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Shakespeare & Beyond

Drawing Shakespeare: Richard III

Richard III drawing
Richard III drawing
Richard III drawing

Drawing by Paul Glenshaw

This is the eighth post in a series by artist Paul Glenshaw about drawing the bas-reliefs by sculptor John Gregory on the front of the Folger Shakespeare Library building. The series examines the bas-reliefs one by one; each sculpture depicts a scene from a different Shakespeare play. Today’s post is about the bas-relief of a scene from Richard III.

A moment of villainy

Shakespeare’s Richard III is a bad guy. He tells us so in the very first speech of the play: “I am determined to prove a villain/And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” Richard succeeds in wooing and marrying Lady Anne, even though she hates him for killing her father-in-law, Henry VI, and her husband. She later becomes one of his casualties as he murders his way to capturing the throne for himself—killing his surviving brother Clarence and other rivals and comrades before meeting his own bloody end on Bosworth Field.

Which brings us to John Gregory’s sculpture. In the original list of scenes to be depicted in the nine reliefs, Henry Folger made specific recommendations. Two were changed by Gregory and Emily Folger—the ones for Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet.

I wonder if Gregory was puzzled by Henry Folger’s selection for Richard III—Act III, Scene 1. Of all the moments of villainy in the play, Folger chose the one moment Richard has with his nephews before he sends them to their doom in the Tower of London. The scenes chosen for almost all the other sculptures are ripe for dramatic illustration—the murder of Julius Caesar or the storm in King Lear being great examples. But Richard and his nephews are simply talking. How to convey the play’s violence, turmoil, and ruthless ambition in the depiction of a conversation between an uncle and his nephews? Gregory found a way: with menace.


[…] Drawing Shakespeare: Richard III. The eighth post in a series by artist Paul Glenshaw about drawing the bas-reliefs by sculptor John Gregory on the Folger Shakespeare Library facade. Here, Glenshaw writes about the fact that Henry Folger chose a quiet scene to represent the play, in which Richard talks with his young nephews—and how Gregory infuses it with menace. […]

Richard III: My Kingdom for a Horse - Shakespeare & Beyond — August 24, 2021