Sorry Shakespeare, King Richard III was No Hunchback
Why, I in this weak piping time of peace
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Richard III (I.i.24-31)
You might have heard that the skeletal remains of King Richard III were discovered buried under a car park in Leicester in 2012. (by the way, that is pronounced “les-ter” not “li-ches-ter”)
The results were surprising, probably especially for Shakespearean actors; the king’s skeleton showed no signs of a hunch- he instead had scoliosis, and not a particularly disfiguring case of it. Richard’s right shoulder was probably a little higher than his left and his torso would have been a little shorter proportionally, but he would have been able to hold his head and neck upright. The spine was bent to the side, not backwards, meaning it would not have caused a hunch anyway. With the right clothing, the effects of the scoliosis could probably have been concealed well.
Richard also did not likely have a limp or a withered arm; the leg, arm, and hip bones of the skeleton all appear normal. It is suggested by some historians that the myth of Richard IIIs deformities were part of Tudor propaganda to malign his reputation after his death.
Note: This is not intended to minimize the severity of scoliosis or the pain and discomfort experienced by those afflicted, but to describe the disparity between Shakespeare’s descriptions of King Richard III and the realities of this skeleton.