to print Richard III on 20 October 1597. The
first quarto was printed for Wise shortly afterwards, by the printers
Valentine Simmes and Peter Short. The popularity of the play is
shown by the frequency of new editions.
The second quarto appeared in 1598, and the third in 1602, both
printed for Wise by Thomas Creede. On 25 June 1603, Wise transferred
his copyright in Richard III to the bookseller Mathew Law.
The fourth quarto of 1605 and the fifth of 1612 were both printed
for Law by Creede. A sixth quarto was printed for Law by Thomas
Purfoot in 1622. After the publication of the first folio, a seventh
quarto appeared in 1629, printed for Law by John Norton. Norton’s
name appeared alone in the imprint to the eighth quarto of 1634.
Library copies of Richard III contains detailed bibliographic
descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.
Several sources were particularly important for the creation of
- Edward Hall, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Famelies
of Lancastre and Yorke (1548). Hall’s chronicle was
a principal source for the play. It includes Sir Thomas More’s
‘The Tragical Doynges of Kyng Richard the Thirde’
which gave Shakespeare most of his information and also influenced
his approach to the figure of Richard III.
- Raphael Holinshed, The Third Volume of Chronicles (1587).
Shakespeare used Holinshed for some details of the action.
- The Mirour for Magistrates (1587). Shakespeare made
much selective use of this source, for example for action involving
Clarence and Hastings.
Story of the play
Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where
each act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos
themselves have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play
is always the earliest in the Library's collection - unless it is
a 'bad' quarto in which case it is the earliest 'good' quarto.
The action of Richard III begins after Richard, Duke of
Gloucester’s secret murder of King Henry VI. His eldest brother
is now king, as Edward IV.
1) Richard has designs on the throne, and has plotted against
his elder brother George, Duke of Clarence, who is taken to imprisonment
in the Tower where Gloucester later has him murdered. In the meantime,
Richard woos and wins the Lady Anne, daughter-in-law of the dead
The death of Clarence, The
Mirour for Magistrates, 1587. British Library, C.71.c.4(1),
f. 184v. Larger
2) Edward IV dies, leaving two young sons, Edward, Prince of
Wales and the Duke of York. Richard, with Lord Hastings and the
Duke of Buckingham, departs to fetch the Prince of Wales from Ludlow.
3) Richard, as Lord Protector, lodges Prince Edward and his
brother the Duke of York in the Tower. Richard has Hastings executed
when he opposes his bid for the crown. With the support of Buckingham,
Richard has himself proclaimed king.
4) Richard has been crowned king. Buckingham refuses to help
him deal with the young princes in the Tower, but Richard arranges
their murder. His wife Anne has died, and Richard wants to marry
his niece Elizabeth of York. When he refuses Buckingham the promised
earldom of Hereford, Buckingham flees the court to join the growing
opposition. He is subsequently captured.
The Murder of the Princes
in the Tower. Edward Hall, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate
Famelies of Lancaster & Yorke, 1548. British Library, C.122.h.4,
f. xxvii verso (second sequence). Larger
5) Buckingham is led off to execution. The Earl of Richmond
gathers his forces against Richard. The night before the opposing
armies meet in battle, King Richard is visited by the ghosts of
his many victims, including Henry VI, the Duke of Clarence, the
two young princes, and his wife Lady Anne. Richard is killed on
Bosworth Field and Richmond proclaimed king. He announces his intention
of marrying Elizabeth of York, and so ending the civil wars between
York and Lancaster.