7a. The True Tragedy of Richard III

previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams


(Numbers in bold refer to the Documents section and bibliographical citations refer to the Bibliography of The Real Shakespeare II, on-line edition)



   The True Tragedy of Richard III is an anonymous chronicle history play registered by Thomas Creede on 19 June 1594 (and hence, apart from two brief mentions, omitted from RS1 on grounds of space) and published by him in the same year with the subtitle: 'Wherein is shown the death of Edward the fourth, with the smothering of the two yoong Princes in the Tower: with a lamentable end of Shores wife, an example for all wicked women. And lastly the conjunction and ioyning of the two noble Houses, Lancaster and Yorke' and the further details 'As it was playd by the Queenes Maiesties Players. Printed by Thomas Creede, and are to be sold by William Barley, at his shop in Newgate Market, neare Christ Church doore'.

    May we first clear away the curious conclusion that The True Tragedy of Richard the Third 1594, hereafterTTR3, is MR? Never mind what 'Chambers was already hinting in 1930' (i, 304) and 'Kirschbaum insisted in 1938' (Wilson 1952, xxixf, who entirely agrees; see also Halliday 2/1964, 504). Nowadays, it is not (Maguire 1996, 318); and it never was, except for adherents of that dogma.

     Others may be interested in the following reasons for accepting TTR3 as early Shakespeare.


(1) An extremely popular play is mentioned in the anonymous tract Pymlyco (1609), thus:


     Amazed I stood to see a crowd

Of civil throats stretched out so loud

As at a new play; all the rooms

Did swarm with gentles mixed with grooms

So that I truly thought, all these

came to see Shore, or Pericles.


   This sounds early. Pericles, said Dryden (who was well placed to know: Chapter 26; 613) began as one of Shakespeare's first plays, before Titus. No doubt the brothel scenes in Pericles had helped to account for its amazing popularity among the groundlings (grooms) as well as the gentry. Further, the reference to 'rooms' suggests that these 'new plays' were being performed at inns, not theatres; and the former venues typified early drama, when all plays were new. TTR3 is also early, perhaps pre-Armada (which it does not mention). It contains a character named Shore, who is unkindly called 'whore'. This is Jane Shore, the mistress of King Edward IV; that topic would also make for popularity. Shakespeare's early plays took well, i.e. pleased ordinary people, as John Aubrey says (608).


(2) Shakespeare's early history plays, founded upon the chronicles of Edward Hall or Raphael Holinshed, are among the very first ever written; TTR3 is just such a play.


(3) Further, it gives plentiful evidence of revision, such as verse written (and hence printed) as prose; and Shakespeare, as Jonson later confirmed (502), was a reviser.


(4) In 1589, Nashe had ridiculed two playwrights (Everitt 1954, 24-30) namely Kyd and Shakespeare (RS1 68-74), as being unduly influenced by Seneca and having little Latin. TTR3 is far more overtly Senecan than any Folio play; like Kyd's Spanish Tragedy (and the early Hamlet, also mocked by Nashe) it begins with a ghost that seeks revenge, like Seneca's Thyestes. This, in TTR3, it cries aloud for, in what looks like the author's bad Latin (thus the 1594 printing of TTR3 has e.g. 'scitio vendicta' instead of 'cito vindicta' (revenge, quickly) or perhaps 'sitio vindictam' (I thirst for revenge). 'Scitio' may be a Shakespearean spelling, as in More's 'scilens' for 'silence'; but in any event he was far from well practised in Latin, as Nashe and other contemporaries famously contended, and as Rowe (632) clearly confirmed.


