Richard III: Enter the Matrix

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Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time

Al Pacino: Looking for Richard

When I was in high school, one of my English teachers did an amazing thing.  After we finished Richard III, she had us read Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time,” a modern mystery novel about you-know-who.  Years later, I still remember being blown away by the case Tey made for Richard’s innocence, but for the life of me I could not recall her argument or why its effects had lingered.

So it only seemed appropriate that I revisit the novel after completing the play in my year of Shakespeare.  I wanted to know whether I would be moved again by the book, and if maybe now I could grab hold of it and retain more now that I had a better grasp of Shakespeare.  Wherever you are, Mrs. James, thank you.  Let that be a lesson for other teachers who wonder whether they are making an impact on students’ lives!

I set aside a bit of time after finishing the play to re-read the novel and watch a documentary by Al Pacino called “Looking for Richard,” hoping they would shed more light on the mysteries Karla Tipton elucidated in a recent guest blog.  I wanted to gather my own thoughts and weigh them against the story that Shakespeare presents.  But I also had to ask myself how much historical veracity mattered.  Does theater need to be accurate?  Where should I draw the line when making aesthetic judgments?  Tey wrote historic fiction – but was she telling the whole truth?  Was Shakespeare aware that the story he told was perhaps riddled with lies?

Right off the bat, Looking for Richard proved no help whatsoever.  It might have been called, “Looking at Al Pacino Looking for Richard” since it basically amounted to a visual diary of Mr. Pacino seeking the best way to film the play, not investigate the truth behind it.  I love Al Pacino.  I found the film entertaining, if perhaps a little depressing since the “man on the street” interviews only confirmed the idea that most people know nothing substantial about the historical Richard and what they assumed turned out to be either cliché, trivial or flat-out wrong.  Mr. Pacino, while attempting to render the play in the most dramatic manner possible, sought merely to reinforce the bias inherent in the text.  If those are lies, then the actual truth just gets more deeply distorted and ultimately engulfed by the prevailing dogma.

Josephine Tay (real name: Elizabeth Mackintosh) sets everything we presume to know about Richard on its head.  If I found her argument compelling way back in high school, it became all the more riveting now.  I doubt I’ll forget the gist of it this time, since I subscribe to the argument that Richard was innocent and slandered by the powers that shouldn’t have been – namely, the Tudors, who had zero claim to the throne.

I have stated before that I do not wish for this blog to become a book report.  So instead of recounting her entire argument, I will share what were for me her two most salient and convincing points:

1) Richard ascended to power legitimately via a document called Titulus Regius (“royal title” in Latin) which Wikipedia describes as: a statute of the Parliament of England, issued in 1484, by which the title of King of England was given to Richard III.

It is an official declaration that describes why the Parliament had found, the year before, that the marriage of Edward IV of England to Elizabeth Woodville had been invalid, and consequently their children, including Edward, Richard and Elizabeth, were illegitimate and, therefore, debarred from the throne. Thus Richard III was proclaimed the rightful king.

With this document in hand and having secured rule lawfully by declaration of Parliament, Richard had no reason to kill his nephews.  None.  Doing so would only have made him look bad at a time when England – aside from the Woodvilles and Lancastrians – embraced him as the new king.

2) Richmond/Henry VII had all the reason in the world to want the nephews dead.  Why?  Because in his desire to marry an empowered Elizabeth, he had the Titulus Regius revoked unread and expunged from the record.  But by doing so, he inadvertently restored the two nephews who were far more entitled to the throne than Henry!  The only way he could have it both ways was to disappear the two kids and blame it convincingly on Richard.

I have condensed and highlighted what for me are the most powerful arguments.  But there are others, including the dire fates of the the York children under Henry, how the murder “confession” came about twenty years too late and how the subsequent slanted history was written by Tudor loyalists and sycophants.

It’s here that Tey’s reasoning grows gargantuan and viral, gobbling more than just Richard III, Henry VII, Thomas More and Shakespeare.  For once her argument is absorbed and assimilated, we find ourselves like the lead character, Grant, proclaiming that we’ll never trust our history books again.

Winners write history.  Most of what we accept as fact comes with an implicit agenda.  When we’re finished questioning Richard, we start to wonder about other myths that may have been handed down to us: George Washington and the cherry tree, Honest Abe, the League of Nations, the creation of the Federal Reserve, the Bay of Pigs, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, Bobby and Malcom X.  Where does it end?  How much of what we have been told can we — and should we — believe?

Red pill or blue?  Which will you take?

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