An American novelist in King Richard III’s court

I opened my Facebook author page to discover my new friend Sarahleigh of Leicester had posted about the gift I sent her, a paperback of my novel, Rings of Passage. On the title page, I had written the inscription, “The Sunne in Splendour shined on us the day we met.” It was so true.

Sarahleigh stands with me as Leicester glows around us.

Sarahleigh stands with me as Leicester glows around us.

Meeting Sarahleigh among the crowd gathering the streets of Richard III’s “funeral” procession, marked the beginning of an extraordinary week for me in which I celebrated the life of a long dead English king. It’s as if this 500-year-old English monarch had suddenly become a rock star.

History geeks, scientists, writers, literary experts, members of the Richard III Society, and everyday working citizens of Leicester, came together for an international event that was as unlikely as it was miraculous.

Against the Odds
Excavated three years ago from beneath a “car park” in the city’s center, the bones of medieval King Richard III matched the DNA of a living descendant of Richard’s sister.

That’s the miraculous part. As Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist for the University of Leicester’s Greyfriar’s project said, “The chances of finding Richard was, I don’t know, a million to one.”

From ignominy to celebrity
On March 22, these royal bones were being transported via motorized hearse and then horse-drawn carriage in a dignified procession along the same route Richard III’s corpse traveled, ignominiously thrown over the back of a horse, the day he died.

Richard III's bones in procession

Richard III’s bones in procession through Leicester on March 22, 2015

He was on his way to Leicester cathedral, where within a few days’ time on March 26, he would be re-buried with the honor he never received the first time, when he was thrown into a shallow grave, 530 years ago. Henry Tudor, the victor of that battle and usurper of the throne, wanted to erase the memory of the last Plantagenet king from the minds of the citizens of his newly claimed realm as quickly as possible.

A medieval city’s transformation
When Richard came through this medieval city in 1485, it had a population of only 3,000. Leicester today has nearly 400,000 residents. Britain’s most ethnically diverse city, it was now undergoing what the news media called the “Richard Effect.”

Many of the people lining High Street waiting for the procession were from countries other than the United Kingdom – America, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France. But the majority were Midlanders, born and bred in and around Leicester, who had heard about Richard III all their lives because they grew up among the landmarks of his final days. They had been taught in school the textbook facts about how he had been slain 14 miles from their city on the battlefield of Bosworth – the last English King to die in battle.

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel Novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel Novel with Richard III

My novel unearthed
The entwining of my life with Richard III’s legend began over two decades ago. Reading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time turned me into an instant Ricardian, chaffing against Tudor propagandists and Shakespeare’s smear campaign. I eagerly joined the Richard III Society and wrote my first novel, Rings of Passage. In it, Richard is a romantic hero worthy of happiness – not the Bard’s crouch-backed monster.

Many years my novel had languished on a computer hard drive.

Then, suddenly, Richard became newsworthy. Not long after the excavation of his bones and DNA identification, I unearthed Rings of Passage. The advent of e-publishing now made it possible for readers specifically interested in Richard III to discover my novel.

Not long after it came out, my novel passed the acid test when the Richard III Society publication Ricardian Bulletin reviewed it. I had my facts “pretty much bang to rights,” wrote the reviewer.
Whew! I passed the history test.

That kind of obsession
My visit to Leicester in March 2015 was not my first. In 1990, I took a self-guided tour of as many Ricardian landmarks I could get to during a month spent in England. I had been to the Bow Bridge, where Richard had been carried after the battle, his naked body slung over a horse. I had made a pilgrimage to Bosworth Field, which required me to catch a city bus to Market Bosworth, and then hike the remaining few miles to the battlefield, walk around it, and back again – a total of 10 miles on foot.

That kind of obsession is what compelled Philippa Langley to become the squeaky-wheel for the Ricardians, urging public and university officials to finally excavate the site where Richard had most likely been buried, the social services car park on the former location of Greyfriars Priory, destroyed during the Reformation.

I went to that car park on my long-ago trip to Leicester. Because of a locked gate, I could not get as far as Philippa Langley’s parking space marked with the letter ‘R’ under which Richard had lain for five centuries.