(5) Nashe also gibes at the phrase 'Blood is a beggar', which he attributes to 'English Seneca' who, or which, 'yields many good sentences'. This reproof is so graphic that it has often been treated as an actual quotation from a Tudor play; indeed, the entire corpus of early English drama has been ransacked in search of it, without success. It may be a reference to the translations of Seneca into English (Ten Tragedies 1581); but Nashe's phrase is not found there either. But TTR3 comes quite close to it, with 'blood is a threatener and will have revenge' (900). Perhaps Nashe had misheard 'threatener' in a stage performance, or else the playwright had originally written 'beggar' but changed that word to 'threatener' in the course of revision, or had envisaged a sturdy beggar as demanding his supposed rights with menaces, a complaint often heard in our own day. Cf. also the phrases 'blood spilt, craves due revenge' (51), attributed to the Duke of Clarence, who posthumously 'crieth for revenge'. Richard himself confesses that 'my nephewes bloods, "Revenge, revenge" doth cry' (1883). There is an earlier reference to the murdered princes in the Tower, 'whose guiltless blood craves daily at God's hands/revenge for outrage done to their harmless lives' (1648-9), i.e. their blood craves revenge as a beggar demands hand-outs. In fact, none of these recorded killings entailed the literal spilling of blood, unlike Richard's own accusation of Lord Stanley for his refusal to hearken to the King's threats about his younger son – 'the bastard's ghost shall haunt him at the heels and crie reuenge for his vile father's wrongs'. A follower concurs, with 'guiltless blood wiill for revengement cry'. And Richard sees all his other victims as 'ghoasts' who 'comes gaping for revenge'; and that last word ends eleven other lines in the same speech. So Nashe's quoted phrase does indeed yield many good sentences. On this interpretation, again, TTR3 is a play by Shakespeare which, like the Ur-Hamlet, Nashe had seen on the stage by 1589.


(6) Note, in the words cited above, the locutions 'bloods doth cry', 'ghosts comes'; these and many other so-called Northern usages where a plural noun appears in conjunction with a quasi-singular verb, and conversely, often occur in printed Shakespeare, though 'it is generally altered by modern editors, so that its commonness has not been duly recognised' (Abbott 1869, 235f).


(7) Nashe's other barbed shafts aimed at both Kyd and Shakespeare include the reproach that they both 'bodge out a blank verse with ifs and ands'. This is certainly a hit at Kyd, whose Spanish Tragedy c. 1588 contains the line (II.i.79) 'What, villain, ifs and ands?'. But the same idea also occurs in TTR3 – 'If, villain, feedst thou me with ifs & ands' (950) – which again permits the inference that TTR3 is a play by Shakespeare.


(8) It was also performed by the Queen's own theatre company, as its 1594 title-page says: 'it was playd by the Queenes Maiesties Players'. As if in confirmation of this claim, it includes a fulsome tribute to Elizabeth the First, as in Locrine and Henry VIII; Shakespeare had begun as a Queen's company playwright, and remained among the most famous of her players until her dying day.


(9) His authorship would easily explain (as what else would?) the suggestion (e.g. in Wilson 1954, xxx) that he had access to a manuscript or the printed text of TTR3 or the MS of the supposedly invisible play that allegedly hid behind either of them, when he came to write Richard III, which although not published until 1597 'was in all probability begun in 1592 and completed in 1593'. Among the possibilities that Wilson can face with equanimity is that Shakespeare used TTR3 as a point d'appui, or indeed drew on it for the framework of R3.


(10) This indebtedness to what is often called 'the old play' (though its author might very well have beenyounger than Shakespeare) is delved so deep that only shared authorship could explain it, unless Shakespeare was a deliberate and practised thief. First, he seems to have borrowed its structure for his later R3 (Wilson 1954, xxxi).


(11) Then, according to Bullough (1960, 238-9), 'that Shakespeare knew [TTR3] is proved by his making Hamlet refer to a line from it, 'The screeking Rauen sits croaking for reuenge' (1892) in 'Come: the croaking rauen doth bellow for reuenge' (III.ii.254). In fact that latter line conflates two lines from TTR3, the next being 'Whole heads of beasts come bellowing for reuenge', and the play into which Hamlet's words are to be inserted is, like much of TTR3, about murder and usurpation. Thus assurance is made doubly sure.


(12) Here is a further list of influences both (i) negative (i.e. his conscious avoidance of materials already used in the earlier play) and (ii) positive (echoes of TTR3 in Shakespeare's R3). Here I cite Bullough loc. cit., with astonishment and distress at his failure to draw the obvious inference. After all, Shakespeare had begun his theatre career with English Senecan tragedy (Nashe 1589) and English history plays, such as Contention (c. 1590). But even when TTR3 was astutely identified by the same commentator (Bullough loc. cit.) as 'an interesting attempt to fuse the Senecan Revenge play with the English History play', no ears pricked up, not even Bullough's own. To this day, experts feel constrained to defend Shakespeare against the least suspicion of complicity in early plays, especially those felt to be inferior, while at the same time admitting his many manifest malpractices; thus:

(i) '[R3] rather strangely omits several elements present in the chronicles...He barely mentions Jane Shore...The capture of the Queen's kinsmen at Northampton is not represented; nor is the Archbishop's persuasion of the Queen to give up the Duke of York. More remarkable still, [R3] avoids showing the murder of the two princes, but transfers material from the historical accounts of this to the murder of Clarence…Nor do we see the death of Richard. Again, R3 deliberately differs from TTR3 in infusing humour and intelligence into a figure in danger of becoming a stock theatrical tyrant.

