in the year 2012, in a car park in Leicester the Richard III society and the University of Leicester carried out an archaeological dig. What they found was the skeletal remains of a man, with severe Scoliosis, multiple head wounds, and an arrow head embedded in his spine. The remains were that of the late King Richard III, buried hastily after his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field at the Greyfriars Church. (destroyed during the Reformation under Henry VIII)
King Richard III remains offer a chance to look into the character of the man himself. Portrayed in Shakespeare’s play as a monstrous and deformed villain, who will stop at nothing to gain power in England. But was Richard truly like that? The Richard III society and other historians have been debating this question for centuries. The sixteenth century writer Sir Thomas Moore wrote about the tyranny of Richard III, and in the 16th century it became the accepted historical view of the late king. Moore’ account would have inspired much of Shakespeare’s writing, including his deformations, deviousness and charismatic nature.
The remains of the King prove that the theories of the deformed king were largely true. Richard III had severe Scoliosis, which bent his spine and lead to one of his shoulders being noticeably higher than the other. Shakespeare describes the deformities as:
“Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up
And that so lamely and unfashionable.”
Richards deformities in the play include a hunchback and a deformed arm. Both of these features are exaggerations of the kings Scoliosis and are used to demonstrate Richards monstrous nature. In the quote from Act 1 Scene 1, Richard describes his body as “cheated of feature by dissembling nature.” It could be that Shakespeare hoped to suggest that Richards evil personality was a byproduct of being “Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time.” This would be the same suggestion which Sir Thomas Moore made. That due to the circumstances of nature Richards experiences of the world would be unpleasant.
“And therefore since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”
This quote towards the end of Richards monologue further suggests that Richards deformities are a cause for his inner villainy. “I cannot prove a lover” suggests that Richard laments his misfortune that he could not have a “good” life. A further suggestion may be that should he have had a better life he may have become more noble, but because of being shunned by others he “determined to prove a villain.”
I could talk about much more concerning Richard III, how is portrayal by Moore and Shakespeare was pro-Tudor, due in part to the nature of the times both individuals were writing. However that can be left for another time.
Here’s to not being buried in Leicester! Tis a silly place.