Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Poor Richard

What we know about King Richard III we mostly know about from Shakespeare. It is from him we get the vicious deformed hunchback we all “know”: the scheming blackguard “cheated of feature by dissembling nature, deformed, unfinished, sent before his time into this breathing world scarce half-made up”—so lame and unfashionable dogs bark at him as he limps by—so deformed he is unable to prove a lover, hence is determined to be a villain.

Yet the body of the last Plantagenet king, the man defeated by Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field—who Shakespeare has despairing at his end, “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”—has now been found by that field, under the Leicestershire carpark under which it had been inadvertently interred.  And the figure of the man it reveals differs markedly from the caricature.

No viper, toad or hedgehog; no unformed bear-whelp, or lump of foul deformity. Instead, the man dug up from the car park of Leicester Social Services in September had, for the most part, an ordinary shape. His height was a little above average for the time when he had lived. His limbs were regular and delicate—almost feminine, the scientists said. Pace Shakespeare, there was no withered arm. There was, however, a severely sideways-twisted spine, the result of scoliosis that had probably emerged in adolescence. It would have put one shoulder higher than the other, making him stand shorter than he was. He might have needed extra cushions in his chairs...

So not the deceiving beast of legend then. Though the corpse offers but little to reveal his true soul, it seems history here had very definitely been written by the winners.

But written damnably well.

[HT Quote Unquote]

PS: Little known fact:  John Lydon once claimed that he based his stage persona Johnny Rotten on Laurence Olivier’s classic film portrayal of the royal hunchback. So you can also blame the Sex Pistols on the historically flawed figure of His Royal Hunchbackness…

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