Sarah-Jane Stratford on the layered, complex history of Richard III.
On September 12, 2012, a skeleton was found buried beneath a Leicester car park, where a church once stood. The historical record shows that the bones might be those of the long-lost Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England and one of history’s most spine-chilling villains.
Plenty of people are quick to avow that the hump-backed, cold-blooded Richard III lied, connived, and murdered his way to the throne. He had no compunction about murdering his brother, seducing the widow of a man he’d just killed solely to marry her for political gain and “not keep her long,” and, just for good measure, imprisoning and ordering the deaths of his two young nephews—the rightful heirs to the throne.
There’s just one problem with this story. It is not history; it’s Shakespeare. The play Richard III was written in approximately 1591, more than 100 years since the king’s death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Shakespeare was greatly influenced by the salacious history written by Sir Thomas More in the shaping of his vision of Richard, and the resultant work is one of the most spellbinding dramas in Western theater.