Mini classic review: Richard III by William Shakespeare

After a long civil war between the royal family of York and the royal family of Lancaster, England enjoys a period of peace under King Edward IV and the victorious Yorks. But Edward’s younger brother, Richard, resents Edward’s power and the happiness of those around him. Malicious, power-hungry, and bitter about his physical deformity, Richard begins to aspire secretly to the throne—and decides to kill anyone he has to in order to become king.

“And thus I clothe my naked villainy

With odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ;

And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”

Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works, and in my opinion, a weapon of Tudor propaganda (but lets not go there). Surprisingly, I enjoyed it — even though I disagree with the interpretation and characterisation of Richard III himself.

The play is the finale of the Wars of the Roses series, which chronicles Richard III’s machiavellian rise to power after he manipulates and commits multiple crimes to ensure his brothers are killed in order to take his place on the throne of England. Say what you want about the truth of the play’s context, but Richard is a charismatic and complex villain.

Richard is often depicted with a physical deformity, usually as someone who has a hunchback (although the veracity of this is disputed by historians, who believe the real-life Richard had scoliosis and was not actually hunchback), and his disability is used throughout the play to represent his malicious and evil behaviour. That’s a poor representation of a disabled person, however his genius is quite impressive as he so easily turns everyone against each other for his own benefit.

This play is very intense and fascinating to read. Richard manages to secure the throne of England during an incredibly turbulent time, but loses everything at the final battle of Boswell. I find it so interesting that Richard III was actually the last monarch of England to fight in battle, and I enjoyed that even in Shakespeare’s play he yells his most famous phrase: “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” I like to think that even Shakespeare, Tudor sympathiser that he was, was impressed by Richard Plantagenet.

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