Yet, as I stood soggy in the cold rain, like Philippa, I swear I could feel him there.

"Leicester Glows" The Richard Effect
Come full circle to Leicester, March 22, 2015.

Arriving in Leicester by train just in time to make it to City Centre before the streets closed to car traffic, I stood not far from that car park once more.

Like thousands of others stacked six deep along the High Street, I waited for the solemn, horse-drawn procession carrying Richard’s coffin. Many only wanted the chance to toss a white rose in the Yorkist’s honor as he passed.

I first met Sarahleigh in this throng of Richard “fans” at a tree planter along the street, upon which the most “vertically challenged” of us could crawl and stand at a height lofty enough to stare down the street, blinking into the glare of the setting sun, and hoping to catch the first glimpse of the procession.

After that, Sarahleigh kept in touch with me online throughout the week, as we shared the experience of the “Richard Effect” on the city of Leiceister. It’s as if we were old friends long parted who had found one another again.

On Friday, the day after the re-interment in the Cathedral, we joined up for the remarkable and surreal experience of “Leicester Glows,” a “fire garden” of 8,000 flaming candles built into sculptures and trails throughout the cathedral gardens and lining the streets.

Sarahleigh ties a prayer ribbon at Leicester CathedralWe spent the evening chatting, sharing a pint, and eating fish and chips in the Last Plantagenet pub, and then wandered the fiery streets celebrating the reburial of Richard III.

The week nearly over, Sarahleigh and I took our turns tying prayer ribbons at Leicester Cathedral, and giving thanks to the universe for allowing us to share this remarkable historical event.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch described it perfectly: “It’s just an extraordinary thing to witness history through death brought back to life in order to be placed back to death again.”

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Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

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Dangerous Reflections: A Historical Fantasy through Time

Dangerous Reflections: A Historical Fantasy through Time

Dangerous Reflections is a time travel historical fantasy set in Edwardian London. After Martie is bequeathed a magic wand from her grandmother, she steps through a mirror into the arms of a powerful wizard and a truly magical romance.

Light the darkness through belief and persistence

Cynicism rules the modern landscape. But even in these troubled times, belief against impossible odds and the persistence to see a thing through to the end can shed light into the oldest and darkest of places.

My novel “Rings of Passage: A Time Travel Novel with Richard III” emerged into the light in late 2013, long after its burial on the virtual shelf.

Against all odds, the universe shifted, allowing a miracle to occur.

The word “miracle” is flung about loosely these days, but I believe this event qualifies.

Richard III PortraitThe bones of my novel’s romantic hero, King Richard III, had been excavated from beneath a parking lot in Leicester in 2012. DNA comparison to living descendants of his sister proved his identity.

The discovery of the medieval king, who died in 1485, was made by a team of archaeologists of the University of Leicester. The excavation had finally been undertaken because of the fervent belief by Richard III Society members Philippa Langley and Dr. John Ashdown Hill that Richard’s remains lay in a makeshift grave beneath a city parking lot on the former site of the Greyfriars Priory.

They simply would not give up.

For those who can’t quite place which English king this is – he’s the one whose reputation is painted the blackest of all in British history.

In the centuries since he was slain by Henry Tudor’s army, Richard has been unfairly maligned by, oh, just about everyone. That’s what happens when the winning side writes history books.

To add insult to injury, Shakespeare wrote one of his greatest plays based around Richard’s alleged crimes: the murder of his innocent nephews, the Princes in the Tower.

The Bard leaves us with the taste of ridicule in our minds when he wrote Richard’s final death cry as, “My kingdom for a horse!” – what the king really cried was “Treason!”

By the time the Leicester City Council had finally agreed to the excavation, I had not thought about my Richard book for years.

Admittedly, I was a bit in love with Richard at the time I wrote it.

I got on the bandwagon after reading Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time.” After studying the facts of Richard’ life and learning about the propaganda disseminated by Henry Tudor’s supporters, it troubled me that Richard had been given a raw deal by historians. Despite the fact that Tudor had gained the throne by winning a battle, and not through bloodlines, everybody seemed to be on his side.

