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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shakespeare and King Richard III


On 26 June 1483, Richard, Duke of Gloucester ascended the throne as King Richard III.






Was he a good king? A bad king? Was he anything like Shakespeare’s representation of him? Did he really kill the princes in the Tower?

At this point in history, based on the evidence that we have, it is almost impossible to truly understand who and what he really was.

But I am optimistic that in time we may get a better insight into this controversial man.

After all, his skeletal remains were missing for centuries, only to be discovered just last year, buried in a car park in Leicester!

And just in case you think that these discoveries can only be made by the greatest scientific minds in the world, Richard III's final resting place was found by a screenwriter who had a powerful hunch!



Screenwriter Philippa Langley and Richard III



So, who knows? Maybe there is something buried in a backyard somewhere in England that will change our understanding about Richard III.

If you live in England, you might want to get a metal-detector. Just make sure you ask your parents for permission before you start digging up the yard!

Recently, a man in Hertfordshire discovered £100,000 worth of Roman gold coins with a metal-detector he had bought just 20 minutes earlier! 

I just love discoveries like this!

Who knows what more there is to discover about Richard III.

As far as Shakespeare was concerned, he didn’t much care about the real Richard III, who did in fact have a hunchback. 

He used the character in order to comment on the court of Queen Elizabeth, and specifically to criticize her main councillor Robert Cecil, who also had a hunched back.


Robert Cecil, Shakespeare's Richard III


I was very excited as I wrote my version of Richard III. I was able to see a version of the play that is entirely unlike what we have come to know about the play.

If we watch the play today, it is fascinating in many different ways. The character of Richard III is so charismatic, and we can’t get enough of him. Why else has the play been so watchable all these centuries?

But the rest of the play is not so interesting. Much of it is boring in fact.

The play is really all about Richard III. His character steals every scene he’s in, and even though he is killed at the end as the villain he is, he has stolen the whole show.

But when I did my version of the play, I had to try and figure out how the play entertained the audiences in 1590’s London. 

What did they see? What was its meaning for them?

The main question is why did Shakespeare write a play where Richard III is so fascinating and magnetic, and every other character, including the future King Henry VIII, is so boring?

What did that mean?

Was this some sort of anti-Tudor propaganda?

No, I don’t think that was Shakespeare’s purpose, and he knew that he could land himself in jail for something so seditious.

I don’t think Shakespeare was an anti-monarchist, but I do think he was afraid and aware of the absolute power of the monarchy.

I think he was trying to make the audience share his fear of a powerful monarch. 

If you were an average Englishman in 1593, you disliked Richard III even though you never met him. You have been taught to hate him.

You also probably liked Queen Elizabeth, even though you probably never met her in person. You have been taught to like her.

Therefore Shakespeare was asking his audience to see past what they have been taught and think for themselves.

In a sense, Shakespeare is saying that not every bad monarch is all bad and not every good monarch is all good.

This may seem like a quaint idea today. This idea doesn't surprise our modern minds. We have seen so many movies and TV shows that say something similar.

But in the police state that was Elizabethan England, it was very controversial, and every last person in the audience -- who had been taught not to think for themselves from the time they were born -- would have been shocked at such a message.

It is my firm belief that Richard III was the play that launched Shakespeare's career. Before he wrote this play, he was a very good playwright with a lot of promise.

After he wrote this play, around 1593, he was the only playwright in London worth seeing. 

He secured his position as the greatest playwright of the era with Richard III, and he would hold this position almost unchallenged until 1611.

Before he wrote this play, he was satisfied to write interesting plays, that would draw big crowds.

But something happened to him, to make him write this Richard III play, and afterwards he would forever challenge the status quo.


Cheers,

David B. Schajer

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