Richard III

Adaptations and cultural references


The most famous player of the part in recent times was Laurence Olivier in his 1955 film version. Olivier's film incorporates a few scenes and speeches from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part III and Cibber's rewrite of Shakespeare's play, but cuts entirely the characters of Queen Margaret and the Duchess of York, and Richard's soliloquy after seeing the ghosts of his victims. Olivier has Richard seduce Lady Anne while mourning over the corpse of her husband rather than her father-in-law as in the play. Olivier's rendition has been parodied by many comedians, including Peter Cook and Peter Sellers. Sellers, who had aspirations to do the role straight, appeared in a 1965 TV special on The Beatles' music by reciting "A Hard Day's Night" in the style of Olivier's Richard III. The first episode of the BBC television comedy Blackadder in part parodies the Olivier film, visually (as in the crown motif), Peter Cook's performance as a benevolent Richard, and by mangling Shakespearean text ("Now is the summer of our sweet content made o'ercast winter by these Tudor clouds ...")

Richard Loncraine's 1995 film, starring Ian McKellen, is set in a fictional fascist England in the 1930s, and based on an earlier highly successful stage production. Only about half the text of the play is used. The first part of his Now is the winter of our discontent... soliloquy is a public speech, while the second part is a private monologue. The famous final line of Richard's A horse, my kingdom for a horse is spoken when his jeep becomes trapped after backing up into a large pile of rubble.

In 1996, Al Pacino made his directoral debut and played the title role in Looking for Richard, analyzing the plot of the play and playing out several scenes from it, as well as conducting a broader examination of Shakespeare's continuing role and relevance in popular culture.

In 2002 the story of Richard III was re-told in a movie about gang culture called The Street King.

In 1996, a pristine print of Richard III (1912), starring Frederick Warde in the title role, was discovered by a private collector and donated to the American Film Institute. The 55-minute film is considered to be the earliest surviving American feature film.


The BBC Television Shakespeare version, first broadcast in 1983, starred Ron Cook as Richard.

BBC Two announced plans to air a new adaptation of Richard III in 2016 as part of The Hollow Crown series, with Benedict Cumberbatch set to play the king. Executive producer Pippa Harris commented, "By filming the Henry VI plays as well as Richard III, we will allow viewers to fully appreciate how such a monstrous tyrant could find his way to power, bringing even more weight and depth to this iconic character.”[15]

References in popular culture

Lincoln's Assassination

President Lincoln was renowned for his love of Shakespeare, and of Richard III in particular.[16] This fed Confederate propaganda, especially in Virginia, where residents of Richmond saw Lincoln as a Richard-like tyrant and identified their capital city with the Earl of Richmond, the hero of Shakespeare’s play. (See photo of Richmond slaying Richard, above.) Some interpreted Richard’s act IV speech as an omen favorable to the South:

" a bard of Ireland told me once
I should not live long after I saw Richmond."[17]

The connection between Lincoln and the play was indelibly printed on history when on April 14, 1865, within a fortnight of the president’s visit to the defeated city, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Shakespearean actor known for playing both Richard and Richmond. Booth’s notorious, final words from the stage were “Sic semper tyrannis.”[18]

"Winter of our discontent" quote

The 2010 film, The King's Speech, features a scene where the king's speech therapist Lionel Logue, as played by Geoffrey Rush, auditions for the role by reciting the lines, "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun [or son] of York". Shakespeare critic Keith Jones believes that the film in general sets up its main character as a kind of antithesis to Richard III.[19] The same antithesis was noted by conservative commentator Noah Millman[20]

In a 2000 Season 2 episode of Family Guy entitled the King is Dead the prodigious Stewie Griffin auditions before his mother using the famous soliloquy from Gloucester now is the winter of our discontent before being rudely interrupted. He is also costumed in period garb which shows a humpback.

In the Red Dwarf episode Marooned, Rimmer objects to Lister's burning of the Complete Works of Shakespeare in an attempt to maintain enough heat to keep him alive. When challenged, Rimmer claims he can quote from it and embarks upon the soliloquy: "Now!...That's all I can remember. You know! That famous speech from Richard III – 'now, something something something something.'"

John Steinbeck used the opening line for the title of his novel, The Winter of Our Discontent.

The phrase "Winter of Discontent" is an expression, popularised by the British media, referring to the winter of 1978–79 in the United Kingdom, during which there were widespread strikes by local authority trade unions demanding larger pay rises for their members.

"My kingdom for a horse" quote

Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury, sings "My kingdom for a horse" in the song "Lily of the Valley" on the album Sheer Heart Attack (1974).

In the 1993 Mel Brooks film Robin Hood: Men In Tights, the character Robin of Locksley, played by Cary Elwes, says "A horse, my kingdom for a horse!" as he arrives in England in the opening scene.


The film Being John Malkovich has many Shakespeare allusions, including a scene in which Malkovich is shown rehearsing Richard III's lines "Was ever woman in this humour woo'd? / Was ever woman in this humour won?" where Richard is boasting about using power, lies, and crime to seduce Lady Anne. As Visual Cultures professor Lynn Turner notes, this scene anticipates a parallel scene in which Craig uses deceit to seduce Maxine through Malkovich.[21] Mariangela Tempera has noted that the subservience of Lady Anne in the scene contrasts with the self-assertiveness of the actress playing Lady Anne as she seduces Malkovich offstage.[22]

Adam Sandler's 2011 film Jack and Jill features Al Pacino reprising his role of Richard III, although the movie scenes are modified as Pacino interacts with the audience in a heavily comedic way. Multiple reviewers who panned the film regarded Pacino as the best element of the film.[23]

In Freaked, an arrogant movie star who has been transformed into a "hideous mutant freak" makes use of his deformity by performing the opening soliloquy, condensed by a local professor in subtitles for the "culturally illiterate" to the more succinct "I'm ugly. I never get laid." One reviewer mentioned this as the best example of how the film seamlessly moves between highbrow and lowbrow culture.[24]

In The Goodbye Girl, an ambitious actor played by Richard Dreyfus is forced by his off-Broadway producer to play Richard III as a caricature of a homosexual.

In the 1975 film L'important c'est d'aimer, directed by Andrzej Żuławski, a production of “Richard III” in French is a mise en abyme for the drama enveloping the characters in the film.

The manga Requiem of the Rose King by Aya Kanno, which began in 2013, is a loose adaptation of the first Shakespearean historical tetralogy. It depicts Richard III as intersex instead of hunchbacked.[25]

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