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.

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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, September 28, 2012

Robert Dudley the Queen's Favorite

On September 28, 1564 -- the same year William Shakespeare was born -- Robert Dudley became the 1st Earl of Leicester.

Robert Dudley
Dudley was Queen Elizabeth's inseparable companion and "favourite" -- arguably the one man she would have married if she could, if it had been a matter of love.

He quickly amassed power, fortune and property -- which all depended on her good will.

He was one of the greatest landowners in the West Midlands, which included Warwickshire (which included Stratford).

One of the obstacles for Elizabeth and Dudley in getting married was the fact that he was married already, to Amy Robsart.

On September 8, 1560 Amy Robsart Dudley fell down some stairs and died.

He was suspected of having killed her, despite the fact that he was in London at the time, and had not seen his wife for over a year, as he kept her in the country.  

Dudley and the Queen were free to marry but the scandal surrounding this suspicious death of his wife prevented the Queen from marrying him.

But she did keep him close, in adjacent quarters, year after year.

He had the occasional affair.

In 1569 he had an affair with Lady Douglas Sheffield, a young widow. They had a child together, and the boy was named Robert Dudley.

On 21 September, 1578 Dudley married Lettice Knollys, who was related to Elizabeth.

Lettice Knollys

It is thought that Dudley and Lettice had previously had an affair as early as 1565.

Her husband Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex had died in 1576. There were suspicions that he was poisoned, perhaps by Dudley, since Dudley was already having an affair with his wife at this point.

When Lettice gave birth to her first child by Dudley, they named him Robert. Sadly, the child died soon after.

Dudley then turned his attention to his stepson, Walter Devereux's son with Lettice, the young 2nd Earl of Essex, to advance him politically -- since Dudley considered him to be his political heir.

That son was named Robert. He was born in 1565.

When the Queen's "favourite" Robert Dudley died in 1588, she chose a new man to be her "favourite" -- Robert Devereux.

These are some of the principal actors in the theatre of Queen Elizabeth's court.

They set the stage for Shakespeare.

Queen Elizabeth -- the figures in the background are believed to include Dudley and Lettice

By the time he was writing his plays, finding patrons such as Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and performing for the pleasure of the Queen herself -- the story of these people, the mysteries and scandals and allegiances, would have been more interesting than anything Shakespeare could have invented for the stage.

As I wrote my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, I discovered that Shakespeare did not ignore the stories of these people -- he wrote them into his plays.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Russell Crowe & Shakespeare

Should Russell Crowe do some Shakespeare?

The real question is not should he, the real question is why has he never done any Shakespeare??

That boggles the mind.

I found some interesting things Russell said, regarding the 1998 movie Shakespeare In Love. It appears that Russell wanted to play the part of Shakespeare himself, and there are reports that he turned down the role:

"It was a 100 percent f@^king home run, except the central character of William Shakespeare was not a f@^&ing writer -- he was not smelly enough, he was not unshaven enough, and obviously hadn't had enough to drink. He was some prissy pretty boy. What the f@^k?"

"I wanted to see that grizzly f@*ker. I wanted to see him flower. I wanted to see him blossom under the fact of love. I wanted to see where the sonnets came from. They came from the same pen of despair that wrote Timon of Athens -- I wanted to see that guy. I wanted to create a body of work that would last century after century. I wanted to see that... I wanted to play that character. I loved the script. I mean, it was an incredibly well observed script about actors. That's why I thought it was so cool."  

I think he would have been a fascinating Shakespeare, and that is one of those great what ifs? in film history.

I can understand why he wouldn't want to do the film. It appears that he wanted to see the real Shakespeare, the real man. He didn't want to turn Shakespeare into a pin-up, which is how that film turned out.

From what he says, he wanted to make a film about Shakespeare that would have done for Mozart what the film Amadeus did.

And yes, I absolutely agree that such a film would last for centuries -- as a definitive depiction of Shakespeare that would never be surpassed.

Love or hate him, Russell Crowe is a passionate artist and he has had a really impressive career.

If you are only familiar with his roles in Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind then you have not seen enough of this truly versatile actor.

Go find Proof, an Australian film from 1991. It swept all of the AACTA awards (the Australian equivalent of the Academy Awards) including a best supporting actor award for Russell. It also stars Hugo Weaving, who became famous as Agent Smith in The Matrix.

