Shakespeare Solved ®


Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

Please join over 68,000 people on facebook & Twitter following Shakespeare Solved ® -- the number one Shakespeare blog in the world!


Articles Written For:

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

Most Popular Posts:

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 Malvolio Solved 6. Shakespeare's Real Petruchio



Friday, August 23, 2019

Netflix and Shakespeare - The King



Great news!

Netflix has a Shakespeare project coming out soon — The King.





It is an abridgment of Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, together with Henry V

I am very excited by this, since streaming services like Netflix have made very little effort to produce Shakespeare projects.

To Netflix’s credit, it did make House of Cards, which is inspired by Shakespeare’s Richard III play.

But the world’s greatest dramatist really deserves a bigger place among the world’s streaming services.

Thankfully, The King looks like it is a period piece, and not a modern adaptation. What a relief. Modern versions lately have been really dark and gloomy. 

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of seeing Shakespeare characters wearing jackboots and trench coats.

The cast looks interesting — Timothée Chalamet plays Prince Hal/King Henry and Joel Edgerton plays Falstaff. Lily-Rose Depp plays Catherine of Valois. 


Timothée Chalamet
Wikimedia Commons
photo: Elena Ringo http://www.elena-ringo.com

Robert Pattinson plays the Dauphin, in what I believe to be his very first foray into Shakespeare. I hope it won’t be his last. He has the makings of a very good Shakespearean actor, and I can easily imagine him in any number of the Bard’s roles.

Of all the performances, I am most interested in seeing how Joel Edgerton plays Falstaff. He is a great actor, and was especially good in the 2016 film Loving, with Ruth Negga. But I have never seen him attempt to play a role as larger-than-life like Falstaff. 


Joel Edgerton
Wikimedia Commons
photo by: Gage Skidmore


The fact that Edgerton co-wrote the screenplay suggests to me that this has been something of a passion project for him. 

I hope you watch this new project, and let me know what you think of it.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


Friday, August 16, 2019

James Shapiro & John Paul Stevens



I highly recommend this article about the letters exchanged between the eminent Shakespearean scholar, James Shapiro, and the United States Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens. 



The Honorable John Paul Stevens
Wikimedia Commons


Stevens ardently believed that Shakespeare did not write the plays. He thought the true author of the plays was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Stevens wrote to Shapiro after reading his book which defends Shakespeare, “Contested Will”. The two men wrote to each other over a six month period, starting in 2011.

Shapiro did not release these letters out of respect for Stevens, who passed away earlier this year.

There are so many fascinating things about this encounter between Shapiro and Stevens — I could write several blog articles about it.

What intrigued me was how surprised Shapiro was to find that “so wise a jurist”, as he put it, would “embrace a conspiracy theory.”

I am not in the least surprised. Stevens was not the only Supreme Court Justice who doubted that Shakespeare wrote his plays. Harry Blackmun and Sandra Day O'Connor also disputed his authorship.

Many famous and influential people believe in Oxford — like Mark Rylance or Derek Jacobi. But they are far less influential than these Justices, whose whose decisions are so vitally important to the United States.

I share Shapiro’s “disappointment” with Stevens’ firmly held belief in Oxford, and I agree with Shapiro’s assessment that it has “disturbing political implications”.

During their exchange of letters, Stevens “hardly retreated an inch” from his position. To me, this suggests that Stevens was not interested in learning anything from Shapiro. I think he was eager to sway Shapiro, who is admirably unmoved.

We want to believe that people as powerful, as influential, and as educated as Justice Stevens know more than we do. We want to believe that they are somehow endowed with greater wisdom than we mere mortals.

We are wrong to believe that. Yes, being a Supreme Court Justice is one of the loftiest professions in the world, and it takes a certain brilliance to be one. But that does not mean that everything a Supreme Court Justice says or does is beyond reproach.

Supreme Court Justices are human beings. All of us are imperfect.

This exchange of letters reminds me of the Duke of Venice who judges the case between Shylock and Antonio in The Merchant of Venice.

The Duke is not a good man, and he is not an impartial judge. Even before Shylock enters the “Court of Justice”, the Duke says to Antonio:

DUKE
I am sorry for thee: thou art come to answer
A stony adversary, an inhuman wretch
uncapable of pity, void and empty
From any dram of mercy.

Clearly, Shakespeare wants us to know that Shylock doesn’t have a chance in this courtroom.

