Shakespeare Solved™ versions of these plays solve the mysteries surrounding them by taking us back in time to see the plays as they were performed for the first time in history.


This blog explains these new versions, and explores the life and times of Shakespeare, in order to build support for my new film versions of the plays.


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Articles Written For:


The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company


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1. Shakespeare's Shylock SOLVED 2. Shakespeare's Othello Finally Identified 3. Shakespeare In Love Sequel SOLVED 4. The Real Romeo and Juliet 5. Shakespeare's Schoolroom

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Helen Mirren & Shakespeare


Happy Birthday Helen Mirren!




I really wish that she would do more Shakespeare.

Early on in her career she was in the Royal Shakespeare Company, acting in a variety of roles. She played Ophelia, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Rosalind, Gertrude, Isabella in Measure for Measure, and more.

She played Prospera in Julie Taymor's film version of The Tempest, but that was 4 years ago.


As Prospera in The Tempest


She clearly has a passion for Shakespeare. I just wish she would continue to perform Shakespeare, especially on screen.

I wouldn't be surprised at all to see her in the Hollow Crown series of Shakespeare TV films. I would love to see her in Coriolanus, as his mother, Volumnia.


As Cressida at the RSC


She also clearly loves performing on stage, what with the recent play The Audience, so I would hope that she would continue to perform Shakespeare there, too.

I would love to see her as Queen Margaret in Richard III. She played the same role in the Henry VI trilogy. So, it would be a natural evolution for her as an actress to complete the role on stage.


As Cleopatra at the RSC



But more than anything else, I would love to see her in these Shakespeare Solved series of films.

She was brilliant as the queen in the 2005 TV film, Elizabeth I. It was great to see her in that period of history, and she fits into it effortlessly.

I thought the film was fantastic, but in the course of 4 hours I was surprised that they could not find any place to include Shakespeare!


In the 2005 mini-series Elizabeth I



As much as I would love to have her reprise the role of Queen Elizabeth in these Shakespeare Solved films, I would prefer to see her as a more down to earth character -- like Shakespeare's mother, Mary.

It isn't as flashy as Queen Elizabeth, and the costumes are not as pretty, but the importance of Mary Shakespeare in the life of her son has not been explored at all. 

It would be an interesting and unusual choice for Helen Mirren, and I think she would be wonderful as the woman who nurtured and helped inspire Shakespeare to be the great artist he would become.





What do you think?

If you want to see her in some more Shakespeare, and in this series of Shakespeare Solved films, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!

Cheers,



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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Who Was Shakespeare's Falstaff?


On 23 July 1596, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, died.




Was he the man who inspired Shakespeare's character Falstaff?


Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff in the Hollow Crown series

Carey was one of the most influential courtiers at the time, and very close to his cousin, Queen Elizabeth -- his mother Mary was Anne Boleyn's sister.

He was very busy in his lifetime serving Elizabeth in many offices, and even on the battlefied, helping to defeat the Northern Rebellion.

From 1585 he served Elizabeth as the Lord Chamberlain. It was in this capacity that he became Shakespeare's royal patron in 1594, when the company known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men was created.

The actors in this new company were men like Richard Burbage and Will Kemp. Burbage would go on to create the roles of Hamlet, Lear, Othello, Macbeth, Henry V, and so on. Kemp would create the role of Falstaff, and other very comedic roles.

This company was so popular that by the time Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, her successor, King James of Scotland chose to make this company his official royal court players, and re-christened them the King's Men.

In 1596, around the time when Carey died, Shakespeare wrote and his players performed Henry IV, Part 1. He introduced the world to a new character that would live on as one of his most beloved, Sir John Falstaff.


Roger Allam at Shakespeare's Globe, 2010


It is uncertain if Shakespeare wrote the play before, during or after Carey's death, but it seems likely to have been after Carey's death because very soon after, Shakespeare would write another chapter in the Falstaff story, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

So, it is possible that Shakespeare wanted to include a character in Henry IV, Part 1 that honored and celebrated the memory of his dearly departed patron, Henry Carey.

The only character that would seem to fit is Falstaff.

Why?

By 1594, when the Lord Chamberlain's Men was created, Shakespeare was the single greatest playwright in London. Christopher Marlowe had died the year before, and Thomas Kyd was about to die, in August 1594, from the torture he received from the investigation into Marlowe's activities. 

 Shakespeare also gained royal patronage from both Earls of Essex and Southampton, who were two of the most influential and popular courtiers. Queen Elizabeth considered Essex her "favourite."


Essex


Essex would later allow his ambition to get the better of him, and he would lead a failed rebellion (with Southampton) against Queen Elizabeth, in 1601. 

