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To be, or not to be, the Bard?

William Shakespeare’s contribution to the image of Richard III, as of many other historical figures, has been less than helpful in terms of accuracy. However, just as Shakespeare’s original plays misrepresented his sources and the true course of  events, not every performance of one of the plays is as he left them.

His version of Richard III was, of course, adapted to be more hostile by the relatively melodramatic Poet Laureate Colley Cibber. Garrick seems to have restored the original content somewhat although the horror film The Tower of London was a further diversion

Then there is uncertainty over which plays Shakespeare either wholly wrote, co-wrote with the likes of Fletcher, adapted or delegated; the late Eric Sams providing us with an alternative canonical list. Some of the others may be the responsibility of contemporaries such as Marlowe (d.1593). The Bard’s acknowledged British “history” plays appear to be centred wholly upon monarchs but those in question focus on Thomas of Woodstock, Thomas Cromwell and others.

Beyond this come the known forgeries of the tabula rasa variety. The principal exponent was the eighteenth century London youth William Ireland, who momentarily fooled even his own father and part of the theatrical world to the point that his Rowena and Vortigern was performed.

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