Anderson, Judith H. Biographical Truth: The Representation of Historical Persons in Tudor-Stuart Writing. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.
Following a discussion of Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III as a mix of history and biography (Chap. 6), Anderson turns her attention to the “metamorphosis of biographical truth to fiction” in Shakespeare’s play (Chap. 7). Shakespeare’s protagonist is “both more real as a psychological entity and more imaginary . . . more clearly and consistently a type . . . more insistently a symbol . . . more self-conscious about his own shape . . . and more consciously a player of roles and a shaper of his own identity.”
Baldwin, David. Richard III. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2013.
Baldwin’s full biography of Richard III views him as neither “a villain [nor] a man unjustifiably vilified throughout history”: “Somewhere behind all the conflicting arguments stands a real man who had both qualities and failings.” In addition to a prologue (“Conflicting Opinions”) and an epilogue (“The Discovery of King Richard’s Grave”—a recounting of the 2013 archaeological excavation in Leicester that unearthed Richard’s skeletal remains), the volume includes fifteen chapters, most of which are arranged in minutely chronological order by year, sometimes by months of a particular year: “ ‘Richard Liveth Yet,’ 1452–1461”; “The King’s Brother, 1461–1469”; “The Years of Crisis, 1469–1471”; “Warwick’s Heir, 1471–1475”; “War and Peace, 1475–1482”; “ ‘The King is Dead,’ April–June 1483”; “ ‘Long Live the King!’ July 1483”; “Conspiracy and Rebellion, July–November 1483”; “Regaining the Initiative, 1484”; “Cultivating the Bishops, 1484”; “The Two Elizabeths [Elizabeth Woodville (Edward IV’s queen) and Elizabeth of York], February–March 1485”; “The Gathering Storm, April–June 1485”; and “Bosworth Field, August 1485.” Chapter 8 (“Richard ‘Crookback’?”) takes up the historical accuracy of Richard’s reported physical disfigurement, while Chapter 15 deals with his legacy and the legend that has attached to him. Baldwin contends that only a close examination of the episodes in Richard’s life both before and after he became king can help us determine “if the Richard who seized the Crown was the same Richard who had played a leading, and generally commendable, role in the politics of the late 1460s, 1470s and early 1480s, or if his character had changed over time.” In short, “we need to see him in the round.”
Baldwin, William, ed. A Myrroure for Magistrates (1559, 1563, 1571, 1574, 1575, 1578, 1587). Reprinted as The Mirror for Magistrates. Ed. Lily B. Campbell. Huntington Library Publications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938. Reprint, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1970.
The Mirror (which went through several editions between 1559 and 1587) is an anthology of verse monologues recounting the downfall of public figures from antiquity and English history. Their lives serve as moral exempla on the vicissitudes of Fortune and on the price paid for lives of villainy and misplaced trust in the vanities of the world. The “tragic” stories having relevance for Richard III are those of Clarence, Hastings, Shore’s wife, Edward IV, Rivers, Buckingham, and Richard.
Carroll, William. “ ‘The Form of Law’: Ritual and Succession in Richard III.” In True Rites and Maimed Rites: Ritual and Anti-Ritual in Shakespeare and His Age, ed. Linda Woodbridge and Edward Berry, pp. 203–19. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992.
For Carroll, Richard’s failure to achieve emotional maturity through rites of passage is only one example of the general failure of legal and cultural ritual in the play as a whole (e.g., the “farce” of Hastings’s indictment, rumors of illegitimacy, the perversion of courtship traditions, and the violated rites of execution and burial). The only “form of law” Richard supports absolutely is that of hereditary succession; ironically, however, he cannot retain that “form” nor can the audience fully accept Richmond’s confident and ceremonial reaffirmation of lineal succession at the end because Richard “has contaminated everything.” The play reflects uncertainties in the 1590s surrounding the issue of who will succeed Elizabeth I as England’s monarch.
Charnes, Linda. “Belaboring the Obvious: Reading the Monstrous Body in King Richard III.” In Notorious Identity: Materializing the Subject in Shakespeare, pp. 20–69. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993.
Charnes discusses the ideological foundations of “notorious identity” (the pathological form of fame) in Richard III, Troilus and Cressida, and Antony and Cleopatra and explores how Shakespeare is less interested in “reproducing cultural mythography” than in demonstrating what is involved in the “experience of being reiterated,” that process through which each “notorious” figure confronts the determinant power of an infamous name as he or she self-fashions a new identity. The chapter on Richard examines his desire, efforts, and ultimate failure to break out of a “prior textual history” that inscribes him as monstrous object in order to construct himself as “something undisclosed,” i.e., as a subject of his own making. Charnes deals with the courtship of Lady Anne (1.2) at some length.