Essex was handsome, brave, foolish, and obviously hot-tempered. Southampton was also known for getting into trouble, such as his scandalous affair with Queen Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Vernon. 

In the plays Shakespeare wrote from 1594 onward, there are some characters who resemble Essex and Southampton: Romeo and Mercutio, Demetrius and Lysander, Bassanio and Lorenzo, Benedick and Don Pedro, Hamlet and Horatio, etc. They are all young men who get in over their heads.


Southampton


I have already written on this blog how Southampton's affair inspired Romeo and Juliet, and I have written about how the Henry V play was written as propaganda on behalf and in support of Essex.

Since Shakespeare wrote the character of Henry V for Essex, in 1599, then going backwards, it is very clear that young Prince Hal and his trouble-making friend Poins are pictures of Essex and Southampton once again.

If Essex and Southampton are Prince Hal and Poins, then who is Falstaff?

Just as Falstaff is a dear friend to Prince Hal and Poins, it would suggest that the real Falstaff was a dear friend to Essex and Southampton.

I suggest that Henry Carey was this dear friend.

Much has been written about another man as Falstaff, William Brooke, Lord Cobham. I don't argue with this suggestion and evidence. I agree that there is some reason why Shakespeare drew a connection between Falstaff and Cobham.

But I don't think it is the whole story.

Cobham was not friends with Essex and Southampton. At Queen Elizabeth's court, he was not on their side, he was not in their faction.

It is doubtful that Shakespeare would pour so much love and attention into Falstaff just to insult and mock Cobham.

There is a story that Queen Elizabeth loved the Falstaff character so much that she ordered Shakespeare to write a new play -- Falstaff in love.

That play would become Merry Wives of Windsor.

It is believed that this play was performed for the first time on 23 April 1597 (coincidentally Shakespeare's birthday) for Carey's son George, who was invested as a Knight of the Garter, and inherited his father's position as Lord Chamberlain, on that day.


George Carey


So, if Queen Elizabeth loved Falstaff so much, was it because the character made so much fun of Cobham? Or was it because it was a loving caricature of Carey?

Also, if the "Falstaff in love" story is true -- did Queen Elizabeth order Shakespeare to write Merry Wives because she wanted yet another play to mock Cobham? Or was it because she wanted to be reminded of her dearly departed friend Carey once more?

Why would Merry Wives be performed to commemorate George Carey's investiture and inheritance of the position of Lord Chamberlain if it was just a way to make fun of Cobham? It must have been performed as a commemoration to George Carey and a remembrance of his father.

Henry Carey is one of those figures about whom much is known but nothing is understood, especially as far as it concerns Shakespeare.

Who was he to Shakespeare? Just a distant uninvolved patron, or a dear friend -- a father figure perhaps?

What was Carey's relationship with Essex and Southampton? Was it close or not? Was he a father figure to them perhaps?

I wouldn't be surprised if Queen Elizabeth asked Carey to look after Essex and Southampton, to keep them out of trouble, and teach them how to behave like proper courtiers.

If that is the case, then Carey's death in 1596 was sadly much too soon, for he never got a chance to steer them away from their reckless behaviour, and keep them from hatching a plot against Elizabeth.

It might just be possible to find out who Carey was by looking at Falstaff.  We might just be able to discern what he meant to Shakespeare, to Essex, Southampton and Queen Elizabeth.




As you can see, I don't have any answers, but I think you will agree that these are interesting questions worth considering.

Cheers,




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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Daniel Radcliffe and Shakespeare


Happy Birthday Daniel Radcliffe!





He is such a talented actor I am really surprised that he has not acted any Shakespeare.

I found this little article online about how he would like to perform Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and how he might eventually like to do larger roles like Hamlet:


It's odd that he would think that Shakespeare, and the language of the plays is intimidating, and how he is scared about tackling a role like Hamlet.





Daniel seems to like to challenge himself artistically and perform a variety of roles, and prominent roles at that, like in The Cripple of Inishman, Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

I also find it very encouraging that he is attracted to the stage. I think it represents a confidence as an actor that really sets him apart from his peers, and especially at such a young age.

He mentions how he is interested in the roles of Romeo and Mercutio, but I can think of several other roles for him to perform: Demetrius in Midsummer, Laertes in Hamlet, Iago, Ariel in Tempest, Fool in Lear to name a few.

As much as I would love to see him perform Shakespeare on stage, I would hope that he finds an opportunity to be in a future Shakespeare film adaptation.

Like several other UK actors nowadays, like Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Rory Kinnear, David Tennant, I think Daniel should make Shakespeare a priority in his overall career. It is something that he can return to from time to time across many years.





