So, skeletal remains found under a parking lot in Leicester may belong to crookback Richard III, darker and more sinister-looking in Shakespeare’s play than Darth Vader was the first time you saw him stalking down the blockade runner corridor in “A New Hope.”
But a bit of personal interaction with Philippa Gregory in my previous newspaper career (see About Call of the Siren for more on that), and with Desmond Seward’s book “Richard III,” changed all that for me. I still love Shakespeare’s lines, and love reciting them, from his play — “cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,/Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time/Into this breathing world…” That’s what Richard declares about himself. But I can’t be sure the words are entirely true.
The last Plantagenet was a ruthless ruler, undeniably so, but so were many rulers of the eras before, during and after — a fact Seward includes not to defend Richard, but to keep things in balance. Gregory is a passionate Yorkist, arguing that Richard and his clan were the victims of a Tudor smear campaign. Check out her “Cousins’ War” series of novels and you’ll see for yourself.
Which gets me back to the parking lot discovery of last month. If the skeleton can be assembled, what will we see? Evidence of a dramatic hump or just an uneven shoulder blade, transformed by Elizabeth I’s playwright into something monstrous?