Richard III and Shakespeare: Mystery of the Machiavellian character remains

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  • William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare
    English playwright and poet (1564-1616)

The discovery of the resting place of Richard III, whose body was hidden for over 500 years under a gritty car park, lacks the poetic ending given to him in William Shakespeare's historical play.

But solving the question of the 15th-century king's remains does not strip the mystery from one of the Bard's greatest plays, according to one literary expert.

The skeleton exhumed in September last year during an archaeological dig was confirmed to be King Richard III by scientists at the University of Leicester today.

The monarch is notorious for his death at the Battle of Bosworth - the last English king to die during battle - which effectively ended the Wars of the Roses.

The particularly grizzly story of the disappearance of his young nephews, rivals to his throne, and his Machiavellian portrayal in Shakespeare's play The Tragedy Of King Richard III afforded him a murderous reputation.

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

Professor 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 an exaggerated hunchback and withered arm.

Related: Car park skull 'was that of Richard III' say experts

However, new evidence suggests Richard III's disability was not as severe as suggested in the play, and with little evidence of the crippled limb.

Professor 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 playwright 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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