I fervently wanted to show Richard III, the last Plantagenet king and the last English king to die in battle, as a good and honorable man who was worthy of happiness and love.

Bosworth battlefield, where Richard III fell in battle in 1485

Bosworth battlefield, where Richard III fell in battle in 1485

In my story, my heroine Anise time travels via a magic ring to the 15th century just prior to the Battle of Bosworth Field where Richard is destined to die. In a plot setting the historical events of the final days of Wars of the Roses against a backdrop of magic devised by wizards to put Henry Tudor on the throne, Anise and Richard fall in love.

Completed in the ’90s, my novel identifies Greyfriars Priory as Richard’s confirmed burial place. As if channeling future events through my writing, I employ the plot device of excavating the King’s remains and using DNA evidence – even though, 20 years ago, the use of DNA in forensics had just come into common usage a few years before.

During my research trip to England so long ago, I visited that Leicester parking lot where Richard had been found. I stood there on a rainy day in September, on the street outside the city building, and tried to sense Richard’s presence. (blog post.) When I heard years later he had been found on that very spot, it left me breathless.

And now, as a member of the Richard III Society, I will be returning to Leicester. In another gift from the universe, my name was chosen in a lottery to attend one of Richard III’s reburial services in Leicester Cathedral at the end of the month.

Remarkably, through the persistence of Ms. Langley, Mr. Ashdown Hill, and other supporters of the excavation, Richard’s bones and the true facts of his life have been brought into the light.

Inspired by their unflagging belief and persistence, I unearthed “Rings of Passage” and rescued it from obscurity.

And to come full circle, I will be in attendance – a witness to history – when Richard III is finally laid to rest in a manner of respect and dignity befitting a medieval king.

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Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

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Dangerous Reflections: A Historical Fantasy through Time

Dangerous Reflections: A Historical Fantasy through Time

Dangerous Reflections is a time travel historical fantasy set in Edwardian London. After Martie is bequeathed a magic wand from her grandmother, she steps through a mirror into the arms of a powerful wizard and a truly magical romance.

What’s in a name? That which we call prose

Coming up with a title for a written piece can be challenging. Some titles pop right into your head, while others require a painful process in which you end up settling for something… finally.

Whether the piece is a novel, essay, song or article, achieving the right balance between the theme of the piece, what you want to communicate to the reader, and what the appeals to the sensibilities of your targeted audience, is not easy.

Too obscure, and nobody gets it. Too obvious, and it’s trite. But one thing is certain: if it’s not catchy, it’s also not memorable. Boring bombs and indifference is death.

Finding the right title for my historical fantasy time travel novel, “Rings of Passage,” did not come easily.

My original title was “Battle Against Time.” Too trite. My next idea was “Shakespeare’s Child.” Too obscure. At last, the members of my critique group, who brainstormed with me, came up with “Rings of Passage” as a play on the phrase “Rites of Passage.” We all agreed it was the best of what we’d thought of so far.

The title of my second novel, “Dangerous Reflections” (scheduled for release in January 2015), popped right into my head immediately after coming up with the concept.

That hardly ever happens.

So here are some techniques I use to find just the right title:

Rhymezone search options

Rhymezone search options

Technique #1: Go for the throat. What’s the most obvious prop, character, archetype or theme of the piece? Include that in the title. I wrote an essay about picking up my guitar again, after not playing it for 25 years. It’s a stringed instrument, so I chose to build the title around the word “strings.”

OneLook wildcards

OneLook wildcards

Technique #2: Twist the obvious. Now that you have that one key word, play with it. Search for phrases that are built around that word (idiomsite.com). Find words that rhyme with it. (rhymezone.com). Think of other people’s well-known titles or lyrics that use that word (rockwisdom.com), and twist it slightly so it stirs people’s memories in that direction, yet is somehow slightly “off.”

For the guitar essay, I took the phrase “absence of strings” (meaning “no strings attached”), but slanted its meaning to imply the opposite of the phrase’s original intent. In my case, not playing the guitar had caused a void in my life.

