Broadcasting the political body: Richard III, #Brexit and #Libspill

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Mirroring Shakespeare's use of the political past to comment on his present, modern media has reflected on Shakespeare's plays when discussing and analyzing recent major political events, such as Brexit and the leadership crisis in Australian politics in the 2010s. Following the Brexit vote, the UK media drew heavily on Shakespearean references in their reporting of Michael Gove's betrayal of Boris Johnson during the Tories' leadership crisis. Channeling Julius Caesar, a tale of literal political-related backstabbing, variations of "Et tu, Brute" was the headline favored by several journalists. Gove and his wife Sarah Vine were also cast as the ambitious Macbeths. Most interesting was Ralph Fiennes' assertion that "Michael Gove is just like Richard III."

In the shadow of the Brexit vote, London's Almeida Theatre staged a production of Richard III (dir. Rupert Goold; starring Ralph Fiennes). Broadcast to cinemas worldwide in July 2016, Shakespeare's tale of ambition, deceit, and betrayal was a poignant and timely choice; like the Wars of the Roses, Brexit has ripped the fabric of the UK apart and pitted family and friends against each other. This article examines the broadcast of Goold's Richard III and the ways in which this screen adaptation reflected the political climate in UK in the aftermath of Brexit. This use of Richard III as a divisive political symbol reflects the citation of Laurence Oliver's Richard III (1955)―and its ubiquitous conception of Richard―in media commentary following the 2015 leadership crisis in the Australian Liberal Party. The article concludes with a brief look at the legacy of Goold's production, and considers how Shakespeare's Richard III continues to be used as a symbol of political instability in both Australia and the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-129
Number of pages21
JournalShakespeare Bulletin: a journal of performance, criticism, and scholarship
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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