Watch other early roles of his in films like Romper Stomper, The Sum of Us, and do not miss L.A. Confidential.

When I wrote my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice I had over 100 speaking parts, and I often thought who could bring these roles to life. Who could play Shakespeare, who could play Queen Elizabeth, or Robert Cecil (Shakespeare's nemesis), or Richard Burbage or Will Kemp.

When I thought of Will Kemp, I couldn't help but think of Russell Crowe.

Will Kemp was arguably the first superstar celebrity actor and performer in the Elizabethan period.

Having him in your acting company guaranteed you box-office success.

He could draw crowds.

As such, Shakespeare wrote roles for him that would be the talk of London: Falstaff, Juliet's Nurse, Feste and so on.

But the play in which I discovered who Will Kemp really was is The Merchant of Venice.

Shakespeare wrote the role of Launcelot for Kemp. Launcelot is a minor character, easily forgotten by most people. But he has the most important part of the play. He is the key that unlocks the meaning of the play.

And his scenes as Launcelot steal the whole show.

Kemp could do comedy and tragedy, he could sing, he could dance and I am positive that when it came time to do a jig at the end of every show, he was in charge.

In 1599, Kemp left Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain's Men. We don't know why.

I think he left because Shakespeare was taking his plays in a direction that Kemp did not like, and Kemp would rather not continue acting with and for Shakespeare.

I don't think their parting was amicable. I think they fought about the future of the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

There are not many actors who could pull this off, and stand toe to toe with Shakespeare.

Russell Crowe could.


David B. Schajer

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    Monday, September 24, 2012

    Ben Jonson, Duellist

    On September 22, 1598 the playwright Ben Jonson fought a duel with a fellow actor named Gabriel Spencer in Hogsden (Hoxton) Fields in Shoreditch.

    He was arrested and tried at the Old Bailey for murder. He pleaded guilty and would have been executed if he had not claimed the right of clergy. 

    The right of clergy was a legal ploy by which he could be sentenced by an ecclesiastical court, where he recited a bible verse (the neck-verse) and was spared execution. He had to forfeit all of his possessions, and his left thumb was branded.

    While he was in jail, he converted to Catholicism. 12 years later he would become an Anglican.

    Ben Jonson was born 11 June 1572, in Westminster. His father died before he was born, and his stepfather was a master bricklayer. Jonson became a bricklayer himself after deciding not to go to university.

    Soon after, he became a soldier, serving in the Netherlands, where he claimed to have killed a man in single combat.

    He eventually became a playwright, and his first real success was his play Every Man In His Humor which he had performed for the first time, only days before the duel in Shoreditch.

    The play was performed at the Curtain theatre in Shoreditch by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. William Shakespeare played a part in the show, possibly in the role of the elder Knowell.

    After the duel and subsequent trial, Jonson would become a very popular playwright, second only to Shakespeare -- a fact which probably never ceased to infuriate Jonson.

    After Shakespeare died, Jonson is famous for having said of him "He was not of an age, but for all time." I have always thought that Jonson's words were tongue in cheek, and bitter -- not truly sincere or heartfelt.


    The playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was also known as a hard-drinking "brawler" and "duellist,"  had died under suspicious circumstances in 1593. His political activities may have cost him his life. His dear friend and fellow playwright Thomas Kyd, who was also rather politically motivated, was interrogated and tortured by the authorities and died not long after from those wounds.

    This story gives us an idea of what playwrights were like in those days.

    Shakespeare, as far as we know, did not fight duels, and was never put in prison.

    But that is not to say that Shakespeare was an angel, who never got into trouble.

    He may have been very much like Jonson, and Marlowe. His politics may have gotten him in trouble. 

    We know that his men were questioned after the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601. There has never been a satisfactory account of what Shakespeare knew about the Rebellion and when he knew it.

    Did Shakespeare do time in The Tower?

    In my version of Hamlet, I wrote an account of Shakespeare's relationship with Essex, and where and what he did during the Rebellion.

    While there is no record that Shakespeare was punished for the Essex Rebellion, I have Shakespeare imprisoned in The Tower for a short time. Not for the Rebellion itself, but for having written the Hamlet play in honor of Essex, who inspired the Hamlet character.

