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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Andrew Garfield and Shakespeare

Should Andrew Garfield do some Shakespeare?


From what I have seen, including his terrific performance as Spiderman (and I can't wait for the next one) he is a very impressive young actor, and I think he has a long and interesting career ahead of him. 

I watched The Social Network again. I don't care for the movie. Sorry. But Andrew's is the best performance in the film. Hands down.

I watched Never Let Me Go for the first time. I love all the actors, but I didn't care for the film. Sorry. Again, Andrew is just great in this.

Then I watched Red Riding. Really gripping. I was very impressed by Andrew's performance. There are some fantastic actors like David Morrissey, but Andrew's was the stand-out performance.

Those seem to be the only major roles he has had, unless I am missing something, and I am eager to see him try something like Shakespeare.

He has very good range as an actor, and he seems to have an adventurous spirit as far as his roles go, so it would be exciting to have him do some classics.

He played Romeo on stage in 2005, so it seems that he is not completely unfamiliar with the Bard.

I can easily see him as Hamlet, Richard II or III for that matter, and I think he would be great as the scheming Iago.

But I also think he could easily fit into the Elizabethan period.

I can easily imagine him as one of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, acting with Shakespeare on stage at the Theatre and later at the Globe. It would be exciting to see him with other great young actors performing Shakespeare's plays as they would have been seen for the very first time in history.

What do you think?

If you like the idea of Andrew in some Shakespeare, or some Shakespeare Solved, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


David B. Schajer

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Martin Luther's 95 Theses

495 years ago today, on 31 October 1517 -- Martin Luther wrote a letter which would become known as his Ninety-Five Theses -- and with that the Protestant Reformation was born.

Luther was a German monk and priest who thought that the sale of indulgences was corrupting the Catholic Church. 

The sale of indulgences was a way that the Church could monetize the process by which you could save your soul and free yourself from God's punishment.

Luther taught that salvation should be earned by good deeds, not through payments to the Church.

His Ninety-Five Theses argued against what he saw as abuses in the Catholic Church. It was said of his document, that what he was writing was not "doctrinaire." It was not a set of rules. Rather, it was "searching."

Martin Luther was searching for an answer.

This directly challenged the Pope's authority. Luther was soon excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Luther later translated the Bible from Latin into German, and this process led to the creation of English-language Bibles, which resulted in the King James Bible.

Of course, this Reformation soon spread to England and as we know, Henry VIII broke off from the Catholic Church.

What does this mean to Shakespeare?

I do not think that Shakespeare was ignorant of any of this. I think he thought seriously on these matters, especially the effects the Reformation was having on every last man and woman in England.

I think it is very difficult for us to appreciate how important the Reformation was in Shakespeare's day -- we are so far away from it. But for Shakespeare it was a daily matter, and a daily concern.

He had to keep and protect his reputation as a Protestant in order to survive and provide for his family. But he also must have known people, neighbors perhaps, who could not renounce the Catholic Church in their hearts and who suffered for it.

I do not think that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic, nor do I think he was anti-Catholic. I do think he had a dislike for the Pope and he hated Catholic Spain, who was England's great enemy at the time.

I think Shakespeare wanted the religious turmoil to stop. He wanted an end to the fear and the persecution. 

Since Elizabeth was Protestant, she was persecuting Catholics. But it is wrong to say that Shakespeare wanted the persecution against Catholics to stop, just because they were Catholic. 

If Shakespeare had been born before the Reformation, I think he would have been upset by the abuses of the Catholic Church, and might have spoken out against them.

Just as Martin Luther wrote about at the abuses of the Church, I think Shakespeare was writing about the abuses in England. Just as Martin Luther's Theses were "searching" for an answer, Shakespeare's plays were searching for a better path. 

I do think that Martin Luther inspired him. After all, Martin Luther was changing the world with a few words. Perhaps Shakespeare could change the world with a few plays.

On this day, I think Shakespeare would have stopped for a moment and thought to himself about all that had been accomplished, and all that remained to be done.

