A hearse, a hearse, my kingdom for a —
How far we’ve come! When Richard III was around, forensic science had clearly not progressed very far. Someone could drown in a vat of wine and everyone would assume it was natural causes. “He just got sick of being next in line to the throne,” they said. “Hey, most accidents occur within the home.”
Everyone thought that “I am not excelling in battle today, because last night I had a visit from some vengeful ghosts” was a valid excuse. They were always calling in to work vengeful-ghosted. “‘Despair and do not complete your science assignment,’ the ghosts told me,” schoolchildren would try. Given that their science assignment consisted of determining the balance of humors in the body and wondering about the ability to conjure ethereal salamanders, they probably did not miss much when they did.
When the two boy princes went missing from the Tower, everyone assumed that it was probably because they were so fond of their uncle Richard. “Totally,” everyone said. “Absolutely.”
People were wonderfully uninquisitive in those days, if only because being inquisitive tended to lead to beheadings.
Of course, I am going off the Shakespeare version here. And this may be unfair. This is as good a time as any to mention the vibrant and thriving community of people who insist that Shakespeare’s play defames a good king who was in no way whatsoever an evil hunchback obsessed with consolidating his power. According to the Richard III society’s Web site, the society is “dedicated to reclaiming the reputation of a king of England who died over 500 years ago and who reigned for little more than two years. Richard’s infamy over the centuries has been due to the continuing popularity, and the belief in, the picture painted of “Richard III” by William Shakespeare in his play of that name. The validity of this representation of Richard has been queried over the centuries and has now been taken up by the Society. They are very pleased that we have at last uncovered the body. And, they note, there is “no evidence of a withered arm.”
Shakespeare said “Sin, death, and hell have set their marks on him,
And all their ministers attend on him,” but the body appears only to have been buried with its hands tied behind its back and to have suffered severe blows to the skull, quite a different thing.
Then again, if we start admitting forensic science to Shakespeare, we will never see the end of it. Soon there will be people crowing that Claudius was framed! That wasn’t a dagger Macbeth saw before him! And you probably should wait a day or two before interring Juliet, Lord Capulet.