    It may have been the one and only time that Shakespeare was punished for his plays. 

    Jonson however, would get in and out of trouble just about his entire life. It would seem that he could never stop duelling.


    David B. Schajer

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    Friday, September 21, 2012

    The Real Romeo and Juliet

    Yesterday, a young lady on facebook asked me why there wasn't anything about Romeo and Juliet on my page.

    So, here is a version of Romeo and Juliet you probably have never heard before.

    Romeo and Juliet is believed to have been written by Shakespeare around 1594 - 1596.

    It is a story about a young boy and girl who fall in love and secretly marry, only for it all to end in tragedy.

    Very romantic and very sad.

    In case you haven't read the play, please do so as soon as possible. If you have not seen any of the film versions, please watch all of them. They are all good in their own way.

    I am rather fond of Baz Luhrmann's version with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. While it is not entirely faithful to the play, I think it is truly inspired. How can you not like the moment when they first meet, looking through the fish tank?

    But what is the play really about? Why did Shakespeare write it?

    You can read Wikipedia to get a basic understanding of the play. As you will find, there is a long history behind the play, and there are many variations of the story going back in time.

    So, why did Shakespeare choose this story?

    First, let's meet the real Romeo.

    One of Shakespeare's earliest patrons was Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. Southampton was descended from the Dacre family, who were powerful Northern Border lords.

    Southampton was known for his physical beauty and for his interest in the arts, especially plays. It would seem natural that Southampton would be drawn to Shakespeare, who by 1595 was the leading playwright in London.

    Shakespeare dedicated both Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece to Southampton.

    Southampton is also considered the primary candidate to be Shakespeare's "Fair Youth" in the Sonnets.


    Southampton was a courtier to Queen Elizabeth, with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.

    He and Essex were friends, and served in the military together. Essex was the Queen's "favourite" at this time. Essex was also a patron of Shakespeare's.

    Now, it is important to know that when Southampton's father died, he became a ward to William Cecil, which made Cecil something like a surrogate father. Cecil also controlled who Southampton could marry.

    William Cecil was the Lord Privy Seal, and he was the most powerful man in England.

    His son Robert Cecil would later succeed his father and became even more powerful than the Queen he served.

    In 1591, Southampton refused to marry Elizabeth de Vere (yes, the daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford) and he was fined 5,000 pounds by William Cecil, who made the match in the first place.

    Peter Jensen and especially Clare Asquith have established a link between the Montagues of the play and the real Montagu family.

    Southampton's mother was Mary Browne. Her father had been removed from the Privy Council, due to his Roman Catholic views, when Elizabeth became queen. He and his family, the Dacre family, opposed but did not challenge Elizabeth during her reign.

    Mary Browne's father was Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu.

    His second wife was Magdalen Dacre, whose family were so powerful in the North.

    After Southampton's father died, and Southampton became a ward to William Cecil, his mother Mary was married again in 1575.

    It is believed that a play about Montagues and Capulets was performed to celebrate the wedding -- another version of "Romeo and Juliet" by a well known writer named George Gascoigne. So, this play had a special significance for Southampton.

    It would be natural then for Shakespeare to model his Romeo, House of Montague after his friend Southampton, from the Montagu family.

    But who was Juliet?

    In 1594-5, Southampton was involved with a very pretty young lady by the name of Elizabeth Vernon. He was 22 and she was 23.

    There was a problem. She was one of Queen Elizabeth's chief ladies-in-waiting. Southampton himself was a courtier to the Queen.

    Ladies-in-waiting could not have relationships without the Queen's permission.

    Why would the Queen not approve of their match?

    Elizabeth Vernon

    Elizabeth Vernon was descended from the same family as Magdalen Dacre. An alliance between such powerful families, Catholic families, would be a threat to the Queen's power, and would not serve her in her efforts to set England on a Protestant path.

    Also, Elizabeth Vernon and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex were cousins.

    Already by 1595, the Queen feared that Essex would challenge her for the throne. She was not wrong to fear him.

    An alliance between the Essex family and the Dacre family was simply unacceptable to the Queen.

