Access and Interpretation Coordinator, Anna Griffiths, is looking at part of the iconic costume worn by Antony Sher in Bill Alexander’s 1984 production of Richard III.
Richard III (1955) is the third and final Shakespearean feature film in which Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) both starred and directed. It follows the patriotic Henry V in 1944 and the internationally renowned Hamlet in 1948. There is much of interest in the film for those interested in Olivier as an actor-director, for those fascinated with Shakespeare on screen, and for those intrigued by the ways in which Shakespeare is adapted to speak to different cultural moments.
Meanwhile, more actors were making Shakespeare’s characters their own. We have a book in our collection from 1814 called Critical Remarks on the Astonishing Performance of Mr. Kean, at Drury Lane Theatre, in the Characters of Shylock, Richard, and Hamlet. This book details the performances of Edmund Kean, a prominent actor of the time. Kean was born in 1787 and had a difficult childhood, being passed between various relative--including his mother’s widowed sister, Charlotte Tidswell, who became an actor at Drury Lane. This was Kean’s first glimpse of a behind-the-scenes London theatre. He started life on stage as Master Carey before he was eleven, and, as a result, held a great deal contempt for Master Betty, the sensation of the 1804 London season. While Kean worked in theatres in Birmingham, he indulged in drinking sessions which could last from three days to a week, and consequently got into serious debt. He had to walk with his pregnant wife Mary to Swansea for the next theatrical engagement. It was when Edmund Kean began work at Drury Lane Theatre in London that his fortunes improved. He began the year of 1814 unpaid and fearful for the future. In January, he made his legendary debut as Shylock, which rescued himself and the dwindling fortunes of Drury Lane. His personal difficulties made Shylock a perfect part for him and he used his inner fury to propel his performance.
A better title, because it is more specific, would be “The Erotic Nature of Richard’s Ambition in Shakespeare’s Richard III.” (Paper titles are not enclosed in double quotation marks, of course.)
All quotations must be introduced properly; that is, quotations must fit into your sentences both grammatically and syntactically.
Is it enough, when asked what Richard III is about, to respond that it's about one seriously twisted dude? How much of the nature-versus-nurture argument plays into our understanding of evil?
If you thought Hamlet's was the worst brother in literary history, or that Othello's was the most unapologetic villain onstage, or that was Shakespeare's biggest tyrant of a king, then you haven't read Richard III.
Since its first performance around 1592, this play has been one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed and best-loved works. Although it's the final installment in a group of history plays known as the "first tetralogy" (including Henry VI Part 1, and Part 2, and Part 3), Richard III can stand on its own.
The play picks up toward the end of the (c. 1455-1485), a series of English civil wars fought between two branches of the Royal House of Plantagenet: the Lancasters (whose heraldic symbol was the red rose) and the Yorks (symbolized by the white rose). As Richard III opens, the Yorkist and his two bros have bumped the Lancastrian off the throne. All of England is celebrating...except for Edward's youngest brother, , who tells us straight away that he's "determined to prove a villain" and will do anything to get his hands on the crown.
The play then chronicles Richard's dramatic rise and fall. Shakespeare famously portrays him as a "deformed hunchback" who ruthlessly lies, murders, and manipulates his way to throne before being taken down by the guy who becomes King Henry VII (whose reign ends the Wars of the Roses and ushers in the Tudor dynasty). Despite his wickedness, Richard is the kind of villain that audiences just love to hate.
Today we know that the historical King Richard III wasn't a "hunchback" and he probably didn't lie or manipulate any more than anyone else involved in the Wars of the Roses. So why is he portrayed as such a villain in Shakespeare's play? Shakespeare based his character on historical accounts like Thomas More's (c. 1513), which passed Richard off as a tyrant whose physical deformity was just as warped as his immoral nature.
Since Shakespeare casts Richard III in a pretty bad light, some scholars argue that Shakespeare's play is all about promoting the "Tudor myth" – the idea that the ushered in a harmonious golden age of peace and prosperity in England. Shakespeare's monarch, , was a Tudor and the granddaughter of Richard's replacement, . So is Shakespeare really that gung-ho about the Tudors? Or is he just a playwright who knows it's in his best interest to give his queen some props?
Either way you look at it, one thing is for sure: when most of the world thinks of the historical Richard III, it's Shakespeare's portrayal of the guy they picture. This is a pretty powerful testament to the popularity of Shakespeare's play and the impact of this mesmerizing character.
Plus, the guy is complicated. Literary critic Marjorie Garber notes that "Shakespeare's Richard III is arguably the first fully realized and psychologically conceived character in his plays" (). In other words, Richard III is the great grandfather (so to speak) of complex characters like and . This is a pretty big deal, because most playwrights at the time (aside from Shakespeare's pal Christopher Marlowe) weren't creating characters with this much dimension.