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, November 30, 2012

Anne and William Shakespeare's Wedding

Happy Anniversary William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway!

They received their bond of marriage on 28 November 1582 -- 430 years ago.

Most of what I have read about their wedding focuses on the fact that he was 18 years old and she was 26, and whether or not it was a marriage of love or not.

I think they did love each other, and they had as happy a marriage as was possible in those days. I'm not going to argue that case now.

But I have often wondered what the wedding would have looked like.

Germaine Greer, in her wonderful book Shakespeare's Wife, has given us a wonderful word-picture of that special day in their lives:

October and November were the most popular months of the year for weddings, and it would have been a day-long event -- not just for friends and family, but for the entire community.

William might have been woken up with the sound of music, played by his gallants, and other musicians -- playing the pipe and the tabor drum for example.

These gallants, attendant knights, would help him dress in new clothes and escort him to the church -- all the while drawing a crowd, whose excitement would only grow as the crowd got larger.

At the same time, Anne's bridesmaids and other village girls would form a procession and walk to her house, singing as they went, and wake her up with the sound of their singing.

The bridesmaids would help her dress into a new gown, which may have not been white, as other colors such as russet were common.

They would arrange her hair, which could be worn spread on her shoulders for the very last time, since as a married woman she would be expected to put it up and cover it with a kerchief.

They would escort Anne to the church, and perhaps cover the ground with flower petals for her to walk over.

The bridesmaids would wear garlands and have made Anne a special one, made of lilies and roses, bound with a silk ribbon.

A crowd would be large as she entered the church. It was a celebration for the community as well, and instead of bringing the newlyweds gifts, they would bring them flowers and herbs.

In fact, it was customary that the guests were given gifts, such as twopenny gloves.

It must have been a lovely sight, and I can just imagine what how excited William and Anne must have been when he said "I take thee Anne to be my wife" and she said "I take thee William to be my husband".

Germaine Greer suggests that they might have spoken these words before the wedding day -- the exchange of vows could have happened earlier, witnessed or not, and forever binding them together, and making them ineligible for a match with any other party.

I like to think that they did exchange vows before the wedding and since Shakespeare would go on to write some of the greatest lines in the English language, it is not hard to imagine that he not only wooed her with poetry but that their exchange was scripted by him.

What if Sonnet 145 was written for the wedding?

I find it very hard to believe that he would not have written something to celebrate their union.

Of all that he has written (which has survived) this would seem the most likely thing he wrote for his wedding day.

Did he speak it aloud, in the church, or afterwards to the gathered guests and neighbors during the -- hopefully loud, raucous and delightful -- wedding feast?

Perhaps he wasn't quite the actor and showman yet, and preferred to share it with her privately -- that night perhaps, in the privacy of their bedroom.

I think there is so much we don't know about their marriage, and it is due to a lack of documentation -- letters and so forth -- but it is also due to a lack of imagination.

I like to imagine that they were courting for months and months before they got married.

For example, since they would give twopenny gloves to their guests, and since Shakespeare's father was a glovemaker, and William himself was believed to have been apprenticed to his father -- then I think that William was making gloves for weeks if not months before his own wedding.

I also think that if he was making them, and Anne was to be his wife, and would join their household, and perhaps would want to gain knowledge of her father-in-law's trade -- then it is likely that she would have joined William in his father's shop to help make the gloves.

I like to imagine the two of them, working together, side by side, for weeks on end -- making glove after glove -- in love, and falling more in love with every glove they made.


David B. Schajer

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Happy Birthday John Heminges!

John Heminges, one of Shakespeare's oldest friends in the theatre, was born 25 November 1556.

Was Heminges the world's first Polonius?
Heminges, it would seem, knew Shakespeare from the very start. Heminges -- with Augustine Philips and Henry Condell -- belonged to Lord Strange's Men, which many believe was the first company which employed Shakespeare.

It is fun to think of what Shakespeare was like as he "auditioned" for the company, and how the other more seasoned actors, like Heminges, reacted to the young upstart.

I like to imagine that they got along famously from the very beginning, because Shakespeare truly belonged to the theatre.

This would be the late 1580's to early 1590's, when Shakespeare was just starting out -- writing in his early, and quite popular plays -- and acting in them.

From about 1594, Heminges, Philips, Condell and Shakespeare would go on to join the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

In 1603 Queen Elizabeth died, King James took the throne -- and the Lord Chamberlain's Men became the King's Men.

