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Shakespeare got Richard III dramatically wrong

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It turns out Shakespeare got a few things wrong in dramatizing the rise and fall of Richard III. Writing more than 100 years after the monarch's death, the playwright characterized him as a malignant murderer devoid of pity -- hunchbacked and with a withered arm.

But a 500-year-old skeleton, unearthed in a parking lot, tells a different tale. Researchers announced on Monday the bones are indeed the remains of England's last Plantagenet king. And, contrary to Shakespeare's version of history, there's no evidence Richard had a shriveled arm. He wasn't hunchbacked, either.

Instead, the king suffered from a curvature of the spine called scoliosis. It begs the question: What other mistakes did the Bard of Avon make in passing his version of events to posterity? Indeed, a considerable body of historical opinion argues that Richard III wasn't nearly the monster depicted by Shakespeare.

The English language's greatest writer appears to have been swayed by a desire to please the Tudors, who came to power on Richard's death at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. It seems the fallen king's reputation was yet another victim of bad press.

The latest archeological finding has been described as among the most exciting in decades, and it's hoped it will inspire more research into the story of this misunderstood monarch.

There's no lack of drama. Richard III was the last English king to die in battle and his remains bear evidence of 10 different injuries inflicted by an arrow and various edged weapons.

The king's badly mutilated body was brought to the nearby town of Leicester, where it was put on public display. The royal corpse was eventually buried by local monks in a church that was subsequently destroyed and its site forgotten. An excavation last year revealed what had been lost. On Monday, Richard's identity was confirmed using DNA evidence provided by Canadian-born Michael Ibsen, a direct descendant of the king's sister.

Folks in the hard-pressed city of Leicester are now hoping to cash in on the discovery by building a museum and holding Richard-related events. Good luck to them. A flowering of local business might end up being a final good work attributable to this much-maligned ruler.

Dare we say it? Leicester's winter of economic discontent could be made glorious summer by royal sight-seers.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2013 A6

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