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Richard III: Was he really that bad?

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Andrew Winning/Reuters

(Read caption) A CT scan of Richard III's skeleton was used to create a reproduction of what the king's features may have looked like.

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"Why, love forswore me in my mother's womb;
And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,
She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe
To shrink mine arm up like a wither'd shrub;
To make an envious mountain on my back,
Where sits deformity to mock my body;
To shape my legs of an unequal size;
To disproportion me in every part,
Like to a chaos, or an unlick'd bear-whelp
That carries no impression like the dam."
Shakespeare really knew how to knock a guy down to size.

That's his description, in "Henry VI, Part 3," of King Richard III. Shakespeare would devote an entire play to the doomed king, creating perhaps the greatest villain in the history of the stage.

Was Richard III really a deformed monster? Now we know at least part of the answer thanks to the discovery, confirmed this week, of his skeleton under a parking lot in the British city of Leicester. Yes, he had a severely curved spine, although there's no evidence he bore a "mountain" – a hump – on his back.

Next question: Was Richard III really a monster as a human being? Historians continue to battle over that one. His reputation is scarred most by two things. One is his decision to throw his two young nephews into the Tower of London, where they're thought to have been murdered so they couldn't threaten his bid for the crown. The other is Shakespeare's "Richard III."


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