Shakespeare left the King's Men around 1612-1613 and died in 1616. In his lifetime, he never took any interest in publishing his own plays. While he lived, he only ever published his epic poems Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece.

In the period after Shakespeare died, Heminges -- together with Henry Condell -- edited Shakespeare's plays and published them in the First Folio in 1623.

Without this book, without their work, we would hardly know Shakespeare.

We don't know which roles Heminges performed in Shakespeare's plays. There is a suggestion that he played Falstaff, but I think it was Will Kemp who performed that role. From what I have read, it seems that Heminges was a "tragedian."

For my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice I had to decide which roles he would have performed. It was not easy to figure out, who played what role.

Richard Burbage was the star. He created the roles of Hamlet, Richard III, Shylock etc. Will Kemp was the funny man. But what was Heminges's purpose -- how did he fit in?

Richard Burbage

I think he was the straight man. I think he was the actor who played the stiff and uptight men -- but he knowingly played them for laughs.

For Merchant, I was confident that he played Antonio. As I have written before, this is a terrifically funny play, and Heminges as Antonio has some of the funniest gags.

Jeremy Irons as Antonio and Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice film (2004)
For Richard III, I think he played more than one part -- and I think it is most likely that he played Brakenbury, Buckingham and the Second Citizen. I contend that Shakespeare re-wrote much of the play to make it funnier and edgier, and a lot of Heminges's dialogue in these roles serves to make that newer and fresher Richard III work.

For Hamlet, I think he was Polonius -- the stiffest of stiffs. But he also serves as the target of so many of Hamlet's jokes and insults. This is a critical role, with a great deal of nuance. I think Shakespeare turned to Heminges, arguably the most experienced actor he had in his arsenal, to pull it off.

Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius with David Tennant as Hamlet, in 2009

If he did in fact perform these roles, then it was an indication that the real John Heminges was a very versatile actor, and I discovered that his roles have some of the most humorous bits. He must have been a terribly funny man, who could insert humor into any role, even the most dramatic.

I like to think that Shakespeare and his fellow actors Richard Burbage, Augustine Philips, Henry Condell and most certainly John Heminges, were the very best of friends -- a band of brothers who fought on the stages in London to bring light to a very dark time.

Finally, without John Heminges we would not have Shakespeare's plays today, and for that he deserves our eternal gratitude.


David B. Schajer

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Monday, November 26, 2012

King James, Anne of Denmark and Macbeth

King James married Anne of Denmark on 23 November, 1589.

He was 23 and, despite his interest in men rather than women, he needed to start thinking about heirs. A match was made with Anne, who was 14 at the time.

There was a proxy marriage in Copenhagen, and when Anne sailed to Scotland there was a terrible storm and she had to land in Norway.

In what was called "the one romantic episode of his life" the King sailed to Norway to bring her safely home to Scotland. His trip also met with heavy storms.

The couple was married and during this time, with visits to Elsinore (!) and Copenhagen, James learned more about the witch-mania that was sweeping through Denmark, and other countries.

James had a fascination with witchcraft, and considered it a branch of theology.

On their way back to Scotland, there was yet another terrible storm which almost wrecked the ship.

To an already superstitious James, these three uncharacteristically stormy sailings were an omen.

Not long after they settled in Scotland, there were accusations of witchcraft in North Berwick, on the coast of Scotland -- only 37 kilometers, or 23 miles from Edinburgh.

From what it sounds like, James did not just attend the trials, he was in charge of them -- and he personally supervised the brutal torture of the accused women, and their executions.

He was convinced, and the testimony of the witches confirmed in his mind, that the witches had met with the Devil and had caused the storms to occur, in order to prevent the married couple from arriving back in Scotland.

Why would they target James? Because, as the witches told him, Satan considered James to be his personal foe.

James would write a book in 1597, Daemonologie regarding witchcraft. The one and only punishment for accused witches, he believed, was death.

These events would have a lasting and terrible legacy, not only in Scotland, but also when James was crowned King in England, a renewed enforcement against accused witches came with him. The Lancashire Witches trial in 1612, is one example of a case that might have not occurred had it not been for James.

The Salem witch trials in the American colonies in 1692 were the most famous of a series of trials that are directly descended from James.

It has been said that Shakespeare's Macbeth was written to flatter and entertain his patron, King James, because of his interest in witches.

It is fascinating to think that if James had never gone to fetch his bride, we may never have had the witchcraft trials (and the subsequent deaths) but we may never have had the gift that is Shakespeare's Macbeth.


