Archive for March 2002

War (What is it Good For?)

March 27, 2002

Men have been infatuated with war since the beginning of time. Our history is written in the blood of battles; some were necessary, most meaningless. War, of course, is the mistress of suffering, and for this reason men cling to it; they claim that it is great because great men come from it. They are sadly mistaken. Though war heroes are beloved among men, they are not courageous because they were in a war; they are heroes simply because they triumphed over great adversity. Anyone can become a hero. War has nothing to do with it.

Soldiers are the prototypes for Western heroes because of our society’s long liaison with war. “History is a bath of blood”, wrote William James (46). “Our ancestors have bred pugnacity into our bone and marrow, and thousands of years of peace won’t breed it out of us” (47). “Greek history is a panorama of jingoism” and imperialism – war for war’s sake, all the citizens being warriors…The Iliad is one long recital of how Diomedes and Ajax, Sarpedon and Hector killed” (46). Greece was destroyed in a meaningless war (Spielvogel 74-77) and succeeded by Alexander the Great, a man so successful in conquest that he considered himself a god (95), and the Romans, the most famous conquerors in the history of the world (115). Europeans inherited the blood thirst of their ancestors and gave to the world the best example of the destructiveness of war: World War I (747-748).

One of the most powerful schools of thought in the beginning of the twentieth century was Social Darwinism, the idea that humans and societies constantly struggle with their environment and only the strongest survive (714-716). Many men used this philosophy to justify war. S. R. Steinmetz, in his Philosophy des Krieges (Philosophy of War), calls war an institution of God and an infallible measure of the greatness of a nation (James 50); “Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht [‘The unfolding of history is the unfolding of right’]”. Bernhardi concurs:

War is a biological necessity of the first importance, a regulative element in the life of mankind which cannot be dispensed with, since without it an unhealthy development will follow, which excludes every advancement of the race, and therefore all real civilization. ‘War is the father of all things.’ The sages of antiquity long before Darwin recognized this. (Spielvogel 715)

These men, and the entire European population, welcomed World War I. Though it was fought for politics, rather than human rights (748-750), people still thought the war was just (752). They believed it would be short and exciting and, most importantly, would revive their nations and the values of self-sacrifice, heroism, and nobility (752-753).

All were mistaken. The war was long, ugly and brutal. Millions died in stalemates on the Western Front (754). Over 700,000 died over a few miles of terrain during a ten-month stretch at Verdun, France. Soldiers in the trenches faced weapons like poison gas, machine guns, artillery shells, and barbed wire as their compatriots were mutilated, disfigured, and killed all around them (756-759; Remarque 210-211). On the front they became human animals, fighting madly simply for the purpose of survival (Remarque 107-114).
World War I had lasting psychological effects on the “lost generation” (Hemingway 7) that fought it. “Show me a hero, and I will write you a tragedy,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald (“Goodbye”), who rocked as hard as anyone in the Roaring Twenties but was genuinely unhappy and died believing himself a failure (“A Brief Life”). “The natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness,” said he, and man’s constant efforts to better himself only increased his dissatisfaction (Fitzgerald 151). Said Remarque, “We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial – I believe we are lost” (123). Nor were the war’s effects limited to the generation that fought it; its destruction and turmoil planted the seeds of the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, World War II, and, finally, the fall of Europe from world dominance (Spielvogel 767-768, 774-778, 781-786, 789-790, 793-794, 816, 847-848). Remarque summed up the hopelessness of his times:

I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow…And all men of my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world, see these things; all my generation is experiencing these things with me. What would our fathers do if we suddenly stood up and came before them and proffered our account? What do they expect of us if a time ever comes when the war is over? Through the years our business has been killing – it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us? (266-267)

Heroic men are produced in war nevertheless. “The war party is assuredly right in affirming and reaffirming that the martial values…are absolute and permanent human goods,” said William James (53). The Roman historian Livy spun war tales, both truth and myth, to teach moral values and virtues to Rome, including “tenacity, duty, courage, and especially discipline” (Spielvogel 121-122). Some of these men, like Dwight D. Eisenhower and Colin Powell, translate military victories into political success (“Dwight”, “Biography”). Others are simply ordinary men giving everything for their brothers. Hal Moore, the real-life hero of the Vietnam movie “We Were Soldiers”, said, “We weren’t fighting for the flag or President Johnson or Mom or apple pie or an idea. We were in the midst of hell, fighting for each other” (Stark).

