The Tragedy of Richard III by William Shakespeare

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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The Tragedy of Richard III Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Tragedy of Richard III Include:

Until recently, the popular opinion of King Richard III [King Richard the Third] was that he was an evil hunchback who killed two little boys, brought an end to the era of the House of York, and brought about the glory of the Tudor family. Much of his reputed evil deeds comes from William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Richard III. With the discovery of his grave under a parking lot in England in 2012, many historians have found a renewed interest in his true story. Some have suggested that Richard III was unfairly demonized in order to paint the Tudor family (in particular Elizabeth I, the reigning Queen of England at the time of Shakespeare’s writing) as the saviors of England. Regardless of the more recent speculation, The Tragedy of Richard III remains one of the most chilling tales of the potential destructiveness of a man’s ambition and pride.

The Tragedy of Richard III Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Five Act Structure Graphic Organizer for The Tragedy of Richard III

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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.

Example Richard III Five Act Structure

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.

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The Tragedy of Richard III Character Map

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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

Use a character map to help track the different characters that are discussed in The Tragedy of Richard III

Richard, Duke of Gloucester

  • Physical Traits
    Ugly; deformed; has a hunchback; has a withered arm; dogs bark at him when he walks by; sickly; walks with a limp; born prematurely

  • Character Traits
    Openly admits that he is villain; deceitful; cruel; angry; liar; manipulative; excellent speaker; charming in words only

  • Quote
    “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days.”

Other characters included in this map are: Buckingham, King Edward IV, Queen Margaret, Lady Anne, and Richmond.

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Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in Richard III and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "Medieval" tab to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in Textables for Physical Traits, Character Traits, and a Quote.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

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Conflict in The Tragedy of Richard III

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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflict. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the Storyboard Creator.

In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.

Examples of Literary Conflict from Richard III


Richard asks Lord Buckingham to kill the two young princes in the Tower of London. For the first time, Buckingham hesitates at Richard’s orders because the request is so heinous. Richard believes that Buckingham is weak and cannot be trusted, and Buckingham realizes he’s fallen out of favor with Richard. He flees to Wales and raises an army against Richard; however, he is captured, and Richard eventually has Buckingham beheaded.


As Richard goes to sleep the night before battle, he is visited by the ghosts of those whom he has killed: Prince Edward, Henry VI, Clarence, Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, the Princes, Hastings, Anne, and Buckingham. When Richard awakes, he is terrified, and realizes he hates himself, that he is guilty of murder, and that it is time to despair over what he has done.


The people of England do not want Richard to be crowned king. While Buckingham tries to drum up support for a Richard III bid for the throne, the people all recognize Richard for what he really is: a dangerous man. Richard’s deeds and reputation precede him, and the people do not want him as their king.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in Richard III.

  1. Identify conflicts in Richard III.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in The Tragedy of Richard III

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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

Richard III Themes and Ideas to Discuss

The Dangers of Ambition and Power

Richard’s ambition to become king leads him to kill many people, and to be cursed by both Queen Margaret and his own mother, the Duchess of York. By the end of the play, he has virtually no allies left. His greed and lust for power leads him to murder two innocent young boys, his own brother, and his wife. However, this ambition does lead to his total ruin, prophesied by the ghosts of the souls he murdered in cold blood. The play highlights the evil that accompanies the quest for absolute power.

The Art of Manipulation

Richard can’t simply get by on his looks: he is ugly, deformed, and ill- made. He gets by on his words. His oratory skills allow him to win over Lady Anne, whose husband he had just murdered; he is also able to sway the Lord Mayor of London to believe that he is a reluctant (and pious) candidate for the crown. Much of Richard’s accomplishments in the play come from his pure ability to manipulate those around him, through betrayal and deceit.

Origins of Evil

At the beginning of the play, Richard tells the audience that because he is so ill­-made, he has decided to become a villain in order to accomplish his goals. This would suggest that Richard has made a conscious choice to be evil; however, many people were thought at this time to be defined by their physiognomy. Because Richard was born deformed, this would suggest that he was born evil, and that it was not a choice.

Fate vs. Free Will

Like many Shakespearean plays, this one also highlights the question of fate vs. free will. Because of Richard’s choices, it seems inevitable that everything will come crashing down on him eventually. However, he hires a soothsayer at the beginning to pit Edward against Clarence, saying that “G” will murder Edward’s children. The “G” seems to come to fruition when Richard, Duke of Gloucester, does indeed murder Edward’s children. In addition, Queen Margaret’s curses and the ghosts of Richard’s victims seem to indicate that fate is coming for Richard, even when he expresses some horror at the fact that he has committed so many murders.

