In Royal Goodbye, Hundreds Line Up To See King Richard III's Coffin

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The king was the basis for one of Shakespeare's most notorious villains. He will be reburied Thursday after his skeleton was found underneath a parking lot in 2012.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In England, hundreds of people lined up outside of Leicester Cathedral this morning. They wanted to see the coffin of Richard III, the king who provided the basis for one of Shakespeare's most famous villains. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from London.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Every great Shakespearean actor has sunk his teeth into the notorious hunchbacked king, from Laurence Olivier...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RICHARD III")

LAURENCE OLIVIER: (As Richard III) My kingdom for a horse.

SHAPIRO: ...To Ian McKellen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "RICHARD III")

IAN MCKELLEN: (As Richard III) Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious sun.

SHAPIRO: Meanwhile, the man himself faded into history until researchers unearthed a skeleton in a parking lot three years ago. Archaeologist Richard Buckley from the University of Leicester made the announcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD BUCKLEY: The individual exhumed at Greyfriars in September 2012 is, indeed, Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England.

SHAPIRO: Richard III was the last English king killed in battle. His body was hauled into the city mutilated and slung crudely over a horse, then quickly buried. Now, 530 years later, the city of Leicester is giving him the royal treatment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: Reenactors in period costume marched through the city streets with a funeral cortege yesterday. More than 35,000 people lined the route. Dean of Leicester, David Monteith, spoke to the BBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC BROADCAST)

DAVID MONTEITH: We can't undo the history, but we can make new history. So seeing King Richard's cortege coming back into the city with dignity and honor today is about proclaiming something different.

SHAPIRO: Descendents of the king placed white roses on his coffin. The box was built by one of Richard's distant relatives, a carpenter who donated his DNA to help identify the skeleton. And this morning when the cathedral opened for the public to view the coffin, a line stretched far outside the building. Thousands of people are expected to file through between now and Thursday when King Richard III will be buried once again. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.