The Scrivener and History in Richard III
Richard III challenges notions of how history is created and presented. Shakespeare’s play depicts the infamous Richard not only at odds with the other characters, but also fighting for a different interpretation of history. Richard and Margaret function as two characters opposed to each other with regard to history; Richard attempts to cover up the past as Margaret attempts to expose it. However, the creation and acceptance of history is largely predicated on more common figures. In particular the scrivener, a seemingly small side character, becomes an integral figure who creates the documentation of history, cementing the written version as a truth. The scrivener, tasked with the duty to write the documents falsely indicting Hastings at Richard’s request, approaches the audience in Act III, scene 6 and laments his position of falsely creating a legal document construed as truth, and manifests the complicated truth of history. The scrivener’s position as a figure entrusted with written truth is observantly figured against both Richard’s approach to history through his language and the play as a whole–a text figured with propagandistic interests with the Tudor line. The scrivener’s scene, with its focus of documented history, exposes Richard’s verbal tricks and the play’s reliability as a historical document. While critics including Paige Martin Reynolds and Linda Charnes have identified both Richard and Margaret of Anjou as figures who engage with and distort history, lesser characters serve similar vital functions. Overall, Charnes and Reynolds contribute much to the conversation of history within the text and are essential to this particular reading, yet the level that the scrivener as a character works on contributes to the social and formal designs of the history play is not addressed in their essays. Reynolds, in her essay “mourning and Memory in Richard III,” addresses the role of historical construction in the play through the lens of the women and the role of religious debate present at the time of Richard III’s writing. Reynolds approaches the creation of a history in the figure of Margaret, whose insistence upon memorializing her sons and preserving history becomes complicated in light of the scrivener. Charnes also approaches history’s relation to the specific gender roles, yet she comes a bit closer to this analysis when addressing the construction of history within the play. Charnes asserts that working in tandem with the gendered roles of Richard III is a version of the Richard playing with the expectations of other characters, and less consciously with his presence as a historical figure. She states that both Shakespeare and Richard have “the task of producing another ‘version’ of Richard that will stand ‘apart’ from that official Tudor historiography” (30). The scrivener, in his discussion of officially recorded events, reinforces this notion of producing different versions of Richard, and different versions of history. Charnes and Reynolds factor this performance of history with the performance of the gendered roles of Richard and Margaret. The scrivener, however does not address this performance of sexuality, but instead opens the context for analysis of Richard, Margaret, and the play as a whole with a concentration on historical interpretation. When the curtains open on Richard III, Shakespeare introduces a protagonist aware of society’s perception of him. Charnes posits Richard as a cultural other in both the play and literary discourse, as the perception of most analysis depends upon his creation as a stereotypical villain (29). Richard’s opening soliloquy positions the character as largely aware of this antagonistic position–if not conscious of the entirety of Tudor history, then of his position as violent and “rudely stamped”–he, in light of other people’s perceptions, resigns to “prove a villain” by interrupting this train of thought (1.1.30)....
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