Distemporality: Richard III’s Body and the Car Park
By Jonathan Hsy
Upstart: A Journal of English Renaissance Studies (Special Issue: Finding Richard: A Forum Art, Archeology, Disability, and Temporality) (2013)
My contribution to this Upstart forum on Richard III began its life as a posting on the collaborative website In the Middle (6 February 2013). I composed the entry soon after researchers announced their findings that DNA most likely confirmed skeletal remains unearthed beneath a Leicester car park (parking lot) were those of medieval English monarch Richard III. This king is commonly imagined in the popular imagination (via Shakespeare and other sources) as villain with a deformed body, and the curved spine of the skeleton — among other features — seems to confirm the identification.
In this venue, I consider how this “moment of discovery” offers the prospect of renewed, non-Shakespearean reference points for discussing Richard III and making sense of this figure’s curious existence across time. That is, I am not so much concerned about what the physical form of Richard III’s body might reveal about the king himself; instead, I consider how the contemporary discovery of the body itself provokes us to think more critically about discursive and conceptual movements through time. What role does Richard III continue to play for us simultaneously as a historical medieval king, a particular early modern (i.e., Shakespearean) representation, and a modern cultural icon?
This essay contains three loosely interconnected sections. The first considers some contemporary discourses about this present “moment” of discovery and the promise of a shifting paradigm in our approach to the king himself; the second discusses the perceptual lens that Shakespeare continues to provide for contemporary discourses about Richard III; and the third bridges early modern and contemporary contexts via theatrical performance and disability studies.