The trial itself is a mockery of justice. Shylock should have won. Antonio should have lost. 

The Duke does not bother finding out if Shylock is right. He closes his eyes to that.

He also does not see that a young woman is impersonating a man.

Lady Justice wears a blindfold, because she is supposed to be impartial. She is not supposed to play favorites. She is not supposed to decide a case before she has heard all of the evidence.

Shakespeare is teaching us an important lesson with the Duke. Just because the Duke is a judge, that does not mean that justice will be served. 

Justice Stevens was not as bad as the Duke, but for some reason he chose to ignore the evidence that Shakespeare was Shakespeare.

We should not accept his theory that it was Oxford just because Stevens was a Supreme Court Justice. 

Nor should we believe Shapiro’s theory that it was Shakespeare just because he is a scholar of Shakespeare.

We should be our own judges. We should seek our own answers.

I am currently writing the first novel in a series about the life of Shakespeare. Instead of just writing blog articles about him, I want to tell you his whole life story.

I want you to judge for yourselves if I am right, and if my solutions to his life and plays are correct.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Branagh's False All Is True



Did anyone see the new movie All is True — directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Shakespeare?


Photo credit: Melinda Seckington
Wikimedia Commons


Apparently very few people did — it made only about one million dollars at the box office.

You would think that any movie with an actor and director as good as Branagh would be successful. You would think that any movie about Shakespeare would be successful.

Even that horrid 2011 movie Anonymous, which depicts Shakespeare as a buffoon who did not write the plays, made ten times more money.

From what I can tell, All is True makes very little effort to tell a true story. It tells a story of Shakespeare in his final years. It is a period of his life with so little evidence to work with, the filmmakers invented a story that can not be proved or disproved. 

It seems that the story they chose to make is dreary and depressing. The Shakespeare they chose to depict is a man who is filled with regrets, and who has little joy in his life. The movie also invents conflict between Shakespeare and his family.

I admire the film’s writer, Ben Elton, very much. I saw the first episode of his spoofy TV comedy about Shakespeare, Upstart Crow. It was quite funny.

But I think it is a tragedy for two such talented men — not to mention such an incredible cast with Judi Dench and Ian McKellen — to make something so bad.

After having seen Branagh's terrible production of Macbeth, I am worried that he has lost his touch, when it comes to Shakespeare. 

I know it is not fair to review this movie, since I have not seen it.

But in my defense, having studied Shakespeare’s whole life in such great detail, I think it is offensive to choose to make him such an unlikeable and unsympathetic character.

I think it is insulting to make his last days into a “sloppy soap opera” -- as one reviewer put it.

I did not see this movie, and I have no plans to see it. 

I believe that this movie is unsuccessful because Branagh and Elton told a story they wanted to tell, and they did not tell Shakespeare’s story.

I believe that no one wanted to see this movie because they could tell that it did not honor Shakespeare — and because it did not make a serious good faith attempt to tell the truth.

In other words, the audience could tell that the movie is false.

I think that there is an audience that is starving to learn something new and original about William Shakespeare.

I believe that this audience is craving the truth — and has been waiting centuries to satisfy that longing.

This blog is an attempt to get to that truth, and to offer you information and facts that are ignored by historians, and especially by filmmakers. 

I am currently writing the first novel in a series that will cover Shakespeare’s whole life. I think what I have discovered about him, and my solutions to the plays and poems he wrote, will satisfy even the most skeptical people who read and admire Shakespeare.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer




Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Hamlet Not Hamnet



Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!





For Shakespeare's birthday, we should all come together and honor him and his legacy by making a choice.

Why do we call Shakespeare’s son Hamnet?

Why don’t we call his son Hamlet?

When was it decided? Who decided it? 

Hamnet and Hamlet do not have different meanings — just as there is no difference in meaning between Alison and Alyson, or Johnathan and Jonathan.

So if Hamnet and Hamlet mean the same thing — why choose Hamnet?

Even a simple and brief examination of the evidence conclusively proves that William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet Shakespeare should be known as Hamlet Shakespeare.

It is time to set the record straight once and for all, and honor William Shakespeare by correcting the name of his son. 

In Shakespeare’s time, there was no standard spelling system. For example, the name Shakespeare could be spelled in many different ways — as Shakspur, Shakesper, Shaxbeard, etc.

