“What do I fear? Myself? There`s none else by.
Richard loves Richard; that is, I and I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am.
Then fly! What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack, I love myself. Wherefore? For any good
That I myself have done upon myself?
O, no! Alas, I rather hate myself
For hateful deeds committed by myself.
I am a villain. Yet I lie. I am not.
Fool. Of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter:
My conscience has a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.”
Richard was a King for a mere two years and two months; a brave, astute military leader, a conscientious man who introduced the first legal aid for those who could not afford access to the law. Yet he has a legend of such perfidy and duplicitous political turpitude hanging around his neck, the weight has crushed his reputation into the gutter along with all the other murderous villains of history. Why could this be? He was also a King who lost his crown in battle against an opponent with a dubious legal right to it, which was over ridden by killing his predecessor in battle, and thus making good on the legal concept that possession is nine tenths of the law. Henry Tudor is this man with the dodgy claim; and this Tudor set about perhaps the most intense and systematic process of character assassination known to history. It didn`t end at the first Tudor`s death; everyone who had a vested interest in the new administration set about propounding the evil legend of Richard the child killer; a creature who also killed his brother, his wife, his cousins and best friends, in order to cleave a bloody path to the throne. Perhaps the most influential of these writers with an agenda was one William Shakespeare.
“Conscience is but a word that cowards use
Devis`d at first to keep the strong in awe:
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.
March on, join bravely, let us to`t pell-mell;
If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell.”
Shakespeare`s theatre was bankrolled by the monarchy of the Tudor Queen Elizabeth; he was writing for an audience which expected political bias, and no court or society was more Machievellian and devious than a Tudor one. Shakespeare was holding up a mirror to the world in which he lived, rather than writing a factual depiction of a King, and the social and political reality he existed in over a hundred years in the past. What we have in Shakespeare`s Richard III, is a play which depicts the socio/political mores of late Tudor England, not of the life and times of the last Plantagenet King. When we take this into consideration, Shakespeare`s play is a rollicking and entertaining piece of propaganda, which romps along at a cracking pace without any consideration for truth or accuracy.
Demonisation came on swift wings shortly after Richard`s death at Bosworth Field, 1485, courtesy of the tin-pot “historian” John Rous, who keen to ingratiate himself with Henry Tudor, portrayed Richard as the anti-Christ: born malformed with uneven shoulders and a shriveled arm, with fully formed teeth and hair. Another Tudor lick spittle, Thomas More ( later canonized by the Catholic Church for services rendered in the fight against Protestant heresy) followed Rous`s baleful lead by giving Richard an ” envious mountain” upon his back. So here we have the full gamut of Richard`s physical ailments in place: to the medieval mind, physical abnormality equated to being mentally deformed, morally degenerate and in league with Beelzebub and all of his dark minions. Shakespeare merely gave us the finished article of infamy, polished, and finely honed over a century of mud slinging and character assassination: because he was a genius, Shakespeare`s image of the………………..
“….elvish marked, abortive, rooting hog/ Thou that was sealed in thy nativity/ The slave of nature and the son of hell/……That bottled spider, that foul bunch- back`d toad.
lives on in popular imagination like a diseased, and festering barnacle clinging onto Richard`s good name. All of the surviving portraiture of Richard comes from 1520 onwards, where we are treated to a growing, but significant and subtle slander; Richard has uneven shoulders, villainously thin lips, and malevolently narrow and flinty eyes. It`s the portrait of a first class cad and all round bad egg. Recent X-rays have shown that the raised shoulder in the prototype portrait from the Royal Collection, and dated 1520, was touched up to show one shoulder higher than the other.
So William Shakespeare was merely embellishing an already copious amount of icing on the cake, by immortalising Richard III as a crookback Machiavel, and championing his morally upright vanquisher, and defender of the forces of light against darkness. The heroic Tudors ride into a bold, bright new future, leaving behind the morally reprehensible shadow world which the child slaying, evil incarnate Richard represented. The fact that the new Tudor dynasty was probably a major triumph for Satan and one of those seminal, but wrong turns in history, is one of those hotly debated issues which will always have both sides of the argument drawing pistols at dawn over. Meanwhile, Richard has been found, and his remains carefully placed into the respectful hands of those who love and cherish his memory; long may it continue to be so.