Great are the virtues of soldiers and, fortunately, civilians can also have them. Athletes often display the courage of soldiers in their competitions, and some use their stage to benefit the people; the boxer Joe Louis gave hope to all Depression-era blacks and proof that they could perform as well as whites if both had the same rules (Barrow xv-xvii). Mother Teresa, a simple Albanian nun, devoted her life to serving the poorest of the poor and changed the world (“Mother Teresa”). Her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize was a pittance compared to the courage and love she gave to those she served. Awards and attention are meaningless when heroism is concerned. Sick children are among the greatest heroes of all (McCarty 171-172, Hansen 256-258). Heroism has only one prerequisite:

Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage which a soldier needs. Peace has its victories; but it takes brave men to win them. (“Emerson”)

Heroes are people who triumph over adversity. Since war is filled with adversity, great men are often bred from it. Though heroism is good, war is not; it causes manifold damages to people and a nation. Heroes can be created without the military; as a result, war is necessary only in self-defense. War is not needed to make men heroes.

Bibliography
1. Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1958.
2. Barrow, Joe Louis, and Barbara Munder. Joe Louis: 50 Years an American Hero. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988.
3. McCarty, Hanoch. “Did the Earth Move for You?” Chicken Soup for the Soul. Ed. Jack Canfield, et al. Deerfield Beach (FL): Health Communications, 1993. 171-172.
4. Hansen, Mark Victor. “Run, Patti, Run.” Chicken Soup for the Soul. Ed. Jack Canfield, et al. Deerfield Beach (FL): Health Communications, 1993. 256-258.
5. Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1954.
6. “Emerson.” Wisdom #38 1962: 57.
7. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “The Crack-Up.” The Best American Essays of the Century. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates, et al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. 139-152.
8. James, William. “The Moral Equivalent of War.” The Best American Essays of the Century. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates, et al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. 45-56.
9. Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western Civilization: Comprehensive Volume. Belmont (CA): Wadsworth, 2000.
10. United States Embassy in Uzbekistan. “Biography: Secretary of State: Colin L. Powell.” http://www.usembassy.uz/powelbio.htm
11. University of South Carolina. “A Brief Life of Fitzgerald.”
12. United States White House. “Dwight D. Eisenhower.”
13. Stark, Susan. “No ‘Tall Poppy,’ Mel Gibson Strives to Keep it Real.” Indianapolis Star 1 Mar. 2002: Weekend.
14. Keillor, Garrison. “Goodbye to Our Boy.” Time 08 Aug. 1999: http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/1999/07/26/jfk.goodbye.html
15. Nobel e-Museum. “Mother Teresa – Biography.” http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1979/teresa-bio.html

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Psychology Survey on Divine Forgiveness

March 21, 2002

According to Loren L. Toussaint, 75% of Americans say they know God has forgiven them for any previous sins. Despite their confidence in their innocence, only 52% reported forgiving other people and 57% say have forgiven themselves. The study did not ask participants to specify the nature of their transgressions.

1,423 randomly selected adults were asked about experiences with forgiveness as part of a larger consumer telephone survey. They also answered questions about their religious practices and physical and mental health.

Middle-aged and older adults were far more likely than younger people to report that they’d forgiven their trespassers. Adults over 45 were also most likely to believe God had forgiven them. 54% of women forgave, compared to 49% of men. Religious affiliation did not change someone’s likelihood to forgive.

Toussaint and his colleagues also confirmed that forgiveness reduces stress and may benefit personal heath. However, people of all ages who reported that they often asked forgiveness from others or God, or those who asked God to forgive those who hurt them, reported feeling greater psychological distress than others. The researchers attribute this to the stress involved in asking for forgiveness in the first place.

Response
Forgiving is one of the most noble and most difficult things a man can do. Therefore, I am not surprised that only half of the respondents to the survey really forgave other people and themselves; I suspect that the true figure is even less. I am very interested, however, in the large majority of people who believe God has forgiven them for their sins. They reflect the great growth of the latest century and Big Religion’s adaptation to it.

The Catholic Church has always taught that sins can be forgiven through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this sacrament, a person tells their sins to a priest, who absolves sins if one is truly sorry. The Church did not tell a person their were going to heaven or hell; Martin Luther, in his fear of going to hell, broke away for the Church because of it. He took solace in knowing exactly where he was going; thus, the first of over 22,000 Protestant denominations was made. Certainty of salvation leads many to believe all their sins are forgiven before they have even been committed. Some even believe they never committed sins in the first place. It is no wonder Christians believe they are saved.

