More's Richard III And The Mystery Plays

Retha M. Warnicke

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1 Scopus citations


An analysis of Thomas More's English version of The history of King Richard III indicates that the popular mystery cycles influenced his composition. Associated with the celebrations of Corpus Christi Day, the cycles present a series of biblical plays, beginning with the Creation and ending with the Last Judgment. The important themes of tyranny and sacrifice, which this drama explores, also loom large in Richard III. The theme of tyranny is loosely related in the cycles through Lucifer's functioning as the prototype of all earthly tyrants, including More's Richard III. Evidence of the sacrifice, which is at the heart of the mass, can also be found in many biblical scenes. More's reference to Richard's adolescent nephews as ‘innocent babes’ links them to the infants Herod earlier sacrified to his ambitions. Indeed in Richard III, More does make an intriguing reference to a cobbler performing the role of a ‘ sowdayne ‘ in a play. The suggestion that this drama influenced More's writing is consistent with the speculation that he composed the English version first and then, with the classics in mind, wrote out a separate Latin text, for the two versions have significant differences in imagery, word choice and structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-778
Number of pages18
JournalHistorical Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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