• In June 1594 a new play was placed on the Stationers’ Register: The True Tragedy of Richard III. It was published anonymously and endorsed: As it was played by the Queen’s Majesty’s Players.
    • The play was not printed again until 1821 or studied in any depth until 1900, but since then there has been much speculation as to the relationship between this play and Shakespeare’s Richard III. (for convenience we’ll distinguish between the two plays by calling them the True Tragedy and Richard III)
      The major theories have been:
      a)      The True Tragedy is a memorial reconstruction i.e. bad quarto of Richard III.
      b)      This version of the True Tragedy is a bad quarto of the real True Tragedy.
      c)      The True Tragedy is the source of Richard III
      d)      The True Tragedy is Shakespeare’s own earlier version of Richard III
    • As you can see while the True Tragedy covers the same ground as Richard III there are some major differences in the treatment, such as:
        • While Richard III dramatises the death of George, Duke of Clarence True Tragedy starts after his death which is retold in an elaborate prologue.
        • While in the prologue Truth describes Richard as ‘A man ill shaped, crooked backed, lame armed’, unlike Richard III, nothing more is said during the course of the play about his deformities.
        • In True Tragedy Edward IV dies peacefully in his bed while in Richard III he dies after an angry outburst.
        • True Tragedy has two major sequences that do not feature in Richard III, namely the fate of Mistress Shore and the scenes in which the young Prince Edward is taken from his uncles.
        • Richard’s relationship with Buckingham and Hastings is very different. In True Tragedy Buckingham is an erstwhile enemy and Hastings is his ally while in Richard III Buckingham is Richard’s long trusted ally and Hastings is his main opposition.
        • In Richard III Hastings is accused of sorcery and ordered executed during a council meeting then dragged away never to be seen again. In the True Tragedy we are told briefly about the meeting and we see Hastings after he is dragged out of it.
        • In the True Tragedy Richard’s confidant is his Page who does not feature in this capacity in Richard III.
        • In Richard III we see the scene in which Richard is offered the crown by the London Aldermen while in True Tragedy it is described by the Page although possibly seen in dumb show.
        • The Princess Elizabeth and Mistress Shore are on stage in True Tragedy but only referred to in Richard III.
        • Lady Anne, the dowager Duchess of York and Queen Margaret do not appear in True Tragedy.
        • True Tragedy has a long epilogue recounting the history of the House of Tudor which has no parallel in Richard III.
    • As we can see, therefore, there is a relationship between the True Tragedy and Richard III, but its nature may not be as the critics have argued. It is obvious that the author of Richard III was not only aware of the True Tragedy but knew it well. However, in a culture where memory was still an important part of the education system, it need not have taken more that a couple of viewings of the True Tragedy for the author to assimilate from it the elements that have gone into Richard III.
      However, the author of Richard III was obviously not trying to produce a carbon copy of the True Tragedy. Many of the elements retained from True Tragedy were retained for good dramatic reasons and sometimes made better use of. For example, while in the Chronicles, Richard is absent from Edward’s deathbed, in both plays he is present. However, while little is made of this in True Tragedy, in Richard III it is used as an occasion for Richard to make mischief and even indirectly bring about the King’s death.

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