Still, we must strive to forgive and forget, seventy times seven times, and do what the Lord wills us to do.

Calculating the Percentage Composition of a Commercial Hydrogen Peroxide Solution

March 21, 2002

I. Purpose
The purpose of this lab was to calculate the percentage composition of a commercial hydrogen peroxide solution. Since commercial hydrogen peroxide consists of hydrogen peroxide and water, we separated the two substances with yeast, a catalyst, and measured the mass of the displaced water. We converted this non-STP mass to molar mass using the combined gas law and, thus, determined the weight percentage of the solution.

II. Procedure
1. Fill a trough and 250 milliliter (mL) Erlenmeyer flask with water. Place and hold a glass square tightly on the top of the flask. Invert the flask and place it under the trough’s water surface. As the flask is the eudiometer, keep its mouth submerged at all time and trap as little air as possible inside it. Remove the glass square and center the flask’s mouth over the groove on the trough’s bottom.
2. Using a graduated cylinder, pour 10 mL of hydrogen peroxide into a 125 mL reaction flask. Dilute the hydrogen peroxide solution with 15 mL of water. Attach the reaction flask to a ring stand with a testube or buret clamp.
3. Obtain .40 grams of yeast.
4. Record the barometric pressure.
5. Slip the mouth of a rubber stopper’s tube into the trough under the Erlenmeyer flask’s mouth. Keep the tube in position throughout the experiment. Add .40 grams (g) of yeast to the reaction flask and immediately plug the stopper on the reaction flask. Oxygen will bubble from the reaction flask to the eudiometer for 5-10 minutes. Agitate the reaction flask to help the contact of hydrogen peroxide and yeast.
6. When the reaction is complete and oxygen has displaced a portion of the water in the eudiometer, remove the rubber tubing from the water.
7. Replace the glass square on the Erlenmeyer flask’s mouth. Remove the flask from the trough water without losing any of its contents. Place the flask in an upright position and remove its contents.
8. Record the temperature of the water in the flask. Dry the outside of the partially filled flask, then weigh and record its mass.
9. Completely fill the flask with water again; weigh its mass.

III. Observations
After yeast was added to docile, clear, commercial hydrogen peroxide, oxygen bubbled from the reaction flask to the Erlenmeyer flask through the reaction flask’s rubber tubing. The water level inside the eudiometer decreased. Once the reaction ended, a significant amount of oxygen resided on top of the Erlenmeyer flask; the hydrogen peroxide’s volume was notably smaller and it now had a sickly yellow color.

IV. Equations and Chemical Formulas
Decomposition of Hydrogen Peroxide: 2H2O2 —-yeast—-> 2H2O + O2
Conversion Cycle: Volume of Wet O2 -> Volume of Dry O2 @ STP -> Moles O2 -> Moles H2O2 -> Grams H2O2 -> Weight Percent H2O2
Mass Difference Between Totally and Partially Filled Flask: Mass of Totally Filled Flask – Mass of Partially Filled Flask
Density of Water: 1 g/mL
Mass Difference Between Flasks (g) = Volume of Water Displaced (mL)
Water Vapor Pressure: See p899 of “Modern Chemistry”
Oxygen Pressure at Experimental Conditions (torr): Barometric Pressure – Water Vapor Pressure – (Height Difference of Eudiometer Compared to Trough ÷ 13.6)
Combined Gas Equation: V1P1T2=V2P2T1
Used for Oxygen Volume at STP
V=Volume, P=Pressure, T=Temperature (Kelvin)
°K (Kelvin): °C + 273
STP: 273°K, 760 torr
Mol: 22,400 mL of Gas @ STP
Stoichiometry (Coefficients Derived From Balanced Equation)
(Mass of Known Substance) = Moles of Known
(Molar Mass of Known)
(Moles of Known)(Coefficient of Unknown) = Moles of Unknown
(Coefficient of Known)
Moles of Unknown * Molar Mass of Unknown = Mass of Unknown Substance
Used for Moles of Peroxide in Original Sample, Grams of Peroxide in Original Sample
Weight Percent of Peroxide in Original Sample: (Mass of Peroxide ÷ Mass of Solution) * 100
Average Percent of Peroxide in Original Sample: (Weight % From Trial 1)(Weight % From Trial 2) ÷ 2

