I’ve been looking forward to reading Richard III for a long while now. Why this one in particular? It has one of the most gleefully enjoyable villain protagonists that I have had the pleasure of reading; having found a comic adaptation of an abridged version of the play whilst in high school. Having now read the full play, my expectations were more than met.
For those who have lived under a rock for many years, here’s the plot. Richard Duke of Gloster, having helped his elder brother Edward to claim the throne (events that I covered partially in my reviews of the Henry VI plays), decides to usurp his elder brothers and their offspring. In his plot to become king, he decides that the best course of action is to kill anyone and everyone who might be a threat to his claim, and for a time it does work very well. It is only when he goes a step too far that things start to fall apart. But by god, it is fun while it lasts: as a villain protagonist, Richard is just so enthusiastic about being evil that it’s really rather infectious. Granted, it means that the Richard III fan-club burst a collective blood vessel whenever the play is performed, but I think that the writing and characterisation for Richard is by far the strongest aspect of the play, regardless of the dubiousness of the play’s historical accuracy.
My high opinion of the text was probably to the detriment of my enjoyment when watching the BBC adaptation. The text created such vivid visualisations for me that the actual film adaptation jarred with what had been floating around in my brain. As it was, this was still a very good adaptation in all but one aspect: sound. Almost all the dialogue was incredibly loud at some points, then unintelligibly quiet at other points; it was most frustrating to have to strain to hear Shakespeare’s fantastic dialogue, with the knowledge that I’d be deafened if I turned up the volume any louder.
I did consider writing a defence for the real Richard III, but I decided that, interesting as history may be, I am here to assess the merits of Shakespeare’s reinterpretation of the man, not compare the two versions. As a play, it’s fantastic; it’s the rise and fall of a man who doesn’t learn when he’s made one corpse too many. As a history lesson, it’s flawed at best, but if you’re consulting Shakespeare as a historian then you have other problems. 5/5
Next review: Dracula by Bram Stoker