“More Virtually does Shakespeare’s Work for him”: Dogmas of the “More Myth”

  • Charles A. Hallett
  • Elaine S. Hallett


The history of the recognition of Thomas More’s influence on Shakespeare’s Richard III is rich in the kinds of irony that would have delighted More himself. For centuries there was hardly a mention of More’s connection with Shakespeare’s play. Then, near the beginning of the twentieth century, people began to note that imbedded in the Chronicles of Edward Hall and Raphael Holinshed (which served as Shakespeare’s primary sources in the writing of Richard III, as they had for the earlier plays in the tetralogy) was More’s History of King Richard III. One could find the manuscript of More’s History in Hall under the heading of “The Pitifull Life of Kyng Edward the V” and in Holinshed in the section called “The History of King Edward the Fifth and King Richard the Third, Unfinished, Written by Master Thomas More.” Beyond that, little had to be said, as scholars supposed that Shakespeare’s play covered a far longer time than the brief reign of Edward V, which was hardly more than an interlude in the story of Richard’s life as Hall and Holinshed had presented it. It was sufficient to acknowledge that, incorporated into “Shakespeare’s Holinshed” and known to Shakespeare, was the muchadmired work of Thomas More.1 Later, when men like E. M. W. Tillyard were promoting the notion of the Tudor myth, they found it convenient to depict Shakespeare as a co-conspirator with More in the enterprise of tarnishing Richard’s reputation.2


Direct Speech Dramatic Action Theatrical Metaphor Evil Person Consummate Politician 
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  1. 4.
    Michael P. Foley, “Comedy, Tragedy, and St. Thomas More,” Moreana 46, no. 176 (June, 2009): 143–55.Google Scholar

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© Charles A. Hallett and Elaine S. Hallett 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles A. Hallett
  • Elaine S. Hallett

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