Also, I think that Shakespeare would have had to admit to himself that without Martin Luther, without the Reformation, without the religious turmoil in Elizabethan and Jacobean England -- Shakespeare may never have become a playwright.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Something Rotten in the State of Scotland

Was Mary, Queen of Scots guilty of murdering her husband?

Mary, Queen of Scots
Queen Elizabeth I thought she might be. To get to the bottom of the mystery, she had a commission of inquiry held in October 1568 to January 1569, in York, and later Westminster.

Mary first marriage ended in tragedy. She had been married to Francis, Dauphin of France. She was 15. He was 14.

The next year he was crowned King Francis II. He ruled for only 18 months, before he died of an inner ear infection. Some people believed he had been poisoned.

About five years later, she marries Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. They were first cousins -- both grandchildren of Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

Queen Elizabeth I was upset because she had not given her blessing or permission and since both Mary and Darnley were claimants to the throne of England, and any children they had would have had an even stronger claim.

Darnley was not satisfied just to be the husband of the Queen, a king consort. He wanted more power, and especially wanted the right to have the throne for himself if Mary should die pre-decease him.

He was especially unhappy with Mary's secretary, David Rizzio -- and suspected that the child that Mary now carried might have been conceived by Rizzio. Darnley also might have suspected another man as the real father of the baby -- James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell.

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

Soon after, Darnley and his men murdered Rizzio at a dinner party in Holyrood Palace -- in front of Mary -- while she was pregnant!

Murder of Rizzio

Not long after, Mary gave birth to James -- who would of course later be crowned king.

Not long after that, Darnley fell ill -- it might have been smallpox, or syphilis -- or it may have been poison.

Mary urged him to recover at the former abbey of Kirk o'Field.

One night, there was an explosion which devastated Darnley's quarters -- they found his dead body in a garden.

Kirk o'Field -- the murder scene

Almost immediately the Earl of Bothwell was suspected of murdering Darnley.

Within four months, Mary married Bothwell.

Now both of them were suspects.

Their marriage was very unpopular, and it led to an armed conflict. Mary and Bothwell were torn apart and she ended up locked away.

While imprisoned she miscarried twin children she was carrying. These are the siblings that James would never know.

Bothwell was exiled, and imprisoned in Denmark. He went crazy and died several years later.

Mary soon escaped her prison and raised an army of 6000 men, but she was defeated and imprisoned again.

At this point, Queen Elizabeth wanted to determine her role in the death of Darnley.

The commission was held, starting in October 1568.

444 years ago this month.

As far as Shakespeare was concerned, I think he would have known all of this, every last detail and every single rumor.

I think stories like this would have been told everywhere, especially in London, and definitely when Elizabeth died and James arrived from Scotland to be crowned king.

Londoners would have wanted to know everything about the man, his family and all the sordid details.

Was Shakespeare referring to Darnley and Bothwell and Mary when he was writing about King Hamlet, and Claudius and Gertrude? Is James the inspiration for Hamlet?

In my version of Hamlet, I explore these questions, and my answers will surprise you.


Monday, October 29, 2012

A Guide to Macbeth

I am very excited to present to you a guest post from my friend S.A. Markham at What's It All About, Shakespeare?

After you read this post, do yourself a favor and read A Guide to Macbeth and An Introduction to the Bard of Avon -- they are great guides that help explain Shakespeare.

Why is Macbeth Shakespeare’s Most Popular Play?

‘Popular’ can, of course, mean many things. To say Macbeth is Shakespeare’s most popular play could mean that it is the best loved or the most well-known. Both of these assertions might be true, but it’s difficult to prove, unless we survey every person on the planet. 

However, by ‘most popular’ what I mean is that Macbeth is the most frequently performed of Shakespeare’s plays. This is not only a more measurable indicator of popularity, but also suggests that Macbeth still has top-notch box office draw!

Why Does the Tale of a 11th Century King Still Fascinate?

We tend to think of Macbeth is a four-hundred-year-old play, but let’s not forget that the actual subject matter of Shakespeare’s masterpiece is older still. So, what can possibly be relevant to modern life about this king murderer from the High Middle Ages?