(ii) 'Both plays anticipate by some time the appointment of Richard as Protector. Both have a scene immediately after Edward IV's death in which a Citizen represents what More calls 'Mutterynge among the people, as though al should not long be well', Both ascribe to Buckingham the suggestion that the Princes should be removed from the Queen's friends; and make Rivers refer to the reconciliation between the rival parties as 'but green' when the dismissal of the young king's train is discussed. The boy himself shows a similar regality and forwardness in both, complains of his kinsman's arrest and is told by Richard that he is but a child and is therefore treated as such...In both plays Richmond is seen encouraging his comrades not at landing but after he has proceeded some way into England. The conversations between Richard and Stanley are alike. In both plays, reproachful ghosts appear to Richard. In both plays Richard in battle cries for a horse, and refuses to flee. Immediately afterwards, in both plays, Richard refers to the ominous absence of the sun'. Nor is this all. In both plays, Hastings is beheaded just for saying 'if' to Richard's tirade about the 'strumpet Shore', whom he accuses of witchcraft together with the Queen mother, holding up his 'withered arm' as evidence; Hastings is called a 'traitor' by Richard, who 'swears by Saint Paul' that he 'will not dine' until he sees Hastings’s severed head. His standards of evidence seem to mirror those used by commentators who seek to deny such links. Again, Richard as Lord Protector is mistakenly called 'the King' by characters in both plays. Finally R3 is famous for its line 'A horse! a horse! My kingdom for a horse'; but this is borrowed from TTR3 where the cry is 'A horse, a horse, a fresh horse'. In both contexts, the horse is not needed to escape upon, and a follower is called 'slave' or 'villain' for daring to recommend such a course when the King really wishes, as his next words make clear, to go on fighting.

Now, Bullough had studied these similarities and differences in more detail than other commentators; and he wished, understandably enough, to show that his declared opinions about R3's use of TTR3 were soundly based. Yet every amateur can see, as he cannot, that there is nothing in the least 'strange' or 'remarkable' in (i), and that conversely the resemblances outlined in (ii) are amazing, unless Shakespeare was either a common thief or the author of TTR3. And it is surely not mere Bardolatry to deny the former impeachment and hence to accept the latter.


(13) TTR3 was registered by Thomas Creede in 1594 and printed by him in the same year. Creede was among the earliest of Shakespeare publishers, and 'one of the best of his time' (Halliday 2/1964, 120); only four years later he brought out the second edition of Richard III. There is accordingly no reason to suppose that there it is a 'memorial reconstruction'; on the contrary, recent serious study shows that it is not (Maguire 1996, 317-8, which also finds 'vigorously metaphorical language, with excellent linguistic sense of character development [which includes] telling portrayals of Jane Shore's humanity in distress and of Richard's change from confident attacker to nervous and unsure defender'). So who might the anonymous author have been?

It should be reaffirmed at this juncture that TTR3 precedes R3; no reason is ever given for the contrary supposition (made by e.g. Honigmann 1968, 14) because none exists.


(14) Here are some positive textual reasons for assigning TTR3 to the young Shakespeare. First, its diction and imagery are those of an unlearned countryman, as Greene complained about a certain detested actor-playwright. Such a hybrid must have unusual if not unique. The play begins with regional grammar and over-ambitious allegory from the first line (Enters Truth and Poetrie) onwards. The noun-verb discord was long ago identified as Shakespeare's Northern plural (Abbott 1869, 235f); TTR3 contains many other examples, such as words strikes (133), Enters Page and Percival (381), Peers means (834), Earl have said (1666), bloods doth (1883), lambs sits (1891).