Clemen, Wolfgang. A Commentary on Shakespeare’s Richard III. Tr. Jean Bonheim. London: Methuen, 1968.
Clemen provides a detailed analysis that examines the structure of each scene, its position in the plot and its overall dramatic significance, the grouping and function(s) of characters, the treatment of time and space, techniques of dialogue, stylistic devices, rhetorical strategies, image clusters and iterative words, meter and versification. Types of irony and ambiguity and patterns of anticipation and foreboding receive special emphasis.
Colley, Scott. Richard’s Himself Again: A Stage History of Richard III. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.
Colley provides a comprehensive account of the play’s stage history in Great Britain and North America from 1690 to the early 1990s, focusing primarily on leading interpreters of the title role. The first chapter’s overview of problems involved in staging Richard III (e.g., its length, the tendency by actors and directors to allow Richard too much focus, numerous set pieces, and difficulties in “balancing the earthly and cosmic dramas inherent in [the] design”) illustrates that there is “something about the play that forces one to alter it.” The ghost of Cibber’s conception and later the curse of Olivier’s film (a “drastically simplified” version that followed from “a deliberate misreading”) have haunted the play’s stage history. Three modern Richards, however, have succeeded in breathing new life into the role in productions that were also box office successes: the “pint-sized” Richard of Ian Holm (1963–64), the “surrealist Napoleon” of Ramaz Chkhikvadze (1979), and the “acrobatic cripple” of Antony Sher (1984–85). A “coda” deals with more recent Richards, most notably Ian McKellen’s.
Connolly, Annaliese, ed. Richard III: A Critical Reader. Arden Early Modern Drama Guides. London: Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2013.
The eight essays gathered in this volume provide a comprehensive survey of major issues in the contemporary study of Richard III. The first three essays address, respectively, Richard’s critical reception from the eighteenth-century Samuel Johnson to postmodern readings in the twenty-first century (Peter J. Smith, “The Critical Backstory”), the play’s performance history from Shakespeare’s day to more recent revivals by Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellen (Kate Wilkinson, “Richard III on Stage”), and key themes and mass media adaptations in the current critical and performance environment of Richard III (Nina Levine, “The State of the Art”). Levine identifies disability studies, trauma theory, and childhood studies as examples of new approaches posing a challenge to the “various historicisms” that have dominated critical readings of the play for the past thirty years. Essays four through seven are grouped under the heading “New Directions” to indicate their “cutting edge analysis”: “Audience Engagement and the Genres of Richard III” (Brian Walsh), “Tyranny and the State of Exception in Shakespeare’s Richard III” (Rebecca Lemon), “ ‘Some tardy cripple’: Timing Disability in Richard III” (David Houston Wood), and “ ‘Put[ting] on Some Other Shape’: Richard III as an Arab V.I.P.” (Adele Lee). David Cadman’s guide to resources available for the teaching and study of the play—critical editions, online resources, genealogies of the two competing houses of York and Lancaster, and an annotated bibliography—concludes the collection. Connolly’s introduction is divided into five parts: Finding Richard, Tragedy and History, Shakespeare and the Wars of the Roses, Reconsidering Richard III and the Tudor Myth, and Guide (to the essays that follow). Describing Richard as “this chameleon king,” the editor claims that his “bustling” villainy and “conspiratorial relationship with the audience” will forever complicate a stable reading of the character. Two motifs that run throughout the volume are (1) a sense of the play’s “startling resonances with the present” and (2) “the critical re-evaluation of the Tudor Myth,” long held as an “an interpretative model” for the play. The recent discovery of Richard’s remains in an excavated car park in Leicester “foregrounds the tension between myth and fact and feeds into Shakespeare’s own dramatization of the manipulation of history.”
Garber, Marjorie. “Descanting on Deformity: Richard III and the Shape of History.” In Shakespeare’s Ghost Writers: Literature as Uncanny Causality, pp. 28–51. New York: Methuen, 1987.
Garber is interested in the ways Shakespeare “has come to haunt our culture . . . whether in literature, history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, or politics.” In the chapter on Richard III her subject is the “dramatization of the power of deformity inherent in both tragedy and history.” The Tudor image of the monster king was for Shakespeare not a “given” but a “presupposition” in service of the question, “was [Richard’s] villainy the result of his deformity?” The same process of “ideological and polemical distortion” operating in the creation of Richard and his self-conscious rhetoric of deformity is at work in the play’s misshaping of history itself: Richard’s twisted body “encodes the whole strategy of history as a necessary deforming and unforming—with the object of reforming—the past.”
