Henry VI, Scene Two
by William Shakespeare.
Why, love forswore me in my mother`s womb:
And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,
She did corrupt foul nature with some bribe,
To shrink mine arm up like a wither`d shrub;
To make an envious mountain on my back,
Where sits deformity to mock my body;
To shape my legs of an unequal size;
To disproportion me in every part,
Like to a chaos, or an unlick`d bear-whelp
That carries no impression like the dam.
And am I then a man to be beloved?
O monstrous fault, to harbour such a thought!
Then, since this earth affords no joy to me,
But to command, to cheque, to o`erbear such
As are of better person than myself,
I`ll make my heaven to dream upon the crown,
And, whiles I live, to account this world but hell,
Until this mis-shaped trunk that bears this head
Be round impaled with a glorious crown,
For many lives stand between me and home:
And I, — like one lost in a thorny wood,
That rends the thorns and is rent with the thorns,
Seeking a way and straying from the way;
Not knowing how to find the open air,
But toiling desperately to find it out,–
Torment myself to catch the English crown:
And from that torment I will free myself,
Or hew my way out with a bloody axe.
Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,
And cry `content` to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions .
I`ll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall;
I`ll slay more gazers than the basilisk;
I`ll play the orator as well as Nestor;
Deceive more slyly than Ulysses could,
And like a Sinon, take another Troy.
I can add colours to the chameleon,
Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,
And set the murderous Machiavel to school.
Can I do this, and cannot get a crown?
Tut, were it farther off, I`ll pluck it down.
Shakespeare did such a comprehensive hatchet job on Richard, anyone who doesn`t know the whys and wherefores of the life and times of this most elusive of monarchs, will naturally take the word of the great playwright at face value. I`m sure Shakespeare didn`t really care whether Richard was good or bad, Tudor propaganda had chiseled Richard`s reputation every which way by his time, it was safe to assume writing about Richard would serve two purposes; to weedle his way into Queen Elizabeth`s good books by literally sanctifying the Tudor right to the crown, and the the huge, juicy plum of a stupefyingly evil and manipulative baddie, who shared every second of his gleeful villainy with his audience. The real Richard is shrouded in mystery mainly because the Tudors did one of the greatest historical re-writes and censorship campaigns of all time. Never has the victors always writing the history been so apt in this case; character assassination is not too humongous a word to describe the fabricated legitimacy of their usurpation following Henry Tudor`s victory at Bosworth Field, 22 August, 1485.
The Tudors made sure there were too many questions to solve the riddle of the times concerning Richard`s rise to power, the disappearance of the two princes, and the various other plots, and counter plots which ultimately changed the course of history. This is vitally important, because without Richard`s death in battle, would there have really been a Protestant Reformation; the Stuarts; the English Civil War, with Oliver Cromwell`s professionalized army and navy; an army which would mutate into the redcoats that beat Napoleon at Waterloo; and a navy which dominated the world`s oceans and forged an empire for England? So, Richard is a very big deal indeed in the pecking order of England`s Kings; but only fragments of who he was, and how his subjects saw him remain; all else has been lost, or destroyed by Henry Tudor`s efficient police state apparatchiks. It`s impossible to judge actions and events from the past by modern standards of morality and social norms; everyone is a product of their times, and imprinted by the prevailing ethos.
What was once normal behaviour, will not necessarily meet today`s criteria. Whatever actions are attributed to Richard, or not; he did what he thought had to be done. It was a relentlessly violent and bloody age, when families were split in two by military conflict. Gentle, chivalric values were a distant memory. For high and low, there was no quarter given in battle; for the dead, there awaited a deep trench; the living had to flee like the wind to live a few minutes more. So, try and look kindly upon Richard; history is never black and white, and the supposed villain often times turns out to be more grey than black. For those of us who passionately love our history, Henry Tudor may have been the winner on the battlefield and in the propaganda war, but the truth is the loser. Thanks to him, we no longer have the knowledge that would cast a light into the dark, historical dungeon he created. Richard is an enigma never to be solved it seems.