Richard III's Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity: Shakespeare and Disability History





How is Richard III always both so historical and so current?




Read the Introduction




Available from Temple University Press

Richard III will always be central to English disability history as both man and myth—a disabled medieval king made into a monster by his nation’s most important artist.

In Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity, Jeffrey Wilson tracks disability over 500 years, from Richard’s own manuscripts, early Tudor propaganda, and x-rays of sixteenth-century paintings through Shakespeare’s soliloquies, into Samuel Johnson’s editorial notes, the first play produced by an African American Theater company, Freudian psychoanalysis, and the rise of disability theater. For Wilson, the changing meanings of disability created through shifting perspectives in Shakespeare’s plays prefigure a series of modern attempts to understand Richard’s body in different disciplinary contexts—from history and philosophy to sociology and medicine.

While theorizing a role for Shakespeare in the field of disability history, Wilson reveals how Richard III has become an index for some of modernity’s central concerns—the tension between appearance and reality, the conflict between individual will and external forces of nature and culture, the possibility of upward social mobility, and social interaction between self and other, including questions of discrimination, prejudice, hatred, oppression, power, and justice.

“Wilson explores the many meanings of Shakespeare’s masterpiece in performance and as text and of Richard III as an historical figure in a wide-ranging study that offers careful and approachable close readings that will interest actors, directors, playgoers, scholars, and the general reader. While Richard’s body is center stage in this reception history, Wilson’s spotlight is also on the audience. This book makes a strong case for Richard’s centrality to disability studies and is a hugely enjoyable read.”


—Essaka Joshua, Associate Professor of English, University of Notre Dame and author of

Physical Disability in British Romantic Literature




“Erudite, original, and thoughtful, Jeffrey Wilson’s Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity is a vital resource for anyone studying disability history, stigmatized bodies, and the historiography of monarchy. Chapters range widely across medieval and early-modern visual representations of Richard and the presentation of Richard’s so-called hunch on stage in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The book also includes a fascinating account of contemporary performances and the political stakes in the twenty-first century of casting Richard as a person with a disability, as a person with a disability who culturally and politically identifies as Disabled, or as a person without a disability. The volume concludes with the felicitous coinage ‘historical presentism’ to discuss the study of Shakespearean adaptations and appropriations and reminds us why we still read about Richard, and perhaps why we still read Shakespeare at all.”


—Sujata Iyengar, Professor of English at the University of Georgia, and editor of

Disability, Health, and Happiness in the Shakespearean Body




Table of Contents





1 Stigmatizing Richard III’s Disability up to Shakespeare: The Figural Paradigm

2 The Models of Stigma in Shakespeare’s First Tetralogy: Spirituality, Psychology, Sociology

3 The Reality of Physiognomy in Richard III

4 The Unnatural Age of Margaret: Antiquating the Spiritual Model of Stigma in Richard III

5 Richard III’s Disability after Shakespeare: Discovering the Causal Paradigm

6 Richard III’s Disability in Modern Performance: The Changing Bodies of Character and Actor

Conclusion: The Anthropology of Audience: Historical Presentism in Shakespeare Studies






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