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Friday, October 6, 2017

Reconsidering Richard's Rep

Portrait of King Richard III. Collection of National Portrait Gallery.
By Christian Barclay

In late August 2012, a collection of bones were uncovered and retrieved from beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England. There was no sign of a coffin or burial shroud, and it appeared as if the body had been dumped into a grave unceremoniously. Early findings concluded that the remains were those of an adult male with severe scoliosis of the spine––a condition that might've made one shoulder higher than the other. On February 4, 2013, the University of Leicester confirmed, through DNA testing, that the skeleton was that of Richard III. Less than a month later, following a public viewing period, a nationally televised funeral procession and service led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Richard was reburied in a public tomb in the Leicester Cathedral.

Looking for Richard: In Search of a King, the years-long project to locate and properly bury Richard’s remains, was led by the Richard III Society, a group dedicated to the reappraisal of England’s most maligned monarch. While many scholars acknowledge that Shakespeare’s infamous portrait of the king hovers between fact and fiction, the damage remains. The group was founded in 1924 by a group of amateur English historians who believed that history had not been fair to Richard. Through dedicated study of his life and times, they were determined to promote a more balanced view.

Much of the society’s scholarship aims to contextualize Richard’s reign. The morals and behaviors of 15th century England were radically different from our own, therefore Richard’s deeds (and alleged misdeeds) cannot be judged within a vacuum. Over the years, the society has published and funded dozens of papers and books on 15th century life, and in 1980, it received the honor of royal patronage when HRH The Duke of Gloucester agreed to become its patron.

Today the Society includes branches around the world. There are over 30 local groups within the United Kingdom, as well as branches in America, Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. Through lectures, activities, and visits to Ricardian sites, Society members are slowly, but surely, rewriting history, in the meantime shedding new light on the reputation of a legendarily notorious figure.

Schaubühne Berlin's production of Richard III by William Shakespeare, directed by Thomas Ostermeier, with translation and adaptation by Marius von Mayenburg, will be performed from Oct 11—14 at the BAM Harvey Theater.

Christian Barclay is a publicist at BAM.

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