Chesterton Looks at Richard III

Chesterton Looks at Richard III February 7, 2013

It’s tough to be the victim of the greatest butt-kissing hatchet job in history done by the greatest poet in the English language.

Chesterton, as is his custom, does the poor man a bit of justice.

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  • Thank you very much for posting this, Mark!

    I asked Joseph Pearce this week about Shakespeare’s play. He said that far from being a butt-kissing hatchet job, it’s actually a rhetorical attack against tyranny and an exposition on Catholic political philosophy, with the added stroke of genius by Shakespeare — a Catholic — of using Richard III as an analogy of Elizabeth. Which is pretty cool.

    • Michelle

      Please keep in mind that Joseph Pearce is no Shakespearean scholar. He has a layman’s love of the Bard, and the fervent hope that Shakespeare was Catholic, and uses that to create a Shakespeare after the image Pearce has already predetermined for him. This is not to say that Pearce’s work on Shakespeare has no value, but most of the merit belongs to the real Shakespearean scholars he got to contribute essays to the Ignatius Press versions of the plays. (Don’t even get me started on Pearce’s own essay contributions to “The Merchant of Venice.”)

  • One of the main sources for Shakespeare’s play is Saint Sir Thomas More’s biography of Richard III. At teh time he wrote it, More was in the service of a bishiop who was one of Richard’s greatest enemies. More may have been a man for all seasons, but he was also a man of his times, and far from being above flattery and slander, he was actually very good at both.

  • Dale Price

    He did end up having a crookback, which surprised me. I thought that was a Shakespearean flourish.

    • Michelle

      But it may not have been any more serious to the naked eye of those who saw Richard in person than John Paul II’s “crookback.” (Until the last few years of JPII’s reign, as he became more and more disabled, his disability was not all that visible unless you looked closely.) Shakespeare very likely did the 16th-century version of political caricature there.

  • Mark R

    Ditto bear
    Many of Shakespeare’s histories were constructed to show earlier dynasties in a worse light to flatter the present one, at the time.

  • I do hope Richard III receives a Catholic burial.

    • According to the British Press, he will be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral. There will be no funeral, as they believe it completely unthinkable that a king of England would have been buried without a funeral. They- the people who have made this decision- can believe that we would be buried, naked, hands bound, without a coffin in a grave too small to hold him, but not that this enemy would have denied him a funeral. “They” apparently don’t know squat about Henry VII. “They” are also the high watt bulbs who have decided to give Richard, who was apparently devout, an ecumenical memorial service.

      • Michelle

        Then I hope some enterprising Catholic priest sneaks into Leicester Cathedral and surreptitiously blesses the grave with prayer and a sprinkling of holy water. And, just because there will be no formal Catholic burial doesn’t mean Catholics can’t arrange with a priest to have Masses said for the repose of Richard’s soul.

  • Ed the Roman

    For the truth of the epoch, see the first season of Blackadder.

    • ivan_the_mad

      That is an excellent documentary!

  • Jon W

    Like much of Chesterton’s work, this bit of writing, ostensibly about King Richard, is actually about something else. (This does not in any way represent a complaint. I don’t read Chesterton for details.)

    I will not say that I wrote a book on Browning; but I wrote a book on love, liberty, poetry, my own views on God and religion (highly undeveloped), and various theories of my own about optimism and pessimism and the hope of the world; a book in which the name of Browning was introduced from time to time, I might almost say with considerable art, or at any rate with some decent appearance of regularity.”

    – Chesterton, Autobiography

  • j. blum

    Terry Jones, the Python, also vindicates Richard III as a popular and, on the whole, good king in his “Mediaeval Lives” series–which can’t be accused of excessive pro-Catholic bias.

  • Kim

    The Sunne in Splendor, by Sharon Kay Penman, paints a portrait of Richard that is human and compelling. I’ve been a die-hard Riccardian ever since I read it.

    • The True Will

      I found it nauseating because she has the characters speaking 20th century Americanese… “lay” for “lie”, and “put in his bid for the crown”….

      • Anne B.

        That’s true – Penman was a washout writing dialogue, wasn’t she? – she veered between “Ho, varlet!” and 1980s-speak. Nonetheless – a terrific storyteller – I read the whole 500-pages-plus in two days. She obviously did her homework, and where there were gaps in the historical record, her inventions were plausible. (Her version of the princes’ murder – that Buckingham was behind it – makes as much sense as anything else on the record.)

  • Sharon

    You might like to check out Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time for a thoroughly absorbing investigation of Richard’s supposed crimes.

    • SouthCoast

      I second this! (And strongly recommend anything else by Tey for a darn good mystery read!)

      • _The Daughter of Time_ shows up on a lot of Top 10 Mysteries lists, which is impressive not least because almost nothing happens in it.

        I will say that I was put off by the characters’ repeated sneering at “the sainted More.”

        SPOILER ALERT: Truth is the daughter of time.

  • David Naas

    Ahhh, but Sir Ian’s Richard (fascistii England in the ’30’s) is a die-cast villian and one you can feel good about hating. (Actually, they may have used some of the imagery as clues for filming “V for Vendetta” some few years later.)

  • SouthCoast

    Think I’ll get him a Mass card. Come to think of it, he *is* a (very distant) relative!