Well, there are two reasons. First, Shakespeare didn’t exactly ‘stick to the script’ when writing Macbeth. In other words, Shakespeare’s version of the Scottish king is much more sensational than the actual events of his life. Second, there are some things that, quite simply, never go out of fashion.

 The Timeless Themes of Macbeth

One of Shakespeare’s greatest gifts was that he had a knack for focusing his plays on subjects that were always, and will always be, part of the human condition. Yes, some of his plays address matters of politics, but because creative works were subject to strict censorship (and by ‘strict censorship’, I mean writers could get their heads chopped off), contemporary and potentially inflammatory facets had to be dealt with subtly and in passing. 

Subsequently, the driving thrust of almost all of Shakespeare’s plays is the universal matters of the head and heart. For example, here are just a few of the timeless themes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

Divine right to rule
Self-fulfilling prophecy

Each and every one is still just as relevant today as it was when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth…and just as relevant as when the real Macbeth was on the Scottish throne. We are just as fascinated by these topics as we have always been. And the mysteries of them are no closer to being solved.

Why is Macbeth so Popular with Theatre Companies and Audiences?

A production of Macbeth is staged somewhere in the world ever four hours. Chances are a Macbeth is being performed at this very moment. If it isn’t, wait a couple of hours and you’re sure to catch one. This makes it, by far and away, the most frequently performed play by anyone in the world…ever.

So, why? What is it that is so very special about Macbeth?

Well, partly it is simply because it’s Shakespeare, who is, by a long margin, the most popular playwright the world has ever known. But why Macbeth rather than Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet or King Lear? I suspect there are a number of reasons. From a theatre company’s point of view, there are practical reasons to favour Macbeth: it’s Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy; there are fewer lines to line; a relatively small cast is required.

However, there is clearly more to it than that, because companies wouldn’t keep putting it on if it wasn’t filling auditoriums. So, as well as the timeless attractions that I mentioned above, I think the appeal of Macbeth has to do with a few other things, including: fear - most people love a good horror; catharsis in the fall of a very human, but deeply flawed character; and a morbid propensity that exists in all of us for a good ol’ dose of blood ‘n’ guts. 

All wrapped up together, this seems to make for a pretty irresistible package. 

If you’d like to learn more about Macbeth: the characters, themes and appeal of the play, take a look at What’s It All About, Shakespeare? A Guide to Macbeth. You can also find lots more about Shakespeare at What’s It All About, Shakespeare?

-- S. A. Markham

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Miracle of William Shakespeare's Birth

80,000 people died in England between June and October in 1563 from the plague.

20,000 people died in London. It is estimated that this was between a quarter to a third of the entire population of London.

Imagine that. Imagine if you lived in London in 1563. One out of every third or fourth person you know catches the plague and dies.

Queen Elizabeth moved her court to Windsor Castle, and anyone who travelled from London could be sentenced to death by hanging, she was so frightened of the disease.

Shakespeare's parents, John and Mary, must have been terrified, especially since his mother was pregnant with Shakespeare at the time.

They had two daughters, Joan and Margaret. But Joan died soon after her birth. Margaret died within months of her birth -- she was buried 30 April, 1563.

So, John and Mary's hopes and prayers must have been focused on this new child, William.

We can almost imagine the hope of the new child versus the very real fear that she might not even carry the baby to term.

Did they even have a name picked out already, or did they want to wait until the child was in fact born?

If the plague in 1563 was not bad enough, there was yet another outbreak in 1564 -- while Mary Shakespeare was still pregnant with William.

This plague seems to have hit Stratford rather hard, and hundreds of people died. It is estimated that one out of every seven people in Stratford died.

But John and Mary's prayers were answered at last when William was born in April.

His birth must have been something of a miracle to his parents, and every day that he survived and thrived and grew up must have been a blessing.

But his birth must have also been bittersweet -- he was born almost exactly one year to the day that his sister Margaret had died the year prior.

This was the world in which Shakespeare was born.

A depiction of Shakespeare at age 12

It would not be the first time that the plague would threaten his life. There would be other outbreaks.

