So lately I’ve really been into learning about the War of the Roses. It’s something I’ve always been interested in, but never took the time to really study. I read Richard III years ago and really, really loved it. I’m reading it again and I can’t believe I even enjoyed it with the lack of knowledge I had about the history. It is so much richer to me now. I even directed a student of mine in a monologue from the play. Now I feel I did her a great disservice by not participating with her in a guided research study of the history.
Anyway, this all started because I’ve started reading my favorite novelist again, Phillippa Gregory. She has a new series of novels out based on this history and I am just gobbling them up, just as I did with her Tudor series. So far I’ve read both books in the series, The White Queen and The Red Queen. The former is based on Elizabeth Woodville, the famous York queen married to King Edward IV and the latter is told from the perspective of Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII (the guy who ended it all and started the Tudor dynasty).
So now I’m reading Shakespeare’s Richard III again with new eyes. It’s really quite amazing. Here’s my latest thought(s). I got to thinking, okay, Richard was this, like, normal ambitious dude with a claim to the throne that he pursued with the same vehemence that all ambitious dudes did before and after him. So how did he become such a notorious villain in history? Why Shakespeare, of course. And why would Shakespeare paint him in such a light? Because Will was the constant politician. He very often wrote to appeal to his monarch. Making Richard a villain justified the battlefield killing of the king by Elizabeth I’s grandfather, which not only justified the whole Tudor reign, but sanctified it. Shakespeare could have wrote a melodrama with Richard as the mustache-twisting bad guy (nevermind that art form wasn’t around yet), but that’s just not his style. He creates one of the most notorious villains in all of western literature.
Well done, my friend. Well done.