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“Read him, therefore; and again, and again: and if you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him.” So write the compilers of Shakespeare’s First Folio, a collection of his plays published 400 years ago, in their preface to the work. And it’s safe to say that he has been read again and again in the centuries since. But while his literary merits are widely exhorted, for historians the plays also provide fascinating i nsig hts into Shakespeare’s world and worldviews. In our feature on page 22, we’ve asked eight experts to reflect on the themes that emerge from eight of his works – from love and death to politics and racism.

One man who certainly didn’t benefit from Shakespeare’s quill is Richard III, one of the playwright’s greatest monsters. In Richard III he is responsible for the murder of the princes in the Tower and many historians believe that this was indeed the case – but a lack of clear evidence means this remains something of a mystery. Now, Philippa Langley, famous for her work in discovering Richard’s remains, has published a book exonerating Richard and we spoke to her for this month’s author interview. That’s on page 66 and I expect we’ll have a full postbag in response.

Murder is also the theme of this month’s cover feature, which ties in with a new series of Radio 4’s Lady Killers with Lucy Wor s l e y. Beginning on page 57, the series’ consultant, Rosalind Crone, examines six murders from the 19th century that offer a window into women’s lives and the societies that shaped them. Rob A t ta r Editor

THREE THINGS I’VE LEARNED THIS MONTH

1. Gau l b l imey

I loved the Asterix b o oks as a ch i l d , bu t I wasn’t aware t hat when t he c omic was fi r s t

pub l i she d i n Br i t a i n i n 19 6 3 , t he l e ad char ac t e r was g i ven t he

anglicised name Little

Fred (page 43).

2. Bes t be f o r e 4 , 0 0 0 BC I was intr igued to read in this

month’s Q&A that a 6,000-year-old Welsh recipe

has been reconstructed, which uses stinging nettles

and animal intestines to make a kind of Stone-Age

haggis (page 52).

3. C r owning achievement In Ed Davey’s My Hi s to r y Hero

i nte r v i ew (p age 9 0 ) , he asks: “D i d

you k now t hat Æthels t an was t he fi r s t

Engl i sh k i ng shown wear i ng a c r own?”

And I must confess, I didn’t.

THIS ISSUE’S CONTRIBUTORS

Farah Karim-Cooper “The scene in which Hamlet holds up a skull might seem shocking today, but in Shakespeare’s t ime i t was a reminder of mortality, and that you had to li ve your li fe because that’s how you were going to end up.” Farah is among the historians exploring what Shakespeare’s plays tell us about his er a on page 22

Richard Toye “A century after the formation of the first Labour government under Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, this short-lived but pivotal episode does much to explain the course of 20th-century British political history.” Richard tells the story of Britain’s first Labour government on page 32

Philippa Langley “I was looking for something in the record that said that the princes in the Tower had died. What the Missing Princes Project found defied expectations.” Philippa explains what her new research into the fate of the princes in the Tower has revealed on page 66

Frances Spalding “What is i t that makes the Bloomsbury Group still the subject of huge admiration as well as angr y debate? How is i t that such a diverse group of friends went on meeting and talking together over a long period?” Frances chronicles the enduring cultural impact of the Bloomsbury Group on page 46

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