Richard III: Shakespeare’s Villain And The Real King

Richard III, back from the dead. Out of the parking lot. We’ll look at history, Shakespeare, and the return of the king.

Undated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4 2013 of the remains found underneath a car park last September at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, which have been declared Monday "beyond reasonable doubt" to be the long lost remains of England's King Richard III, missing for 500 years. (AP)

Undated photo made available by the University of Leicester, England, Monday Feb. 4 2013 of the remains found underneath a car park last September at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, which have been declared Monday “beyond reasonable doubt” to be the long lost remains of England’s King Richard III, missing for 500 years. (AP)

He was the “son of hell,” as Shakespeare had it.  A “bunch-backed toad.”  Richard III.  The malformed king who cried “my kingdom for a horse!” and killed his way to the crown.  The great villain of English royalty.

And this week, remains dug up from under an English parking lot announced as his.  The very skeleton of Richard III.  Battered and bashed from battle and worse 528 years ago.

Identified with a DNA swab from a 17th generation descendant.  With a spine curved like a U-turn.  William Shakespeare made him the soul of infamy.

This hour, On Point:  history, villainy, and Richard III.

-Tom Ashbrook


John Ashdown Hill, historian and member of the Richard the Third Society. Author of “The Last Days of Richard III,” the book that inspired the search for Richard’s body. He was at the dig site when the bones of King Richard the Third were exhumed, and carried the King’s remains after they’d been packaged.

Michael Witmore, Shakespeare scholar, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. (@michaelwitmore)

From Tom’s Reading List

Time Magazine “For centuries, Richard III has skulked in the shadows of the English imagination, a debased villain guilty of the worst crimes. A whole complex of writers and poets sponsored by the ascendant Tudors, not least Shakespeare, acted as de facto propagandists, cementing a legend that has stuck of a gnarled, misbegotten, evil schemer.”

Associated Press “The discovery of King Richard III under a parking lot in the English city of Leicester thrilled history buffs around the world. But the news meant a winter of discontent for the rival city of York, and now the two are doing battle over the royal bones. Officials in Leicester say the monarch, who was unceremoniously buried without a coffin 528 years ago, will be re-interred with kingly dignity in the city’s cathedral.”

CNN “You may not find a saint, ‘but neither was he a criminal,’ Stone said. ‘All but one of the so-called crimes laid at his door can be refuted by the facts.’ That crime was the killing of the rival nephews, known in history as the ‘Princes in the Tower,’ he said.”

Richard III Gallery

Sir Laurence Olivier as Richard III

Performing the play’s famous opening monologue (with a fake nose)

Sir Ian McKellen as Richard III

Seducing Lady Anne, whose husband he has killed

Excerpt: “The Last Days of Richard III”

Text and images excerpted with permission from The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of His DNA (The History Press, 2013).

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