Book Review: “Richard III: Fact and Fiction” by Matthew Lewis

41093351When one looks at the study of history as a whole, the traditional way to look at a person as either good or bad through a combination of facts and fictional tales of their supposed exploits. None so much so as King Richard III, one of the most controversial English monarchs. Fictitious tales, like William Shakespeare’s play Richard III, have been accepted as fact throughout the centuries, but who was the real Richard III? Matthew Lewis, in his latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”, explores who Richard III really was by separating the facts from the fictional stories. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this insightful book. I enjoy books that explore both the facts and fictional stories of historical figures to find the truth about who they were and what they might have been like. 

In his introduction, Lewis explains the fascination of Richard III and his aim for this particular book.

The debate around Richard III and his reputation burns hotter today than ever before …Why is a man who was killed in battle over 500 years ago still attracting such passionate debate? How does a medieval king who reigned for only just over two years have a thriving fan club in the Richard III Society? Part of the reason lies in the mythologising of the facts about him, so many of which are open to the broadest interpretation so that both sides will claim them to make polar opposite points. The purpose of this book is to try and peel away some of the myths to reveal the bare, unadorned facts. Did Richard III invent bail? Did he murder a Lancastrian Prince of Wales, a king, his brother and his two nephews? Did he mean to marry his niece? Why did those previously loyal to the House of York abandon Richard III for an obscure Welshman in exile? (Lewis,1).

Lewis tackles some of the most notable and notorious myths about Richard III, most of which came from Shakespeare’s play. He explores myths from the “murder” of the Princes in the Tower and Henry VI, to if Richard wanted to marry Elizabeth of York and why he was so popular in the North and his death at Bosworth. Of course, there are also obscure and out-of-left-field myths, like Richard, killing Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset at the tender age of 2 and a half, and Richard inventing bail. Along with discussing the fictional stories and the veracity of the claims, Lewis includes some fun factoids and a glossary of terms that the readers might not know at the end of each segment.  

Although Lewis is a Ricardian, the way he presents his arguments against the fictitious tales does not push the Ricardian argument of Richard being a purely innocent individual. Instead, Lewis focuses on making Richard more human rather than either a vile villain or a knight in shining armor. This is what I appreciate about Lewis and his approach to Richard III. He makes the study of  Richard III approachable for those who want to study about the man, not the black or white myths. With this particular book, I couldn’t put it down. I found extremely enjoyable and overall fascinating. If you want a book that brings the fictional tales and examining the facts about Richard III, I highly recommend you read Matthew Lewis’ latest book, “Richard III: Fact and Fiction”. It is a re-evaluation of the facts that Richard III deserves.

Guest Book Review by Maya Cherny: “Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?” by James Shapiro

65300494_321122425441366_7196908601477169152_nFirst of all, great Shakespeare questioned? How unthinkable, controversial, bizarre…

I had scraps of information on Shakespeare’s authorship question, from “The Everything Shakespeare Book”, that I read years ago and some recently viewed TV programs, such as “Shakespeare Uncovered” and “Shakespeare: The legacy”. Nevertheless, it was appealing enough for the skeptical mind to question – was really William Shakespeare of Stratford the writer behind these great comedies, tragedies, historical plays, and sonnets?

Looking into the materials on authorship, James Shapiro’s book “Contested Will: Who wrote Shakespeare” came up. How exciting! I would finally know who wrote Shakespeare.

James Shapiro is an English and Comparative Literature professor and the book feels quite academic at first, although well structured.

Then book unfolds to a quest through principal candidates to Shakespeare himself. The division of text by a candidate gives the opportunity to read it by paying attention to one particular contestant, allowing to step out and research other materials, before continuing to the next one.

James Shapiro is leading the reader on a path to rediscover Shakespeare. He navigates the wide historical timeframe from 15xx to modern days, up to 2007. On that journey, that is full of caveats, the reader will meet Freud, Mark Twain and number of Shakespeare’s followers and doubters and discover how authorship movement was born and how political inclinations affected it.

And as in life, the journey feels more important than the outcome.

I definitely came up with much more understanding what is behind the authorship question as well as learning along the way some fascinating tidbits (such as why intermissions in theaters were introduced) – an additional benefit to history nerds!

We might never know the truth behind historical events and personages, although research brings us as close as possible to a realistic version.

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers interested in Shakespeare’s life and works. Though it’s not a book for a novice – some historical interest in medieval times, Britain’s history or 18-19 century’s literature exposure would help to appreciate this meticulously researched and well-written work.

Note:

Just after completing this review and verifying some of the titles, one more interesting resource came up on Amazon Prime “Shakespeare: The King’s Man”, the series by James Shapiro as well. This is on my watch list now!

About the Guest Author:

Hi

My name is Maya Cherny,

I’m a software engineer and mathematician by profession, ballet dancer at heart and recently (about 2 years ago) discovered my interest in British medieval and Tudor history. Started with Philippa Gregory books and then continued to look for authors of fiction and non-fiction for that period in British and medieval history. I picked up Alison Weir “Innocent Traitor” and was enchanted with her style. This prompted me to dive into Alison Weir’s non-fiction (Princes in the Tower were the first, of course), and now almost through her published books.

My favorite historical personages so far are Elizabeth Woodville (started with Elizabeth I and Elizabeth of York) and Reginald Pole (Richard of York and Richard III were on the list as well 😉.

Expanding my learning resources, I completed courses on FutureLearn “The Tudors” and “Learning Shakespeare”.  Thus – “Contested Will”, the book which I’m posting a review, seemed to be a good addition to the Shakespearean course.

This is an enjoyable learning process, starting at the point “why they all were called the same name and is it possible to distinguish them?” and moving on to talking only about history and looking for the kids’ history books to involve them as well.

