The above notification brings back great memories. Before the Flood, in 1958-60 ,I lived just outside Hucknall, and sometimes waited outside the parish church, where Byron is buried. I little knew then that the notorious poet would feature in more than one of the many Regency novels I was to write. What I DID know then, was that the 15-year-old Me bought a tiny bottle of Max Factor Primitif perfume (forbidden to me, and secretly saved up for out of my pocket money).
Clearly I was, even then, a creature of taste and distinction! So, there I stood, outside the church, eyeing my illicit purchase with delight. Too late I wondered how on earth I was going to explain why I was drenched in the stuff. Talk about being wise after the event! And I was a lousy liar. Guilt would have been written all over me, in neon letters.
Anyway, this little story returned to me because I spotted this article. And yes, Richard will feature on the night. Shakespeare’s version, of course.
Well, here’s a novel claim to fame – the Richard III bit, I mean!
An excerpt from an intriguing story:- “…The road to redemption led him back to the theatre. ‘To satisfy his creditors’, notes one biographical account, ‘he played leading roles in seven London playhouses and is reported to have been the last to perform Richard III on horseback at Astley’s Theatre’…”
To learn who “he” was, go to:-
Having heard that Leicester Cathedral were staging a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III inside the Cathedral itself, feet from where Richard is buried, I felt I had to do something to protest. It is not that I object to Leicester putting plays on in the Cathedral, although some do. Nor do I hate Shakespeare’s Richard III per se – it is true that he would not be anywhere near as famous without Shakespeare, although perhaps many would feel it preferable if he were less well known and less vilified. And Shakespeare was, of course, a genius, a fact which serves Richard ill because the plays, including the Bard’s Richard III, will never stop being performed. We must try to ensure that any future production of it will incorporate a disclaimer stating that it is fiction and giving a summary of the true Richard.
But it is quite a different matter to stage the play beside Richard’s tomb. So, I started a petition and was lucky enough to be interviewed about it on my local radio station, BBC Essex. Here is the transcript of the interview (there is a link at the bottom to BBC iPlayer, but it will be there only until the end of May 2017):
Dave Monk: Now you may be familiar with the incredible story about Richard III. Now the king was killed following his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth, fought in 1485. His remains were found recently, unearthed beneath a Leicester car park. Well, they now reside in Leicester Cathedral, but a bit of a row has broken out because a production company wants to stage a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III right there. And funnily enough (he said, name-dropping) I was with the Duke of Gloucester this afternoon, who’s all part of that, of course, because he was Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Critics say it is disrespectful and insensitive as the play portrays Richard in a bad light. Oh, yes it does. Well, Essex author, Joanne Larner, from Rayleigh, is behind the petition calling for the performance to be stopped. And I’d like to know why that is. Joanne, great to have you on. Why have you set this up?
Joanne: Well, it’s just, I thought it was such, a…I was so disappointed. I’ve visited the Cathedral several times and I even was there for the reinterment and I thought they did it really well and they promised to treat Richard’s remains with dignity and honour and I’m so disappointed and saddened and completely disgusted now that they’re doing this because it is almost as if they are dancing on his grave, in a way and I don’t think they are keeping their side of the bargain of treating his remains with dignity and honour.
Dave: Because, let’s face it, Rich – sorry, Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard was the bad guy. He was a scheming, nasty hunchback, a nasty king, and that’s how he was portrayed and we have no idea whether that’s the truth or not, have we?
Joanne: Oh yes we do!
Dave: Oh go on, then.
Joanne: Well. we think that that portrayal was partly Tudor propaganda – Shakespeare was writing in Tudor times and Tudor had to defame Richard’s character to justify his own taking of the throne. And also, I think as well that Shakespeare may have been doing a satire on a politician of his day, Robert Cecil, who was a hunchback and who was very unpopular. And so, it might not even necessarily be solely about Richard. But, in any case it’s fiction, it isn’t history and the real Richard actually did a lot of good things. I could give you some examples if you’d like to know some of the good things he did.
Dave: Yeah, I’d really like to know, yes.
Joanne: Well, he tried to stamp out corruption of the juries. He was only king for two years, as you know, and he only had one Parliament, but he did all this. He brought in a primitive form of legal aid for the poor, he encouraged reading and learning, he exempted books from taxes – that’s not the action of a tyrant, they usually discourage learning and reading. He had his laws made in English for the first time, so that more people could understand them, he was known before his brother died to be just, loyal and courageous. He was the last English king to die in battle, defending his country and his crown.
