Maligned King Richard

“Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election” was the title of an Oct. 8 opinion article in the New York Times, by Stephen Greenblatt.  Shakespeare “addressed a problem: How could a great country wind up being governed by a sociopath?”  Rome let itself be ruled by Caligula (and, we might now add, Germany by Hitler, Russia by Stalin, Iraq by Saddam, and so on).

According to Greenblatt, Shakespeare showed how England, by various failings, allowed a “loathsome, perverted monster” to rise to its headship: Richard, who was “inwardly tormented by insecurity and rage, the consequences of a miserable, unloved childhood and a twisted spine that made people recoil at the sight of him. Haunted by self-loathing and a sense of his own ugliness — he is repeatedly likened to a boar or rooting hog — he found refuge in a feeling of entitlement, blustering overconfidence, misogyny and a merciless penchant for bullying.”  And more about Richard’s “psychopathology,” which drove him (in the words of Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”) “to wade through slaughter to a throne, / And shut the gates of mercy on mankind.”

Aharon Eviatar’s humanistic blog drew my attention to this article, and it provokes me to revive something I once printed in the program notes for an audience at a theatre: “Prologue to a Benefit Performance of “Richard III.”


5 thoughts on “Maligned King Richard”

  1. I wish all productions of Shakespeare’s Richard III had as thorough a “prologue” as that one did. It’s marvellous. I’m a member of the Richard III Society of Canada and we try to get even a short version of something like that in productions here.

  2. As a proud citizen of the United States, and unlike many of my compatriots who seem to forget history and fawn over the British royal family, my greatest interest in the lot of tyrants who have worn the crown is that our founders got rid of George III and established a constitutional democratic republic. That said, I have a soft spot for Shakespeare’s histories, even though I get lost in all the internecine intrigues. And *that* said, I never knew that Richard III was a victim of a posthumous smear campaign by the Tudors. So thank you.

    In closing, I’ll quote the anonymous peasant in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”:

    “Our King?! Well I didn’t vote for you.”

  3. Sorry–if I had read all the parentheses thoroughly, I wouldn’t have bothered blithering! Off to find “The Daughter of Time” and reread it.


    1. Yes. thanks, as you’ve now noticed, we did read “The Daughter of Time” some time back.

      My “Prologue” is part of longer notes that I have on the matter of Richard III, which hit the news after his (probable) bones were found in 2012 under a car park at Leicester and re-buried in the cathedral. If you meet people from Leicester, they’re proud of him!

      I first read the case for Richard in an old (1906) book about him by Sir Clements Markham.

  4. Dear Mr. Ottewell,

    Have you read Josephine Tey’s detective novel “The Daughter of Time”? It’s a period piece, but a delight and still worth reading (as are all of hers), if you are in doubt about the villainy of Richard III. And having spent some time incapacitated, after you pulled a Louisa Musgrove in Lyme Regis, you may have a great deal of sympathy for the bedridden detective.

    The daughter of time is, of course, truth.

    We’re so happy to read your posts and know that the astronomical information we have depended on for many years will not dry up.


    Marcia L. Barr

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