Hassell, Chris. Songs of Death: Performance, Interpretation, and the Text of Richard III. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.
An initial comparison and contrast of the 1955 Olivier film with the 1982 BBC-TV videotape (both readily available) and an epilogue on Antony Sher’s interpretation of Richard in the 1984–85 RSC season frame this examination of interpretive and textual cruxes. Making considerable use of historical and literary sources, military manuals, and theological commentary, Hassel urges a providential reading of the play that views the portrayal of Richmond as positive, the play’s Queen Elizabeth as a worthy opponent of Richard, and the presumably gulled citizenry as being prudent and cautious.
Hodgdon, Barbara. “ ‘The Coming on of Time’: Richard III.” In The End Crowns All: Closure and Contradiction in Shakespeare’s History, pp. 100–126. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Combining performance criticism (mostly of RSC productions) with study of the Quarto and Folio variants, Hodgdon explores the multiplicities of meaning in Acts 4 and 5 of Richard III. The play’s movement toward closure consists of two parts, the narrative strategy of each carrying implications for gender and power: the first part condenses around the Princes’ murder and aligns reader/spectator allegiance primarily with Richard’s female victims; the second part, with an almost exclusively male focus, centers on the explicit doubling or pairing of Richard and Richmond structurally and verbally.
Kendall, Paul Murray, ed. Richard III: The Great Debate. New York: W. W. Norton, 1965. Reissued 1992.
In one volume Kendall brings together two major documents central to the “great debate” over the true character of the historical Richard III: Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III (c. 1513) and Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III (1768). More presents Richard as monster and devil incarnate; Walpole casts Richard as the tragic victim of Tudor bias. The More text (Shakespeare’s primary source as reproduced in the chronicles of Hall and Holinshed) has been modernized for spelling and punctuation.
Leggatt, Alexander. “Richard III.” In Shakespeare’s Political Drama: The History Plays and the Roman Plays, pp. 32–53. London: Routledge, 1988.
In Richard III Leggatt observes a new element being introduced into Shakespeare’s dramaturgy: “the audience’s conscious awareness of its own reactions as an important part of the drama.” While Richard appears to take the audience into his confidence as coconspirators in the opening soliloquy, the play is filled with warning signs that such seeming rapport is deceptive. Richard slips out of focus at the moment of his highest achievement; ironically, the public role of king that he has relentlessly sought is the one role he (as the consummate solitary) “cannot effectively” perform. Soon he develops a fear of the language he once was master of, finally yielding the play to Richmond, whose treatment of the audience as fellow members of the English community stands in marked contrast to Richard’s feigned collaboration.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince (1513). Trans. and ed. Robert M. Adams. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992.
In this famous political treatise, Machiavelli draws upon his experience as a member of the Florentine government in order to present his conception of the kind of strong leader and tactics required to impose political order for the good of the unified Italy he envisioned. Because Machiavelli separates politics from ethics and is more concerned with ends than with means, his name has become identified with all that is cynical and even diabolical in state affairs. In Shakespeare’s England, this exaggeratedly negative reputation gave rise to the conventional villain known as the Machiavel, of which Richard is an example.
Magnusson, Lynne A. “Grammatical Theatricality in Richard III: Schoolroom Queens and Godly Optatives.” Shakespeare Quarterly 64 (2013): 32–43.
Magnusson argues that Richard III’s “verbal inventiveness . . . arises out of a deeply embedded grammatical culture renewed in England with the reestablishment and spread of grammar schools in the course of the Reformation and specifically with the development of Lily’s Grammar . . . as the one grammar text for the realm.” The focus of the essay is the play’s “distinctive language of female passion” (i.e., the women’s curses and lamentations) and “heightened attention” to the optative mood of desiring or wishing. As a schoolboy in Stratford engaged in the daily translating of Latin constructions into English, Shakespeare would have been exposed to Lily’s “showy” and “Godly” mistranslation of the optative mood, whereby internal situations of wishing became occasions of “oratorical declamation,” and secular constructions such as “I pray” / “Would I” became “I pray God” / “Would God.” The explicit introduction of God as the agent needed to bring about the speaker’s desire dominates the cursing that is the primary speech act in 1.3; Queen Margaret’s “God I pray Him / That none of you may live his natural age” (lines 222–23) illustrates “optative cursing” as not “merely invective but potentially effectual.” Richard III—“a grammatical play, framed upon a virtuoso set of grammatical variations”—demonstrates how Shakespeare used Lily’s mediated optative mood to “create . . . a heightened language for passionate utterance” and “to explore an alternative form of potency in his female characters.” Moreover, the incorporation of the deity “into the performative speech acts of human wishes” opens up “the God-question attaching itself to the play’s larger trajectory”: Are the forces shaping events driven by divine will, or by human action? Shakespeare’s well-learned and creatively supplemented use of the optative mood in Richard III suggests to Magnusson “an effective structure for an apparently providential tragedy.”