Technique #3: Bend Google to your will. Use the search engine to discover how many other people have already used your idea—but at the same time, to brainstorm alternatives to those overused titles. Suppose you’re toying with a phrase you like, that captures the essence of your work, but has been used to death. Enter part of the phrase into the search engine, except with quote marks around it. (www.google.com/advanced_search)

Google search with quote marks

Google search with quote marks

Using Technique #3 For my guitar essay title, I entered “<space> of strings”—which allowed for a word in front of the phrase.

This filled in the blank (“____ of strings”) with:

An array
Lord
Rite
Chief
Best
Absence

As another example, I wanted to add a subtitle to my novel “Dangerous Reflections,” which is a historical fantasy about  wizards who travel through mirrors. Using Technique #1, I started building upon the most important device in the novel, a mirror. Using this idea, I quickly came up with “Magic Mirrors” and “Smoke and Mirrors.”

After entering “Magic Mirrors” into the search engine, I immediately discovered this was an overused phrase, and that there was already a fantasy series with that in the title.

I switched to Technique #2. The rhymes for “smoke” produced many results, but they didn’t make sense in context.

But the rhyming word “broke” suggested “broken.” Using the very useful “near rhymes” tool of Rhymezone, this yielded some quirky results:

Stolen
frozen
potent
woven

Perhaps, within other contexts such as poetry, these results would have sparked intriguing possibilities. But they didn’t work for my purpose.

Switching back to Technique #1, I went for a synonym of “mirror.” Thesaurus.com is the go-to website for synonyms, and I use it daily.

With a little brainstorming, I came up with a Biblical phrase from Corinthians (King James Version), “Through a Glass, Darkly.” Many titles have been inspired by it, even a Rolling Stones album, “Through the Past, Darkly.”

Using Rhymezone to rhyme “darkly, “ I found “starkly,” “courtly,” “sharply,” “portly.”

Not quite what I was looking for.

So I went to OneLook, a “dictionary of dictionaries,” and used its “wildcard” function to find words that ending in “ly.” This brought up an overwhelming number of results.

Fortunately, the website gives you the option of narrowing it down to “common words and phrases” and even “part of speech.” I definitely wanted adverbs. This produced an alphabetic list that went on for pages and yielded some possibilities: “blithely,” “boldly,” “timelessly.”

OneLook also offers a key word search of Shakespeare’s works (resulting in this blog post’s title). Or enter a word to “show only matches that are related to this concept.”

I put in the word “light” coupled with the “ly” form, and got some slightly oddball results, including “light-headedly,” sparkly” and “smelly.” Interesting, but definitely no cigar.

So I switched to Technique #3, entering into Google a partial phrase inside of quote marks, “Through a glass” – and in addition to that, outside the quotes, a minus sign (-) in front of the word “darkly” to eliminate matches including that word.

Search hits included “Through a Glass <fill in the blank>”

Weakly
Onion (thanks to the Beatles)
Lightly
Clearly
Daftly
Window
Bible
Brightly

This exercise helps you eliminate phrases that have become trite, and sparks your own imagination by leveraging from what others came up with to think outside the box.

In the end, I didn’t use the word “mirror” or any variation of “through a glass” as a subtitle for “Dangerous Reflections.” I settled for the more prosaic and Amazon-category-friendly, “A Historical Fantasy through Time.”

Even though I didn’t find my subtitle using these techniques, the exercise wasn’t a bust. It stretched my mind, fueled my creativity, and resulted in several ideas and phrases I can use to market the novel.

Useful Links

5 Easy Tips for Terrific Titles by Anna Guerrero

Idioms and sayings

http://www.pride-unlimited.com/probono/idioms1.html
http://www.brownielocks.com/folksayings.html
http://www.idiomsite.com/
http://www.idiomconnection.com/proverbs.html

Dictionaries and word sites

http://rhymezone.com
http://onelook.comhttp://thesaurus.com

Popular lyrics reference by category

http://www.rockwisdom.com/mainpage.htm
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Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage: A Time Travel novel with Richard III

Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

 

 

At a loss for words? Find out when Karla Tipton speaks at Mysterious Galaxy’s “Author Meet and Greet” July 12

On Saturday, July 12, I will be signing copies of “Rings of Passage” at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego. The event is from noon to 3 p.m.

