Scene 2.1 - The palace, London
Sensing the approach of his death, Edward gathers the queen and her relatives together with Hastings, Catesby, and Buckingham to reconcile them to one another. At the sick king's command, the former enemies take hands, kiss, and swear allegiance to one another. Buckingham vows to the queen that if he should ever harm her or her family, he hopes that God will punish him by causing his best-loved friend to betray him. Edward wonders aloud why Richard has not yet arrived to be reconciled to the queen's family and "make the blessed period of this peace." When Richard arrives, he appears ready to participate in Edward's "blessed labor," asking forgiveness from any in the gathering whom he has offended, either unknowingly or in anger. Nonetheless, he never admits any real wrong-doing on his own part, claiming that his enemies have held grievances against him "without desert." Continuing to play the role of saintly innocent, he pretends to be at peace with all the world: "I do not know the Englishman alive / With whom my soul is any jot at odds / More than the infant that is born to-night." Somewhat belying his pretence of childlike innocence, he calls attention to his virtue, declaring that "I thank God for my humility."
The queen, apparently accepting Richard's showy apology, declares that this day will be kept as a "holy day," and asks Edward to release Clarence from prison so "all strifes" at court will be fully resolved. Richard abruptly accuses her of mocking him by pretending that Clarence is still alive, for "Who knows not that the gentle Duke is dead?" In fact, no one on stage could have known this, and their cheeks turn pale with shock. Edward demands to know why Clarence was killed, when "the order was revers'd" that sentenced him to death. In a flight of fancy, Richard imagines that Edward's original order for Clarence's death was carried by a winged Mercury, the speedy messenger to the gods, while the second order canceling his death warrant was conveyed by a slow-moving cripple who arrived after the burial of the man he came to save. Speaking with a double meaning, he hopes aloud that there are no worse offenders against the king than Clarence among those who remain alive and unsuspected.
While the court takes in the unwelcome news, Stanley enters requesting a favor from the king. According to custom, he kneels before the king until Edward agrees to grant whatever he will ask. His servant has killed a servant to the Duke of Norfolk in a brawl, and Stanley asks the king to pardon him. Edward compares the innocent Clarence, put to death only for thinking treason (or so the king believes), with Stanley's servant, who has killed a man while drunk. He reminds himself of the time when Clarence saved his life in battle, and later gave up his own clothing in order to keep Edward warm when they slept on the cold battlefield. He wonders how he can pardon the murderous servant, when he refused to save his own brother's life out of pity, love, or gratitude. Edward blames those around him, as well as himself, for failing to speak on Clarence's behalf. Despondent, he pardons Stanley's servant, and calls upon Hastings and the rest to help him back to his bedchamber. After Edward departs, Richard calls Edward's despair "the fruits of rashness" and marvels aloud at the brazen hypocrisy of the queen's relatives, who turned pale at the news of the murder that he claims they brought about. Buckingham goes with him to attend upon the king.
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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