The Scrivener and History in Richard III

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Richard III challenges notions of how history is created and presented. Shakespeare’s play depicts the infamous Richard not only at odds with the other characters, but also fighting for a different interpretation of history. Richard and Margaret function as two characters opposed to each other with regard to history; Richard attempts to cover up the past as Margaret attempts to expose it. However, the creation and acceptance of history is largely predicated on more common figures. In particular the scrivener, a seemingly small side character, becomes an integral figure who creates the documentation of history, cementing the written version as a truth. The scrivener, tasked with the duty to write the documents falsely indicting Hastings at Richard’s request, approaches the audience in Act III, scene 6 and laments his position of falsely creating a legal document construed as truth, and manifests the complicated truth of history. The scrivener’s position as a figure entrusted with written truth is observantly figured against both Richard’s approach to history through his language and the play as a whole–a text figured with propagandistic interests with the Tudor line. The scrivener’s scene, with its focus of documented history, exposes Richard’s verbal tricks and the play’s reliability as a historical document. While critics including Paige Martin Reynolds and Linda Charnes have identified both Richard and Margaret of Anjou as figures who engage with and distort history, lesser characters serve similar vital functions. Overall, Charnes and Reynolds contribute much to the conversation of history within the text and are essential to this particular reading, yet the level that the scrivener as a character works on contributes to...

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...g to their favor, and in the creation of Hastings’ indictment, must create another “device” to place public opinion in the hands of the court (3. 6. 11). The public, nonetheless, knows that the bias is in place, illustrated by the scrivener’s questions to the audience. In the depiction of this figure, the scrivener calls out to the audience to recognize authorial control of historical narratives. The question remains as to what the audience should make of this bungling of historical narratives. Should they assign a Derridan lack of truth to the entire ordeal? Should they posit a historical meaning outside of the context of Richard III, relying solely on finite historical texts the scrivener brings into question? What remains to be addressed here is the question of meaning with characters that both create and question the very nature of truth in history and drama.

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