He would be great in some Shakespeare Solved, too.

I could easily imagine him as one of Shakespeare's friends, and fellow actor.

It would be exciting to see Daniel in Elizabethan dress, performing with the other Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men. And, I'm sure he would enjoy performing a variety of roles spread across this whole series of Shakespeare Solved films.

Also, it would be a double challenge for him, since he would be playing an Elizabethan actor, and acting these Elizabethan roles. 

But whereas Daniel may find the language of Shakespeare intimidating, it is actually quite easy to perform and understand when it is heard in the original context in which Shakespeare wrote such language.





What do you think?

If you want to see him in some Shakespeare, and in this series of Shakespeare Solved films, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!



Cheers,

David B. Schajer

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch's Shakespeare Year


Happy Birthday Benedict Cumberbatch!





He has many reasons to celebrate, not the least of which is the very important year he has ahead of him, in which he will star in two Shakespeare productions!

He has been cast as Richard III in the forthcoming Hollow Crown series, and he will playing Hamlet at the Barbican, directed by Lyndsey Turner:


For some time on this blog, I have been talking about how Benedict Cumberbatch should do some Shakespeare, and now he is doing two productions! 


Will his Hamlet look something like this?



I was concerned that he might not pursue Shakespeare projects. Before the announcements of Richard III and Hamlet, there was a distinct possibility that he would pursue feature film and TV projects instead. He has become insanely in demand in the last two years.

There is no reason why he has to do any Shakespeare. He could no doubt work for the rest of his life without ever acting in the Bard’s plays. There are quite a few UK actors (many whom I admire) who don’t, and I was sincerely worried that he would become one of them.

So, it is thrilling to know that he values and understands the importance of Shakespeare.

As much as he will become famous for Sherlock, and for his role as Khan in the Star Trek films, I predict he will become arguably more famous for his work in Shakespeare, whether it is on stage or screen.

He is such a versatile actor that he could do any number of productions, for his entire life. He would be great as Benedick, Macbeth, as Iago, as Henry V, etc. But I also think he would be great in other less popular plays, like Antony and Cleopatra, or Timon of Athens. He would be hilarious as Petruchio, and I think his Prospero would be incredible. It would be fantastic if he did that on stage.

It’s many years away before he does it, but I think he would be amazing as King Lear.

Also, I predict that he will might turn his talents to directing as well as acting in a Shakespeare play or two, perhaps even for the screen. Ralph Fiennes has done it. Kenneth Branagh has done it. Why shouldn’t he do it, too?

So, I hope you join me in wishing him a Happy Birthday today, and say a prayer of thanks that he has declared his intention to make Shakespeare an important, and with any luck permanent, part of his life and career.






If you agree that he should continue to do Shakespeare, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


Cheers,


Related Article:


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Simon Russell Beale as King Lear


I just saw Simon Russell Beale as King Lear in Sam Mendes’ production for the National Theatre, through a National Theatre Live cinema broadcast.





I wish I could say that the production was good, but I can not.

I recommend that you see it for yourself, and make up your own mind. Here is a link for tickets and showtimes:


I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would like to share my thoughts with you.

I will be happy to see any future productions by Sam Mendes, and any performances by Mr. Beale, but this King Lear was misconceived.

Perhaps the greatest error in this production is the concept of making Lear a dictator like Joseph Stalin.

I have no problem with putting Shakespeare in different periods, but having Lear as a 1930’s-era tyrant is a very bad idea.

Shakespeare's King Lear character is supposed to be a great king. He is supposed to be loved and admired by the best people in his kingdom, like Cordelia (his good daughter) and loyal servants like Kent, who is a good man.

The tragedy of King Lear is that he becomes a tyrant, he goes mad, and he destroys what was good about his kingdom.

Simply put, there is no tragedy if Lear is a Stalinesque dictator. 

Dictators like Stalin, or Nicolae Ceaușescu, or Muammar Qaddafi are by definition tyrants, are mad, and have already ruined their countries by their very existence.

The tragedy is watching a great man crumble under the weight of his greatness.

If Lear is a tyrant, then it turns the entire play upside down and turns it inside out. It makes Lear a bad guy, and everyone who was bad is now good.

In this version, Lear divides his country very dramatically in what looks like a Stalin show trial, complete with microphones that make everyone sound robotic and inhuman.

When Cordelia says “Nothing” to her father, we are supposed to feel her pain, and confusion. She truly loves her father, but she can not be like her evil sisters, whose proclamations of love to Lear are empty and deceitful words.





But if Lear is bad (as this production would have us think) then Cordelia is bad for loving him. If Lear is bad, then Goneril and Regan are right to hate him, and lie to him.

