Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Looking for Richard (and Jonathan)

Scientists announced Monday that DNA testing had established that the skeleton found buried in an English parking lot was that of Richard III, one of Britain's most notorious monarchs.

Researchers located the skeleton in September while excavating the site of Greyfriars Church, where Richard's body was believed to have been buried in 1485. A week after researchers identified the remains of the church beneath a parking lot in Leicester, they announced the discovery of a skeleton believed to be that of Richard III. Earlier this week, the results of a test comparing the DNA from the skeleton to that of a 17th-generation descendant of Richard's sister proved the remains belonged to the last king of the House of York.

Sadly, one of Richard III's more famous devotees was not here to witness this historic moment. Jonathan Frid, who played vampire Barnabas Collins on DARK SHADOWS, passed away last April. Frid's stage career was much more varied than the "Shakespearean Actor" label applied to him by the media, which seemed to trap his career between the extremes of Shakespearean tragedy and pulp horror.

While Frid also appeared in a number of comedies and mysteries, he built his early stage reputation on playing Richard III, a character that fascinated him for much of his life. From the start, Frid was interested in grafting humanity to the villain created by Shakespeare, but later in life he took an active interest in the man behind the myth. Richard's public identity was wrested from him by writers and historians who had their own axes to grind, a situation that Frid knew a little something about.

Years ago, on his now-defunct website, Frid was chronicling his own feelings about Richard III. Here's what he had to say:
"As a curious amateur historian, however, I can now represent myself as a fledgling member of the worldwide Richard III Society whose purpose, if not to completely clear the name of this Plantagenet monarch, it most certainly seeks to give a balanced picture of his character against that of his arch enemy Henry Tudor.

"Warfare then was probably a nastier business than now especially when it came to the confusing question of the rules of engagement. Who among the participants wasn’t breaking them?  Whatever, Shakespeare was a spokesman for the Tudors during the reign of Elizabeth I … and in his 'histories' dealing with the Wars of the Roses only the Tudors could do no wrong.

"Ironically, Shakespeare's account of Richard Plantaganet on the eve of his final battle ... endows the king with some redemptive qualities in that Richard finally recognizes his own villainy in terms diametrically at odds with his boastful 'I am a villain' of the first scene of the play: Episode 1. It is an interesting delineation of this uniquely Shakespearean character (leave us not make judgements on the politics behind the telling of this story). It would seem that Shakespeare, being more the man than his political contemporaries, at least reveals Richard as a person able to make a full-fledged confession of whatever may have been his 'misdeeds' as  listed by his accusers. Yes, we get to see ... at least for a moment ... the man he might have been had he been chronicled in a more open society by others of his contemporaries."
I like to think Jonathan Frid would have been delighted to have seen the very-real human being unearthed last year in Leicester.

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