Scene 1.4 - In the Tower of London
Clarence tells the jail-keeper about a nightmare he has just had. In his dream, he has escaped from the Tower and is on a boat heading for Burgundy with Richard. Looking back at England as the boat sailed toward France, Clarence and Richard recall the difficulties they faced in the former civil wars. Then Richard stumbles on the deck and in falling accidentally pushes Clarence overboard into the waves. Drowning in the ocean, Clarence finds himself amid the wreckage of sunken ships, lost treasure, and sailors' bones. In one of Shakespeare's most famous passages, Clarence tells the Keeper that "Methoughts I saw a thousand fearful wracks; / A thousand men that fishes gnaw'd upon" and masses of gold, pearl, and jewels scattered on the bottom of the sea: "some lay in dead men's skulls, and in the holes / Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept / (As 'twere in scorn of eyes) reflecting gems." In his dream, Clarence tries to die but finds his soul trapped still in his body. In a distinctly pagan vision of the afterlife, he then passes across the river Styx into the underworld. The first dead soul he encounters there is Warwick, his dead father-in-law, who reproaches him for breaking his promise to fight for Henry VI. The second, "a shadow like an angel, with bright hair / Dabbled in blood," is Henry's son, Edward, whom Clarence and Richard murdered during the civil wars. Like Warwick, Edward denounces Clarence for his treachery. At Edward's command, fiendish Furies surround him, at which point Clarence awakens, still convinced for a time that he is in hell. Clarence tells the Keeper that he fears that he has committed sins for the ungrateful Edward's sake that now endanger his soul. He prays that God will forgive him and spare his wife and children from divine wrath. He asks the Keeper to sit with him while he tries again to sleep.
Brakenbury, the lieutenant of the Tower, observing Clarence asleep meditates on the many cares and worries that upset the rest of princes. Richard's two hired murderers enter with a written commission to see Clarence alone. Brakenbury suspects that they intend harm to Clarence but does not dare to speculate about the exact nature of their commission "because I will be guiltless." He gives them the keys to Clarence's room and departs with the Keeper. The murderers debate whether to kill Clarence in his sleep. The second murderer hesitates, troubled by the fact that although they have a warrant to kill Clarence and thus are immune from legal prosecution, they may be damned on Judgment Day when Clarence arises to accuse them of the crime before God. He determines not to kill Clarence, but changes his mind when the first murderer reminds him of the payment Richard has promised them. Counting to twenty helps him to suppress his conscience, "a dangerous thing" that "makes a man a coward" and keeps him from making a good living. After conquering their consciences, the two murderers resolve to hit Clarence over the head and drown him in a butt of malmsey, or a vat of sweet wine, in the next room.
Clarence begins to awaken and calls to the Keeper for wine. The murderers taunt him with his disloyalty, and Clarence asks who they are, for their clothes are humble although they speak as though they are great men. The first murderer, thinking of his warrant, declares that "my voice is now the King's, my looks mine own." Guessing that the king has ordered his murder, Clarence tries to persuade the murderers to spare him. Seizing upon the same problem that troubled the murderers while he slept, Clarence suggests that the king's warrant does not absolve them of their obedience to God, "the great King of Kings," who expressly forbids murder in the Ten Commandments. The second murderer reasons that Clarence is himself guilty of breaking an oath ("false forswearing") as well as murder. Clarence assures them that God will take vengeance in time, without the need for wicked men to act as his ministers. Yet, as the first murderer points out, Clarence made himself a minister of God's vengeance when he murdered the prince to revenge the deaths of his father and brother. Clarence begs the murderers to go to Richard, whom he believes will reward them for saving his life. He can scarcely believe that his brother, who "bewept my fortune, / And hugg'd me in his arms" would have ordered his death. Clarence warns the murderers that even those who ordered his death will turn against them once they have killed him. The second murderer hesitates once again, and Clarence senses that he may relent: "I spy some pity in thy looks." Yet the second murderer can only tell Clarence to "look behind you" before the first murderer stabs him from behind. While the first murderer finishes Clarence off by drowning him in the malmsey vat, the second murderer repents of the deed: "how fain, like Pilate, would I wash my hands / Of this grievous murther." When the first murderer criticizes him for not helping to kill Clarence, the first murderer tells him to take the entire fee for himself. The first murderer drags the body out to hide it until he receives further instructions from Richard.
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Scenes 2.3 and 2.4
Scenes 3.3 and 3.4
Scene 3.6 and 3.7
Scenes 4.2 and 4.3
Scenes 4.4 and 4.5
Scenes 5.1 and 5.2
Scenes 5.4 and 5.5