Thursday, March 7, 2013

Skeletal Richard

Hi! Welcome to this month's commentary on Shakespeare in the news.
In recent months lots of people have been talking about the finding of King Richard III’s skeleton under a parking lot in Leicester, England. Several people who I didn’t (and don’t) think cared about Richard III at all asked me for my reaction. Did I think it was really him? My own husband asked me this last night.  He thinks I know! In fact, through the wonders of DNA evidence, it’s been established that yes, it’s really Richard III – or was. He was lying in the ruins of a church buried under centuries’ worth of dirt and finally paved over, resident there more or less since he was killed by a serious knife to the head during the last great battle of the Wars of the Roses at Bosworth Field in 1485. That’s a big date, 1485. Henry Tudor, whose forces defeated Richard’s at Bosworth, was crowned that year and began the more than century-long-lasting Tudor dynasty, which ended in 1603 with the death of Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth I. 1485 was also very close to the time William Caxton brought to England the printing press, an excellent invention that would radically expand public literacy and facilitate, over the subsequent century, the mass distribution of ancient and modern books in print, and enable hundreds of English writers of all social levels, including Shakespeare, to speak to the people (kind of like the Internet, our own time’s great textual leap). So 1485 is a pretty good date to choose if you want to mark the end of the middle ages in England and the beginning of the Renaissance. And if we see it that way, Richard III, who perished that year, was the last medieval English king. Maybe that’s why so many people are excited about this dead and now very skinny royal.