The Elizabethans thought that the plague was transmitted in the air, and as such the authorities would close the theatres when there was an outbreak, fearful that crowds would be a perfect breeding ground for this Black Death.

It is very hard for us to in our day and age to appreciate the fear and danger that the plague meant to Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

For Shakespeare himself, it was a fear that would lurk in his mind each and every waking day. Since the Elizabethans thought that the disease was transmitted in the air, it was a fear that would haunt Shakespeare with every breath he took.

I think it is helpful to keep this in mind when thinking about Shakespeare. I think it goes a long way towards explaining why he was so successful as a playwright -- he didn't know whether he would survive from one day to the next.

Every day that he could write, words with such urgency and vitality, was one more day in which he conquered his fears and defeated death.


David B. Schajer

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Henry Cavill and Shakespeare

Should Henry Cavill do some Shakespeare?

I certainly think so.

While we have never seen him in any Shakespeare before, he is not unaccustomed to wearing period costumes, such as The Tudors.

I thought he was quite good in the series, and I thought he was very good in The Immortals. I even remember him in The Count of Monte Cristo.

He was excellent in the new Superman: Man of Steel, and it was exciting to see him him as the greatest superhero of them all.

As I have written earlier, Shakespeare's actors were the most popular players of his day, and in our day and age, it would be exciting to have an actor like Henry Cavill on the screen in some new Shakespeare for our new age.

I can imagine him in several roles, like Hamlet, Macbeth, and Henry V. I would love to see him play a villain, like Iago.

For the sake of my versions of Hamlet, Richard III, and The Merchant of Venice -- which set the plays in their original historical context, and show how the plays would have been performed for the first time in history, in Elizabethan London -- I could see him as one of the historical figures of the Elizabethan era.

He would be fantastic as Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, for example. Essex was dashing, heroic but he came to a terrible end, as he led a failed rebellion against Queen Elizabeth.

He was also Shakespeare's friend and patron. After the Rebellion, and after Essex's execution, Shakespeare wrote his Hamlet play to remember and celebrate his dear friend.

I would love to see that relationship on screen, and I think Henry Cavill would be fantastic as the man who inspired Hamlet.

What do you think?

If you agree with me that he should do some Shakespeare, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


David B. Schajer

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Queen Elizabeth I -- Smallpox, Essex and Hamlet

Queen Elizabeth I caught smallpox in October 1562 -- less than two years before Shakespeare was born -- during one of the worst outbreaks in England. She was only 29 years old.

young Elizabeth

She was not alone. Ludwig van Beethoven, Joseph Stalin, and George Washington are among some of the notable historical figures to have suffered from the disease.

The Queen would have had a high fever, and she would have suffered from vomiting, excessive bleeding, and scabs.

Her doctors thought she would die. This created a great crisis as far as who would succeed her, since she was not married and had no children.

The Parliament was in turmoil.

Elizabeth wanted her "favourite" Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester to be the Lord Protector of England should she in fact die.

He was an unpopular choice within the court, and her Privy councillors, and with many in the public. They did not want him as Lord Protector nor as a king consort.

One of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting was Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney -- who was Robert Dudley's sister. She was also the mother of Philip Sidney, the famed courtier poet.

Mary Dudley also contracted smallpox at the same time.

The Queen would survive the smallpox, of course. But her face was scarred and she lost her hair.

She would live her life wearing thick make-up, made from white lead and egg whites, and she would have to wear wigs.

older Elizabeth

Mary Dudley also survived, but she was ravaged by the disease, and her beauty was disfigured.

The Parliament asked her to consider marriage, to secure a successor to the throne. She stalled them, for the rest of her life.

In the years that followed, Parliament meet to discuss her succession and marriage, and she fought back, and in one case she imprisoned one politician, Peter Wentworth, in the Tower of London for not remaining quiet.

The question of succession would continue until her death in 1603, and it was a question that was on everyone's mind, especially in the 1590's -- a period when Shakespeare went from being the least known to the most known playwright in London.