(15) This lack of learning in general and Latin in particular (as Shakespeare's contemporaries all testified, a fact now forgotten or ignored) is underlined by occasional attempts at classical allusion, to the wealth of 'Cressus' (77), meaning Croesus, and the wheel of 'Exeon' (1390), meaning Ixion. But the playwright is wholly at home among flora and fauna, as witness bough, brambles, branch, briars, mowed, root, sprig, stock, thorn, tree etc., or buzzard, dogs, horse, lamb, lioness, raven, spider, tiger, wolf, and so forth. The main imagery is drawn from countryside and fireside, the same sources that characterised Shakespeare from the first (Spurgeon 1935, 86f, 112f). Malice and envy sow sedition in the heart (90); the tree decays whose fruitful branch have (sic; see 6 above) flourished many a year (264); as they brew, so let them bake (333); set a screen by the fire for fear of suspicion (432); rend your stock up by the roots (606); glean out of your golden field of eloquence (1517); and so on. There are many examples of alliteration (196-8) and antithesis (809-10, 1282, 1457-8, 1637, 1916), together with references to card-games (331, 640), archery (126, 841-2, 846, 848, 1813), the Bible (600, 1024, 1638, 2165) and the law (353, 1954). Unusual words in un- (80, 259, 609, 624 etc) proliferate1 together with proverbs (471, 479, 1575) and puns (316, 809, 1286-7). An assassin is called Black Will, surnamed Slaughter (1215-6); there is no doubt some in-joke here, as if Shakespeare himself had enacted such roles (cf. the murderers in Arden of Faversham, who are called Black Will and Shakebag). He had himself been a slaughterer, as Aubrey reported after consultation with the Stratford neighbours (608). As usual, all such typical characteristics interweave and interact; thus the unfaithful Jane Shore's comment that her complaisant husband 'knew it bootless to kick against the prick' (1024) manages to combine bawdry, word-play and biblical references in one single short phrase.


(16) Pre-echoes abound. Thus 'a shadow without a substance' (468) is among the very first of all such contrasts (MWW I.iii.37, MV III.ii.129, R2 II.ii.14, 2H6 I.i.13, Sonn 37.10, Titus III.ii.80), while 'I'll make them hop without their crowns [=heads] (268) and 'he hops without his head' (1443) both anticipate 2H6 I.iii.137, while the hyperbole of 'rake out that hatefull heart...and drink his blood lukewarm' (1978-80) reappears in 3H6 I.ii.34,R3 III.iii.13 and H5 II.iv.98. Again, TTR3 and R3 both contain the key words 'malice', 'train' and 'green' in a few lines (494, 496, 501: II.ii.120, 123, 125, 127); in both, Richard offers his excuses for absence in almost the same phrase ('I have been a long sleeper', 925-6, and 'I have been long a sleeper', III.iv.23); his outburst about being 'bewitched...strumpet Shore...withered arm...if...feedst thou me with ifs...by Saint Paul I swear I will not dine until I see the traitor's head' (TTR3 944f) is a direct crib from R3 III.iv.68f; so is 'dispatched...bloody deed' (1320) from I.iv.271, though the former confession comes from the murderers of the young princes and the latter from those of Clarence. On the evidence, Shakespeare had read and reused TTR3; thus 'when he knocks with his fist upon the board, they to rush in' (938) reads like aa preliminary sketch for 'when I strike my foot/upon the bosom of the ground, rush forth' (KJ IV.i.2-3) Again, 'tell my...brother some merry story' prefigures 'make my aunt merry with some pleasing tale' (Titus III.ii.47), while 'nuptial rites' are to be 'solemnised' (2158-9) as later in MV II.ix.6. Again, 'sets abroach' (394) (=spills) is the forerunner of R3 I.iii.324, Rom I.i.104, 2H4IV.ii.14 – the only three canonical usages of 'abroach' in any sense. Similarly 'well spoken...a toward prince' (534, 536) reappears in 'spoken like a toward prince' (3H6 II.ii.66), and 'I had rather than forty pounds I (1296)' is also found in TN V.i.177, while the impatient 'foe me no foes' sounds typically Shakespearean. None of this can be called plagiarism, unless Shakespeare himself is the borrower, as Professor Foster (alone in the world) absurdly asserted about Ironside. That play, incidentally, shares with TTR3 such phrases as 'return defiance in thy face' (the former reference first: 719, 620), spoken by a prisoner on each occasion, 'I make a choice of thee amongst the rest'/'and have they chosen thee among the rest' (1483, 1860), said by a Queen, 'second self' (2047, 1750), 'oh what a grief is it' (234, 1048), 'give me leave to speak' (said to a king 1694, 1522), 'loving countrymen' (1619, 1641/1705), 'guiltless blood' (1920, 1648), 'courage' as an exclamation (1358, 1650), a usage first cited by the OED from Shakespeare (MV IV.i.111), and 'omit vain talk/omitting vain circumstances' (1481, 1827). The same situations and characters also recur; thus a son is left with an enemy as a pledge for loyalty (573, 1454), and Report is personified, and hence italicised, in both plays (1912-13, 2002f). Similarly Ironside has a Chorus (964f) and TTR3 presents both Truth and Poetry (7f), so that both dramas stand in close relationship to the Morality play, with which (according to Greene 1592, 179) Shakespeare began his stage career. Again, both those early plays have unusual soldiers whose amazement makes then more likely to fly than fight (1008, 1814-6). The same soldiery reappears in Edward III, which also resembles TTR3 in many particulars; thus they both have a character called Lodowicke, who is the King's poet-secretary in E3 and servant to Lord Hastings, as well as a poet (1078) in TTR3, where he (again like Shakespeare) has lost his lands (254, 1067). Also in E3 the Black Prince, like George Stanley in TTR3 emerges from great danger, to the joy of his father. But in general the perusal of TTR3 resembles reading an anthology of Shakespeare. Even its lines of fourteen syllables, found in The Troublesome Reign of King John, reappear in Love's Labour's Lost; and it is clearly the work of a born rhymester – the kind of dramatist whom Marlowe scorned as writing in the jigging vein of a rhyming mother-wit.

