Richard III Summary: Five Act Structure

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Richard III- Five Act Structure

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Activity Overview


With Storyboard That, students can diagram a play’s five act structure to show the sequence of events. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of plot, but it reinforces major actions from the play and helps students develop greater understanding for literary structures. Read more about the five act structure in our article.


Five Act Structure | 5 Act Structure
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Richard III Five Act Structure Example

Act 1: Prologue

The play takes place after the end of the War of the Roses, with the House of York as victor. Richard III makes his intentions clear: he is going to install himself as king by getting rid of Clarence, waiting for Edward to die, and marrying Lady Anne Neville, Prince Edward’s widow.


Act 1: Conflict

Richard begins to manipulate those around him. He proposes to Lady Anne, convincing her that he killed her husband because he’s in love with her. King Edward IV is very sickly, and his two sons are too young to rule. The throne is going to defer to Richard, and Queens Margaret and Elizabeth are dismayed and angry at this prospect.


Act 2: Rising Action

Richard has Clarence murdered. Edward IV dies, and young Prince Edward is to be crowned king. Richard has Elizabeth’s relatives arrested, so Elizabeth takes sanctuary with her youngest son in hopes that Richard won’t pursue them.


Act 3: Climax

Richard places Edward IV’s two sons in the Tower of London. Richard kills Lord Hastings, and convinces the Lord Mayor of London that Edward’s sons are illegitimate, and that the people want him to be crowned king instead. He and Queen Anne are crowned the next day.


Act 4: Falling Action

Richard orders Buckingham to kill the two young princes; however, when Buckingham doesn’t, he hires a man named Tyrell and Buckingham falls out of Richard’s favor. Richard plans to kill Queen Anne and marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth, his niece. The Earl of Richmond gathers an army and marches against Richard for control of the throne. Queen Elizabeth arranges to have her daughter married to Richmond instead.


Act 5: Denouement

Buckingham is beheaded. The night before the battle, all of the ghosts of Richard’s victims visit him in his dreams to tell him he will lose. Richard’s allies are with him mostly out of fear; most desert him in the actual battle against Richmond. Richard’s horse is killed, and Richard rages around the battlefield, out of his mind and searching for Richmond. Finally, Richard finds Richmond, the two fight each other in a duel, and Richmond kills Richard. Richmond is crowned King Henry VII and announces his plans to marry Elizabeth, Edward IV’s daughter. This unites the two houses finally under the Tudor dynasty.




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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Richard III.


  1. Separate the play into the Prologue/Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the acts.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

Five Act Structure Template

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