More on Shakespeare and Richard III.
The Bard of Avon and the Blood Red Rose of Lancaster
Further to my earlier post about Shakespeare's depiction of Richard III, my correspondent asked me whether I was saying that Thomas More used Richard as an analogy for Henry VIII, and Shakespeare used Richard as an analogy for Elizabeth?
Here's my reply:
It's not quite as straightforward. Thomas More wrote his work on Richard III when he was still on friendly terms with Henry VIII, long before Henry's rejection of his wife and subsequent break from Rome. Indeed he wrote it at a time when Henry VIII was about to write his famous Defence of the Seven Sacraments, an affirmation of Catholic teaching against the heresy of Luther. This would help to explain why More was so negatively disposed towards Richard III but the key point is that More's work on Richard was a rhetorical attack against tyranny and an exposition of Catholic political philosophy. Shakespeare follows More's example.
The Richard III Society is responsible for the mantra that Shakespeare wrote Tudor propaganda because they are obviously angered by his negative portrayal of their hero. From a rhetorical perspective, however, it made complete sense for the Bard of Avon to make the anological connection between Richard III and Elizabeth I. As Richard was a bête noire in Tudor England, making an analogous connection between Elizabeth and Richard was akin to making an analogy between a modern German leader and Adolf Hitler. It was a stroke of brilliance on Shakespeare's part!
For what it's worth, and as irrelevant as it is to the topic at hand, I have long sympathized with the Yorkist cause against the Lancastrian, i.e. Richard III against Henry VII. My reasons are manifold. First, as an Englishman and a Catholic, I find it hard to accept the blood red rose as England's symbol, especially as the red on the Tudor rose drips with the blood of the English Martyrs. I much prefer the white rose of the House of York. If Richard III had proved triumphant at the Battle of Bosworth Field it is possible, perhaps likely, that the English Reformation would never have happened. How can an English Catholic not lament Richard's defeat? On a less rational level, I prefer the white rose to the red purely because I prefer Yorkshire to Lancashire. I love the Yorkshire Moors and Dales. On an even less rational level, and descending from the sublime to the ridiculous, Lancashire is the home of Manchester United, appropriately known as the Red Devils. If the red rose of Lancaster stands for the blood of the English Martyrs and the Devilish Red of Manchester United, is it any wonder that I prefer the white rose of York!