By William Shakespeare
Directed by: Douglas Abel
Performances: March 12-15, 18, & 20-22, 1986
Venue: Theatre of the Arts, Modern Languages
Richard III, has been England's "black legend" for almost four hundred years, and William Shakespeare's dramatic treatment of his life and death has done more than any other work to make Richard both black and legendary. It is doubly ironic, then, that Shakespeare's portrait of the "bunch-backed toad" king may be almost completely false. Shakespeare drew his "facts" from accepted histories of England (Hall, Holinshed, Grafton, Vergil) and the history of Richard's life upon which these chronicle histories were based was written by Sir Thomas More, the saintly martyr to truth and honesty; More provided the undeviating perspective from which Richard was viewed by those who followed him. More, however, probably received his information from John Morton, Bishop of Ely, one of Richard's fiercest enemies, and one of Henry VII's most loyal servants. There is really no evidence from Richard's own time that he was evil and cruel, that he had his brother, Clarence, and the young Princes murdered, that he was a bad king, or even that he was physically deformed in any way. All these 'facts' appeared during the reign of Richard's successor and usurper, Henry VII, who had as much reason to dispose of the Princes as Richard himself had little. Ultimately, Shakespeare's Richard III may represent the most blatant and the most successful case of rewriting history and political propaganda on record.
Shakespeare's character, therefore, may have to be regarded as myth rather than fact. But the portrait of evil he presents remains one of the most vivid and fascinating in the theatre. Richard repels and attracts at the same time. His cruelty, lack of conscience and deformity -both physical and mental- are counterbalanced by his wit, his courage, his enormous intellect and his boundless energy. We may feel that Shakespeare's mythical Richard deserves to die, but we do not rejoice in his death. The theatrical Richard is
a portrait which almost mind triumph over moral even in the
estimation of the spectator who, called upon by every human
sympathy to abominate, is almost involuntarily disposed to
admire. The voice of execration is lost in the awe and wonder
with which we follow the crookback in his march...we admire
him in spite of ourselves.
(F.W. Hawkins, The Life of Edmund Keep)
Scene: England 1483-1485