Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Richard III Was Shakespeare's Revenge

King Richard III was born 2 October 1452.

He is remembered as an evil monster of a man who killed his way to the top, and might have even killed the Two Princes in the Tower.

I have written about him before, and there is reason to believe that he was not the monster that Shakespeare made him out to be.

Whatever we may think about the historical Richard III did not matter to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare had something else in mind when he wrote his Richard III play, which I think was the play in which Shakespeare really found his voice.

Why did Shakespeare make Richard III into such a monster?

He based his play on the account of Richard III in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Who was Raphael Holinshed? As you can see he was a chronicler, and translator.

What is very intriguing is that Holinshed was William Cecil's protege. Holinshed dedicated the book to William Cecil.

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley of course was Queen Elizabeth's Lord High Treasurer, Secretary of State and Lord Privy Council. He and Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen's spymaster, were the most powerful men in England. 

William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth, and Francis Walsingham

It should come as no surprise then that Holinshed's depiction of Richard III would not be very kind, since Queen Elizabeth's grandfather was the man who killed Richard III.

It is common belief that Shakespeare wrote his Richard III play to flatter the Queen, and her family. This is not entirely the case.

Yes, Shakespeare was on solid ground as he wrote about the evil that Richard III did. The censors of the day would let him write this and allow the Queen to see it at court. No doubt she would have enjoyed the play.

But do we really think that Shakespeare would have been satisfied writing pro-Elizabeth propaganda?

Put another way, if the play was merely propaganda, would the play have been as successful as it is and has been? 

I don't think even the Queen would have stayed awake, had the play been written one just this one level.

Queen Elizabeth, a close-up of her Armada Portrait

Elizabeth had her own company of actors, the Queen's Men. History tells us that they were popular in their time. Really?

I am not convinced that they were popular. They may have been popular at court. 

After all, they were created by Sir Francis Walsingham -- the Queen's spymaster!

Put another way, why are we talking about Shakespeare nowadays so much and the Queen's Men not at all?

The reason we don't know much about them is because they probably were not popular and no one wanted to go see a play that was probably just pro-Elizabeth propaganda.

Why didn't Shakespeare join the Queen's Men? Since he did not join them, does that mean that he was an anti-monarchist, and wanted the Queen to abdicate her throne or be killed? No.

It may be simply that he had a voice and he wanted to be heard -- he wanted to write what he wanted to write.

Shakespeare's earliest patrons were men like Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. These men would later lead a rebellion against the Queen.

But what is often forgotten is that it was not against the Queen that Essex and Southampton were fighting -- it was against the men around her. Men like Robert Cecil, who was the most powerful man in England, more powerful than the Queen herself.

Robert Cecil was the son of William Cecil, whose protege was Raphael Holinshed.

Robert Cecil

So, was Shakespeare's Richard III the same Richard III that Holinshed depicted? No.

As I wrote my version of Richard III, I discovered that Shakespeare was using Holinshed's character of Richard III against the Cecils. He was using their weapon against them.

How did Shakespeare do this? One of the ways was by turning Richard III into a caricature of Robert Cecil. It would not be the last time Shakespeare made fun of the Cecils -- he would ridicule them many years later in Hamlet. William Cecil was the inspiration for the character of Polonius.

That would go a long way towards explaining why Shakespeare's Richard III play was so popular -- both with the public who were also afraid of the power that the Queen's councillors, men like Cecil, were amassing, and popular with the Queen herself.

I think Queen Elizabeth would have howled with laughter at the caricature of her right hand man as a bawdy, funny, and bloody Richard III!

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in the forthcoming War of the Roses series


David B. Schajer