The “Crookback King” has been despatched on stages around the world for more than 400 years to Richmond’s merciless cry: “The day is ours, the bloody dog is dead.”
Now, for the first time since Shakespeare penned his masterpiece of Tudor propaganda, theatre audiences can witness the true – and no less brutal – circumstances of Richard III’s demise on Bosworth Field.
The first major production of the play since the identification of the Plantagenet’s remains in a Leicester car park this year will draw on the fresh archaeological evidence to create the most historically authentic denouement to Richard’s blood-soaked saga ever staged.
Loveday Ingram, who is directing the co-production between Nottingham Playhouse and York Theatre Royal, said Richard’s skeleton had revealed a number of vital clues.
“We now know exactly how he was killed,” she said. “What we are trying to do is reflect it as accurately as we can and re-enact it in a stylised way. We know he received a number of blows – two of which were fatal. One sliced through the top of his skull. The other was a stab wound which penetrated through the top of his skull,” Ms Ingram added.
The injuries also reveal the likely weapons used. It is believed that a halberd, an iron axe blade, removed the top of Richard’s head whilst a dagger punctured his brain – revealing that Richard was not wearing a helmet when he was slain. The angle of his injuries also suggests his assailants were mounted whilst he was on foot, demonstrating for once that Shakespeare was choosing to be historically authentic when he had the monarch shouting: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
Also reflected in the fight scene will be battlefield evidence which proves that artillery was deployed at Bosworth. “We have cannon and explosions because that is what would have happened,” said Ms Ingram, who is directing her husband Ian Bartholomew in the title role.
The DNA confirmation that the Leicester bones were those of Britain’s most controversial king has offered both historians and Shakespeare scholars a wealth of insight.
Professor Lin Foxhall, of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester which made the extraordinary find, said the re-evaluation of Richard had only just begun.
“For a long time people said he was a monster but now we are discovering from our find that he was a lot more complicated than that. We know he had a spinal deformity but he was not a hunchback. He was an active individual who was right there in the thick of things. He was keen on hunting and falconry but he was also physically quite slight. He might have looked a little bit girly and delicate in his features,” she said.
The bones have revealed that Richard suffered from adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, which would have struck him from the onset of puberty causing him progressively more severe pain until his violent death aged 32. The condition could also have profoundly shaped his personality, giving him a desire to prove himself in the deeply masculine and physical world of medieval power politics.
It has also been revealed he did not have a withered arm or a limp, trademarks of some of the hammiest – and greatest – stage depictions.
“If I was portraying Richard it would be a much more sympathetic Richard than Laurence Olivier’s. We can now see a much more complex character than the evil villain that Shakespeare produced,” said Professor Foxhall.