    So, if William Cecil was like a father for Southampton, Queen Elizabeth was like a mother to Elizabeth Vernon. Neither Cecil nor the Queen would approve of their match.

    William Cecil's matchmaking Southampton with Elizabeth de Vere is not unlike Juliet's father matchmaking Juliet with Paris.

    It is reasonable to assume that Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon may have made a wedding promise or secret vow to each other, much like Romeo and Juliet promise their love to one another, and marry in secret.

    Was this play then a gift to Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon when they promised their love to one another?

    This is a very plausible explanation why Shakespeare wrote his Romeo and Juliet, around 1594-5.

    If the play was first performed in about January 1594, as some have said, then it shows how long they were hiding their love.

    Shakespeare wrote many gifts for his patron, Southampton. Why should this be any different?

    As far as performances of the play at court, in front of the Queen, any references to the secret wedding between Romeo and Juliet could be removed.

    If this play was a gift for their wedding, why did Shakespeare choose one with such a tragic ending? 

    Of course, he was re-writing an older story that had a tragic ending, but he could have changed the ending. 

    Shakespeare had changed stories before and he would change stories later in his career. He could have given this story a happy ending, or at least it could have been less tragic.

    The tragic ending may have been a warning of what may happen to Southampton and Vernon if their affair was discovered. They could pay a very dear price for such a secret love.

    They kept the affair quiet until 1598.

    Then William Cecil died August 4, 1598.

    Southampton and Vernon married August 30, 1598.

    I don't think it's a coincidence that they married so soon after his death.

    I like to think that Shakespeare was a very welcome guest at the ceremony, and it is likely that he and his fellow actors performed the play again as the primary wedding entertainment.

    When the Queen discovered the marriage, she put them both in Fleet Prison.

    Elizabeth Vernon was already pregnant.

    Was the child born in prison? I can't find any evidence to confirm or deny it.

    The child did survive, and Southampton and his new bride were released.

    But they were never again in the Queen's favor.

    The experience would have been very traumatizing, and Southampton must have been very angry. It may have been at this point that Essex and Southampton began to plot to overthrow the Queen's government.

    In 1601, Essex and Southampton would lead a rebellion against the Queen.

    The rebellion failed, and Essex was executed.

    Southampton was sentenced to death, but he was sent to prison instead, for two years. He was released after the Queen died in 1603.

    From what we can tell, Southampton and Elizabeth were happily in love until the day he died in 1624. She survived him, and passed away in 1655.

    Their firstborn child, Penelope would marry William Spencer, 2nd Baron Spencer.

    This would mean that the late Lady Diana Spencer was descended from them.

    Imagine that, Diana is a descendant of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon, Shakespeare's original Romeo and Juliet.

    This would also mean that her sons, William and Harry, are descendants.

    And finally, the newborn Prince George is also descended from Southampton and Vernon.

    In conclusion, some people think that history like this has nothing to do with Shakespeare's plays. They would rather read the play and enjoy it as literature. Perhaps they think that by placing Shakespeare in his original historical context it somehow diminishes the beauty of his plays, and the man himself.

    I think the story of Southampton and Elizabeth Vernon makes Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet play even even more moving. It enriches and elevates the play, and it makes me even more fascinated by this man named William Shakespeare, and the history in which he lived.

    Thank you for reading this. If you like this blog post, please show your support for Shakespeare Solved on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

    Your support will really make a difference!

    And your comments are always welcome!


    David B. Schajer

    Related Article:

    Shakespeare and Love

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    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    The Babington Plot

    On September 20, 1586 Sir Anthony Babington and other co-conspirators were executed for their part in plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.

    Babington with his accomplices

    One of the two architects of the plot was none other than King Philip II of Spain who had once been King of England by right of his wife, Mary I who had been the Queen until she died in 1558.

    The goal of the plot was to restore the Catholic faith to England by killing the Protestant Elizabeth and put her cousin, the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne.

    But the plot never actually even got off the ground. 

    Mary, Queen of Scots

    Elizabeth's Secretary of State and spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, and her chief adviser, William Cecil (who would later become the single most powerful man in England) had spies who had infiltrated the plot long before it would ever have been executed.

    Walsingham and Cecil were aware that Mary, Queen of Scots was behind it but they could not punish her unless they had written proof of her involvement.