Motifs & Symbols to Look For

Animal Imagery

Richard’s royal symbol is a boar, which Lord Stanley sees in a dream and subsequently begins to fear for his and Hastings’ safety from Richard (and rightly so). A boar is also an animal that can only be killed by a nobleman; this foreshadows Richard’s death at the hands of Richmond. Richard is also referred to as a spider, a toad, and a hedgehog. These ugly animals accentuate Richard’s deformities and appearance.

Richard’s Physiognomy

Richard’s deformities indicate an inner evil to his soul. He has a hunchback, his arm is withered (which he later attributes to witchcraft from Queen Elizabeth and Lady Shore, giving him a reason to kill Hastings), his face is ugly, and he was born prematurely. Shakespeare makes a point to focus on Richard’s physical defects to show the audience that yes, indeed, his defects run much more deeply: only someone this ugly could commit such horrible acts.

Prophecies, Ghosts, Curses, and Dreams

Richard uses a false prophecy to manipulate Edward into imprisoning Clarence; but this prophecy actually does highlight Richard’s plan to murder the two young princes in the future, even if he does not know it yet. Queen Margaret’s curses come true: Edward IV dies; his son dies; Queen Elizabeth lives to see it all happen; she wishes early, unnatural deaths on Rivers, Dorset, and Lord Hastings; and she wishes that Richard never be able to trust his allies, and that he be tormented by nightmares. Clarence has a dream that Richard throws him overboard; Stanley has a dream that “the boar” will kill him and Hastings. The ghosts of Richard’s victims curse Richard and bring hope and high spirits to Richmond. All of these elements work together and to highlight fate’s role (rather than free will) in driving the battle to the throne.

The Murder of the Two Princes

Richard’s request that the two princes be murdered seems to be the ultimate evil in many ways. First, it gives Buckingham pause, and essentially drives a wedge between his and Richard’s alliance. At the same time, if the audience had any sort of sympathy for Richard before this, it is the breaking point for sympathy. The two boys are young and innocent, and to kill children is the ultimate sin in most people’s eyes. This plan is quickly followed up by the announcement that Richard will also kill poor Queen Anne and marry his own niece. This is the beginning of the end for Richard’s quest for power.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Tragedy of Richard III. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Tragedy of Richard III you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

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King Richard III as the Tragic Hero in The Tragedy of Richard III

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The Tragedy of Richard III is full of common literary elements that are important for students to explore. One of these elements is the tragic hero, a protagonist who seems to be ill­-fated, and destined for doom. In this play, while Richard himself admits he is a villain and commits evil acts, he does fit all of the standard attributes of a tragic hero. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, first articulated the specific attributes or principles of a tragic hero. For the storyboard below, students can use a template to storyboard the qualities that make Richard a tragic hero. The finished product outlines each of Aristotle's principles with a detailed explanation of the specific attributes.

King Richard III - Tragic Hero

HamartiaHero's Flaw that Causes Downfall Richard is driven by his ambition to become king, regardless of any cost.
HubrisExcessive Pride Richard thinks he is invincible; he is arrogant and believes that he will successfully sway Lady Anne to marry him, and he will kill everyone in his way to get the crown.
PeripeteiaReversal of Fortune Buckingham flees to Wales and raises an army against Richard; Richard discovers that the Earl of Richmond is bringing an army against him in a final challenge to the throne. Richard realizes that most of his allies are dead or turned against him.
AnagnorisisMoment of Critical Discovery Richard is visited by the ghosts of those he’s murdered, and discovers that he is an evil villain who hates himself. For the first time, he is afraid.
NemesisFate that Cannot be Avoided The ghosts predict Richard’s defeat and Richmond’s victory, and the sun refuses to rise. Richard and Richmond meet on the battlefield, where Richard is killed.
CatharsisAudience's Feeling of Pity or Fear After the Hero's Fall The audience feels a slight pang of pity when Richard realizes how badly he has sinned by killing so many people. He also shows fear at his impending defeat and doom.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows how Richard can be considered a tragic hero.

