Act 3, scene 4
Buckingham, Stanley, Hastings, the Bishop of Ely, and others, hold a council meeting. The purpose is to make plans for the upcoming coronation. Richard has not yet arrived, but Hastings is confident that he can speak for Richard. Richard then arrives, and when Buckingham tells him that Hastings was prepared to speak on his behalf, Richard expresses no displeasure, saying that Hastings knows him well.
Richard then takes Buckingham aside and informs him that Hastings is not prepared to support Richard in his claim to the throne. The two men exit.
Hastings remarks to Stanley that Richard holds no enmity for anyone in the room; had he done so, Hastings says, he, Hastings, would have seen it in Richard’s face.
Richard returns and reports a plot on his life. The Queen and Jane Shore (Edward IV’s mistress) practiced witchcraft against him, he says. Hastings makes the mistake of not immediately acknowledging the reality of the plot. He says that “if” they are guilty, but Richard interrupts him and accuses him of protecting Jane Shore. That makes him a traitor, and Richard orders his immediate execution. Richard exits, leaving Hastings to lament his fate and that of his country. He realizes he should have acted sooner and taken Stanley’s warning more seriously. Like the victims at Pomfret, just before his death he recalls the curse of Margaret.
Once again Shakespeare draws attention to Hastings’s overconfidence and poor judgment of character. By doing so he makes the moment when Richard pounces more dramatically effective. Historically, Hastings was not quite as innocent as he appears in this play. He did plot with the Queen and her relatives to overturn the stipulation in Edward’s will that Richard should be made Protector. But of course, an innocent Hastings makes better drama because it better shows up the villainy of Richard.