    When Babington had doubts about killing Elizabeth, Mary wrote him a letter to inspire him to fight on. He wrote her back, and divulged all of the details of the plot.

    The letter was intercepted.

    Walsingham and Cecil had their proof, and they rounded up the conspirators and then had them hanged, drawn and quartered.

    Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded.

    The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

    This is a very interesting episode in Elizabeth's life. She had enemies all around her, and it must have been very difficult to survive, let alone reign, during this period.

    It was not the first plot against her life and it would not be the last.

    As far as Shakespeare is concerned, he may have been in London by this time, just getting his foot in the door, and beginning his career.

    If he was still in Stratford then he would have been brimming with ideas for plays, and making ambitious plans to go to London.

    But whether he was still in Stratford, or in London by the time of this plot, he would have been fascinated by this story.

    It wouldn't be long before Shakespeare would have his own success on stage, and would eventually perform at court before Queen Elizabeth herself, and see men like William Cecil, and Francis Walsingham in person.

    Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

    It wouldn't be long before Shakespeare was not an outsider at Queen Elizabeth's court, and he became an insider, befriending men like the Earls of Essex and Southampton, and the brothers William and Philip Herbert.

    As I explore in my version of Hamlet, little did Shakespeare know at this point in his life that he would eventually be pulled into another plot against the Queen, the Essex Rebellion in 1601.


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    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

    Emma Watson & Shakespeare

    It is hard to judge an actress who is almost exclusively known for one role, as Emma is with Hermione, in the Harry Potter series.

    But she was so very good in those films.

    She was also good in Ballet Shoes, and she was fine in a rather small part in My Week With Marilyn. I have yet to see Perks of Being A Wallflower, but it looks good and I think she was well cast. My niece and nephew, who have read the book, are very pleased that she was cast in the film.

    * Update: I saw Perks, and she was fantastic! It is absolutely the best performance of her career. It is such an important role in the story, and she carried it off very well. It almost seemed effortless for her.

    Overall, the word that comes to mind when I think of her is genuine. There doesn't seem to be, thankfully, anything artificial about her performances. She seems very real.

    I think she would be fine in some Shakespeare. I would like to see her perform Juliet, and I would be very interested to see her perform Ophelia -- more of a challenge, but well worth trying.

    But as I have mentioned before, in my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, the plays are presented as they would have been performed for the first time by Shakespeare himself and his company of actors. As such, all of the roles are performed by men.

    However, since my versions also include scenes of Shakespeare's life away from the theatres in London, there are several roles for female actors.

    I keep thinking of Emma as a young Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife.

    Is it my imagination, or is there a resemblance?

    I depict the early courtship of young Anne and Will in Stratford, and I think she would be excellent as the young lady who caught his eye, stole his heart, and as he wrote in Sonnet 145 -- which is considered to be written for her -- saved his life:

    Those lips that Love's own hand did make
    Breathed forth the sound that said "I hate"
    To me that languished for her sake.
    But when she saw my woeful state,
    Straight in her heart did mercy come,
    Chiding that tongue that, ever sweet,
    Was used in giving gentle doom,
    And taught it thus anew to greet:
    "I hate" she altered with an end
    That followed it as gentle day
    Doth follow night, who like a fiend
    From heaven to hell is flown away.
      "I hate" from hate away she threw,
      And saved my life, saying "not you."

    I have written before and will continue to write that Shakespeare and Anne were indeed in love, contrary to what some may think.

    I do not think theirs was a "shotgun wedding" and I don't think Shakespeare ever regretted marrying Anne.

    She may have had her regrets, and I'm sure she would have wanted him home more often, but I don't think she ever regretted marrying him.

    I think having an actress as genuine and endearing as Emma Watson would go a long way to illustrating what kind of woman Anne really was, and what their relationship was really like.

    What do you think?

    If you agree with me that she should play Anne Hathaway, please show your support on facebook, Twitter, PinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

    Your support will really make a difference!

    And your comments are always welcome!


    David B. Schajer

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    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth I

    Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth I!

    Coronation Portrait

    What to say about her?

    She is a very complicated figure to understand.

    On the one hand, the very best thing I can say about her is that she allowed the arts to flower and grow during her long reign. 