  1. Identify events of the play or characteristics of Richard that fit into Aristotelian attributes of a tragic hero.
  2. Illustrate examples for Hamartia, Hubris, Peripeteia, Anagnorisis, Nemesis, and Catharsis.
  3. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates Richard as a tragic hero.
  4. Save and submit the assignment.

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Shakespearean Vocabulary in The Tragedy of Richard III

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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from The Tragedy of Richard III. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the play, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

  • Discontent - n. dissatisfaction; wanting improvement
  • Tyranny ­- n. oppressive and cruel government, usually under one ruler
  • Dissemble - v. to conceal; disguise; hide
  • Palpable -­ adj. capable of being touched, or held; clear to the mind; easily seen
  • Prosperous -­ adj. successful; bringing good fortune

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in Richard III by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the play and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

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Brief History of the War of the Roses and the Lead-­Up to Richard III

War of the Roses

A series of civil wars are fought between the Houses of Lancaster and York for control of the English throne. Both Houses are descended from Edward III, the House of Plantagenet. Eventually, the Yorks win and Richard, Duke of York, has four sons who continue the line: Edward IV; Edmund, Earl of Rutland; George, Duke of Clarence; and Richard, Duke of Gloucester.


York wants to usurp the throne from King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster. Rather than begin a war, he settles on allowing Henry VI to remain king as long as he disinherits his son Edward, Prince of Wales, from succeeding to the throne. Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s wife, later known as the “she­-wolf of France”, does not take the arrangement lightly. In Shakespeare’s previous play Henry VI, Part 3, Margaret kills Edmund, Earl of Rutland, dips a handkerchief in his blood, and then torments his father Richard, Duke of York, with it before stabbing him to death. Edward and Richard retaliate, and Edward usurps the throne to become Edward IV.

Two Kings?

Trouble arises for Edward IV and, unable to handle it, he flees the country. King Henry VI and Edward are still alive and locked in the Tower of London. He becomes king until Edward returns and retakes the throne. While Edward throws Henry back into the Tower, Margaret comes back to England with her army, ready to make sure Edward, her son, is crowned king. In the Battle of Tewkesbury, Edward IV kills Edward, Prince of Wales. He spares Margaret’s life, and imprisons her instead. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, kills Henry VI.

York Victory

Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth Grey return to London and have a son, Edward, the new Prince of Wales. George and Richard both swear allegiance to Edward IV’s son, and Henry VI, Part 3 ends with the Edward IV looking optimistically towards the future. He says, “Here, I hope, begins our everlasting joy.”


Richard picks up this train of thought at the beginning of The Tragedy of Richard III with, “Now is the winter of our discontent”, which begins Richard’s plot to overthrow his family in pursuit of the throne.

Essential Questions for The Tragedy of Richard III

  1. Are some people born evil, or do they become that way through choices?
  2. When can ambition become dangerous?
  3. How does physiognomy work to define the inner good or evil of characters?
  4. What are the characteristics of a good leader? A bad leader?
  5. Are we guided by fate or by free will?
  6. Does justice ultimately always prevail?
  7. What are some ways that people manipulate each other?

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•   (English) The Tragedy of Richard III   •   (Español) La Tragedia de Ricardo III   •   (Français) La Tragédie de Richard III   •   (Deutsch) Die Tragödie von Richard III   •   (Italiana) La Tragedia di Riccardo III   •   (Nederlands) De Tragedie van Richard III   •   (Português) A Tragédia de Ricardo III   •   (עברית) הטרגדיה של ריצ'רד השלישי   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) مأساة ريتشارد الثالث   •   (हिन्दी) रिचर्ड तृतीय की त्रासदी   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Трагедия Ричарда III   •   (Dansk) Tragedien i Richard III   •   (Svenska) Tragedin av Richard III   •   (Suomi) Tragedia Richard III   •   (Norsk) Den Tragedie Richard III   •   (Türkçe) Richard III Trajedisi   •   (Polski) Tragedia Richarda III   •   (Româna) Tragedia lui Richard III   •   (Ceština) Tragédie Richarda III   •   (Slovenský) Tragédia Richarda III   •   (Magyar) A Tragédiája Richard III   •   (Hrvatski) Tragedija Richarda III   •   (български) Трагедията на Ричард III   •   (Lietuvos) Richard III Tragedija   •   (Slovenščina) Tragedija Richarda III   •   (Latvijas) Traģēdija Ričarda III   •   (eesti) Tragöödia Richard III