Richard III and Deformity
Some scholars insist that Richard was neither crippled nor humpbacked,
and they are passionately dedicated to proving that Shakespeare's
portrait of the inhuman monster is based on Tudor propaganda used to
bolster Henry VII's weak claim to the throne
The only "proof" we have of Richard III
's deformity is that which
is provided by Sir Thomas More in "The History of King Richard
Third". It is here that modern readers digest the adjectives which
forever plague Richard "Little of stature, ill-featured of limbs,
crooked-backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right". This
description may seem horrible, but it is only compounded when it is
placed next to the deformity of his character. Regardless of whether
Richard was truly the demon he was portrayed to be, the role of Richard
III as established by William Shakespeare is one of the more
challenging roles for the Shakespearean actor
. Because this week's
annotations were to be focused on the actor's perspective of
Shakespeare, I chose to focus my posting on the same topic.
First of all, Richard III is on stage longer than any other Bard
character. Usually, the time on stage is not a bed of roses either.
The actor must limp, wear a hump, or at least hunch over for the
duration of the play. This may doom an actor to chiropractic
sessions for the rest of their life!
Certain actors have defined the role of Richard. Antony Sher
researched the affects of scoliosis on the body, and any other
back deformity he could. When it was time for him to begin acting the
role and he saw the make-up crews version of his hump he stated,
"With my heart in my mouth, I hurry over to see my back. It's
much softer than I imagined, lying on the floor like a big pink
blancmange, a slice of blubber, a side of Elephant Man. I can hardly
get my clothes off fast enough to hoist it onto my back."
Psychologically, Richard must choose between portraying the
seductive character, of the deformed wretch of a man using love as
Basically, the role of Richard is one which captivates and
infuriates actors. To deform, or not to deform, to seduce or
not to seduce. . . these are the questions which keep the role
of Richard III alive for actors today.