Biography: William Shakespeare

800px-Shakespeare(Baptized April 26, 1564- Died April 23, 1616)
Son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden.
Married to Anne Hathaway.
Father of Susanna Hall, Hamnet Shakespeare, and Judith Quiney.
William Shakespeare was a poet and playwright. He is regarded as one of the greatest writers of all of English History and one of the greatest dramatists of all time.

William Shakespeare was born to John Shakespeare and his wife Mary Arden in Stratford-upon-Avon. We do not know his exact birth date, but many believe that he was born on St. George’s day, which is April 23rd because he was baptized on April 26, 1564. His father John Shakespeare was an alderman and a successful glover while his mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a successful landowning farmer. We believe that William Shakespeare went to King’s New School, which was a free chartered grammar school that was located in Stratford. It is here where Shakespeare learned Latin and his passion for the theatre. Since he was a commoner, there is no record of him ever going to university, which was a luxury that was reserved for upper-class families.

At the age of 18, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who at the time was 26 years old. The marriage licence was issued on November 27, 1582. At the time of their marriage, Anne was already pregnant with their first child, Susanna, who was baptized on May 26, 1583. Two years later, William and Anne welcomed twins Hamnet (son) and Judith (daughter), in 1585. They were baptized on February 2, 1585. Unfortunately, Hamnet would tragically die at the age of 11 from an unknown cause and he was buried on August 11, 1596.

After the birth of his twins in 1585, there are not many historical records about Shakespeare’s life until 1592. These years are known as “Shakespeare’s Lost Years” and many stories have emerged about what he supposedly had done during this time. One of the stories states that Shakespeare was in Stratford to avoid persecution for deer poaching. Another claims that he was a schoolmaster for some time. The problem with these stories is that there is no evidence to support them. We do not know what Shakespeare was doing during these years.

Shakespeare’s plays started to appear in London theaters in 1592, but we do not know when his writing career actually began. He was well known just enough for him to be attacked in newspapers. After 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new King James I, and changed its name to the King’s Men.

In 1599, Shakespeare and others purchased some land near the river Thames and created the Globe Theatre and in 1608, the group was able to take over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Shakespeare was able to become a very wealthy man and was able to own property in both London and Stratford, but he preferred to live in London. In 1594, the first known quartos of Shakespeare’s plays were published, solidifying his reputation and by 1598, his name became the selling point in new productions. He gained a reputation of not only being a talented actor but a playwright as well.

In 1609, London suffered from the bubonic plague and in 1610, Shakespeare decided to retire from public life, which was extremely unusual. This, however, did not mean that he was not busy. Shakespeare is known to have collaborated with other playwrights like John Fletcher. William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

In total, Shakespeare is known to have written at least 38 plays and over 150 poems, both long and short. If you would like to read more about his works, The Folger Shakespeare Library is a fantastic place to start: https://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-works

Sources:
https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/?gclid=CjwKCAjwxILdBRBqEiwAHL2R84IxV7c3RHGPLkDwe8371g3ZF-p8i_7t0Xp314sNrSi3lF04CxIfShoCeuMQAvD_BwE
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare
https://www.williamshakespeare.net/
https://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-works

Biography: Christopher Marlowe

Christopher_Marlowe(Born around February 26, 1564( the date he was baptized)- Died May 30, 1593)
Son of John Marlowe and his wife Catherine.
Marlowe never married and did not have any children.
Christopher Marlowe was an Elizabethan poet, playwright and translator. His work influenced William Shakespeare, who was born in the same year, and others. Marlowe’s works are known for their blank verse and their overreaching protagonists. He would tragically be stabbed to death at the young age of 29.

Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury to a shoemaker named John Marlowe and his wife Catherine. We do not know the exact date of his birth, but we do know that he was baptized on February 26, 1564, so it is safe to assume that he was born a few days before. When he was old enough, he attended The King’s School in Canterbury and then received a Matthew Parker scholarship, which allowed him to study at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1584. In 1587, he received his Master of Arts degree on time after the school was hesitant to award him his degree since there was a rumor that he intended to go to the English college at Rheims, presumably to prepare for ordination as a Roman Catholic priest.

After Marlowe graduated, it is believed that Marlowe may have been a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham. Marlowe was known to have spend a lot of money on food and drink while he was in college, more than what his scholarship would have allowed, which has led many to question where he was getting the extra money for his expensive eating habit. There is no concrete evidence that he was in fact a spy, but there was a letter from the Privy Council that stated that Marlowe did serve the government in some way.

Christopher Marlowe is known for his literary career, which lasted from 1587 until his death in 1593. Some of his works include: Dido, Queen of Carthage, Tamburlaine the Great, The Jew of Malta, Edward the Second, The Massacre at Paris, Doctor Faustus, Hero and Leander, and The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.

Marlowe had a reputation for “atheism,” but this could, in Elizabeth I’s time, indicate merely unorthodox religious opinions. There is further evidence of his unorthodoxy, notably in the denunciation of him written by the spy Richard Baines and in the letter of Thomas Kyd to the lord keeper in 1593 after Marlowe’s death. Both Baines and Kyd suggested on Marlowe’s part atheism in the stricter sense and a persistent delight in blasphemy. On May 18, 1593, the Privy Council issued an order for Marlowe’s arrest. On May 30, however, Marlowe was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer, at a lodging house in Deptford, where they had spent most of the day and where, it was alleged, a fight broke out between them over the bill. We do not know what was the cause of the fight. Marlowe was only 29 years old when he died.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Marlowe
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Christopher-Marlowe
http://www.marlowe-society.org/christopher-marlowe/life/
https://www.biography.com/people/christopher-marlowe-9399572
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/christopher-marlowe