The Uses of Richard III : from Robert Cecil to Richard Nixon

This article examines the figure and function of Richard as a 'tool for political commentary' from the early modern period to the 20th Century. Aune begins by analysing a sample of early modern vernacular works, which negatively links the character to Robert Cecil. An over-arching theme is identified: Francis Bacon's notion of physical and moral goodness being intertwined. Aune proposes that this is embodied by the play as a whole as time goes on. Largely, history plays resist innovation, unlike tragedies and comedies and Richard III appeared to have stagnated. However in the 20th Century, interpretations of the character, like those of John Laurie and Laurence Olivier, began to invoke references to Hitler and Mussolini, reflecting the rise of fascism in continental Europe. Aune then turns to 1970s U.S.A., discussing Al Pacino's Richard, and how the character was used to engage with political events, such as Richard Nixon's re-election. Upon his resignation however, the connection was severed. Nonetheless, the character Richard has transcended the historical figure, embodying new rhizomatic connections to 20th Century fascist dictators when presented to a postwar audience.