Dave: Well, let’s face it we’ve got to always remember, that it’s the victors who write the history books.
Joanne: Exactly, yes.
Dave: You’ve always got to keep that in mind, haven’t you? Why your fascination?
Joanne: Well, I only got interested, actually, after they found him and I saw the documentary and it absolutely fascinated me. And especially the lady, Philippa Langley, who was so passionate about him and I thought, well, how can someone be so passionate about someone who’s been dead five hundred years? And it made me research him and find out about him and I was so inspired that I’ve actually written three novels about him now.
Dave: Pretty good going, isn’t it, really?
Joanne: Mmm, and I’m just as passionate as she is. So – there’s a lot of us and we all feel really strongly about him.
Dave: So, if it is, I mean you say it’s fiction, if Shakespeare’s Richard III is just fiction, why the big deal? Why the big problem?
Joanne: Well, simply because it portrays him in such a bad light. He’s portrayed as an evil hunchbacked tyrant who murdered his way to the throne and to perform that play literally feet from his grave, I think is just terrible.
Dave: How’s the petition going so far? Have you got much support?
Joanne: Well, it’s only been on for a few days, we’ve already over seven hundred, but obviously the more, the merrier, so anybody else who’d like to sign, I’d really welcome it. You know, it you feel as outraged as I do. I mean, I know Leicester Cathedral do have to make money and they’ve put on other plays there which some people don’t like but I understand that, you know, that they can’t, they don’t charge an entrance fee to the Cathedral, and they’ve put on Richard III before, so they say, but that was before Richard was there. And it’s this juxtaposition of that play and that place that’s the problem.
Dave: Oh alright, Joanne, thank you very much. Joanne Larner, Essex author, from Rayleigh and she is behind that petition to get that performance of Richard III stopped.
Since the interview, we have reached well over a thousand signatures – please add yours by clicking the picture of his tomb below.
Clcik here for link to hear interview – starts near the end of the programme, about 2:45-46
Well, we knew before that Richard Armitage would like to play Richard III, and it seems he still does. I thought then that he wanted to play the real Richard, and to a point he still does, but it seems he’s prepared to take on the Shakespeare Richard as well. Shame!!!
In this piece, we introduced the idea that Shakespeare, although a very inaccurate historian, accurately reflected the cultural history of his time with respect to the political execution of women. We have also discussed how the Bard’s Richard III may actually have been a portrayal of Robert Cecil. Another piece showed the uncertainty as to the origin of coloured roses as politico-military badges.
Now think of Hamlet. His adversary is King Claudius, his uncle, supported by the verbose courtier Polonius. The play was set in Denmark and written during 1599-1602 when it was apparent that England would soon have Anne of Denmark as Queen Consort. Hamlet kills Polonius as the older man hides behind an arras, which is a tapestry or curtain.
In January 41 AD, Claudius was proclaimed as Rome’s new Emperor. Graves portrayed him as hiding behind a curtain as his nephew Gaius (“Caligula”) was assassinated, to be found by a Praetorian named Gratus. Sometimes, it seems, those writing fiction cannot be original.
Unfortunately, Dr Bronwen Price is Principal Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Portsmouth, and a specialist in Shakespeare, so we cannot expect anything about the real Richard. Still, if the illustration is anything to go by, at least he keeps up with the times. He’s been portrayed in numerous periods and settings, so maybe this time he’s a rock star.
A year ago I posted on my Facebook page a link about Robert Sheehan becoming the next Shakespearean Richard III. Not knowing the actor, my only comment was that at least he was the right age to play Richard.
I thought no more of it, until prompted by a Facebook reminder of what I’d been up to a year ago. Curiosity set me browsing to see if there was more about Mr Sheehan’s actual performance. Opinion seems mixed, and there are a lot of reviews, so I’m providing the link to just one.
Most of the performers are praised, especially the ladies, but there is some reserve about Richard himself. Not having seen the production, I cannot say one way or the other. But there are photographs with the review, including one of Richard wearing a very strange leather-strap contraption on his right leg. It covers the leg from ankle to thigh, and to me it proclaims: “Hey, guys, as well as everything else, there’s something horribly wrong with my leg as well!”
Anyway, it would seem that Mr Sheehan’s Richard will not go down in the annals of Great Performances.