    But it seems that she did not make the decision by herself, but allowed the arts to flower because of her love of a man.

    Here is a painting, early in her reign, from 1563, the year before Shakespeare was born:

    She was in love with Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. He was her "favourite."
    I think if she could have married, and followed her heart, she would have married Leicester.

    Here are miniatures of them:

    Queen Elizabeth gave Leicester the first patent for a playing company of actors in 1574.

    One of Leicester's "jesting players" was Will Kemp, who would later join the Lord Chamberlain's Men with Shakespeare, and they would have a very fruitful collaboration. Kemp was Juliet's Nurse, Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, and Falstaff.

    In my version of The Merchant of Venice, I discovered that he must have been the one to play Shylock's servant Launcelot -- a small but critical role. This role unlocks the whole play.

    In 1576, this all-important patent allowed another one of Leicester's players, James Burbage, to build The Theatre, in Shoreditch -- the first successful permanent theatre in England.

    Of course, James Burbage's son Richard Burbage was the actor who went on to create the roles of Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Shylock, Richard III and so on.

    If Elizabeth herself was no fan of actors and plays, it would seem that Leicester was, and from this one decision of hers to grant her lover a patent, the careers of so many playwrights and actors would grow.

    It was in The Theatre that Shakespeare may have first acted and written plays in London, around 1587.

    The Theatre in Shoreditch

    So, from Queen Elizabeth's love for Leicester was born The Theatre, and William Shakespeare.

    Simply put, without her we would not have Shakespeare.

    We should all be very thankful for Leicester and Elizabeth, in this regard.

    However, there are other things about her reign that are more troubling. 

    I think it would be in bad taste to enumerate her failures as a queen on the anniversary of her birth. 

    Suffice to say that Queen Elizabeth's England became something not unlike a police state, and her abuse of power, and the violence undermine her legacy.

    In my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice I explore the good and bad in this Elizabethan "Golden Age." 

    Taken together, my versions represent the portrait Shakespeare was painting of his life and times, and his Queen.

    In her final years Elizabeth was in the habit of burning old paintings of herself, in the attempt to erase her past.

    Had she had the chance, arguably she would have burned Shakespeare's plays, and destroyed any trace of them.

    Just as she burned the paintings to control how history remembered her, she probably did not want history to remember her the way that Shakespeare depicted her in his plays.

    Mark Rylance as Olivia

    During her lifetime, she enjoyed watching Shakespeare caricature her as Titania in Midsummer, as Olivia in Twelfth Night, and as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, for example.

    But she probably would not have wanted history to laugh at her.

    It is something of a miracle that the plays survived her, and we are able to read them today.

    Finally, despite her faults, we should be grateful that during her reign, she allowed a young man like William Shakespeare to rise from obscurity and play in the royal court, and become the greatest playwright in world history.

    The Armada Portrait

    I hope you join me in taking a moment today to remember this remarkable woman.


    David B. Schajer

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    Monday, September 17, 2012

    Henry V and Essex

    Henry V's birthday was not recorded but it is believed to be either August 9 or September 16, 1386.

    He is most famous for his success at the Battle of Agincourt.

    The real Henry V

    But he is even more famous due to the three Shakespeare plays in which he appears.

    Why did Shakespeare write these plays, and what was the meaning of the Henry V play?

    I'm sure Shakespeare couldn't wait to create the funny corpulent coward and all too human Falstaff -- who was a tremendously popular.

    But audiences couldn't get enough of the story arc of Henry, who transforms from a black sheep into a courageous soldier, earns his country one of its greatest battlefield glories, and goes on to become a strong king.

    It seems that audiences couldn't get enough of these gripping stories of their distant past into which they could escape for a few hours.

    According to James Shapiro, in his fascinating book A Year In The Life Of William Shakespeare - 1599, "Shakespeare was aware on some deep level, as their brothers, husbands, and sons were being shipped off to fight in Ireland, Elizabethans craved a play that reassuringly reminded them of their heroic, martial past. What better subject than the famous victories of Henry V?"

    So, the war in Ireland was the topic of the day, and Shakespeare was not just entertaining his audience.

