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  • Missing a Horse: Richard and White Surrey
  • Erica Sheen (bio)

I begin with the Globe Theatre’s Facebook page on February 4, 2013, the day of the press release from the University of Leicester announcing the discovery of Richard III’s body: “Our neighbours Southwark Cathedral have a beautiful stained glass window depicting the death of Richard III. Next time you are on your way to us stop off and have a look.” Providing a link to the Cathedral’s own website, they “shared” this image, part of Christopher Webb’s Shakespeare Window, unveiled in 1954 as a replacement for the war-damaged memorial window, originally installed in 1897: “This is the Cathedral’s version of the death of #RichardIII, which is shown in our Shakespeare Window. Come and see it for yourself.”1

A typical online chat followed, by turns banal and witty: “Where’s the car park?”; “The cathedral has a lot of interesting and beautiful memorials—worth the trip”; “I thought he was missing a horse when he was slain?” This last comment gives me the starting point for the argument in this essay: the thing everyone knows about Richard III is that when he died he was “missing a horse:”

5.7 Alarum, excursions. Enter CATESBY

Catesby:

Rescue, my lord of Norfolk! Rescue, rescue! The King enacts more wonders than a man, Daring an opposite to every danger. His horse is slain, and all on foot he fights, Seeking for Richmond in the throat of death. Rescue, fair lord, or else the day is lost!

Enter [KING] RICHARD.

King Richard:

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

Catesby:

Withdraw, my lord. I’ll help you to a horse.

King Richard:

Slave, I have set my life upon a cast, And I will stand the hazard of the die. [End Page 271] I think there be six Richmonds in the field. Five have I slain today, instead of him. A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! [Exeunt].2


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Figure 1.

Richard III and White Surrey. Detail from the William Shakespeare Window, designed by Christopher Webb and unveiled in 1954.

Southwark Cathedral, London, South Aisle (image reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of Southwark Cathedral). To view this image in color, please download a digital copy of this essay from Project Muse or visit the Comparative Drama website at scholarworks.wmich.edu/compdr/.

As Catesby makes clear, however, Richard is not just “missing a horse”: he’s missing his horse, White Surrey, to whom we are introduced at 5.3.62 in the immediate run-up to the battle (“Saddle white Surrey for the field tomorrow” [5.5.17]), and who continues to hold his place in the events that follow, up to this point, where we learn of his death. In this essay, [End Page 272] I want to consider the implications of the fact that Richard’s death is so closely associated with this animal. How is the curious fact that we are sympathetic to this notoriously “monstrous” character tied to his relationship to White Surrey?


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Figure 2.

William Shakespeare Window, Southwark Cathedral, London, South Aisle

(image reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of Southwark Cathedral). To view this image in color, please download a digital copy of this essay from Project Muse or visit the Comparative Drama website at scholarworks.wmich.edu/compdr/.

It may seem an unnecessary question. Surely, since horses were a pervasive feature of everyday life in the society of which Shakespeare’s theatre was also a part, we should not be surprised that they make their presence felt in his plays, albeit only in a (necessarily) offstage capacity. But White Surrey is a member of a very elite group of Shakespearian horses: named horses; a fact, as I have argued elsewhere, that demonstrates a significant nexus between the defining values of the action and those of the “worlds” in which their respective plays are embedded, either at the point of writing, or in successive contexts of production.3 Commissioned [End Page 273] in 1952 in the aftermath of World War II...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 271-288
Launched on MUSE
2016-11-18
Open Access
No
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