     But just such a style has its allotted place in Shakespeare's development; thus an astute commentator has noted (Maguire 1996, 317) the interesting fact that many TTR3 formulae (such as 'the young prince' and 'young king') also appear in another play performed by the Queen's Men, again published by Thomas Creede, namely The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, identified by Seymour Pitcher in 1961 as a very early work by Shakespeare (see also Chapter 17). The text of the two plays, furthermore, 'is similar in all but verbal quality' (Maguire 1996, 318). But is not this phenomenon exactly what one might predict, on that hypothesis? The case could readily be further strengthened by the addition of more such formulae, such as TTR3's frequent oaths by God's wounds (1600) or zounds (eight times), or its rather callow interrogations like 'but tell me' (38), or in 'the King is dead. O sir! is the King dead?' (302-3).

     Conformably, the gift of speaking with tongues in cadences of pure poetry is far more characteristic of TTR3than of FV. This is manifestly not the main concern of either text; but an amateur or beginner capable of writing such lines as


       'Methinks the Crowne which I before did wear,

       Enchased with pearl and costly diamonds

       Is turnéd now into a fatal wreath

       Of fiery flames and euer-burning starres' (1409-12)


is already far from negligible.


(17) Another plain though rarely examined fingerprint is the extraordinary variety of nomenclature in TTR3speech-prefixes and stage-directions, as if that play had been printed from authorial copy fully as variable as that of Shakespeare's Sir Thomas More. That manuscript begins well with the speaker's name written out in full: Lincolne. But thereafter this prefix becomes successively Linco, Linc and (by line 11) Lin. Exactly this same shortening is observed in TTR3, where Poetrie is so spelt, in full, at line 1 but is abbreviated to Poet at line 9 and again to Poe at 13. Similarly Truth yields place to Tru, Hastings to Hast, Marcus to Mar, Elizabeth to Eliza, Hursley to Hurs, Lodwicke to Lod, and so on.


     Again, the TTR3 spellings conform with many of those identified by Prof. Ernst Honigmann (1996, 158-161) as typically Shakespearean in the first Quarto of Othello (1622). Examples of actual correspondences are: affoord, battell, boord, cald, comming, countrey, Ile [=isle], mary [=marry], mooues, peecemeale, pittie/pittilesse, prooues, sence, shew, souldier, vertue/vertuous; and his additional categories (such as in- for en- and terminal -full for modern -ful) are copiously represented. The point is prima facie worth making even though the two manuscripts were separated by some thirty years and the spellings (as in all printed as distinct from handwritten playscripts) may be as much compositorial as authorial. That last point may invalidate such TTR3 evidence for authorial copy as its parallel spellings of rhymed endings, as in Venus and Adonis, also published in 1594, or its reading of opportnnitie for opportunitie (405), or 'a manuall' for 'an annuall' (2056-7), despite Shakespeare's many and typical minim misreadings in the More and Ironside MSS. But the many capitalisations of words beginning with the letter C, as if the writer's small c were too readily misreadable, as in both those manuscripts, are perhaps worth itemising: TTR3 has e.g. Camp, Castle, Citie, Citizens, Commons, Concubine, Conflex, Coronation, Court are difficult to justify on grounds other than the personal preference which Shakespeare apparently possessed.