Richard Duke of Gloucester, later King Richard III, is rather a nasty piece of work. Duplicitous, ambitious, murderous, and quite jolly about all of these things, he has been planning to take the crown for some time now (see Henry VI, Part Three).
He possesses a very keen, very dark sense of humor, and revels in his own mischief. He thinks nothing of killing off brothers or other family members in order to obtain his goal, although it must be admitted that once he gets the throne he doesn’t really seem to know what to do next. Though crippled, with an essentially useless left arm, a limp and a hunchback, he is a brilliant soldier and very dangerous fighter, though his abilities on the battlefield are almost nothing next to what he can do with his mind alone. He is excellent at insinuating and sowing discord, and is a master at double entendres. The ultimate actor, he insists on his own honesty to anyone who will hear before dropping the mask and confiding to himself (or the audience) that he is not. Even those who know perfectly well what he is capable of remain convinced that he will never turn on them, because they know and are therefore accomplices, never realizing that Richard works only for one person, himself. Richard is and has always been loathed by his mother, who suffered during her pregnancy with him and considers him her greatest shame. He tests himself constantly, whether in aiming for the crown when he no longer has war to distract him, successfully wooing the widow of a man he killed over the coffin of her father-in-law, or organizing a coup that sheds almost no blood. He despises his brother Edward’s sensuality, as he himself takes little pleasure in anything but manipulating people and his own successful villainy. He is a great religious hypocrite, swearing mostly by Saint Paul and always clothing himself in meekness and piety. Richard has a talent for bringing out the worst in people and bending that worst to his own will without their realizing it. Though he prefers to work indirectly, he is not a coward, and refuses to flee from the battle of Bosworth, fighting at the most dangerous parts of the battle, seeking out Richmond. As self-aware as he is, he is deeply disturbed when on the eve of the battle of Bosworth he discovers he has a conscience; he is almost as unsettled by the fact that no-one will mourn for him when he dies as by the realization that he does actually love one being – himself.