McDonald, Russ. “Richard III and the Tropes of Treachery.” Philological Quarterly 68 (1989): 465–83.
In Richard III McDonald detects an increasing skepticism about the linguistic medium that will develop in Shakespeare’s later plays into a fully tragic conception of the instability of language. The key rhetorical pattern in Richard III involves a stronger speaker wresting verbal power away from one who is weaker, usually by appropriating and then reapplying the word, phrase, or metrical form of the latter. That Shakespeare’s concerns about the reliability of language developed faster than his suspicions about the role of Providence in the political world can be seen in the depiction of the dull and flat Richmond: “The historical victor is a rhetorical loser.”
Mooney, Michael E. “Language, Staging, and ‘Affect’: Figurenposition in Richard III.” In Shakespeare’s Dramatic Transactions, pp. 23–49. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990.
Mooney applies Robert Weimann’s (Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition) term Figurenposition (figural positioning) and his distinctions between platea (a neutral, undifferentiated downstage playing area) and locus (an illusionistic, localized upstage site) to a study of Richard’s shifting relationship with the audience, arguing that what changes between the first and second courtship scenes is not Richard’s character but the way the character is portrayed and the consequent shift in audience response.
Pearlman, E. “The Invention of Richard of Gloucester.” Shakespeare Quarterly 43 (1992): 410–29.
Pearlman traces Richard’s genesis through 2 and 3 Henry VI, seeing the character as an experimental work in progress who undergoes a radical metamorphosis in the major soliloquy that begins “Ay, Edward will use women honorably” (3H6, 3.2.126–97). In that speech Shakespeare fuses the symbolic (Richard as Vice) with the realistic (Richard’s consciousness of his deformity as the causation of his villainy) and reveals for the first time the dissimulating, “ironic, leering, self-conscious, and devilish” character familiar to audiences of Richard III.
Prescott, Paul. The Shakespeare Handbooks: Richard III. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Prescott’s performance-oriented handbook consists of six chapters: (1) The Texts and Early Performances, (2) The Play’s Sources and Cultural Contexts, (3) Commentary, (4) Key Productions and Performances, (5) The Play on Screen, and (6) Critical Assessments. The core of the book is a scene-by-scene commentary that encourages readers to “envisage the words . . . unfurling in performance,” thereby opening up the “environment for which [the play was] written and [offering] an experience as close as possible to an audience’s progressive experience of a production.” Prescott argues for a date of composition “sometime in 1592,” with a first performance soon after; as to whether the 1597 Quarto or the 1623 Folio text “more faithfully represents Shakespeare’s play as it was performed in his lifetime,” he advocates “a healthy agnosticism as the best frame of mind” for those “seeking a way to an ideal text of Richard III.” The chapter on sources and contexts provides excerpts from Sir Thomas More’s The History of King Richard III, Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancaster and York, The Mirror for Magistrates, an anonymous verse tribute to Elizabeth in honor of her coronation in 1559, and Francis Bacon’s essay “Of Deformity” (which, though written years after Shakespeare wrote Richard III, sheds light on “orthodox attitudes to disability and deformity in early modern England”). As part of the dramatic context, Prescott discusses earlier plays on Richard (e.g., Thomas Legge’s Ricardus Tertius) and the influence of Seneca, medieval drama (most notably the Vice character), Thomas Kyd, and Christopher Marlowe. Stage productions and performances singled out for special mention include those of Colley Cibber (1699), Edmund Kean (1814), Henry Irving (1877 and 1896), Laurence Olivier (1944), and Ian McKellen (1990); several appropriations of Shakespeare’s play (e.g., Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui ) illustrate its “fruitful alternative afterlife.” The chapter on cinematic revivals examines two silent films (Sir Frank Benson’s  and James Keane’s, with Frederick B. Warde as Richard ), Laurence Olivier’s transfer of his Old Vic performance to the screen (1955), Jane Howell’s BBC TV Richard III (1983), Richard Loncraine’s reworking of Richard Eyre’s 1990 stage production, both starring Ian McKellen (1995), and Al Pacino’s “streetwise” Looking for Richard (1996). Prescott organizes his assessment of critical studies under the following headings: “Before the Romantics,” “Among the Romantics,” “Freud and Shaw,” “Tillyard, Kott and the Nightmare of History,” “Beyond Tillyard,” “Psychoanalytic and Feminist Studies,” and “New and Old Histories.” In the past half-century, the politics of historiography has replaced individual psychology as the dominant concern in Richard III criticism. Prescott’s account of critical responses concludes that “the meanings of Shakespeare’s text will admit no absolute, definitive interpretation, only provisional degrees of probability and plausibility.” An annotated bibliography keyed to chapter headings rounds out the volume.
