My Kingdom for a Kringle
Ever since the announcement a few days ago that the bones found under a parking lot in Leicester really are those of the hunchbacked king Richard III of England, Shakespeare has been much on my mind. Yes, now that Richard is in the news much is being made of the recent efforts to rehabilitate him as a nice guy and champion of the poor. However it’s beyond dispute that Richard had his two nephews (one of whom was twelve, and the future king) imprisoned in the Tower of London and later executed. This after he had been appointed their Lord Protector, following the death of his brother, King Edward IV. Not really the actions of good guy. So if you ask me, Shakespeare had it right.
All of which reminds me that a whole lot of great Shakespeare hit the small screen last year. The Hollow Crown, a series comprising the complete saga of Henry IV, was aired by the BBC beginning in June. You owe it to yourself to check all these films out since the production values are so high and the performances so well done you barely notice the archaic Elizabethan language. Amazingly, you can see them all (Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V) in their full length for free right on YouTube…and even there they look great.
Those who know this blog probably won’t be surprised to learn that Shakespeare’s history plays are right in my personal wheelhouse. But the Henry plays are about a whole lot more than late Medieval English history. They’re about fathers and sons, boyhood, manhood, courage, responsibility and sacrifice. Each of them contains at least one scene guaranteed to make a grown man get all weepy, whether it’s poor Richard finally finding freedom from the tyranny of his own ego in his cell in Pomfret castle, young prince Hal play-acting the role of his father with his drinking buddy Falstaff, or Hal’s reconciliation with his father on the king’s death bed. These plays are loaded with great stuff, especially for guys.
Ben Whishaw does a wonderful job as the wimpy, rock star-in-his-own-mind Richard II. Jeremy Irons is a fabulous strong-but-lonely Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston (Loki from The Avengers, another sort of “guy movie”) plays the sort of prince Hal that we can all see ourselves in (and that’s no easy trick). So do check these out. They’re a whole lot better than most of the gimmicky history play movies that have come out in recent years (I’m thinking of the fascist 30’s Richard III with Ian McKellan and the too-dark-version-of-the-already-dark MacBeth with Patrick Stewart). The Hollow Crown movies are true to form and all the better for it.
But enough film criticism, it’s once more into the (kringle) breach for me today. So…onward!
14 thoughts on “My Kingdom for a Kringle”
Have you noticed how good Richard’s teeth looked? They are white and straight and downright pretty – I think the missing front tooth might have been knocked out after his death when his corpse was being abused, but otherwise the man had a fine set of choppers.
This whole discovery has made my inner history buff doing a happy dance.
Yeah no kidding. I guess he made of up for the spinal curvature with outstanding dental hygiene. You’d have to do something if you were in his shoes if you wanted to meet ladies, is my feeling.
It’s not actually beyond dispute that Richard III executed his nephews. What is known is that they were held in the Tower – a move largely considered inevitable and probably overall *beneficial*, since their value in a highly likely rebellion by their maternal family would be enormous. After a few years they simply disappear from all contemporary accounts. The most likely scenario is that they were murdered in the tower, but Richard III is *not* the only suspect, nor is he in some ways the most likely suspect.
Shakespeare was writing for the grand-daughter of Henry Tudor, who defeated Richard III and seized his throne. It’s not really all that likely that Shakespeare was writing from a need for historical accuracy.
No question that the victors write the history. However it seems to me at least that the revisionists really contort themselves to make Richard out to be a sweetheart. Winners do indeed tend to paint themselves in a favorable light and their foes rather unfavorably. Yet it seems that Richard III is not painted merely unfavorably, but as a monster. Methinks there was something to that. 😉
Also, the tower was a royal residence at the time, and only a prison because the princes were held there. You have to think of it as being more like being at home under guard than behind bars.
No question the Tower has been a lot of things: residence, treasury (the crown jewels were of course kept there), prison, army barracks, refuge. Still it’s not a place where people who weren’t officials really wished to go.
Have you read Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time? It’s fiction, with an injured police detective “solving” the princes’ murders while flat on his back. It’s good re-reading!
Sounds like fun! I’ll check it out, Sally!
“The Daughter Of Time” is one of those classic books that makes you realize that you shouldn’t always accept the official version.They forced me to read it at gunpoint in high school. It turned me into a lifelong history reader and skeptic
That’s a fun novel. And I agree in principal about official versions. I’m the first to enjoy playing with ideas and what-if scenarios. That said I’ve never been the type of person who puts much stock in conspiracies.
I think I might be able to buy the idea that one of the princes retired to his bedchambers with a headache for the rest of his life, and the other joined the pro badminton circuit and couldn’t be bothered to ever return to claim the throne…if the effect had been that Richard then assumed the position of manager of the local branch of the British Medieval Midland Bank. But he became king…I just can’t see it. Third in line to the throne…claimants one and two disappear mysteriously…call me crazy. 😉
I think it’s important to point out that one of the lynchpins of a lot of these types of theories is that Shakespeare was some sort of sycophantic royalty pleaser. That was definitely not the case. Theaters in those days weren’t just entertainment venues, they were hotbeds of subversive political thought. The play Richard II was notorious in its day as an attack on Elizabeth I. Indeed the very night before Robert Devereaux attempted his coup against Elizabeth, the players of the Globe Theater put on a private performance of the play for him and his men to inspire them. Why they weren’t executed along with Devereaux in 1601 when the plot failed is something of a mystery itself.
So while it’s safe to say that Shakespeare was afraid of Elizabeth, it’s not true that he sought to flatter her. More than a few of London’s elites saw her as a tyrant. Shakespeare, very probably, was among them.
This is fun! Thanks for the provocative comment, Tom!
I “third” the recommendation for Daughter of Time. We read it in Gr. 8 and I still have great memories of it and the way that it confronts construction of the truth. I can no longer remember the intricacies of the plot, but I believe Tey made a convincing argument (borrowed, I think, from then-recent historical work).
Thank you for this bit of history lesson. Our country is a former British (among others) colony. Some of our buildings still maintain their victorian architecture and i’ve always been interested in British history.
I always have fun with these sorts of things, Melody. Thanks for the comment!