The quintessential actor, Samuel Johnson once said, is "a fellow who claps a hump on his back... and cries, 'I am Richard the Third'." Interesting then that Kevin Spacey, playing Richard III at the Old Vic, sports a hump which our critic describes as "brutally disfiguring".
Historians have long questioned Shakespeare's portrait of England's last Yorkist king as a cruel dissembling hunchback. But then the Bard was a Tudor spin-doctor who borrowed his facts from the History of Richard III written by Sir Thomas More. As Henry VIII's Chancellor, he had good reason to blacken the character of the man his boss's dad had toppled. A crooked character followed from a crooked countenance, as the received wisdom of the times had it.
The Richard III Society, which is dedicated to setting the historical record straight, claims that this last Yorkist was a Good King who standardised weights and measures, abolished the purchasing of high office, and reformed the courts. So why does the hunch persist? Maybe it is an index to the national mood: the grimmer the times, the more we need a villain to blame, and the more distended Richard III's hump. For a summer of discontent, what more appropriate figure could return to the London stage?