Rules of Charity: Richard III and the Counterfeit-Disability Tradition

  • Lindsey Row-Heyveld
Part of the Literary Disability Studies book series (LIDIST)


This chapter analyzes the most famous disabled character in early modern drama: Shakespeare’s Richard III. While Row-Heyveld does not challenge the authenticity of Richard’s disability, she nevertheless maintains that the counterfeit-disability tradition animates this play. Richard performs his deformity in such a way as to prey upon his spectators’ charity, employing the strategies conventional to the counterfeit-disability tradition. The play locates its central dramatic power not in Richard’s virtuosic performances but in the reactions of his audiences. Reading Richard III within the counterfeit-disability tradition clarifies why Richard’s manipulative abilities suffer after becoming king: He is no longer able to use his body to evoke dangerous pity. The play presents an early modern notion of the non-standard body that resists determinism. Instead, by dissembling disability with his authentically impaired body, Richard III reveals that performance—rather than predestination—makes Richard truly threatening.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lindsey Row-Heyveld
    • 1
  1. 1.Luther CollegeDecorahUSA

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