So the name Hamlet could be spelled Hamlett, or Hamnet, or Hamlette, etc.

However, it is crucial to understand that whether someone spelled the name Hamlet or Hamnet — it was the exact same name, and would have been recognized as such, by the people at the time.

In other words, the names were interchangeable, and how someone’s name was spelled was up to the person writing it down. As long as the spelling was a close approximation of how the name sounded, that was acceptable.

A man named Hamlet in 1600, for example, might have his name spelled in a variety of ways — and he would think nothing of it.

The first major effort to make English spelling standard was in Shakespeare’s lifetime. He was well aware of this effort, and wrote about this in Love’s Labours Lost. Here is a link to a great Wikipedia article on the subject: English-language spelling reform.

It is entirely possible that Shakespeare himself wanted to reform spelling and make it standard.

All of the variants of the Hamlet name were all based on the same original source — the name Amleth.

Amleth was the hero of a story written by Saxo the Grammarian, a Danish historian, from 1200 AD. François de Belleforest wrote a new version of Saxo’s story, in 1570,  in which the name Amleth was changed to the spelling Hamlet. These are the two most important sources for Shakespeare’s Hamlet play.

Shakespeare’s daughter Judith and her twin brother were baptised on 2 February 1585. The names of the newborns in the baptismal register lists the boy as “Hamnet”.

Sadly, he died in 1596, and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. The name in the burial register is listed as “Hamnet filius William Shakspere” — meaning “Hamnet son of William Shakespeare”.

Presumably these two entries are why the name Hamnet is used today. However, it is misleading to continue to use Hamnet as his name today, when for all intents and purposes the name Hamnet means Hamlet.

Who entered the name in these two registers? Was it the vicar? Was it a clerk? Was it perhaps the same person who entered the name both times?

Whoever it was that wrote the name “Hamnet” in the baptismal and burial registers spelled the name however he preferred — at a time when there was no right or wrong way to spell it.

Are we choosing the name Hamnet because of a clerk or vicar? If so, then that logic does not hold up, when we look at Shakespeare, his wife, and his neighbor.

Shakespeare’s wife’s maiden name is known to us today as Anne Hathaway. In her own father’s last will and testament, her name is spelled “Agnes”. Some scholars believe that we should refer to her as Agnes Hathaway. They have a very good point. I am making much the same point.

When we refer to her today, we are making a choice to refer to her as Anne and not as Agnes. 

The clerk who made Shakespeare and Anne’s wedding license wrote “Wm Shaxpere" and "Annam Whateley”. 

A financial guarantee was made for their wedding. The clerk wrote "William Shagspere and Anne Hathwey”.

So, if the spelling of a clerk or a vicar is the sole reason why we choose one spelling over the other — then we should we change the RSC to the Royal Shagspere Company — and Shakespeare’s Globe theatre to Shaxpere’s Globe theatre. We should change Anne Hathaway’s cottage to Annam Hathwey’s cottage.

So, as we can see, clerks did not spell these names with any consistency. Therefore, why should we consistently today refer to Shakespeare’s son as Hamnet?

Why would we accept how a clerk spelled the name — when it is possible that Shakespeare had an important personal reason to spell it as “Hamlet”?

How do we know that he had a preference for that spelling? Because he wrote a play called Hamlet.

If we assume that Shakespeare had any control over how the name Hamlet/Hamnet/Amleth should be spelled, then we should assume that he preferred “Hamlet” over any other spelling.

He may not have had any control over how his Hamlet character’s name was spelled in Quarto printed versions of the play. However, when the First Folio was printed, it very clearly lists the play as The Tragedy of Hamlet.

This is the greatest piece of evidence that Shakespeare had a particular spelling in mind.

It was also the same spelling of Belleforest’s Hamlet, which was the most recently written variation of the same story.

It has been suggested that Shakespeare named his son after a neighbor of his in Stratford, Hamnet Sadler.

But why do we accept the“Hamnet” spelling for this neighbor? How was this chosen? Who chose this spelling of his name?

When this neighbor was born, in his baptismal register, a clerk or the vicar spelled his name “Hamlette Sadler”. 

Finally, there is one last piece of evidence.

There is precious little that we have today that is written in Shakespeare’s own hand. His last will and testament was probably written out by a legal clerk, or by Shakespeare’s attorney. There are a few places where Shakespeare himself signed the documents.