V. Data and Calculations
Data
Category Trial 1 Trial 2
Volume of Peroxide Sample (mL) 10 10
Barometric Pressure (torr) 743 742
Water Temperature (°C) 24 23
Mass of Flask Filled With Water (g) 363.9 364.1
Mass of Flask Partially Filled with Water (g) 250.65 253.2
Height Difference of Eudiometer Compared to Trough (mm) +85 +85

Calculations
Category Trial 1 Trial 2
Mass difference between totally and partially filled flask (g) 363.9 – 250.65 = 113.25 364.1 – 252.2 = 110.9
Volume of water displaced (mL) 113.25 110.9
Water vapor pressure (torr) 22.4 21.1
Oxygen pressure at experimental conditions (torr) 743 – 22.4 – 85/13.6 = 714.35 742 – 21.1 – 85/13.6 = 714.65
Oxygen volume at standard conditions (mL) (113.25)(714.35)(273) = 97.85
(297)(760) (110.9)(714.65)(273) = 96.18
(296)(760)
Moles of oxygen from original sample 97.85/22,400 = 0.00437 96.18/22,400 = 0.00429
Moles of peroxide in original sample 0.00437*2=0.00874 0.00429*2=0.00859
Grams of peroxide in original sample 0.00874 mol(34g)=0.297g
mol 0.00859 mol (34g) = 0.292g
mol
Percent of peroxide in original sample 0.297g * 100 = 2.97%
10.0g 0.292g * 100 = 2.92%
10.0g
Average percent of peroxide in original sample (2.97%)(2.92%) = 2.9%
2

VI. Summary
The purpose of the experiment was to measure the percent composition of commercial hydrogen peroxide. The solution, billed as 3.0% hydrogen peroxide, was actually closer to 2.9%. Our experiments were accurate, so I can only assume that the company was padding its statistics. I would be upset about this, but I don’t think it makes a bit of difference.
Overall, this experiment was a great success. Ben and I performed a more accurate experiment than we did last semester and our rookie, Adam, performed well. The data and calculations were not difficult; they were simply hard to communicate well on Microsoft Word. Overall, this experiment was a victory for the cause of indoctrinating young children with the knowledge of the ancients.

Prelab Questions
1. What volume of O2 can be collection by the decomposition of 17.7 grams of Potassium Chlorate at a temperature of 39°C and a pressure of 687 torr?
KClO3 -> 2KCl + 3O2 17.7g KClO3 (mol)(3)(312K)(760 torr)(22.4L) = 6.1L O2
(122.6g)(2)(273K)(687 torr)(mol)
2. If you obtained a 91% yield of O2 in lab, what mass and volume of O2 did you obtain? (Same data as in question #1)
.91(3.8L) = 5.6L
3. What would the theoretical yield of Potassium chloride be from problem #1?
17.7g(mol)(2)(74.6g) = 21.5g KCl
(122.6g)(1)(mol)
4. If a catalyst were used in problem #1, would this change your results? Explain.
No. The reaction would have been the same regardless of the existence of a catalyst; it simply would have happened faster.

Postlab Questions
1. What effect would the addition of 1.0g of yeast instead of 0.4g have on your results?
More water might have diffused from the eudiometer, decreasing the measured % composition of the hydrogen peroxide.
2. If the reaction flask was not sealed tightly and had a slow leak, what effect would this have on the calculated % H2O2 in the sample?
The calculated % H2O2 would have increased. Less water would diffuse and the calculated amount of peroxide in the reaction flask would have been greater.
3. If the barometric pressure was incorrectly recorded as 735 torr instead of 753 torr, what effect would this have on the calculated % H2O2 in the sample?
The calculated % H2O2 would have decreased because the calculated volume of dry oxygen at STP would have decreased. This would decrease the measurement of moles and mass of peroxide, therefore decreasing the weight percent of peroxide in the sample.

Richard III: Madman, Murderer, or Maligned?

March 1, 2002

Spin.

In a world where key facts go unreported because they would be too dangerous or damaging to a key figure, and newsreaders expect to be entertained, the truth is less important than how the story is told. This has always been true, and history is even more susceptible to this because we can’t go back in time to gather evidence. A prominent victim of a historical spin job is King Richard III. He is a popular villain in British history, yet he may be innocent of many of the crimes he is alleged to have committed. His reputation was largely manufactured by a play by William Shakespeare.

Richard III (first performed in 1593, first published in 1597) was partially based on The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York by the English historian Edward Hall and the Chronicles British historian Raphael Holinshed, yet the play itself surely cannot be considered true history. Many parts of it were added for dramatic effect, as the following synopsis should make clear to you.

