How the Entertainment Industry Distorts History

Richard III has long been portrayed based on Shakespeare’s description of him. Wikimedia

2. Both before and after Shakespeare, entertainment trumped historical accuracy

In nearly all of his historical dramas, Shakespeare’s main objective was to produce a play which would entertain and be accepted by his audience. In his historical plays, timelines were compressed. Events were presented out of order or omitted entirely. Almost solely from Shakespeare comes King Richard III’s reputation as a twisted, evil tyrant, a dramatic license he took with the character. In the play of that name the title character is thoroughly corrupt, evil to his core. He is also remembered for being severely deformed, another device used by Shakespeare so that his physical appearance on stage was as vile as his character.

Throughout the succeeding centuries Richard III had his share of both detractors and defenders. Several noted British scholars supported the Shakespearian view, while others argued that his character, and his deformity, had been exaggerated by his detractors. He remains a divisive character of British history, but more recent scholars and historians have revised their judgments of his life and reign. “Like most men, he was conditioned by the standards of his age”, wrote historian Charles Ross in a 1981 biography. The discovery and analysis of Richard’s skeletal remains in the 21st century revealed that he did suffer from scoliosis, with one shoulder noticeable higher than the other, but he was not the gnarled humpback as depicted in Shakespeare’s play.

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