Shakespeare’s use of his sources has been a major theme of much criticism of Richard III and the history plays in general (see Chapter 6, ‘Critical Assessments’). Most of the debate centres on whether Shakespeare endorsed or implicitly critiqued the orthodox and Tudor-biased historical accounts of Richard’s rise and reign on which he based his play. Of the five extracts printed below, the first three are direct sources for the play. They encapsulate the standard framework of historical interpretation within which Shakespeare wrote his play. It should be remembered (a) that it would have been impossible for Shakespeare’s company to pass a play through the Master of the Revels’ inspection that was explicitly critical of Henry Tudor (Richmond), Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, and (b) that all of the sources available to Shakespeare shared a common interpretation of history and character; the playwright would have looked in vain for a historian sympathetic to Richard, or a balanced account of his reign. Text 5 post-dates the composition of the play, but nevertheless reveals much about the social attitudes to deformity and disability held by many in Shakespeare’s audience and, indeed, by Richard’s enemies in the play.
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