Here is the history of Richard III according to Shakespeare. Richard of the House of York, power-hungry Duke of Gloucester, was deformed at birth and unloved by women. In the preceding play of the War of the Roses tetralogy, King Henry VI Part 3, Richard kills King Henry VI and Edward, Prince of Wales and son to Henry VI. At Henry’s funeral, he apologizes for these murders and is forgiven, then immediately courts Lady Anne, Edward’s widow. He justifies himself by saying he killed Edward because he loved Anne so much: “Your beauty was the cause of that effect; / Your beauty, that did haunt me in my sleep to undertake the death of all the world / So I might live one hour in your sweet bosom.” When she is cold to his advances, he holds out his breast and asks her to kill him: she refuses.

Meanwhile, Richard works toward the death of the other heirs. He plays his brother George, Duke of Clarence, and his other brother King Edward IV against each other. “Plots have I laid, inductions of dangerous, by drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams, to set my brother Clarence and the king in deadly hate the one against the other; / And, if King Edward be as true and just as I am subtle, false, and treacherous, this day should Clarence closely be mew’d up, / About a prophecy which says that G of Edward’s Heirs the murderer shall be,” Richard says to Edward. That G stands for George, and Edward interprets this as proof against Clarence and incarcerates him (with his execution pending). In the end, the G prophecy is fulfilled but in a different way: G is for Gloucester, and Richard himself will eventually the murders of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, children who are the sons and heirs of King Edward IV.

The play occurs during the War of the Roses between the Houses of Lancaster and York; many nobles and citizens of the time fear and hate Richard. Queen Margaret, widow to Henry VI, is banished on pain of death; she then curses Buckingham, Hastings, Lord Grey, Earl Rivers (brother of Lady Anne), and especially Richard, but while she is naming the cursed, Richard interrupts and says the accursed one is Margaret herself. Eventually all those she curses receive their just desserts, and Margaret does not come to harm, however.

King Edward IV, meanwhile, is sick and dying. Near death, he makes peace between the houses of Lancaster and York; unfortunately, his order to cancel Clarence’s execution is delivered too late, and Edward passes away sadly.

After Edward’s death, Richard’s scheming continues. He bribes Lord Buckingham into his camp by offering the Earldom of Hereford in the case that Richard is crowned. Richard puts Lords Rivers and Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan in prison in Pomfret for alleged treason. Queen Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV, is greatly disturbed by this and cries the death of the country.

Richard, now protector of the heir, advises Prince Edward V, who is young, wise, and naïve. He ironically says not to trust a man by his “outward show”, that uncles are dangerous, and to stay away from false friends. Richard has Edward and the Duke of York sleep at the Tower of London. Meanwhile, Richard, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Lovel, and Sirs William Catesby and Richard Ratcliff plot to kill Edward V, now crowned king, but don’t get supports from Lords Hastings and Stanley. Upset, Richard plans to kill Hastings and Stanley for their resistance to the cause.

Even so, the other conspirators stay with Richard. Stanley has a dream that his and Hastings’s meeting with Richard will lead to their deaths; Hastings disagrees and insists they meet him anyway. Richard is jovial when he meets them, then leaves. Hastings says, “I think there’s never a man in Christendom / Can lesser hide his love or hate than he; / For by his face straight shall you know his heart.” Hastings feels Richard is in good spirits, and they will certainly survive. Almost immediately afterward, Gloucester has Hastings beheaded for treason on spurious charges of witchcraft, adultery, and alignment to kill Gloucester and Buckingham. Before his death, Hastings gives his own curse: he prophesises a fearful, wretched time for England.

After the execution, Richard mourns Hastings’s death and tells the Lord Mayor of London of Hastings’s confession to treason. Sensing he is closer to the crown, Richard launches a spin campaign. He says through Lord Buckingham that Edward IV was filled with lust for all women and preyed on them; also that his children are bastards: Edward V was begotten by a Lady Lucy rather than Queen Elizabeth. Richard builds himself up through compliments from Buckingham (who tells of his military prowess, humility, piety, virtue, wisdom, discipline, fairness and nobleness in mind, and bounty). Even after all this, the citizens are deathly afraid of Richard, and none respond to him. After more heavy campaigning, however, the Mayor and Alderman accept Richard as leader of England, and all of them plot to depose Edward V. Anne curses the woman who is to be Richard’s wife but eventually marries him herself.

