Mostly whimsical reflections on life
But contemporary taste for ruthless anti-heroes has led to a literal resurrection of the old king. His remains have been exhumed and given a more proper burial. Fittingly, Benedict Cumberbatch, a distant relative who played Richard III on a BBC series, gave his benediction drawn from a poem by Carol Ann Duffy:
My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; your own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name.
NPR’s Scott Simon delivered an elegiac, belated obituary on his Saturday radio show of Richard III who stood out in the Shakespearean portfolio as a villain comfortable in his own skin. Only Iago in “Othello” rivals Richard III in his depth of deceit. But Iago only played people; Richard III killed them.
We went through a period of American history where presidents were compared to Shakespearean figures – Lyndon Johnson to MacBeth and Richard Nixon to Richard III. Nixon’s treachery was legendary, but even he didn’t wipe out his own relatives because they were potential rivals.
The play, Richard III, has retained popularity beyond the cult of English majors because of its powerful, energetic language. This may be a “history” play, but it has the elements of a Greek tragedy and a cautionary tale for all time. Unbridled ambition is often accompanied by untempered paranoia.
We still watch Richard III because we see a part of ourselves in him. We yearn for the throne of our lives. We deplore our “rudely stamp’d” frailties. We see others standing in the way of our success.
Most of us suppress urges to stamp out competition or run roughshod over enemies. But Richard III reminds us that deep down we all have some villainy in our hearts. Few of us reach the point where we say, “I am determined to prove a villain.” It’s just not PC.
Simon says that historians question Shakespeare’s dark portrayal of Richard III. He wasn’t a hunchback and he wasn’t all bad. As Simon notes, the old king gave legal rights to poor Englishmen and allowed free publication of books and pamphlets.
Some historians say Richard III got a bad rap and never killed anybody, but Shakespeare realized the story was more delicious if he did.
It perhaps is no coincidence that Kevin Spacey portrayed Richard III as he was giving life to a modern-day tyrant, Frank Underwood, in House of Cards. Underwood wasn’t afraid to shove a pushy reporter in front of onrushing subway or dispatch a political ally who had fallen off the wagon, while championing education reform and a plan to put unemployed Americans to work.
“A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” shouted Richard as he sprawled on the ground in battle. None of his soldiers rallied to his side. They knew he didn’t mean it.