If Lear is bad, then Kent is bad for serving him so loyally. In fact, why should Kent serve such a bad man like Lear with such loyalty? Perhaps Kent is in truth a very bad man.

If Lear is bad, then the Fool is even more foolish for serving him.

If Lear is bad, then we should root for his destruction and eventual death.

So, this basic fundamental flaw undermines the entire show, and made it a chore to watch.

Simon Russell Beale is a great actor. But I do not think there is any way to act Lear as a tyrant and make him a compelling tragic character. I don’t fault him for his performance, when the entire foundation of the Lear character has been taken away.

During a brief documentary clip showing us behind the scenes of the play, Mr. Beale described how he studied Lewy Body dementia, and how Lear presents many symptoms of this disorder.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to this study, too often Mr. Beale’s performance of Lear was a collection of affectations and tics, rather than a full flesh and blood character. While I can not argue against a possible diagnosis of Lear as having Lewy Body, it should have been one of many attributes, rather than the foundation for the character.


Adrian Scarborough and Stanley Townsend



However, there were some very good moments here and there throughout the play, and some very fine performances, including Stanley Townsend’s very charismatic Kent, Adrian Scarborough’s slippery and sly Fool and Sam Troughton’s humorously diabolical Edmund.

I thought the use of the stage was innovative and interesting, especially as Kent tries to get Lear into the hovel, and Edgar as Tom o’Bedlam appears.

I was very disappointed in the storm sequence. Lear and the Fool are lifted over the stage on a ramp as the storm blows and thunders, but as soon as they are at the top, they have no choice but to stand as still as possible — since they might fall off!

I would have much preferred to see Lear move on stage and react and inter-act with the storm. Having such a fine actor as Mr. Beale stand still during such a pivotal scene is an odd choice which stifled his dynamic talent.

By the conclusion, as characters are killed off and dying, it is very hard to feel any emotion. There were some in the audience with me who laughed as characters died. 

I couldn’t blame them, after all, in this Lear universe, there is no one to care for.

Cheers,




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Monday, July 14, 2014

Did Shakespeare Meet Queen Elizabeth in 1575?


Did William Shakespeare meet Queen Elizabeth in 1575?

Last week I posted a blog article about how Shakespeare, when he was 11 years old, may have had just glimpsed Queen Elizabeth when she visited Kenilworth Castle in 1575.

She visited the castle for a 19-day celebration, at the invitation of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, that included bear-baiting, plays, and other entertainments, including a fireworks display.





Over the last few days I have had a lively discussion on Twitter about whether or not Shakespeare was even there, and if he did go, what exactly would he have been able to see.

There is no proof that Shakespeare was there. There is no proof that he was not there. It is impossible to know, based on the evidence that we possess today. Perhaps we may eventually discover documents or letters that put Shakespeare at Kenilworth, or not, and until that time we can not know one way or the other.

I am not a scholar. I am a writer. As I write my versions of Shakespeare’s plays, and the events in his life that inspired the plays, I am always confronted with the matter of objective provable truth versus artistic licence. 

I try very hard to stick to whatever facts are available, but more often than not I have to interpret facts, fill in blanks, and create a story where there is nothing to support it. 

While some people might find fault with my interpretation of Shakespeare’s life, I often remind them that William Shakespeare did not fight on Bosworth Field, and he did not see Richard III yell “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Another way to put it is that Shakespeare never let a lack of evidence get in the way of a good story.

One of the ways to find what may have happened in Shakespeare’s life is by a process of deduction.

In this case, let’s look at what we do know.

We know that his father, John Shakespeare, had been serving the Stratford community in many offices since 1558, including constable, and most notably as bailiff, the mayor of Stratford. He must have been a prosperous and well-liked man to have held this high office. 

In 1575, he was chief alderman, which was not as prestigious as being mayor, but it was not insignificant. He was a glove-maker, and his 11 year old son, would probably have worked with him, making and selling gloves. 

But he also had a habit of getting into trouble. He was involved in wool brogging, the illegal dealing in wool. He was taken to court twice in 1570 for lending money for profit, which was illegal.

In 1577, John Shakespeare had a terrible reversal of fortune. He so ruined the family’s finances that they could not afford to send Shakespeare to university, probably Oxford, a day’s ride away.

So, those are the facts.

As a writer, I look at these facts and I immediately see a very compelling human drama to be told.

As a writer, I try to not make too many assumptions, but rather deduce from the facts and the likely behaviour (and more often than not, the misbehaviour) of the people involved to come to a story that is hopefully both satisfying as entertainment, but also as a piece of history.


