Of Owls and Richard the Third, Part II

by Theodore Dalrymple (July 2013)

There is probably no finer portrayal of the intelligent, charming, plausible, unctuous, ruthless psychopath in literature than that of Richard:

At first we are told by Richard that his wickedness derives from his physical condition of hunchback:

There have been attempts to steer a middle course between the two schools, but on the whole they have not been successful. James Gairdner, a nineteenth century archivist whose biography of Richard went through three editions, and the value of whose work, according to the entry in the latest edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, was vitiated by his conservatism, granted Richard many good qualities but still made him guilty of at least some of the crimes imputed to him. It was as if Gairdner thought that in any dispute over facts there must be truth on both sides.

I hesitate to be hesitant, but the evidence about the Princes in the Tower points both ways. It is of course possible that they died of natural causes and were not murdered at all: it would not have been unusual in that era for two children to die in quick succession of an infectious and communicable disease. But there is no evidence in favour of this hypothesis (or against it, for that matter).

It is only right that Shakespeare should have the last word, however, because he said almost everything that can be thought. His Richard was the first Nietzschean:

Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe;
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law!


Farewell Fear.

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