I am a great lover of Shakespeare. So I was delighted last Monday to learn that University of Leicester archaeologists had announced definitive DNA evidence that a skeleton found under a parking lot several months ago was that of the last Plantagenet King of England Richard III. This was a wonderful tour de force based on DNA analysis of the skeleton’s mitochrondial DNA with that of both Michael Ibsen and an anonymous individual, modern-day maternal descendents of Richard III. Richard IIII is, of course, Mitochronial DNA is inherited solely from one’s mother and passed on unchanged through the maternal line
Richard III is Shakepeare’s great villain in a play by that name. He was evil incarnate, according to Shakespeare. Some revisionist thinkers however, question this and point out that the Tudor claim to the throne depended upon the legitimacy of the reign of King Henry VII, who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. So it was, perhaps, a spin job.
But there I was studying a photograph of Richard’s skeleton, complete with scoliosis of the spine and lethal hole in his skull. Who would ever expect to see such a photograph? And if that wasn’t enough, on Tuesday I was greeted by a facial reconstruction, which truly brought the five hundred year old king to life.
These two photographs have returned us for a brief instance to the fifteenth century. So, as I contemplated Richard’s face and the painful deformity of his back, the words of Shakespeare came back to me:
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them*;
* to hear Sir Laurence Olivier perform (in 1955) this marvelous soliloquy click on this link.