Shakespeare would only ever have known the Queen in her later years. If we assume that he saw in her in person for the first time in 1593, she would have been 60 years old.

He would have been familiar with all of the stories -- from the true stories to the questionable gossip -- of her life, and her family, and her court.

He would have had a front row seat to the last days of her life, and he would have seen her beauty and power fade. He would have been familiar with the tradition that as the Queen grew older, her courtiers would praise her beauty even more.

But there was perhaps only one man, besides her doctors, who ever saw the Queen without her make-up and her head bald -- Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. 

After Robert Dudley died, Essex became the Queen's "favourite" and during one of their spats, Essex upset the Queen by entering her bed-chamber before she had been properly made up. This was in 1699, when she was 66 years old.

This event would go a long way towards explaining why the Queen was so upset with him over the next two years, and why he would go to the drastic lengths that he did, when he led a Rebellion against Elizabeth in 1601.

As I did research for my version of Hamlet, and discovered that the play was written in response to the Essex Rebellion, I came back to one line in the play that seemed odd and out of place.

Hamlet holds Yorick's skull and says: "Now get you to my lady's chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that."

I take this to mean "tell your lady that no matter how much make-up she puts on her face, she will one day look like a skull. Let's see if she finds it funny."

It begs the question -- what was Essex's reaction, upon seeing the Queen's body naked and ravaged by the effects of smallpox?

Did he laugh? What if he laughed nervously?

Even if he didn't laugh, he must have been surprised and uncomfortable at the condition she was in, especially when he was used to seeing her in her dresses and make-up and wigs.

I can think of few things that would have shaken the Queen to her core and infuriated her more than having been seen in her natural state by a man she admired more than any other -- and have him laugh, nervous or not.

Did Shakespeare really write this line in reference to this real historical event? What other meaning could it have?

What do you think?


David B. Schajer


Friday, October 19, 2012

F. Murray Abraham and the Shakespeare Theatre Company

F. Murray Abraham is best known for his Oscar-winning role in Amadeus -- which is one of my all-time favorite films.

And in case you have not seen the full Director's Cut version, do yourself a favor and watch it.

But he has had a lifelong passion for Shakespeare. Most recently he performed Shylock in The Merchant of Venice to great acclaim.

I can't help but think that he should have played Shylock rather than Al Pacino in the film version.

I had the privilege of meeting him this week in Washington D.C. at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Annual Gala, where he was honored.

I can't remember the last time I wore a tuxedo, so that was fun!

When he received the award, he was very touched and humbled by the honor.

He treated us to the great Shylock speech "Hath not a Jew eyes?" and it was heart-stoppingly powerful.

He said something I wanted to share with you. He said that one of the reasons he loves performing on stage is because of the audience -- he loves the energy the audience creates and he can give that energy back. Without the audience he cannot perform.

I can really appreciate that. As I have written before, the key to solving Shakespeare, in my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, is to interpret the plays from the point of view of the audience -- Shakespeare's audience.



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Carey Mulligan and Shakespeare

Should Carey Mulligan do some Shakespeare?

Of course.

The real question is why has she not done it already.

It's not hard to imagine her as Juliet, Ophelia, Portia and Desdemona.

But I would love to see her as Lady Macbeth. I have a feeling that Carey would be magnificent in this darker role.

Carey has terrific range as an actress and I think she will surprise us over the years as she continues to challenge herself.

I found a small article about how her dream was to be a stage actress rather than a film actress, and she is very eager to perform Juliet before too long.

I would encourage her to do it, no matter what, and as soon as possible.

Of course, I would love her to do some Shakespeare on screen, when and if the opportunity presented itself.

But she would also be great in some solved Shakespeare, too.

I could easily see her as Anne Hathaway, William Shakespeare's wife. There was one woman who inspired Shakespeare more than any other, and it was Anne.

I could also easily see her as King James's wife, whose name was also Anne. In my forthcoming version of Othello, we get to meet Queen Anne -- and she is one of the most fascinating characters in the life of Shakespeare. She also finds her way into his plays quite often, including Othello.


