Posts Tagged ‘Michael Goodman’


Richard III: “To Prove a Villain” ~ by Michael Goodman

February 6, 2013

‘It doesn’t look like the face of a tyrant’, declared Phillipa Langley as she stared  longingly at the reconstructed head of Richard III at the end of Channel 4’s extraordinary documentary Richard III: The King in the Car Park. Langley, whose passion for Richard led to the discovery of the Plantagenet King’s skeleton in a car park in Leicester, had finally found the Richard she was looking for and was overcome with emotion, ‘You can kind of see the man really, can’t you…and there’s no Tudor mythology all over him.’ By ‘Tudor mythology’ Langley implicitly means Shakespeare’s play Richard III.

The Tragedy of Richard III, one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and compelling explorations of villainy and performance, has become, for the public imagination at least, historical record. As the play opens we are greeted by a ‘deformed’ and ‘unfinished’ ‘bunch-backed toad’ who is so morally repugnant and so full of malice he has no cares in confiding to the audience – in one of the most famous speeches in all literature – that he is ‘subtle false and treacherous’.  And, remarkably, he charms us. Shakespeare’s Richard straddles the play and theatrical history like a colossus. His physical deformity, as Freud would later demonstrate, is entwined with his psychological state: Richard is a villain because of his of his disfigurement. It is no wonder, then, that one of the central assertions of the Richard III Society is that the King never had a ‘hunch-back’. And, by implication, if he never had a hunch-back then he could not possibly have been the ‘murderous Machiavel’ as depicted in Shakespeare’s ‘Tudor Myth’.

Much has already been written about the Channel 4 documentary – mostly of the negative sort. The main focus of this negativity has been the lack of thorough scientific investigation and Phillipa Langley herself, whose histrionics led the reviewer from The Telegraph to write ‘the level of emotion she had invested in every twist and turn, you could have mistaken for the dead king’s widow.’ To bemoan the documentary for its lack of scientific rigour, however, is to miss the point of the programme: this was a story less about Richard III and more about a woman who obtained the object of her desire only to find, in a cruel Shakespearian twist, that the object was defined by the very feature she, and the Richard III Society, had sought to eliminate form the discourse surrounding the King. The documentary was, in truth, a fascinating character study.

When the archaeologist explains to Langley that when she was excavating the skeleton she discovered an abnormal curvature of the spine and ‘what we are seeing here is that this skeleton has a hunch-back’, Langley stares into the grave open- mouthed and lets out an incredulous cry of ‘No!’, before asking the presenter does he mind if she sits on a mound of mud to gather her thoughts. Realising that the house of cards on which the Society is based is about to come crashing down, the presenter, Simon Farnaby (appropriately from The Mighty Boosh, a surreal BBC comedy) tries to reassure Langley by suggesting ‘he could still have a hunch-back and still be a nice guy’. But it is too late. Langley has realised the implications of the evidence she sees before her and starts clutching at straws: ‘It’s funny…we have descriptions of Richard by people who met him, and they don’t mention it…’

It is unusual for television to actually confront a person directly with hard-evidence that absolutely contradicts their almost religious faith in the ‘truth’ of their opinion. In the world of Shakespeare Studies, where fabrication and conjecture are mostly the default modes of biographical analysis, Langley’s response is the equivalent of someone hypothetically presenting Derek Jacobi, an ardent Oxfordian, with a signed confession by William Shakespeare of Stratford saying ‘I wrote Hamlet and here’s a video-tape of me doing it.’  What is of interest in both Langley’s and the anti-Stratfordian’s cases is they feel the need to diminish ‘Shakespeare’, whether by saying he was a Tudor propagandist, or simply the front man for the Earl of Oxford.

‘It doesn’t look like the face of a tyrant’…we will never know. Yet if there is one element that is powerfully present in all of Shakespeare’s plays it is this: always be wary of representations and, indeed, ghosts.



Michael Goodman is a PhD candidate at Cardiff University.

Follow @CardiffShakes

(© Michael Goodman, 2013)

Shakespeare and Victorian Visual Technologies

September 13, 2012

Michael Goodman (Cardiff University) will be speaking at a symposium at the University of Durham tomorrow. Forms of Innovation: Literature and Technology is a one-day symposium on the interrelation of literary forms and technologies.


Michael Goodman – Things to Make and Do: Victorian Wood Engraving and the Digital Archive

In the mid-nineteenth century the technological development of wood engraving had an enormous influence on the publication of illustrated books. Not only could artists create much more finely detailed images but, because wood-engraved illustrations could be mass-produced, the price of illustrated books decreased dramatically thus allowing them to be enjoyed by all classes of Victorian society. My current research involves the creation of an open-access digital archive of wood- engraved Shakespeare illustrations that appeared in Victorian editions of the works of William Shakespeare. This paper will offer an exploration of the cultural effects that wood engraving had upon Victorian society. I will argue that digitisation allows the public today to interact dynamically with historical texts and images in a similar way to how the Victorians engaged with the illustrated book. I will analyse the issues surrounding my work, for example, the complex relationship between text and image in illustrated editions, Victorian notions of Shakespeare and the ways that this innovative digital archive enables new questions to be asked of the material. Yet these new questions come at a high cost: the loss of the physical illustration itself. By remediating an illustration from page to screen the meanings generated by the physical text are changed dramatically. Ultimately, I will suggest that, as literary researchers, the internet enables us to be creative, playful and imaginative in our research and in our academic endeavours we should ask not what the internet can do for us but what we can do for the internet.

Find out more here.


Cardiff Shakespeare Postgraduate Researchers

April 3, 2012

Spotlight on some current English Literature PhD students with a focus on Shakespeare at Cardiff University:

Michael Goodman

Johann Gregory

Étienne Poulard


See all the current and recent PhD topics in Cardiff English, Communication and Philosophy here.


Digital Shakespeare: Voice of Humanities Conference

March 21, 2012

Michael Goodman, a PhD student at Cardiff University, will be presenting a paper tomorrow at the Voice of Humanities Conference:

Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare

 in the age of Digitisation and Hypertext

This presentation will explore how modern technology allows us to create exciting scholarly resources that enable academics, students and the wider public to engage dynamically with historical texts.

It will explain my research into Victorian illustrated Shakespeare and how I am currently curating and creating an open access database of Shakespeare illustrations from this era. It will go on to analyse the complex problems and philosophical implications inherent in such a project and, ultimately, how digital humanities can play a vital role in educational practices.

Find out more about the conference here.

Will Pooley



research education, academic writing, public engagement, funding, other eccentricities.

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