Re-reading Shakespeare’s Richard III: Tragic Hero and Villain?

Open access

Abstract

The discovery of the body of the historical Richard III under a Leicester car park in 2012 sparked fresh interest in one of England’s most controversial kings. Accused of murdering his nephews—the Princes in the Tower—Richard’s reign was cut short when he was defeated by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (later Henry VII), at the Battle of Bosworth (1485). Richard was subsequently demonised in Tudor historiography, perhaps most famously by Sir Thomas More in his “History of King Richard the thirde” (printed 1557). It is to More that we owe the popular image of Richard III as a “croke backed” and “malicious” villain (More 37), an image which Shakespeare has been accused of further codifying and popularising in his Richard III. Today, the historical Richard III’s defenders argue for the king’s good qualities and achievements and blame early writers such as More and Shakespeare for demonising Richard; but, in Shakespeare’s case at least, this essay argues that the possibility of a sympathetic—and even a heroic—reading of the king is built in to his characterisation of Richard III.

Blayney, Peter W. M. “The Publication of Playbooks”. A New History of Early English Drama. Ed. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan. New York, Columbia University Press, 1997. 383-422. Print.

Bullough, Geoffrey, ed. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Volume 3 – Earlier English History Plays: “Henry VI”, “Richard III”, “Richard II”. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960. Print.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Lectures 1808-1819 On Literature 2. Ed. R. A. Foakes. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987. Print.

Greenblatt, Stephen. “Introduction”. William Shakespeare, Richard III. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard and Katharine Eisaman Maus. New York: Norton, 1997. 507-14. Print.

Gunn, S. J. “Henry VII (1457–1509)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008. Web. 10 Jan 2017.

Hall, Edward. The Vnion of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre & Yorke. London: Richard Grafton, 1548. Print.

Horrox, Rosemary. “Richard III (1452–1485)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2013. Web. 10 Jan 2017.

Langley, Philippa and Michael Jones. The Search for Richard III: The King’s Grave. London: John Murray, 2013. Print.

More, Thomas. “The History of King Richard the Thirde (vnfinished)”. The Workes of Sir Thomas More Knyght. London: Iohn Cawod, Iohn VValy and Richarde Tottell, 1557. 35-71. Print.

Richard III. Dir. Dominic Cook. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch. 2016. London, 2016. DVD.

Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard and Katharine Eisaman Maus. New York: Norton, 1997. Print.

Shellard, Dominic. “A King Rediscovered: The Economic Impact of Richard III and Richard III on the city of Leicester”. Shakespeare’s Cultural Capital: His Economic Impact from the Sixteenth to the Twenty-First Century. Ed. Dominic Shellard and Siobhan Keenan. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. 126-47. Print.

The Tragedy of King Richard the third. London: Andrew Wise, 1597. Print.

“The tragical doynges of Kynge Richard the thirde”. A Myrrour for Magistrates. London: Thomas Marshe, 1563. Fos cxlvii-cliii. Print.

The True Tragedie of Richard the third. London: Thomas Creede, 1594. Print.

Weir, Alison. Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. London: Vintage, 1992; repr. 2008. Print.

Linguaculture

The Journal of Linguaculture Centre for (Inter)cultural and (Inter)lingual Research, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi

Journal Information

Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 411 411 43
PDF Downloads 141 141 30