Richard seeks to obtain the throne of England, even if it means murdering his own family.
With the caveat that Richard III probably would have made more sense to me if I had read the historical plays that precede it, I enjoyed this portrayal of a ruthless man willing to cut down everyone around him to attain power–and the effects his actions had on those around him, including his own family.
I did have a friend explain to me who the characters were and how they were related; otherwise, I probably would have needed to consult Wikipedia or a family tree in order to understand the text. (I was reading a Dover Thrift Edition, which has close to zero explanatory material.) Once I sorted that out, however, and the multiple people who had the same name (historical accuracy, not Shakespeare’s fault), I was in for an exciting time.
My friend did point out to me that a large number of people die in this play, which is true, but much of it happens off-stage, and I wasn’t emotionally invested in many of them. Personally, I thought the interest of the play was in the relationships between the characters and the emotional turmoil many experience because of the deaths and Richard’s path to grabbing power.
There is a strong cast of women in the play, and they have a lot to say. There are a number of brilliant speeches from them cursing Richard for his actions, and Shakespeare’s incredible writing really shines; I can’t think of another author who would write such creative and compelling monologues. One of the women in the play even asks another to teach her how to curse her enemies, since she does it so well! And I was very much invested in the drama and seeing Richard get chewed out the way he deserves.
However, the play also thoughtfully explores the grief of the women, who have lost husbands, sons, and brothers to Richard–and occasionally other murderers. And although the women have not always been on the same side in the struggle for power, they can appreciate what the others have lost and learn to wish each other well. They understand each other and how little power they have (even when they are queens) and effect much more sincere reconciliations than the men in the play, who are frequently just pretending.
My overall sense of the play was that “not much happened,” even though, yes, a large number of people died. I most appreciated the drama of people despising Richard and then the relationships between the characters who were trampled in his path. Ultimately, most of the characters seem to agree that power is not worth attaining at such a cost.