It took five centuries but the mystery over what happened to the remains of England's last Plantagenet king, Richard III, is finally solved.
I remember an attentive moment in an otherwise generally unengaged interest in high school English when the teacher said something like, "There is truth and then there is Truth with a capital "T." I don't remember what we were reading at the time. I suppose it might well have been "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" or The Grapes of Wrath. I dunno. But the point was, as is the case in both of those stories, the known facts alone, though they may all be facts, never tell the whole truth. In some cases the facts are cherry-picked as in the oft quoted "History is written by the victors" or as in too much of too many political debates.
The capital "T" Truth, I was told had more to do with universal truths; those truths that seem to be universally present themes of humankind regardless of time or place. They deal with motivations behind the wise and the foolish; the virtuous and the vicious. And, what snapped me out of my glassy-eyed semi-attentiveness, ironically, was the teacher's suggestion that "perhaps we can learn more about the universal Truths by reading fiction than by reading nonfiction."
My unanticipated engaged interest led to a rather rare experience. I raised my hand and asked a serious question. "Wait a minute! That doesn't make any sense? Are you saying that stories that are true aren't as true as stories that aren't true."
I actually don't remember the response to my specific question, but I do remember finding the explanation interesting and enjoyably eye-opening. And, the part of the answer that I do remember was the teacher simply asking the class the question, "How can shrimp be jumbo?" And I'll be darned if that teacher didn't take the opportunity to toss in a quick lesson on oxymorons!
I left class that day wondering, "What the heck just happened? That class was really interesting!"
Oh yeah! The article...
From the article...
"Modern views of the medieval king have been heavily influenced by Shakespeare's portrayal in the play Richard III, historians say."
"Shakespeare shows Richard as a power-hungry, Machiavellian scoundrel who goes around murdering anyone who stands in the way of his ascent to power. He depicts him as having a withered arm but the new scientific evidence discredits this description as both of the skeleton's arms are the same length."
So, was Shakespeare's Richard the real Richard? If Shakespeare's "facts" were inaccurate, was his portrayal of Richard as evil merely "true" or was it "Truth." Was fictionalizing Richard a way of discussing the universal Truths associated with some Truth often associated with the motivations and actions of those obsessed with power and greed? It makes for a great story and I'll be darned if it doesn't shine an interesting light on the General George Custers and Ken Lays and Bernie Madoffs of the world.
Did Steinbeck really have to "stick strictly to the facts alone" to make very similar points in The Grapes of Wrath? Steinbeck was actually reviled for "not telling the truth" while at the same time being revered for telling many capital "T" Truths.
Though Steinbeck made his point through intentionally fictionalized characters, pinning his criticisms on "no particular real person," Shakespeare may have crossed a line into what might be recognized as unfair slander by choosing a "real person." That is, if his portrayal of more important untruths than a mere discrepancy regarding Richard's arm are maligning Richard's character and historical contributions then I'd suppose that there are those who would question the ethics of cherry-picking facts or misleading those who read his work assuming that the stories rested upon historical accuracy But, of course, we should keep in mind that having never actually published his work where a disclaimer might have been recorded, we have no way of knowing whether contemporary audiences were or were not aware of or made aware of, Shakespeare's use of "poetic license."
So here's one for your irony collection. The article's very next paragraph following the one quoted above is...
"Langley said Richard III was a progressive leader who pioneered a system of bail for those arrested, the legal principles of presumption of innocence until proven guilty and blind justice, and that he introduced books to England."
Wow!! "...and he introduced books to England."
Hey Shakespeare, (if that really was your name), what's up with that?
Next thing you know, we'll find out George Washington never threw a dollar across the Potomac!
But of course, even those of us who seriously doubt that he did, must admit that a dollar did go a lot further in those days.
btw... just finished re-reading Bill Bryson's excellent Shakespeare: The World as Stage. A fairly short but deep exploration of the "actual known facts of Shakespeare's life." One of my favorites being that of all the known ways Shakespeare spelled his name, there is no known evidence of his ever having spelled it "Shakespeare."