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Reading through Richard III in April (and Henry VI in March)

From: Nancy E.
Sent on: Sunday, February 10, 2013 1:59 AM

Dear Shakespeare lovers,

Richard III was in the news this last week, when his remains, lost for over 500 years, were identified. (Thanks for this link, Sherry! )

And since he's known as one of Shakespeare's arch-villains, discussion of Shakespeare's portrayal was in the news too.  Was King Richard really so dastardly, or was that Tudor propaganda to legitimize the rebellion against him?

Richard III is a great play, but it's not the first of Shakespeare's plays where this character appears.  Richard turns up in Henry VI part 2, fiercely defending his father, Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York, and he is a major character in Henry VI part 3.  In fact, the 3 parts of Henry VI provide valuable background and context for reading Richard III.  They are among Shakespeare's earliest plays, and not often produced, but they are  interesting - full of action, political intrigue, ambitious women and peasant rebels (including a less-than-saintly Joan of Arc, the formidable queen Margaret of Anjou, and Jack Cade, leader of a popular uprising).

I'd like to read all of Shakespeare's plays with our readthrough group, and this seems like a great time to read this tetralogy.  I'd like to do it in succession, so we don't lose the thread - and we have 3 weekends in March, so we could read the 3 parts of Henry VI then, and finish with Richard III in early April.

Together, the four plays take us through just over 60 tumultuous years of medieval British history, from the death of Henry V in 1422, when his son was just an infant; England's defeat in the 100 Years War and loss of  French territory; through the troubled reign of Henry VI, with the Wars of the Roses between the York and Lancastrian factions; the seizing of power that led to the reigns of Edward IV and his brother Richard III; and the death of Richard in battle leading to the accession of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, in 1483.

Between those of us who want to read everything Shakespeare wrote, those who have a particular interest in histories or lesser-known works, and those who are just curious and willing to give it a shot, we can have some great readings - I hope you'll join in!  (If not - this week, there's As You Like It, and then just wait a couple of months, and there will be comedies, tragedies and romances to come.)


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