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The Shakespeare Tarot - Richard III

10 of Staffs - Richard III

Dramatis Personae : Richard III.

Roman à clef : Robert Cecil, Lord Cranbourne & 1st Earl of Salisbury.

Text & Context: Of the red and white clad figure here standing center stage, we see a reflection of the Staff suit's first card proper and shared namesake, Richard II. There we saw a man unfit for governance, alone, descrying the disparate identities that crowd his inner self. Here we see a small man, hunchbacked, unburdened by internal dissension, keeping his head while all about him are losing theirs.  The man is King Richard III, not quite as nefarious in real life as the author, in the service of Elizabeth Tudor, would have him. Nonetheless, he was bad enough; for instance, he executed the 12th Earl of Oxford and his eldest son, taking their lands and leaving the countess impoverished. He is the culmination of the War of the Roses, as Richard II was its nascence. 

 10 Richard III is also Robert Cecil, son of Lord Burghley and brother-in-law to Shakespeare. The real life Cecil was a Machiavellian in the way Richard III was, acting "at a distance" as his father coined it, and a cripple in the way the real life Richard was not. That is the pro-Tudor nuanced Richard, or rather: the caricature of Robert Cecil that is Richard III. Cecil was the power behind the prosecution of the Essex Rebellion trial, eavesdropping on the proceedings from a secret location. The author was not alive to witness Cecil's ruthless betrayal of his heretofore friends, Walter Raleigh and Henry Brooke [Lord Cobham, also his brother-in-law], in what are known as the Main and Bye Plots, but he had first hand knowledge of Robert Cecil the man.

 One of the first plays printed using the name Shakespeare was Richard III, and it was immediately reprinted, hinting at its popularity. Cecil's death in 1612 coincides with a revival of Richard III and the printing of its fifth quarto, corroborating the general consensus that the public associated Richard III with Robert Cecil. 

 When Cecil and his father assumed Secretary of State Walshinghams' office, many of the papers the spymaster had amassed disappeared. These included the Earl of Leicester's papers, confiscated by Walshingham, to whom Cecil was protégé. From their high points of power, the Cecil family controlled what articles of history were preserved and which were not. But as with Richard III, the Cecils could not oversee everything. In a letter to Mary Sidney, William Herbert tells her how Robert Cecil was "much troubled" upon hearing his niece, the actress Lady Susan de Vere, was engaged to Pembroke's "incomparable brethren", Philip Herbert. The reason? Fear of her father's legacy - Shakespeare's First Folio.

 We may see in 10 Richard III Hamlet's bitter mockery:

For O, for O, the hobby-horse is forgot!

 His kingdom for a hobby-horse.

Intertext: Staffs 2 Richard II.

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