The True Tragedy of Richard III

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Cover of the 1594 quarto of The True Tragedy of Richard III, which was "[p]rinted by Thomas Creede and ... to be sold by William Barley, at his shop in Newgate Market".

The True Tragedy of Richard III is an anonymous Elizabethan history play on the subject of Richard III of England. It has attracted the attention of scholars of English Renaissance drama principally for the question of its relationship with Shakespeare's Richard III.[1]

The title spelling that appears on the cover page of the quarto is The True Tragedie of Richard the third.[2]

(The True Tragedy of Richard III should not be confused with The True Tragedy of Richard, Duke of York; the latter is the early alternative version of Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3.)


The play was entered into the Stationers' Register on 19 June 1594; it appeared in print later that year, in a quarto printed and published by Thomas Creede and sold by the stationer William Barley, "at his shop in Newgate Market, near Christ Church door." Creede's 1594 quarto was the sole edition of the play prior to the nineteenth century.[3]

Only three copies of the play are known to have survived.[4]

W. W. Greg prepared a modern edition of the play for the Malone Society; it was published in 1929.


"The question of date is confused and unsettled."[5] Most scholars and critics, relying on internal clues in the text, have estimated a date of authorship within a year or two of 1590, though dates as early as c. 1585 have also been posited.[6]

The title page of the 1594 quarto states that the play was acted by The Queen Majesties Players — the single fact about the play's early performance history that has survived. Any date of authorship for The True Tragedy in the mid-to-late 1580s to the early 1590s would be compatible with performance by the Queen's Men.

Critics generally judge the author of The True Tragedy to have been influenced by Thomas Legge's Latin play Richardus Tertius (c. 1580) — though that relationship is of little help in dating the True Tragedy.

Sources and Genre[edit]

Apart from the question of Richardus Tertius, the author of The True Tragedy relied upon the standard historical sources of his generation for the story of Richard — principally Edward Hall's chronicle on the Wars of the Roses, and the chronicle by John Hardyng later continued by Richard Grafton.

While The True Tragedy clearly belongs to the genre of the Elizabethan history play, some critics have also pointed out its relationship with the revenge tragedy.


There is no external attribution of authorship for The True Tragedy; and the question of authorship is complicated by the fact that the single text of the play, the 1594 quarto, is notably inferior. Modern critics have tended to treat it as a bad quarto and a "reported text." Individual commentators have nominated Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, and Thomas Kyd, among other writers of their generation, as possible authors or revisers of the play; but no scholarly consensus in favor of any single candidate or hypothesis has evolved.[7]


And Shakespeare[edit]

The True Tragedy bears a general resemblance to Shakespeare's Richard III, as any play on the same subject would. Critics are not unanimous on the view that Shakespeare used The True Tragedy as a source for his play, though the majority tend to favour this judgement. Geoffrey Bullough treats The True Tragedy as a "probable source" for Richard III, citing several commonalities (as when, in both plays, Richard calls for a horse on Bosworth Field, yet refuses to flee the battle) — though Bullen admits that the nature of the plays' relationship is "not clear."[8]

The uncertainty in dating has allowed a few commentators to propose a reversed priority, and to argue that the author (or reviser) of The True Tragedy may have borrowed from Shakespeare's play.[9]

Shakespeare appears to have known of The True Tragedy, since he paraphrases it in Hamlet, III,ii,254, "the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge." Line 1892 in The True Tragedy reads "The screeking raven sits croking for revenge."

Unlike Shakespeare, "The True Tragedy" has no act or scene division.


  1. ^ Terence P. Logan and Denzell S. Smith, eds., The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama, Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1973; pp. 274-7.
  2. ^ WW Greg, The True Tragedy of Richard III, Great Britain, The Malone Society Reprints, 1929; pp. xiii
  3. ^ E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923; Vol. 4, p. 43.
  4. ^ WW Greg, The True Tragedy of Richard III, Great Britain, The Malone Society Reprints, 1929; pp. v
  5. ^ Logan and Smith, p. 273.
  6. ^ Chambers, Vol. 4, pp. 43-4; Logan and Smith, pp. 273-4.
  7. ^ Logan and Smith, pp. 272-3; Chambers, Vol. 4, p. 44.
  8. ^ Geoffrey Bullen, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, Vol. 3; New York, Columbia University Press, 1960; pp. 237-9, 317-45.
  9. ^ Logan and Smith, p. 276.

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