There are some scholars who believe that the entire will was written by Shakespeare’s own hand.

In that last will, Shakespeare left some money to this neighbor — and the name is spelled, perhaps by Shakespeare himself, as “Hamlett”.

I think you would agree that the evidence in support of Hamlet outweighs Hamnet. There simply does not seem to be a solid reason to continue to refer to his son as Hamnet.

I do not know why Hamnet is the commonly accepted version of his name. 

I suspect it has to do with the people who believe that Shakespeare’s plays have little to no bearing on his own life and times. Therefore, they do not want to explore the plays for any references to the original historical context in which they were written.

Some people would prefer to think that there is no meaningful connection between Shakespeare’s son and the Hamlet play. By choosing to call his son Hamnet, they direct our attention away from the real meaning and purpose of the play.

I am happy to tell you that these people are wrong. I am pleased to tell you that Shakespeare wrote the Hamlet play for his son, Hamlet.

There are many reasons why he did this, which I explore in my forthcoming novel about Shakespeare’s life.

The most important reason is because had Shakespeare’s son lived, he would have carried on the Shakespeare name, and he would have inherited his father’s property, as was his birthright. 

Shakespeare’s legacy rested on his son. But his son tragically died, much too young.

Therefore, without a son, his whole legacy was in jeopardy. When he wrote the Hamlet play, he bequeathed to us what he would have given his son.

I think that what was most precious to Shakespeare was not his house, or his furniture — I think it was his beliefs and the hard-won wisdom he had learned in his lifetime.

Therefore, this play represents the best and most valuable lessons Shakespeare wanted to impart to his son, and also to us. It is a play about fathers and sons, parents and children, the choices we make, and the consequences of those choices. There is tremendous meaning to the play, which has long been obscured.

Shakespeare knew that if only one of his plays endured, it would be Hamlet. He knew that it would be his legacy. Fortunately, he was right.

We should celebrate Shakespeare today on his birthday. We should honor him by choosing to honor his son by his rightful name, the name Shakespeare chose for his son — Hamlet.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer



Here are some helpful links:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamnet_Shakespeare

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sources_of_Hamlet

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakespeare%27s_will

https://shakespearedocumented.folger.edu/exhibition/document/william-shakespeares-last-will-and-testament-original-copy-including-three












Monday, April 23, 2018

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!



Happy Birthday Shakespeare!



April 23 is the day we celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday. He was baptised on April 26, which means that his date of birth would have been right before that. The precise day he was born is a mystery.

But — what if we looked at this mystery backwards to find the solution?

What if there was a clue in his writing that would suggest when he was born?

April 23 is Saint George’s Day — the feast day of the great warrior saint who slew a dragon, and who is the patron saint of England.

Young William Shakespeare, from the time he was a boy, would have undoubtedly been inspired by this very heroic figure. As a boy, Shakespeare might have fantasized about fighting and slaying dragons.

Saint George and the Dragon, by Raphael
Wikimedia Commons

If Shakespeare was born on April 23, then all his life he would have celebrated his own birthday on the day of the greatest celebration of the English nation.

Shakespeare clearly loved England, as demonstrated in his writing. England to him was “this scepter'd isle / This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise” and “This precious stone set in the silver sea” and “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” and “This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land, / Dear for her reputation through the world”.

This sounds like a man who enjoyed celebrating England every St. George’s Day — and drinking toasts to the country he loved.

St. George was also considered the “protector of the royal family.”

Shakespeare himself might have grown up with a strong desire to fight for and to serve the monarchy. It might have been this same sense of duty that inspired him to write plays, and serve Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Shakespeare might not have been useful on a battlefield. But in writing plays about England’s chivalrous soldiers and their great triumphs and their sacrifices — like King Henry V, and Talbot and his son — Shakespeare was inspiring his fellow countrymen to take up arms and fight for England, and their monarchs.

This is strong evidence that Shakespeare was born on April 23.

But what if he was born on April 20 instead?

Is there a way to figure out if that day meant anything to him?

Well, April 20 is the feast day for Saint Agnes of Montepulciano.

St. Agnes of Montepulciano
Wikimedia Commons

The town of Montepulciano in Italy was founded by Lars Porsena, who tried to help his fellow Etruscan king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, retake Rome and reclaim his throne.