David B. Schajer

UPDATE: I saw her in Gatsby recently and she was wonderful. I think it's almost impossible to play Daisy on screen, making her sympathetic, but Carey was great. And there was a lot of chemistry between her and Leonardo DiCaprio.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Philip Sidney and Shakespeare

427 years ago, on 17 October 1586, Philip Sidney died.

Only 31 years old, he was the greatest courtier poet of the day.

He died from a wound he suffered at the Battle of Zutphen, in the Netherlands, where he was fighting in the service of Queen Elizabeth.

Battle of Zutphen

His death was a great loss, since he was commonly considered to be the noblest of Englishmen, and finest of courtiers.

But his life was not without its share of controversies.

In 1578, Sidney opposed the marriage proposal of the 24 year old French Duke of Anjou to Queen Elizabeth, who was 46 years old. Sidney quarreled with Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who approved of the match.

It seems that Oxford was so angry that he called Sidney a "puppy."

Sidney replied that "all the world knows that puppies are gotten by dogs, and children by men."

Strong words!

Their argument almost became a duel, and the Queen had to intervene. She was displeased with Sidney.

Sidney also displeased the Queen in 1583 when he married Frances Walsingham, the 16 year old daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen's spymaster.

Frances Walsingham

I think that Sidney and Frances were truly in love (they had 5 children after all) and the Queen probably wanted him to have a marriage which she could arrange.

By the time Sidney died, Shakespeare was either in London already, or well on his way.

Sidney's death would have been an important moment in Shakespeare's early life. Without a doubt, Shakespeare would have eagerly read Sidney's poetry.

I think that Shakespeare would have aspired to become the kind of man that Sidney was, as a writer and as a courtier to the Queen.

It is very unlikely that Shakespeare ever met Sidney in person, since Shakespeare did not begin his career in London until around 1587-8. However, he could have heard about him in great detail from Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Essex would have known Sidney as early as 1584 when Essex entered Queen Elizabeth's court for the first time. Also, Essex was in command of the cavalry at the Battle of Zutphen, where Sidney served and died because of the wound he suffered there.

Memorial for Sidney at the location where he was fatally shot

Around 1593, Essex would become Shakespeare's artistic patron and friend, and there is every reason to believe that Shakespeare would have asked him about Sidney.

Shakespeare, like any good playwright at the time, would have read everything that Sidney wrote, and he would use his life and work as inspiration for his own.

In Shakespeare's King Lear, he borrowed from Sidney, for his subplot about Gloucester.

It is likely that Shakespeare was thinking of Sidney and his wife Frances, and her father Francis Walsingham, when he wrote of Hamlet and Ophelia, and her father Polonius.

We don't know if Francis tried to get his daughter to spy on her husband, and report those findings to the Queen -- but it would not be hard to believe it.

Also, I think Shakespeare would have had mixed feelings about Sidney, because Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester was Sidney's uncle.

From what I have studied, Shakespeare both feared and admired Leicester.

He would have admired him for having held the first patent for an acting company, and launching the careers of men like Will Kemp, who would later act with Shakespeare.

But Leicester, who had been suspected of killing the husband of the woman he would later marry, was one of the inspirations for the character of Claudius in Hamlet.

I think that Shakespeare, at the start of his incredible career, was cautiously optimistic that one day he could write and perform for the Queen, and perhaps fill the void that was left by Sidney.


David B. Schajer

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Trial of Mary Queen of Scots

On 14 October, 1586 the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots began.

She had been a queen of Scotland. Many Catholics considered Queen Elizabeth's reign to be illegitimate and that Mary was the true and rightful heir to the throne.

She was on trial for her part in the Babington Plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.

The trial only lasted two days. The evidence against her was damning.

But it would be weeks and months before she was finally punished, and was executed.

The trial and execution was in Fotheringhay Castle, which was destroyed by Mary's grandson Charles I in 1627.

Shakespeare would have been 22 at the time, and in London already or well on his way to the city.

The trial and subsequent execution of Mary would have been a very frightening time for people in England, whether you were Catholic or Protestant.