Karla at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore

Back on May 3, Karla joined other authors to celebrate California Bookstore Day at Mysterious Galaxy, Redondo Beach.

The “Local Author Meet and Greet” will also include 12 other Southern California authors, representing fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, thriller, and young adult  and other genres.

I have five minutes to speak about my novel.

While I have been in front of an audience with my guitar—and have even done some singing on occasion—I don’t have much experience speaking in public.

So I’ve been practicing what I’m going to say.

Have a listen here. Think it’s good to go?

 

 

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Mysterious GalaxyLocal Author Meet and Greet
July 12, 2014
noon to 3
Mysterious Galaxy Books
7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 268-4747

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Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

 

 

Richard III Tour: Taking the tube to 15th century London

In 1990, I set off for England for a month to research my Richard III novel, “Rings of Passage.” This is my travel journal.

Looking back from 2014: After spending weeks in the country and small cities, London overwhelmed me with its size. It was more than a little intimidating, even though I had previously visited many large cities on the East Coast, as well as the largest cities in California. But nothing prepared me for the feeling of bigness exuded by London. Maybe it wasn’t its size in terms of square miles or population, but the sheer weight of its history. Structures of every era, from medieval times through the days of Swinging London, impressed me at every turn as I walked its streets toward the house called Crosby Hall, a fifteenth century mansion where Richard III often stayed when visiting the city as the Duke of Gloucester. Ironically, 40 years after Richard’s death, the house served as the residence of Sir Thomas More, whose biography of the fallen King painted his reputation black. With some additional help from Shakespeare, this villainous version of Richard has transcended centuries.

London
Sept 28, 1990

Sir Thomas More statue

Sir Thomas More statue

London was a bit overwhelming my first day there. I felt kind of lost, wishing I had company.

First, I took a train into Waterloo, then wandered around until I found the underground (tube). Then I had to figure out which underground train would take me to Victoria, so I could get my tube pass validated. At last I get to Trafalgar Square, where, at last, I decided to get on a tour bus, though I’ve avoided them up to this point.

It was very useful, because I did see all the places I’ve heard about for years – Nelson’s Column, Piccadilly, Hyde Park, the Thames with all its bridges.

We had a Cockney guide from the East End driving the second half of the trip (the first bus broke down). He showed us the church where the Bow Bells are.

“To be a Cockney, you have to be born beneath the sound of these bow bells,” he said.

He showed us the London School of Economics where Mick Jagger went, and the “Bag o Nails” pub where Paul McCartney met Linda Eastman.

When I got off that, I was starving and went to Pizza Hut. Then I got on the tube again to go to South Kensington (Sunny South Kensington, as Donovan says) and make for Richard III’s townhouse, Crosby Hall.

I wandered around there, going through Chelsea (expensive district) to where the house was on Cheyne (Chain-ey) Walk (also the street where Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull used to live). It was interesting.

Then I came back to West Byfleet to have dinner. Rosamond had made pizza!

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Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

 

Richard III Tour: Bosworth Field – Praying with the King

In 1990, I set off for England for a month to research my Richard III novel, “Rings of Passage.” This is my travel journal.

Looking back from 2014: My visit to Bosworth Field is burned into my memory. It is the ultimate destination for a Ricardian – the place where he did not plead, “My kingdom for a horse,” but instead cried, “Treason!” as an unworthy pretender invaded his realm and wrested it from him. Richard was the last English king to lead an army to the battlefield. To stand where he died moved me deeply. But to kneel where he prayed transcended it all.

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Leicester
Sept 25, 1990

Map to Bosworth Field

10 mile round trip on foot

Today was exhausting and exhilarating. I went from low to high several times.

I walked 10 miles.

One mile to the bus station.Then scrambling around trying to get the right bus. (Leicester has not treated me well.) Then from Market Bosworth, 2½ miles to the visitors center at Bosworth field. Then 1½ around the battlefield. Then 1½ round trip to Sutton Cheney church where Richard prayed the night before the battle. Then 2½ miles back to Market Bosworth.