Richard is crowned but desires the deaths of Edward V and the Duke of York anyway. Lord Buckingham balks, but Richard orders James Tyrrel to kill Edward and York and also has Ned Plantagenet, son of Clarence killed.

With Richard crowned King Richard III, Buckingham asks for his agreed-upon bribe of the Earldom of Hereford. While he’s doing this, Richard is pondering about Henry VI’s prophecy that Richmond would be king and a bard’s prophecy that Rich will not live long after seeing Henry, Earl of Richmond. Richard ignores Buckingham’s request, and Buckingham turns against him.

At this point, things start to go bad for Richard. Marquis Dorset flees to the army of the same Earl Henry. Queen Anne dies of illness. Queen Margaret flees to France; Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York, Richard’s mother, curse the king. In a meeting between Queen Elizabeth and Richard, Richard says that he desires Elizabeth’s daughter and Richard’s niece, also named Elizabeth, and says he will repay her in exchange for her hand in marriage. Elizabeth mocks him but later changes her mind about his request.

The powers of England rise against Richard. Earl Richmond, Sir William Brandon, Earl Oxford, Buckingham, and assorted Lords from the houses of both Lancaster and York rebel against Richard.

Richard buys Lord Stanley’s support by taking Stanley’s son hostage in exchange for loyalty. Reneging on this loyalty would lead to Stanley’s son’s death.

Buckingham does not last long. His army is wiped out by a natural disaster, and he is captured. Earlier, we find that Buckingham had prayed that he be killed on All Souls’ Day if his conspiracy against Richard were found out; instead, he is executed by Richard for treason against the crown.

The night before the battle between Richard and Henry, the ghosts of those killed by Richard appear to curse Richard and bless Henry. Richard awakens and hates himself, realizing his deeds. Henry faces the new day heartened and refreshed.

At the final battle, Lord Stanley’s army turns on Richard, but Richard does not know it until it is too late. Even after losing his steed, Richard fights desperately: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” he cries. It is to no avail. Henry slays Ricard in battle and after his triumph, he is crowned King Henry VII. He weds Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV, and establishes the Tudor dynasty which would rule until 1603. The play ends on a note of hope for the ravaged kingdom of England.

As you can see, Shakespeare portrays Richard as an evil genius who is responsible for countless deaths in the family. The true history is much less settled.

Richard was born in Northamptonshire, England, in 1452. In 1461, his eldest brother became King Edward IV; in the same year, Richard was named Duke of Gloucester. Richard was loyal to Edward and a skilled military commander. In 1472, their other brother, the Duke of Clarence, fell out with Edward and was executed for treason, while Richard was made Great Chamberlain and Lord High Admiral and ruled the north of England, where he was much loved.

In 1483, Edward IV died, making his 12-year old son Edward the king. The government was put in the care of Richard, who was named protector of the realm. The Woodvilles, the family of Edward V’s mother, Queen Elizabeth, attempted to seize power; Richard crushed their conspiracy; he named Hastings a part of the plot and had him executed. After Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was publicly declared invalid and Edward V and his siblings were declared illegitimate, Richard was declared king by Parliament and crowned in July 1483. Edward and his brother Richard, Duke of York, were then put in the Tower of London. Richard is widely believed to have had them killed, but there is no proof of this crime.

Richard tried to govern well but lacked support from many of the supporters of Edwards IV and V. The nobles of York and Lancaster both plotted against him and helped Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and of the House of Lancaster, to invade England from his exile in France. Henry won the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, killing Richard, and was crowned King Henry VII.

The skeleton of Shakespeare’s play follows the history, but there isn’t proof that Richard killed all the nobles in the manner Shakespeare portrayed: most egregiously, Richard could not possibly have killed King Henry VI because he was just nine years old at the time of Henry’s death. The play also does not mention the Woodvilles’ revolt. Richard receives none of the credit he deserves for improving the lives of northern Englishmen. Besides that, the famous Shakespearean image of Richard as an old, deformed monster is pure theater: he died at age 32, and if he were a humpback like Shakespeare says, he couldn’t have been such a great fighter.

The motivation for Shakespeare to portray Richard so unfairly is obvious, however: the Tudor Queen Elizabeth ruled England at the time Shakespeare wrote the play, and her nephew James I succeeded her, so negative portrayals of Richard helped legitimize the ruling family’s rebellion and reign. Since Richard had died more than a hundred years before, no one was left to gainsay Shakespeare. Granted, Richard was no angel, but his rule and character will likely never be fairly evaluated.