There had been violence against Catholics and Protestants before, but to have the Queen execute her (second) cousin was something entirely different.

Whatever feelings people had of her, by August of 1588 and the victory over the Spanish Armada, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Elizabeth was all-powerful.

In my versions of Hamlet and Richard III I show what it must have been like for Shakespeare to arrive in a London that feared and loved their Queen in equal measure.



Friday, October 12, 2012

Henry VIII and Shakespeare

I think that Shakespeare, like many Elizabethans, was very aware of the history of England, and keen to understand the history that was being made around him, in his lifetime.

There were so many tumultuous events in Shakespeare's England that he must have thought it very important to capture as much of it as possible, and write much of it into his plays.

Henry VIII -- Fidei Defensor

On 11 October 1521, Pope Leo X granted the title of Fidei Defensor or "Defender of the Faith" to King Henry VIII.

Henry had defended the supremacy of the Pope against the rising tide of the Protestant Reformation, which had only just begun with Martin Luther in 1517.

Nine short years later, Henry would reverse course, break with Rome, and the English Reformation would begin. This title would be revoked and he would be excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

I doubt Shakespeare would be unaware of this day. The effects of the English Reformation, which tore the country apart and led to bloodshed and persecution, had a direct impact upon Shakespeare's parents, and Shakespeare himself -- born in 1564.

I don't think he would have become the writer we know today, had it not been for these events.

On 12 October 1549, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and later 1st Duke of Northumberland became Premier and soon after he became the Lord President of the Council -- the de facto ruler of England, while King Edward VI was still a child.

John Dudley

The importance of this event is that John Dudley's rival at court was Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton. Dudley was victorious, and purged Wriothesley and his supporters from the court.

What is the relevance to Shakespeare?

John Dudley's son was Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester -- later the Queen's "favourite" and the greatest love of her life.

Wriothesley's grandson was Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton -- Shakespeare's most important patron and friend.

The point is that the rivalry between Leicester and Southampton had deep roots, and on this day in 1549 much of that rivalry was born.

Shakespeare himself would have been allied with Southampton against Leicester and Shakespeare would have done everything he could to support Southampton -- writing Romeo and Juliet in his honor -- and damage Leicester -- Claudius poisoning Hamlet's father was a reference to the rumor that Leicester poisoned Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex in order to marry his wife, Lettice.

Walter and Lettice's son -- oddly named Robert -- was conceived around the same time that Leicester and Lettice were believed to have had an affair.

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, has often been a candidate for having inspired the character of Hamlet.

I think the proof of this is irrefutable, but it is only part of the identity of Hamlet.

In my version of Hamlet, I reveal the true identity of Hamlet -- and why Shakespeare wrote the play in the first place.



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Daniel Craig and Shakespeare

Should Daniel Craig do some Shakespeare?

Of course!

After all, he's already conquered one of the greatest roles in history -- James Bond -- so Shakespeare shouldn't be too hard, right?

If you disagree with me, then you're also disagreeing with producer/director Sam Mendes -- who said that there are strong similarities between Shakespeare and Bond.

Sam Mendes should know, since he directed the new Bond film Skyfall, and he is the producer behind the Hollow Crown series.

I even found this funny story that Daniel Craig is scared of doing Shakespeare, and theatre in general, because there are too many lines! Haha!

I happen to think that Daniel is the greatest of the Bonds, despite my fondness for Connery, Moore, Lazenby and even Dalton.

I think Mr. Craig is a very fine actor, who all too often doesn't get to show his talent.

Perhaps the real reason he doesn't want to do Shakespeare is because he hasn't found the right kind of Shakespeare to do.

So, perhaps some Shakespeare Solved would be the answer.

In my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice I thought he would be great as one of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, on stage with William Shakespeare himself, in various roles Like Buckingham in Richard III, for example.

Or, he would be great as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Queen Elizabeth's "favourite." It would not be a role in a Shakespeare play, but it would be fascinating to see him in the Elizabethan world.

What do you think?

If you want him to do some Shakespeare, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


David B. Schajer

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