The mysteries of Richard III are far from solved, says literary expert


Ryan Hooper
Monday 04 February 2013 13:38

Today's confirmation that remains found beneath a car park in Leicester are those of the last Plantagenet king of England will not strip the mystery from one of William Shakespeare's greatest plays, a literary expert has predicted.

Scientists at the University of Leicester this morning stated the skeleton exhumed in September last year during an archaeological dig is that of King Richard III - a man revered and vilified in equal measure as a visionary reformer and ruthless murderer of his family members respectively.

The monarch is famous today for his death at the Battle of Bosworth, which effectively ended the Wars of the Roses - as well as the disappearance of his young nephews, and his derisory portrayal in Shakespeare's play The Tragedy Of King Richard III.

Philip Schwyzer, professor of renaissance literature at the University of Exeter, said confirmation today that the remains found in Leicester are those of the last English king killed in battle solved only a small part of Shakespeare's great enigma.

Prof Schwyzer said: "There is still plenty of mystery in this work - the fact that we now know of Richard III's final resting place is only a piece in that puzzle.

"There are still so many unknowns about Richard's motivation, his crimes, his psychological state.

"I think Shakespeare was hinting at the audience to address those unanswered questions in his play. Richard's body is left on stage at the end, with no narration of where it will be laid to rest.

"I think Shakespeare was telling us that we are never going to get all the answers."

Shakespeare's play tells of a monarch blighted by deformity, including details of a pronounced hunchback and withered arm. However, today's evidence suggests Richard III's disability was not as severe as suggested in the play, and with little evidence of the crippled limb.

Prof Schwyzer, whose book Shakespeare And The Remains Of Richard III examining the story behind the play is due to be published later this year, said he expected a "backlash" against the great bard from some who accuse him of telling lies about the monarch.

But he also predicted a surge in interest in the play, one of Shakespeare's most celebrated historical works.

He said: "Shakespeare's physical description of the king sets up a sort of 'chicken and egg' scenario. Richard III says he cannot prove himself a lover because of his deformity, so he will prove himself a villain.

"Shakespeare poses the question of which came first - is he villainous because of his deformity, or does the deformity emphasise his mental characteristics?

"Whatever the results of today's findings, the mysteries of Richard III are far from solved."

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