Richard III, Shakespeare and the power of the written word

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Richard III, Shakespeare and the power of the written word

We’ll never know if Richard really did murder those princes, but Will Shakespeare effectively destroyed his reputation long before he was found buried under a Lidl car park. Some things never change, says Gina Sharp

Know what? I knew it was him. When I first saw it plastered across twitter: the skeleton they discovered in that car park in Leicester, there was something about it that said “Richard III”. Call it a hunch.

Alas, poor “Dicky Plantagenet” (as he was called in a black and white Hollywood movie I once watched on Sunday afternoon) he never had a good press. If the horrific injuries he suffered at the crime scene weren't bad enough, Shakespeare, whose version of history seems to have become the de facto standard, shredded his reputation even more mercilessly. Like certain over-zealous content writers, Shakespeare felt compelled to turn everything into a drama.

He wouldn't have got away with that if he’d been working for me. Will, I would have explained kindly, whilst offering him a skinny cappu, I really do like these sonnets. I think they're brilliant. You're the best content driven engagement platform this agency has ever had. But it's the client Will. He needs a tragedy, so that's what we have to write. End of.

Shakespeare was a hack, and a good one. He was on a pay per play deal (literally) so he just banged out stuff and, as he was also a superb self-publicist, everyone just accepted it. Nobody dared suggest that his work had all the hallmarks of the writings of Francis Bacon. Or that Christopher Marlowe had the edge with the prose. No, Shakespeare won the marketing battle, through sheer volume, which was all down to the way he was funded by The Globe Theatre.

Charles Dickens, another well-respected author, was also a hack. His stories were paid by the word and were serialised in newspaper. Only later were these compiled into novels. Consider the intro to A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Talk about waffle…

Whenever a committee edits a writer's work, using Microsoft Track Changes, the first sentence of prose is always the most vulnerable to sabotage. They're desperate to make a change, any change. Like notorious football hard men, they want to make a strong challenge as early as possible, just to let the writer know they're there. Conversely, as the game goes on, they lose interest. By the final paragraph of an article edited by a panel, everybody has lost interest – you could cut and paste a section of a Chinese phone directory and nobody would notice.

Anyway, the power of the written word is as strong today as it’s ever been. We’ll never know if Richard really did murder those princes, but Will Shakespeare effectively destroyed his reputation and it will never be restored. Some things never change…

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