Then another mile back from the bus station in Leicester to my B&B. And I really had to run to Market Bosworth to catch the bus and only with about a minute to spare – or else I’d have to wait another hour.

Nerve wracking.

The battlefield was really nice and the walk there wasn’t too bad, if long. I didn’t get to stay long at the place he was actually killed though. I wonder how they know.

Church of St. James, Sutton Cheney

Church of St. James, Sutton Cheney

At Sutton Cheney, there is this really old, old church with a damp smell. But so peaceful. I knelt where I thought Richard might have at the altar and looked at the crumbly walls as he might have. And I got that tingly feeling, like you get when you’re in the basement and you just want to get upstairs now. And at that point, a sadness came over me and I cried for Richard.

I sat for a few minutes alone in the church and cried. Then I prayed that I would have the talent and perseverance to tell Richard’s story.

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Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage

Rings of Passage” is a time travel historical fantasy, with Richard III as the romantic hero. Wizards control the events of history, but a woman’s love transcends all. Available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

Why did Shakespeare throw Richard III under the bus?

Dedicated to a fellow writer from my newspaper days, who inspired deliberation on this topic through his blog, “A Year of Shakespeare: 38 Plays, 365 Days.”
Richard III and Shakespeare
Why did Shakespeare throw Richard under the bus?

Some of the assumptions I make here may be false, however it is based on a fair amount of research, some of which I did while researching for my novel, Rings of Passage. I don’t claim to be a Shakespeare scholar. Experts out there take issue, please, if you will. Let’s get this thing cleared up.

Why did Shakespeare throw Richard III under the bus?

  • Political fear

Shakespeare wrote Richard III during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and so his portrayal of Richard is sometimes shrugged off as “toeing the party line.”

Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII dispatched Yorkists whenever he could get away with it. On flimsy charges, he beheaded Richard’s niece Margaret (countess of Salisbury,  George, duke of Clarence’s daughter) when she was 68 years old. She was hardly a threat.

He learned his hatred of Yorkists from his father, Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty, whose hate was grounded in the reasonable fear that his kingship was both undeserved and usurped.

If you had Yorkist leanings during the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, you had good reason to be afraid.

Yet Elizabeth the First did not share the hatred of her father and grandfather. She was a moderate in government and tolerant in religion. She enjoyed the theater, earning the disapproval of the Puritans on her own counsel.

According to Lisa Thyer, author of “Shakespeare Life and Times/Intro to Shakespeare’s life and Historical Context”:  “Theater was often used as a covert forum for political criticism: …some may have remembered the swinish face of Henry VIII, and all in the audience knew that it was only under special circumstances that they could publicly share the thought that monarch was a swine.”

Criticism of the Tudor dynasty embedded in a dramatic performance would not be cause enough for Elizabeth to eliminate a playwright, whose work she most likely enjoyed.

To toe the line of the current political climate is not a convincing enough argument for  Shakespeare’s trashing of Richard III.

  • Chasing the fame

How many tabloids have jumped on the bandwagon to destroy some celebrity’s career for the sheer purpose of selling more copies? Could the Bard’s motivation have been opportunistic?

Although Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays “preceded only by the three parts of Henry VI and perhaps a handful of comedies,” according to Wikipedia Richard had been dead a century by then, give or take a few years. Richard’s “dark” reputation had already been convincingly painted against the backdrop of the “Tudor Myth*.”

The rehashing of that old chestnut wouldn’t have gained a playwright much traction unless he happened to be Shakespeare. Like all great writing, he took an old idea and told the story in such a compelling way that it became new again.

It’s the universality of this theme, molded by the deft hand of a genius, that propelled Richard III to the top of the Elizabethan drama charts.

If there was any bandwagon jumping, it was because Shakespeare knew he could use the legend of Richard’s evil to drive home the idea that, in the karmic scheme of things, crime doesn’t pay. Shakespeare was not adverse to cozying up to his audience’s preferences, however (more on that later).

