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Moats: Richard III

(Host) A recent archeological discovery, combined with a modern, on-linedramatic series, have gotten writer and commentator David Moats thinking about human nature and the nature of leadership.

(Moats)When they dug up the bones of Richard III a few weeks ago, I was intrigued to learn that his spine was distinctly curved and his skull displayed a sizable open gash.

Perfect. Shakespeare was right. The king who died at Bosworth Field in 1485 may actually have been the evil hunchback that Shakespeare described.

There has been debate among historians over the years about whether Richard was an arch villainas in Shakespeare or whether Shakespeare was writing pro-Elizabeth propaganda and Richard wasn't really so bad.

I checked back in one of my histories, in which the author suggests it would have been hard for a leader to command loyalty if he was as hideous as Shakespeare makes him out to be. Well, now we know that he was no towering Henry the Eighth, but a monarch probably suffering with scoliosis.

The historical record suggests that Richard didn't command loyalty so much as instill fear and carry out the timely murder. It's an old story.

My look back suggested something else. The assortment of scheming princes,dukes and earls who occupied the stage of history back then all seemed to be a rather unsavory lot. They called themselves the nobility, but they acted more like gang leaders on horseback.

Think about what it took to survive. You had huge properties where you forced the peasants to funnel wealth up to you so you could build giant castles and equip an army of thousands with sharp weapons. These were men trained to hack at people with swords. Often the leaders themselves were described as fierce and capable fighters. Their physical prowess went far beyond the occasional round of golf or even the hunting of quail.

Certainly,ideas of honor, restraint and decent conduct survived through the carnage, and the evolution of law and democracy has had a civilizing effect. But familiarity with the way that things used to be - and still are in some places - ought to make us grateful about where we live. We don't have marauding bands on horseback roaming through our villages.

Butin the midst of that brutal pageant Shakespeare caught on to something.He showed us in history plays like Richard III and tragedies like Macbeth and Othello the ways that the human spirit became deformed by ambition and selfishness. But he also showed how the human story is redeemed by kindness and mercy. Even in his darkest moments, the light glimmers.

I have been watching the online series House of Cardsin which Kevin Spacey plays an Iago-like congressman, given over to the most cynical manipulations and hypocrisy. I'm waiting to find out if the writers of that series find a way, as Shakespeare did, to answer darkness with light, to match evil with honor. Or whether all they are giving us is twisted bones.

We know that the human story is more than the wickedness of a malicious hunchback.

David Moats is an author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
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