Stained glass depiction of Richard III and Anne Neville in Cardiff Castle.

I know, I know – Richard III is not on my list. But I want to share with you my favorite Shakespeare story of all time. This is from a copy of Richard III published in 1995 by Penguin as a part of their New Penguin Shakespeare books. Here is a direct quote from the introduction of that very copy –

The popularity of Richard III dates back to Shakespeare’s own lifetime. Six editions of the play were published between 1597 and 1622 in Quarto, to be followed by a seventh in the Folio of 1623; and the exceptional number of early editions is matched by the exceptional number of copies of these editions still known to exist. Early allusions to the play confirm that it probably ranked with Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet as one of the outstanding favorites of the theatre; indeed, Richard III seems to have been once of the first plays to feature in the ‘Shakespeare mythos,’ as we learn from the Diary of John Manningham, a student at the Middle Temple, in the year 1602.

“Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III there was a [female] citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. The message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.”

Whether or not this story is true – witty anecdotes readily attach themselves to the famous – it does at least establish that by 1602 the play had become part of popular mythology.

Any account of the glamour and power of Richard III must, of course, begin with Richard himself. […]

I love that little anecdote more than words can say. I tell it to anybody who is interested in Shakespeare – especially if they haven’t read Richard III. I find that it sparks their interest like nothing else.

How believable do you find this story? I’m convinced that it’s true – but only because it would be silly of me to deny that Richard has a wonderful charm and charisma to him that could manipulate even the most skeptical audience member. It’s why I say that Richard III is Shakespeare’s greatest work. With all his breaking of the fourth wall, you find yourself being twisted around Richard’s little finger, and perhaps even rooting for him despite how utterly evil he is.

Just thought I’d share that with you! Whether or not the story is true, it’s good for a laugh.