Rackin, Phyllis. “Engendering the Tragic Audience: The Case of Richard III.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 26 (1993): 47–66.
Rackin notes gendered differences between history and tragedy with respect to subjects (e.g., the marginalization of women in history plays) and emotional responses evoked from audiences (e.g., history’s celebration of the masculine virtues of courage and patriotism versus tragedy’s association with “womanish weeping” and the “feminine passions of pity and fear”). Rackin then “delineate[s] the ways the reconstruction of history as tragedy in Richard III transvalued the representations of women on Shakespeare’s stage and transformed the gendered relationship between actors and audience in the playhouse,” specifically placing the theater audience in a passive, feminine position.
Saccio, Peter. “Richard the Third: The Last Plantagenet.” In Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama, pp. 157–86. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
The three-part chapter on Richard III covers the reign of Edward IV, the intrigues and strategies practiced by Richard during the nominal reign of Edward V, and the victory of Richmond at Bosworth Field, which heralded the Tudor dynasty. An examination of the historical record of Richard’s life and reign reveals a figure somewhere between the extreme images of “Richard the Monster and Richard the Good.”
Schwyzer, Philip. “Trophies, Traces, Relics, and Props: The Untimely Objects of Richard III.” Shakespeare Quarterly 63 (2012): 297–327.
Through the lens of “object biography,” Schwyzer traces “the afterlives of objects associated with the reign and person of Richard III” (e.g., his prayer book, crown, dagger, bed, and armor) to explore their “second afterlife” as “haunted properties” in Shakespeare’s play. The opening soliloquy makes clear the dramatic text’s deep engagement “with the problem of things that have outlived their time, yet linger on both to bear witness to the past and to offer themselves for employment in the present.” Of all the play’s theatrical properties, Richard’s “bruisèd” armor (1.1.6) “provide[s] the most complex and provocative example of how Richard III interrogates its own objects” as “material palimpsests in which past meanings and functions co-exist with those of the present.” Schwyzer considers at length the implications of the phrase “rotten armor” in the stage direction that opens 3.5. Identifying this piece of armor as a “brigander”—i.e., a leather vest with metal rings, worn by foot soldiers in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries but out of date by the 1590s—Schwyzer finds the adjective “appropriate to leather that is decaying, crumbling to pieces,” to armor, in other words, that is not only old but that looks its age. In performances of historical drama on the early modern stage, the use of such garments (purchased for their economic and symbolic value, presumably having been worn by past generations of soldiers) “contributed to the blurring of the boundary between the present and the past, and hence between the players and the persons they presented.” In the context of 3.5, “[r]ather than allowing the audience to believe that they are seeing the past as it really was,” the armor “becomes an emblem of theatricality and deceit,” reminding us “of the way the past generally survives in the present—as remnant, as residue, as rubbish.” By “thematiz[ing certain objects] . . . at once as theatrical props and as objects with histories,” the play “invites us to consider how much and how little separates the dramatic property from the genuine article, and in doing so to gauge the proximity and the distance between Shakespeare’s era and Richard’s own.”
Spivack, Bernard. “The Hybrid Image in Shakespeare.” In Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil, pp. 379–414. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.
Spivack locates the source of Richard’s theatrical power in the Vice character of the medieval morality drama. From such a conventional type Richard derives his “bravura,” self-mocking humor, penchant for disguise and dissimulation, habit of “verbal equivocation,” and intimate relationship with the audience. Richard is a hybrid in consisting of two realities: one naturalistic (and in this case historical) and the other symbolic. Both are “enclosed by the single name of Richard,” but it is only as the Vice figure that he is intelligible.