This is the same Tarquinius whose son’s rape of Lucrece was the basis of Shakespeare’s epic poem.

According to Wikipedia, Agnes was “frequently called upon to bring peace to the warring families” of Montepulciano.

This seems to echo the Italian city of Verona in Romeo and Juliet: “Two households, both alike in dignity, / In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

When Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, was he thinking of Agnes, and drawing inspiration from her? Was the play itself an attempt to bring peace to the warring families and political factions in London?

It might have been impossible to bring peace to London at the time — but Shakespeare might have believed that the spirit of Agnes might heal the city. 

Agnes was known for performing miracles, and London in the late 16th century needed a miracle.

Despite this persuasive evidence, it is impossible to conclusively determine that Shakespeare was born on April 20.

What if Shakespeare was born on April 21? That is the feast day of Saint Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saint Anselm
Wikimedia Commons

In Romeo and Juliet, on the invitation list to the party at the Capulets is ”Anselme and his beauteous sisters”.

What makes this especially tantalizing is that Saint Anselm was not British — he was originally from Italy!

In the play, we never meet “Anselme” or his sisters. The choice of the name “Anselme” could be a coincidence, or it could be a hint — Shakespeare’s way of hinting that he was a student of Anselm’s writings.

Saint Anselm is considered the founder of Scholasticism. It was a method of learning about philosophy and theology, to show that faith and reason were compatible. It became part of the foundation of the educational system we use today.

Scholasticism used dialectics — which is a debate between two opposing sides.

This may not be relevant to Shakespeare. But I think there is a very compelling argument that Shakespeare was an educator at heart. 

It is not hard to imagine that Shakespeare was a very good student at his school. His writing demonstrates a mind that loved history and philosophy and language. 

So is it hard to imagine that he wanted to become a teacher himself — and share the scholastic gifts he was given?

In writing plays, did Shakespeare think that he was educating his audiences?

His plays are filled with Schoolmasters — like Holofernes  in Love's Labour's Lost.

In Taming of the Shrew, Lucentio woos Bianca with a Latin lesson.

In Titus Andronicus, Young Lucius holds a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. 

Shakespeare wanted people to watch his plays — but he also wanted them to consider education as a positive influence — at a time when most of the nation did not go to school.

And what are his plays but dialectics — not written down to be read, but rather to be performed on a stage by actors? 

Julius Caesar can be considered a dialectic on rebellion. A Midsummer’s Night Dream could be considered a dialectic between court life and country life.

Hamlet’s speech “To be, or not to be” is a dialectic with himself — a debate between life or death.

With his plays, Shakespeare was dramatizing complicated philosophical debates and arguments. He was making that which was very complicated into something you could watch and learn through the plot and actions of the characters.

We don’t know if Shakespeare read Saint Anselm’s works — but it is hard to deny that Shakespeare felt Anselm’s influence. 

What other writer is studied in schools more than Shakespeare?

Instead of assuming that Shakespeare’s works have just accidentally become so central to the curriculums of many of our schools, perhaps we might entertain the idea that he planned for his plays to be studied.

Perhaps Shakespeare studied Anselm in order to become a better playwright and teacher. 
  
Saint Anselm was also the first to write an ontological argument for the existence of God. 

Shakespeare depicts a King Henry V who invokes and praises God — and triumphs over the much larger French army at the Battle of Agincourt.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth character doesn’t seem to fear any god — and is punished for his sins. 

In King Lear’s pre-Christian pagan England, there is no Almighty Christian God to provide him mercy, or grant him redemption.

Shakespeare did not write liturgical or morality plays for religious ceremonies. But his plays follow the same rules, and are based on the same moral Judeo-Christian tradition.

Shakespeare did not write an argument for God’s existence that would be read only by the most literate people in society. Instead, he wrote plays — which dramatized God’s benevolence and God’s wrath — in order for everyone to watch and learn.

Shakespeare wrote plays to explore enormous religious and philosophical matters in a language that his mostly illiterate audience could understand. They might not be able to read, but he knew that they were not stupid —and that like most people in the 16th century, they had a hunger to know the world, to know themselves, and to know God.

Anselm was praised for having a “luminous and penetrating intellect” — which could easily be said of Shakespeare. 

It is impossible to prove that Shakespeare studied Anselm — but I don’t think we should ignore the possibility that he studied the writings of a very famous Archbishop of Canterbury.

