Rethinking Richard III

Richard III parody - George Bush Jr as the King.

If you haven’t already heard the news, it seems that a set of human remains found in what is now a car park could’ve belonged to King Richard III.

In the wake of this news comes an article that discusses the portrayal of King Richard III.

So I thought I’d share my – possibly inaccurate – two cents on the matter.

I’ve always thought King Richard III was a very relevant text for Singapore and Singaporean audiences.

As a big fan of Singapore (I love Singapore!) and Singaporean history in all its forms, reading the text brings to mind visions of:

Nevertheless, as someone who is also very much aware of how media, language and representation can be used to manipulate the minds of the many, I don’t doubt that Richard III could’ve been misrepresented.

To break it down simply (and again, I stress that this might be an oversimplification of the matter):

  • Theatre in Shakespeare’s time was a form of media/entertainment then;
  • Shakespeare wrote during the reign of Elizabeth I who was from the House of Tudor;
  • The House of Tudor was founded by Henry VII; and
  • Henry VII was the same dude who defeated Richard III at The Battle of Bosworth Field and wrested the reign of the throne from him.

In light of this, let’s consider these three truisms:

  1. Any politician worth her/his salt will go out of her/his way to remove any possible threat to her/his throne/seat.

    It’s a measure as old as Jesus (perhaps even older) and has been used in contemporary Singapore’s history as well (c.f. what I mentioned earlier about Lim Chin Siong and the Internal Security Act).
  2. History can be whitewashed/history is written by the victors.

    ‘Nuff said. Alternatively, a lie repeated often enough will become the truth.
  3. Any artist concerned about bringing home the bacon will not want to offend her/his patrons/governing institutions lest her/his funding dries up.

    Very contemporary case in point: Square Moon (“I saw you standing alone…”)

So it could’ve been possible – again, I don’t proclaim to speak the truth; I’m just pointing out possibilities – that:

  1. Shakespeare purposefully portrayed Richard III in the manner he did because he had no choice/he was forced to do so; and
  2. King Richard III wasn’t just for entertainment; it could’ve been used as a tool for public propaganda to shape the views and opinions of the masses in order to provide moral and political legitimacy to the existence of the Tudor dynasty.

Which brings us to our present-day beliefs and also provides us with a very nice reflection on the state of politics in Singapore.

“But Laremy,” you might (or might not, depending on whether I’ve managed to keep your attention up to this point) ask. “Is there any evidence in the text that could possibly support this view?”

“Possibly,” I will reply, and possibly, dinosaur bite you concurrently (or consecutively, depending on how well I can multi-task).

I’ve always thought of the character of The Scrivener as a metatheatrical device which represents Shakespeare’s voice in the matter.

  1. First, the Scrivener’s speech is actually a sonnet, in that it has 14 lines.

    Although it doesn’t follow the rhyme scheme of the sonnets that Shakespeare used to write, form in literature – more often than not – always has a function.

    So the use of the sonnet is meant to reflect the status of The Scrivener as a learned man; a man of letters – much like Shakespeare.
  2. Second, the speech is right smack in the middle of the play – and it’s a 14-line scene on its own.

    Why was it so important as a scene that it had to be left on its own? Why couldn’t it have been excised?

    Shakespeare already had enough material in the play to show the purported misdeeds of Richard, along with the purported views of the citizens.

    Why does this scene even have to exist?
  3. Last but not least, if I may take the liberty of paraphrasing The Scrivener’s speech slightly, look at what we have (mentions of time shouldn’t be interpreted literally):

    This is the indictment of the good [King Richard III];
    Which in a set hand fairly is engross’d,
    That it may be this day read over…
    And mark how well the sequel hangs together:
    Eleven hours I spent to write it over,
    For yesternight…was it brought me;
    The precedent was full as long a-doing:
    And yet within these five hours lived [King Richard III],
    Untainted, unexamined, free, at liberty
    Here’s a good world the while! Why who’s so gross,
    That seeth not this palpable device?
    Yet who’s so blind, but says he sees it not?

    Bad is the world; and all will come to nought,
    When such bad dealings must be seen in thought.

Convinced? Or am I also using media and language to manipulate your mind?

Richard III: The Man and his Ideas.

I know some of you are still confused about the characters and the action in the play, so I’m going to share some web resources with you, which I hope will provide you with more guidance in your study of Richard III.

What’s important is that you invest some time and effort into reading all the material including your text. You must also actively re-read your materials and refer to them continuously e.g. refer to the family trees as you read the history. This will help you make the connections which you need to better understand the play.

If you do this diligently and in a disciplined fashion, I guarantee that you will see the academic pay-off sooner than later.

  1. Student Guide to the Play.
    This Insight Text Guide may be a six-page preview but I think it will help to clarify some of your doubts.

  2. A Brief History of Richard III and the War of the Roses.
    I covered this in my introductory lecture, which can be found on Moodle along with notes for revision. If you feel that you need more background context/information, you can find it here:

    • You Can’t Tell the Players without a Scorecard.
      This is a simplified history which is quite different from the action in the play. Please bear this in mind when you read this article.
    • Richard III – A Man and his Times
      Another summarised history, which again is very different from the play we are studying. I’d like you to read this for insight into writing style; the tone of this article differs from the previous as it tries to dissuade the reader from believing the traditional portrayal of Richard III.
  3. Family Trees.
    Last but not least, many family trees which you must refer to when you read the above material or the play, so that you can attempt to map the interactions between each character, or at least differentiate one similarly-named character from the other. A gentle reminder: there is also a Plantagenet Family Tree on p. 262 of your text.

Elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hogs.

Black Pooters

I’m extremely annoyed with the lack of ethics that a lot of Singaporean mechanics possess.

These wrangling pirates revel in a cut-throat ethos that places their customers’ needs below their shop’s bottom line.

To explain, Pooters’s battery finally yielded the ghost at the start of the work-week.

Because I didn’t have the time to get a replacement earlier, I went down to the shops near my home in the hope that I could buy a battery, return home, fix Pooters up, and carry on with the rest of my Saturday.


I was quoted a price of $90 at one shop and $60 at the next shop. I knew a battery didn’t cost that much, but I had no way of verifying that at that point in time.

Anyway, I gave some excuse about having to make sure it was the correct model and left the shops.

But I was so furious that they tried to take advantage of me obviously because of my n00b-ly ‘jiak kentang’ demeanour/inability to speak a Chinese language well: Hokkien Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, etc.

Pseudo-sociological ramblings aside, this pillagery probably worked last time in the age of no Internet.

Now that information is more perfect than it was before, however, a phone call to Lim Ah Boy (LAB) Shop when I got home provided more clarity – a Yuasa 12N9-4B-1 battery is worth $32, if it matters to anyone else.

I learnt something though: I could have saved myself much grief if I had called up the shops to check the prices + convinced myself that the trip down to LAB was worth the trouble.

Since the worm of conscience will never begnaw the souls of most of these louts, I’ve never been more convinced that there’s probably a market for English-speaking, socially-conscious motorcycle mechanics.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much one can do with a BA in English (and a PGDE to boot). But if you’re my student, and you can tell me how many King Richard III references I’ve made, you win a prize.