Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England

By Dennis Taylor; David Beauregard | Go to book overview

2
"Obsequious Laments":
Mourning and Communal Memory
in Shakespeare's Richard III

by Katharine Goodland

College of Staten Island, City University of New York

IN 1590, outraged reformers in Lancaster documented "enormities and abuses" and "manifold popish superstition used in the burial of the dead" by the local community:

And when the corpse is ready to be put into the grave, some by kissing
the dead corpse, others by wailing the dead with more than heathenish
outcries, others with open invocations for the dead, and another sort
with jangling the bells, so disturb the whole action, that the minister is
oft compelled to let pass that part of the service and to withdraw him-
self from their tumultuous assembly. (Raines 1875, 57)1

The Elizabethan prelates decry the practice of "wailing the dead" as a lawless abomination that undermines civil authority and impedes the progress of the reformed church. In Shakespeare's Richard III, Gloucester and Buckingham similarly view lamentation as a threat. They worry that their furtive execution of Hastings will cause the citizens to revolt, and they imagine that rebellion taking the form of wailing the dead. Buckingham asks the mayor to justify their assassination to the citizens because he fears they "haply may / Misconstrue us in him and wail his death" (3.5.60–61).2 Buckingham's words directly link politics and lamentation: he implies that the citizens will "wail" for Hastings not as a matter of course, but as a deliberate means of protest.

The citizens do not rebel against Richard, but the women do, staging their rebellion in the same manner that is denounced both within

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