What if Shakespeare was born April 22? 

That would be the feast day of Pope Caius, a 3rd century Bishop of Rome.

Pope Caius
Wikimedia Commons

The name “Caius” is a common one in Shakespeare. Some of Caius characters are based on historical figures — like Caius Martius Coriolanus.

But some of them are not historical. There are quite a few Caius characters who were made up by Shakespeare — like Caius in Titus Andronicus, or Doctor Caius in Merry Wives of Windsor, and Caius Lucius in Cymbeline.

I think the most important example is in King Lear. The Earl of Kent disguises himself as “Caius”. 

Of all the possible names Shakespeare could have used for the disguised Kent — why did he choose “Caius”?

For that matter — why did Shakespeare repeatedly draw attention to such an unusual name?

There does not seem to be very much about Pope Caius that would suggest any special significance for Shakespeare. We are left with more questions than answers.

April 22 is also the feast day for Pope Soter, about whom there is little written. There does not seem to be any significance for Shakespeare.

What if Shakespeare was born April 24? That is the feast day for Saint Mellitus, who was the third Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Scenes from the Passion, possibly brought by Mellitus to England
Wikimedia Commons

Mellitus was one of the missionaries sent to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxon people of England to Christianity, arriving in the year 601. 

Shakespeare does not refer to Mellitus in his works, as far as I can tell. 

However, as Shakespeare rang in the new year, in 1601, I think Shakespeare wondered how much of England had been converted to Christianity, and how much of it remained to be saved — 1000 years since Mellitus’s mission. 

What if Shakespeare was born on April 25th? That is the feast day for Saint Mark the Evangelist, the man who wrote the Gospel of Mark.

Mark the Evangelist
Wikimedia Commons

Mark and the related name Marcus are found in Shakespeare’s historical plays — with Marcus Brutus and Mark Antony. But there is also a non-historical character named Marcus Andronicus, in the Titus Andronicus play.

Shakespeare does not seem to have written directly about Saint Mark. But what about indirectly?

Mark is the patron saint of Venice — where St. Mark’s Cathedral Basilica, St. Mark’s Campanile, and St. Mark’s Square are all named to honor him.

In artistic works, Saint Mark is depicted as rescuing sailors and “helping Venetian sailors”.

St. Mark saves a Sarracen by Tintoretto
Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare refers to Venice many times in his plays. But there are only two plays which the city is prominent — The Merchant of Venice, and The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice.

In Merchant, there is suspense regarding Antonio’s trading ships -- will they be lost at sea, or will they arrive safely at port?

In Othello, there is suspense about a Turkish fleet, that is sailing to conquer Cyprus.

At first, Antonio’s ships are reported to be lost. But later, we find out that they completed their journey safely.

Before General Othello can confront his enemies — a storm destroys the Turkish fleet.

Shakespeare seems to be saying that ships and sailors are in God’s hands. He even seems to be saying that God saves Christians, and protects them from Turks who do not believe in Him.

So, even though Saint Mark does not appear in either play, his power is felt throughout them.

This may not be enough evidence to prove that Shakespeare was born on Saint Mark’s Day — but it is definitely enough evidence to prove that Saint Mark has an uncredited role in those plays.

So, on which day was Shakespeare born?

We may never know. Each day, and each feast day, seems to have some significance in his writing.

I still think that that he was born on April 23.

But, based on this brief exploration of these feast days, Saint Anselm seemed to have the greatest influence on Shakespeare’s life.

Shakespeare may not have thought that it was likely that he was going to literally fight a dragon — let alone slay one!

But he could easily have envisioned a future as a teacher, as a bishop, and as a writer of “luminous and penetrating” religious and scholarly tomes.

Even if we don’t figure out on which day he was born, it is clear that he was influenced by all of these saints — and there are probably far more saints who inspired him in different ways.

Why would he write about any saint at all? I believe that he wanted to share his love of saints like these, in order for us to find the saints that mean something to us.

Shakespeare wrote plays to entertain us, but also to inspire us to make our own history, and become even greater people than we are today.

I hope you join me today in wishing Shakespeare a very Happy Birthday!

Cheers,

David B. Schajer







Friday, January 19, 2018

My Big Shakespeare Blunder


I have a big confession to make.

For most of my life I did not understand one of Shakespeare’s most important and most famous quotes.