    "In responding to his audience's mixed feelings, their sense that the war was both unavoidable and awful, Shakespeare fills the play with competing, critical voices: the backroom whispers of self-interested churchmen, the grumblings of low-life conscripts, the blunt criticism of worthy soldiers who knew that leaders make promises they have no intention of keeping, the confessions of so-called traitors, the growing cynicism of a young boy off to the wars, the infighting among officers, the bitter curses of a returning soldier."

    In conclusion, "all the debate about the war is the real story" of the play.

    So, if Shakespeare was trying to give voice to all sides of the matter, what do we make of Henry V himself. Who is he in all of this?

    Shapiro makes a very convincing case that Henry was meant to remind his audience of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.

    Essex -- Shakespeare's Henry V

    Essex was a war hero, especially distinguishing himself in the sacking of Cadiz. He was Queen Elizabeth's favorite courtier.

    He was a patron of Shakespeare's. He was very popular with the general public.

    The Henry in Shakespeare's play is not historically accurate. Henry was never a black sheep as Shakespeare makes him out to be. Essex was a black sheep, and he had just as many enemies as friends at court.

    Essex had aspirations to become king one day. His supporters claimed that he had as much right, if not more right, to be king than Elizabeth herself.

    These plays made Essex even more popular, as Shakespeare was trying to get his audience to rally around Essex, on the eve of his departure for Ireland.

    Shapiro points out that references to Ireland abound in the Henry V play, and Shakespeare is trying to inspire the crowd to think about how glorious Essex's victories in Ireland will be.

    Unfortunately, after having lobbied to be in command of the army, Essex faced his most terrible defeats and came home in shame.

    This would have terrible consequences in the not so distant future.

    Essex would go on to have an epic falling-out with the Queen, which ultimately led to his leading a failed rebellion against her in 1601, for which he was executed.

    I write about the Essex Rebellion in my version of Hamlet. It was the reason Shakespeare wrote the play in 1601.

    In researching my version of the play, I asked myself, if Shakespeare was writing about Essex in Henry V, was he doing it again with Hamlet?

    Is Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex actually Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?

    The answer is in my version of Hamlet.

    The answer, the true identity of Hamlet, will surprise you.


    David B. Schajer

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    James Shapiro at the Folger Shakespeare Library

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    Shakespeare's Father-In-Law

    Shakespeare's father-in-law, Richard Hathaway died in September 1581.

    Before Shakespeare later wrote his romantic comedies, and wrote of star-cross'd lovers, he was having some drama of his very own.

    He was in love with Anne Hathaway, whose father may have not wanted her to marry young William Shakespeare.

    Shakespeare was 17 years old. Anne was 26.

    Romeo and Juliet, by Ford Madox Brown

    As Germaine Greer has established in her excellent book, Shakespeare's Wife, it was an expensive proposition to get married in those days, and it was not uncommon for young men and women to wait well into their twenties before they got married, in order to establish a nest egg first.

    The real question is not why Shakespeare would marry a woman so much older, but why Anne would take a risk on such a young man.

    Painting by Roger Brian Dunn (2010) based on a drawing by Nathaniel Curzon (1708)

    The Hathaway and Shakespeare families would have known each other very well, and I am sure that Richard admired this young man, who even as a teenager must have exhibited some of the humor and ambition that made him famous in later years.

    I do not think that Richard opposed the match because Will was so much younger than his daughter, or because Will was not a fine young man.

    The Shakespeare family had fallen on hard times financially, and the Hathaways were a successful and well-respected family.

    Richard was probably concerned, like any father would, that a union with his daughter would bring hardship to his family.

    And it is fair to say that Anne was both attractive and smart, if Will was besotted with her. She probably had other suitors. Her father may have encouraged his daughter to marry someone more promising.

    In any event, with Richard's death, Anne was free to marry whom she chose.

    Anne Hathaway

    Once the choice was hers to make, it seems she didn't wait long in choosing her husband.

    She chose Will, and she wasted no time in getting pregnant with Shakespeare and getting married.

    Anne with William and their three children, Hamnet, Susanna and Judith

    We don't know much of anything about their life together, and the years that Shakespeare worked and lived in London, presumably not seeing his wife and family for long stretches of time.

    One might think that their marriage was not a happy one.

    But after the early drama of their courtship and eventual marriage, I like to think that they lived (mostly) happily ever after.


    David B. Schajer

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