And so they've finally discovered the remains of Richard III. Think you've heard that name before? You probably have if you've studied Shakespeare. See, Richard III was an English king who was pretty much vilified by The Bard in a play he penned titled, well, Richard III.
Now that Richard's body has been exhumed (from beneath an English parking lot, of all places), a lot is being made of Shakespeare's representation of the man. By and far, people throughout the centuries have taken the author at his word and have seen Richard as a brute. That may all change now that interest in the last English monarch to be killed in battle is heating up again.
This isn't to say Shakespeare is guilty of character assassination if his representation of Henry is proven to be faulty. Creative writers are not historians, after all, Besides, Richard had been dead a long time by the time the play was written.
What cannot be argued, however, is the fact that LITERATURE MATTERS. Good writing changes the way we see the world around us. It changes the way we see each other. It changes the way we see ourselves. Look no further than Richard's reputation if you need proof of literature's impact on reality.
In fact, Shakespeare's take on Richard is so potent that several organizations have arisen to shine light on the matter. The RICHARD III SOCIETY has branches around the world (including here in the US) which are dedicated to giving Richard's reputation a fair shake. Think about it – an international organization has been erected, mainly to undo the influence of a single author. It's mind boggling stuff.
What's more, other creative writers have emerged to challenge the assumptions Shakespeare has colored the historical record with. My friend, Joan Szechtman, for instance, has written two acclaimed novels where Richard is transported to the 21st century - only to find that he must fight for his reputation in a future which sees him as a villain. Like Shakespeare himself, Ms. Szechtman aims to entertain, as well as to enlighten.
Truth be told, I myself am no expert on Richard III. Therefore, I'll leave the matter of his reputation to those more learned in the subject than I. I am, however, a lover of writing and of history. When one influences the other, I get excited.
Apparently, I'm not alone.