  • Poetic license

By the time Shakespeare penned Richard III, he had already written three historical plays Henry VI, parts I, II and III.

While researching the intrigues of British royalty, Shakespeare wasn’t looking for truth. He was looking for drama. And something deeper.

Shakespeare grew up on the morality plays popular at the time of his youth. These plays, and the classical dramatic tradition of unity and decorum learned as part of a grammar school education, provided the foundation for his work. Along with his contemporaries, Shakespeare blended old morality drama with classical theory to develop a new secular form for the English Renaissance.

In a nutshell, this new form of drama resonated on an emotional level, but also incorporated themes dealing with the human condition and destiny. And despite its ambiguous themes and complexity, this new brand of drama should be universally understood, not only to the educated elite, but also to ordinary people.

Because of the speed that authors had to produce plays at the time, and the Renaissance theory that  tragic plots should be grounded in history, Shakespeare turned to source material typically used by playwrights of the time: Raphael Holinshed’s 1587 Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande.

Among the sources Holinshed used for Richard III was Thomas More’s unfinished, The History of Richard III.

Born in 1478, More was 7 years old when the Battle at Bosworth took place. As a boy, he lived for a time in the household of Dr. John Morton, who was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VII, and one of Richard’s bitterest enemies. Morton’s conspiratorial machinations against Richard eventually helped put Tudor on the throne.

More’s account of Richard’s life was interpreted through the prism of Morton’s anti-Richard propaganda, which was then reiterated in Holinshed’s Chronicles, which provided the plot for Shakespeare’s play.

Morton’s hatred filtered through Shakespeare’s pen dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s turning Richard into an evil and unredeemable monster who murdered children.

In his quest for drama and theme, Shakespeare had no use for primary sources that proved otherwise.

Even if Shakespeare knew that Richard III could not have perpetrated the crimes he was a accused of, he didn’t care. In Henry VI, Part II, Shakespeare has Richard killing the Duke of Somerset, when in actuality Richard was only three years old.  In part three of Henry VI, Richard is seen participating in the Battles of Mortimer’s Cross and Towton.  In fact, Richard was 8 years old and living in Burgundy.

Shakespeare’s motivation was not to exonerate, but to exploit plot twists to amplify his theme.

As with the character of “Vice” of whom Elizabethan audiences would been familiar from the morality plays the fates turned on Richard in the end**.

“Fate versus free will” was popular with audiences influenced by the growing Calvinism of the Elizabethan era. Inherent was the belief in historical fatalism, in which individual historical events are determined by God, who often punishes evil with (apparent) evil.

Shakespeare used Richard’s “reputation” as the perfect vehicle for conveying this idea.

Does that make him a toady to the Calvinists? I don’t think so. Still, he wasn’t beyond playing to the preferences of his audience.

Yet it is done so brilliantly. Can’t we forgive him?

I never really doubted that Shakespeare’s real motivation behind Richard III was artistic. I need not have taken the journey, just to come to the conclusion I had at the beginning.

However, I have learned much, and do not regret the trip.

And finally…

  • Conspiracy theory

In a nutshell, there are serious scholars who believe “William Shakespeare” was an identity assumed by a member of the nobility, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, to enable him to write plays and sonnets anonymously.

If Oxford was Shakespeare, he would have had strong motivation for painting Richard III’s reputation black.

Prior to Richard’s reign, the de Vere family had been stripped of nearly all its land holdings, after John de Vere participated in the Battle of Barnet in 1471, against the Yorkists. Richard’s elder brother, King Edward IV, confiscated, and then turned around and granted to Richard, all of John de Vere’ s property.

Was Shakespeare’s most famous play written by de Vere out of some kind of revenge?

Food for thought.

My Sources
Footnotes:
* Tudor Myth: Political propaganda promoting the Tudor period of the 16th century as a golden age of peace, law, order, and prosperity; and the Yorkist period of the15th century, including the Wars of the Roses, as a dark age of anarchy and bloodshed.
** Richard was God’s curse on England in punishment for the deposition of Richard II in 1399, which formed the basis for the conflict between the Yorkists and Lancastrians and sparked the Wars of the Roses.