Queen Elizabeth I, as she would have looked in 1575


What if John Shakespeare heard that Queen Elizabeth was coming to Kenilworth Castle?

He was a glove-maker. He might have thought to make her some gloves, as a gift. 

I encourage you to Google the words "elizabethan gloves" and look at the pictures. It's a great way to spend a few hours!

John Shakespeare probably thought that if he made her a wonderful gift of gloves, it might just be the thing to turn things around financially. She might reward him with a gift, or at least he might improve his image with his community, an image that was on the decline. 

In 1575, he had not brought his family to financial ruin yet, but it wasn’t too far off. He was probably the kind of man who succumbed too easily to get-rich-quick schemes, and had dreams beyond his station in life.

He wouldn’t be the first man in history to behave this way, and while his personal dreams never worked out, his son certainly inherited no lack of ambition.

So, let’s assume he wants to make a pair of gloves for Queen Elizabeth.

Would she receive John Shakespeare?

Well, John Shakespeare arguably would have met the Earl of Leicester in the years from 1558 to 1575. Leicester was a wealthy and powerful local Earl, and while I don’t imagine he would sit down to supper with Shakespeare, I find it hard to believe he did not know who Shakespeare was.

So, perhaps John Shakespeare may have realized that in order to give a pair of gloves to Queen Elizabeth, he had better make another pair for Leicester, too.


Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester


Leicester, after all, was inviting Queen Elizabeth to Kenilworth, in order to woo her and get her to marry him. He too had dreams beyond his station, dreams that ruined him financially. He spent so much money on this 19 day celebration that it bankrupted him.

So, John Shakespeare probably thought that if he made Leicester a fine pair of gloves, Leicester would receive him at Kenilworth, at which time Shakespeare could give Queen Elizabeth a pair too.

Would Queen Elizabeth have accepted a pair of gloves from John Shakespeare?

To me, it’s like asking if women need another pair of shoes.

From what I have read about Queen Elizabeth, she really liked fashion. I have read that she had over 6000 dresses when she died in 1603.


Queen Elizabeth, with gloves, standing on top of the world


She was known to accept gloves as gifts while she traveled outside London. 

Here is a picture of the gloves she received from Oxford University in 1566:





So, it is very possible that Queen Elizabeth would have accepted such a gift from a local office-holder and businessman like John Shakespeare.

John Shakespeare was not known to make very expensive gloves, like the ones from Oxford University, with gold embroidery.

But if he was really trying to make an impression, and perhaps win favors from Leicester and the Queen, he might have spared no expense. 

If he was a bad manager of his finances, he might have invested too much time and money in these gloves. It fits his character.

I can easily imagine his having arguments with his wife, Mary, about the exorbitant cost of these gloves. Or, she might have approved of the idea, and helped him.

So, did John Shakespeare, with his son William, make very expensive gloves for Queen Elizabeth and Leicester?

It is very likely, given the circumstances, and given his character.

He might have also made other, less expensive gloves, to sell while he was at Kenilworth. It is hard to imagine that local businesses did not take advantage of the Queen’s visit by bringing food, and other goods to sell and make a profit.

Therefore, it is very possible that he took his son to Kenilworth, for at least a day, in order to be received by the Queen and Leicester, give the gifts, and maybe make some money outside the castle selling other gloves.


Queen Elizabeth and Leicester



So, did an 11-year-old William Shakespeare enter Kenilworth Castle, in the very best clothes he had, probably more than a little nervous, and watch his father give these gloves to Queen Elizabeth?

Did Queen Elizabeth thank John Shakespeare and like the gloves?

Did she perhaps even thank William, and say young William’s name aloud?

It is such a delightful moment that very well might have occurred.

It might have been the greatest moment in William Shakespeare’s early life, and one he cherished until the day he died.

There are so many moments in my early life that inspired me to become a writer, that I look for these moments in the lives of other artists.

Was this the single greatest moment in William Shakespeare’s early life that inspired him to become the greatest writer of all?

Watching his father give these gloves, gloves they had made with such care and love, gloves they could not afford to make but they made them anyway, might have been the greatest moment of all for the young William Shakespeare.

It might have allowed him to dream even greater dreams than his father had ever dreamt, pursue this dream all the way to London, to perform for the crowds, but more importantly perhaps in order to stand before Queen Elizabeth again, and perhaps re-capture the joy he had as an 11-year-old boy in Kenilworth, in July 1575.


Perhaps the gloves looked like this


While I cannot prove that Shakespeare was ever there or any of this ever happened, I like to believe it anyway.

Thank you Stephanie and Nick for your Twitter discussion, because without it I might not have thought of this.

Cheers,


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