When I was a teenager, I read Hamlet, and I loved Polonius’ advice to his son: “This above all: to thine ownself be true, / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

I loved the quote so much, I put it in my High School yearbook page.

A stain glass window representation of Polonius.
Wikimedia Commons

At the time, I thought it meant that in being true to myself, I would be a more honest person and a better person in society.

I also thought it meant that I should not let other people keep me from becoming the person I wanted to become.

I thought it was an optimistic eternal truth, like the ancient Greek adage “Know Thyself.”

I thought it meant that I should not deceive myself, and therefore I would not be a false person.

I thought that if I lived by those words, I would be a good person, a genuine person.

I thought it would help to build my confidence.

I thought it was the very best wisdom written by the very best of writers, Shakespeare.

Wow. Was I ever wrong.

It has taken many years for me to see the truth of how very wrong I was — and how much I had misinterpreted the quote.

It is now very evident to me that the last advice you should accept is that, above all, you should be true to yourself.

Why is this such bad advice?

Shakespeare did not put those words in the mouth of Hamlet, or Horatio or Ophelia — who are all truly good and decent people within the play.

No, Shakespeare put the advice in the mouth of Polonius — who is a hypocritical, selfish, conniving, deceitful, manipulative, cold-hearted bureaucratic toady.

 Hamlet devant le corps de Polonius Eugène Delcroix au Musée des Beaux-Arts de Reims.
Wikimedia Commons

When you think of Polonius, you would never describe him as genuine, or good, or selfless.

Therefore, why would we take the advice of such a bad man — a man who puts his own self interest above the interests of other people?

Polonius plots to “loose” his daughter on Hamlet — so he can spy on what Hamlet says. 

The word “loose” has a sexual connotation, as in “loose women”. 

So, is Polonius her father or is he instead her pander, her pimp?

No wonder Ophelia goes mad and commits suicide. She has a father who would use her to gain Hamlet’s confidence by seduction.

Hamlet may have been wrong to murder Polonius — but then Polonius should not have been in the Queen’s bedchamber, spying on them both.

Polonius’ son Laertes returns to take his revenge on Hamlet. 

But is Hamlet really to blame? Did he make Ophelia go crazy and drown her? No. She was driven mad by the madness at the royal court, and by the intense pressure to spy on Hamlet. 

Benjamin West, Ofelia e Laerte, 1792
Wikimedia Commons

Did Hamlet have good cause, or at least a plausible excuse for killing Polonius? Yes, he thought he was stabbing Claudius — who murdered Hamlet’s father.

So why does Laertes seek to punish or kill Hamlet — when he should try to determine the truth of their deaths?

Instead of patiently seeking justice, Laertes seeks quick revenge.

Well, with Polonius as his father and his teacher, Laertes can’t tell right from wrong, and wrong from right.

Polonius has taught his son to be rashly and blindly violent.

Polonius’ advice “to thine ownself be true” takes on a much darker meaning.

To Laertes, it means that he shouldn’t care what anyone else says. He shouldn’t listen to what Hamlet has to say in his defense. To Laertes, his father’s advice means that he should rush to judgement.

Laertes sees Hamlet as a false man — when Hamlet is the one true noble person in the entire tragedy.

Polonius’ advice has terrible consequences for everyone — including himself. He and his children all die.

Why did Shakespeare have Polonius offer this advice?

Because Shakespeare wanted to put lofty words in the mouth of the basest of men, and the lowliest of villains.

If there was a lesson that Shakespeare wanted teach, with this quote, it was to beware of hypocritical people.

Shakespeare did not want us to blindly accept what a man like Polonius says — or to live by the words of any mortal man.

Shakespeare did not want us to put our faith and our trust in men — in our leaders, in our social, economic or political superiors.

He wanted us to put our faith in God and God alone. He wanted us to live by the Word of God.

Shakespeare’s audience, in London circa 1600, was filled with God-fearing and church-going Christians.

As soon as they heard Polonius say “This above all: to thine ownself be true” they immediately understand what Polonius was really saying. 

They knew that Polonius was teaching his son to put himself before God. 

To Elizabethans audiences, only God is “above all”.

Shakespeare’s audience would have instantly understood that Polonius is a villain. They would have expected bad things to happen to him. They would have counted the minutes, eagerly anticipating his comeuppance.

When Polonius is finally killed, they would have probably cheered to see a godless man sent to Hell.

