'History has many cunning passages' (T S Eliot): RICHARD III and its Pluralities
This lecture / talk is designed to illustrate the variety of ways in which Shakespeare's history play has been received and interpreted since its early performances. Initial questions about the play's theatrical genre (morality vs chronicle), sources (Thomas More's own politically skewed version), whether it is free-standing or part of a larger history cycle and its status as a virtuoso vehicle (Olivier, McKellen, Pacino, Cumberbatch) will be addressed. The lecture will move on to consider the ways in which the play has been read in myriad ways. For Dr Johnson, the play exhibited 'trifling and improbable' events while Freud treated Richard as a case study in jealousy and alienation. For Jan Kott writing during the period of the great dictator - Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin - Shakespeare's stage represents the Grand Mechanism: 'The names of the kings may change, but it is always a Henry who pushes Richard down, or the other way round.' The lecture will conclude by noting that this variety of readings is entirely appropriate to a skeptical, postmodern culture but, more importantly, to a play that insists on the hypocrisy of acting.
Dr Peter J Smith is Reader in Renaissance Literature at Nottingham Trent University and a Trustee of the British Shakespeare Association. He is the author of SOCIAL SHAKESPEARE and BETWEEN TWO STOOLS: SCATOLOGY AND ITS REPRESENTATIONS IN ENGLISH LITERATURE, CHAUCER TO SWIFT. His essays and reviews have appeared in many journals including, CRITICAL SURVEY, RENAISSANCE QUARTERLY, SHAKESPEARE, SHAKESPEARE BULLETIN and SHAKESPEARE SURVEY. He writes regularly for TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION. He is currently completing a book on MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.