Summary: Act V, scene iii

In his camp, King Richard orders his men to pitch their tents for the night. He says that they will engage in their great battle in the -morning. Richard talks to his noblemen, trying to stir up some enthusiasm, but they are all subdued. Richard, however, says he has learned that Richmond has only one-third as many fighting men as he himself does, and he is confident that he can easily win.

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Summary: Act V, scene iv

Meanwhile, in Richmond’s camp, Richmond tells a messenger to deliver a secret letter to his stepfather, Lord Stanley, who is in an outlying camp. Stanley is forced to fight upon Richard’s side, but Richmond hopes to get some help from him nonetheless.

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Summary: Act V, scene v

It is now dead midnight.
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What do I fear? Myself?
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Back in King Richard’s tent, Richard issues commands to his lieutenants. Because Richard knows of Stanley’s relationship with Richmond, he is suspicious of Stanley, and is holding Stanley’s young son, George, hostage. He has an order sent to Lord Stanley telling him to bring his troops to the main camp before dawn, or else he will kill George. Declaring that he will eat no supper that night, Richard then prepares to go to sleep for the night.

Stanley comes secretly to visit Richmond in his tent. He explains the situation, but promises to help Richmond however he can. Richmond thanks him and then prepares for sleep.

As both leaders sleep, they begin to dream. A parade of ghosts—the spirits of everyone whom Richard has murdered—comes across the stage. First, each ghost stops to speak to Richard. Each condemns him bitterly for his or her death, tells him that he will be killed in battle the next morning, and orders him to despair and die. The ghosts then move away and speak to the sleeping Richmond, telling him that they are on Richmond’s side and that Richmond will rule England and be the father of a race of kings. In a similar manner, eleven ghosts move across the stage: Prince Edward, the dead son of Henry VI; King Henry VI himself; Richard’s brother Clarence; Rivers, Gray, and Vaughan; the two young princes, whom Richard had murdered in the tower; Hastings; Lady Anne, Richard’s former wife; and, finally, Buckingham.

Terrified, Richard wakes out of his sleep, sweating and gasping. In an impassioned soliloquy, he searches his soul to try to find the cause of such a terrible dream. Realizing that he is a murderer, Richard tries to figure out what he fears. He asks himself whether he is afraid of himself or whether he loves himself. He realizes that he doesn’t have any reason to love himself and asks whether he doesn’t hate himself, instead. For the first time, Richard is truly terrified.