Regardless of how we feel today about religion and God, Shakespeare — as a 16th Century Christian who had to attend Church by law, who was living through the very tumultuous Protestant Reformation — had very strong feelings and very grave concerns about religion in England at the time.

Some people might say that Shakespeare was not religious, or that he was more concerned with secular matters than spiritual ones. They are wrong.

Why else would Shakespeare create a character like Polonius, who lacks a proper respect for God, if Shakespeare was not himself reverent?

Look at the whole of Polonius’ advice — he was advising his son on secular worldly matters, without regard to eternal spiritual matters.

He tells his son not to speak out of turn, not to misbehave, not to be too friendly but cherish good friends, not to start fights, not to borrow or lend money, etcetera.

These are all trivial and relatively inconsequential matters.

Nowhere in his advice to his son does Polonius say anything about how Laertes should be a good and obedient Christian.

In fact, Polonius blesses his son, as if Polonius has the power to bestow holy blessings. As if Polonius has taken the place of God in the lives of his son and daughter.

If Polonius had taught his son to be a faithful young man, then none of the other advice would be necessary. 

Laertes would not do anything bad, if he truly feared God’s punishment for doing wrong.

Polonius and Hamlet
Eugene Delacroix
Wikimedia Commons

Also, Polonius also advises his son: to “Beware / Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, / Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.”

Rough translation: Beware of getting into fights, but if you find yourself in one, make your opponent fear you.

Isn’t that ironic, considering how Laertes rushes into a fight with Hamlet?

So, not only is Polonius’ advice without moral value, it did not have the power to teach Laertes how to behave.

The point that Shakespeare makes is that Laertes did not heed this advice because it was worthless advice from a faithless father.

There is a deeper level to the advice that Shakespeare wrote for Polonius to say. Shakespeare is attacking the secular humanism and the moral relativism that was poisoning England at the time.

He was attacking men who presumed to put themselves before God — he was fighting against the teachers, lawyers, judges, nobility, bureaucrats, and many aristocratic members of the royal court.

Shakespeare was saying that Denmark was not rotten because of men like Hamlet — it was rotten because of men like Polonius.

For over 400 years we have been taught that Polonius’ advice to his son is good sound solid wise advice. 

That is not the point Shakespeare wanted to make. The Polonius he created was a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a man who seemed good, but was in fact bad.

Shakespeare did not want an England where men and women were raised to isolate and imprison themselves in their “ownself”.

He did not want young women to grow up with such moral and spiritual weakness that they could be crushed by anyone, even by their own parents.

He did not want Juliet to die, even if it was for love. He did not want Desdemona to be murdered by the man she loved. He did not want Anne to be seduced by King Richard III — the man who killed her husband and the King!

He did not want young women to grow up to become evil like Lady Macbeth or Goneril or Regan or Volumnia.

Shakespeare wants young women to grow up better than that.


Henry Lejeune - Ophelia
Wikimedia Commons

He didn’t want young men to grow up to be self-righteous hot-tempered thugs, who can be deceived into violence, even by their own parents.

He did not want Romeo to throw away his life. He did not want Othello to be deceived and commit murder. He did not want King Lear to go mad and destroy his kingdom. He did not want Prince Hal to banish Falstaff, who was a better father than Hal’s own father, the King!

He did not want young men to grow up to become evil like Iago or Macbeth or King Richard III.

Shakespeare wants young men to grow up better than that.

Look at Hamlet. The ghost of his father tells him to take revenge.

Hamlet can’t wait to do it: “I, with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge.”

But he doesn’t swiftly take revenge.

It is excruciating to watch Hamlet struggle with his decision whether or not to take revenge. But  Shakespeare is showing that it is better to be patient and examine the matter, than to rush to revenge a death — even if the revenge is justified.

Shakespeare wanted us to get out of our own heads, lower our defenses, and to stop looking down and dwelling on the hardship of our human condition in this sometimes cruel world.

He wanted us to come together, in a theatre perhaps, to see that this life is merely a test for eternity.

He wanted us to look up and contemplate the glory of our lives in a heavenly afterworld.

His Hamlet play is a cry for people to seek truth and justice not in ourselves, or in others — but only in God.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet play is a call to action, to know ourselves through God, and to know nothing unless He blesses us to know it.


Cheers,

David B. Schajer