Richard III: the Devil You Know

Maybe it’s the recent discovery of Richard’s decomposed body in a Leicester car park, but performances of Shakespeare’s Richard III seem all the rage these days.

I’d like to mention a notable review which stands out to me for bringing up the growing understanding that Richard may have been the victim of one of the greatest political hit jobs in history.

This raises a crucial and complex issue of whether historical accuracy ought to affect our performance or appreciation of the play – or any fictional work that purports to be lifted from a true story.

Granted, Shakespeare never makes that claim. And the facts in this case are far from definitive. Nevertheless, it occurs to me that we watch fictional cotton candy like Shakespeare in Love or Amadeus and don’t complain. Should it be any different with Richard III?

I think of movies like JFK and Lincoln as well. We post-modernists have mixed up our creative liberties with our historical veracity. Or are we simply more lenient when it comes to dramatizations?

I’m confused by what our expectations ought to be. Novels, plays and screenplays will always demand the condensing of time, space and character within the parameters of the medium. We don’t really expect a film like Gladiator or 300 to portray actual life in Sparta or ancient Rome, do we?

Maybe it matters more to the extent our educational institutions fail us. These days, popular entertainment often provides the only snippets of information we will ever know about certain subjects. Yet, as with most topics, the more you learn about the real Richard, the harder it becomes accepting the cruel character assassination that most people have casually accepted as fact.

I’m not sure how to disentangle this complex riddle. But I am thrilled to see a recent critic kick the hornet’s nest regarding the issue.

The review begins:

In theater’s greatest hit piece, Richard remains the devil we know.

To read it in its entirety, please click HERE.

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