The Winter of Our Discontent

When William Shakespeare wrote his time honored classic Richard III, he wrote his main character as a murdering, calculating, and almost maddened individual, a perspective popular with the droves that filled the Globe Theater to take in the royal play-write’s latest piece, but more importantly, a perspective that would please Her Majesty and her Tutor court. While reading Tey’s treatment of the same man, I could not help but think of the importance of perspective when telling a story and the tendency of an audience to believe what they want to believe rather than finding facts on their own. I myself fell victim to a Shakespearean perspective with regard to the final king to be born of the House of York.

The more I read of Tey’s novel the more clear it became that I had never looked at King Richard through the eyes of a historian, which hammered home the point of reading this novel and shows how examining Tey’s treatment of Richard can be useful in terms of a larger study of what it means to interpret and write history. I had always seen King Richard in the light that Shakespeare had cast him. Even in school when I first learned about the War of the Roses, my teacher presented Richard as a murderous hunchback with a chip on his shoulder and a score to settle with his brother. I never considered the perspective that Tey presents through Grant’s bedridden investigation, a perspective that paints Richard as a benevolent ruler, and (as we later find out) a man who in all likelihood has been tried, convicted and ultimately executed by history for a double murder that he may not have ordered. In addition to my own personal eureka moment in terms of perspective, I found Grant’s method of investigation to be exactly how history is supposed to be done.

Grant never settles for an account without substantiated evidence, nor does he ever stop asking the question that every historian should hold true to their heart: “Where did you get that information?” He looks at a number of different sources to form his opinion on poor King Richard, ranging from a copy of an old painting to Sir Thomas More’s personal account of Richard’s life. His use of a diverse grouping of primary and secondary sources shows a depth of investigation that is essential to writing good history. Grant took no fact for granted, which to me embodies the ideal historical attitude. The greatest lesson Tey taught me was not about an English Monarch who’s death came too soon, but rather about how to properly execute writing and in a larger, more significant sense, interpreting history.

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