David B. Schajer

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Friday, November 23, 2012

James Bond 007 Skyfall and William Shakespeare

Shakespeare. William Shakespeare.

Is it just me or is there a little Shakespeare in the new James Bond Skyfall movie?

I love Daniel Craig as Bond -- there is more emotional depth and dramatic complexity than in the previous Bond films.

But this new one goes even deeper, and is arguably the best of the three -- which is hard to believe since Casino Royale was so perfect.

The film's director Sam Mendes recently produced the excellent Hollow Crown series of Shakespeare adaptations, so it should come as no surprise that some Shakespeare might find its way into this Bond film. And I'm not just talking about the introduction of Ben Whishaw as the new Q -- who of course was Richard II in the Hollow Crown series, and was Ariel in Julie Taymor's Tempest.

Sam Mendes & Daniel Craig

Also, the Skyfall screenplay was co-written by John Logan, who recently adapted Coriolanus, with Ralph Fiennes -- who makes quite an entrance in this new Bond film. It seems that Fiennes has had a lifelong obsession with both Bond and Shakespeare.

Sam Mendes has even said that there are "strong similarities" between the Bard and the Bond. I'm not sure I agree with that, but I think it is likely that he would want to inject some Shakespearea into the film, and I definitely applaud that.

So with all of these people, all of whom have strong Shakespeare backgrounds, what if anything is there in the film that is Shakespearean?

Is it just me or is the always excellent Judi Dench -- no stranger to Shakespeare herself -- meant to be something of a King Lear character?

It occurred to me that she might be a Lear, as she is out on the Scottish moors in Skyfall -- which is reminiscent of Lear's wandering on the heath.

She seems to have a king-like power as the head of MI6. In the film there is the topic of her possible retirement, or forced retirement, which is not dissimilar to Lear's retirement as King. Her M seems to be losing control of the forces around her, and she is eventually stripped of all of her agents and is removed from the agency itself, with only Bond to protect her -- again not unlike Lear when he loses his guards.

But when I try to think of James Bond and Silva, the brilliant Javier Bardem, as Lear's children then my theory starts to fall apart.

But what about Bond and Silva as Edgar and Edmund? Ah, that actually makes a certain sense.

So if we accept that Judi Dench's M is a Lear/Gloucester character, then there seems to be a certain logic to it.

Gloucester has two sons, the legitimate and good Edgar and the illegitimate and evil Edmund. I love Harold Bloom's description of Edmund as a "strategist of evil" and as the greatest nihilist, worse even than Iago from Othello. The same can be said of Javier Bardem's Silva, who has endless evil strategies and wants nothing more than to burn everything down.

Edgar emerges victorious at the end of the play, but at a terrible cost. Bond of courses emerges victorious from Skyfall but there has been an unprecedented level of destruction for a Bond film -- on the personal level for James himself. The slate is wiped clean, as it were, and the film sets up an entirely new series of films.

And the funny thing is that William Shakespeare himself, 400-something years ago, was no stranger to spies and spy craft.

He lived in a time where spies were common and the royal spy network, controlled by Queen Elizabeth's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, was very effective. Just about every plot against the Queen was infiltrated by spies and informants -- and therefore were foiled before the Queen was ever really in danger.

From what I have read, people informed on each other, neighbor against neighbor in England, and especially in London. It sounds more than a little like the Stasi network in the former East Germany.

Shakespeare was familiar with and in fact was friends with people who conspired against the Queen -- the Earl of Essex and the Essex Rebellion for example -- and while I would not say that Shakespeare was ever an anti-monarchist, he certainly knew that there were plots all around him.

He had lived his whole life with the knowledge that the Queen was in peril from her own subjects -- especially after the Pope excommunicated her and called upon Catholics to kill her by any means necessary -- in 1570, when Shakespeare was 6 years old.

One of Shakespeare's greatest friends (and rivals) was playwright Christopher Marlowe, who was believed to have been a spy, and perhaps even a double-agent, working for and against the Queen. Marlowe is believed to have been killed by government agents.

When I watched Javier Bardem as Silva, a former agent for MI6 who has now become the greatest threat to MI6, I thought of Marlowe.

Harold Bloom, in his masterful Shakespeare: Invention of the Human, writes that Lear's "Edmund is a representation of Christopher Marlowe." Aha!

Therefore Marlowe = Edmund = Silva.

I know that I might just be imagining things, some kind of occupational hazard in writing and thinking about Shakespeare all the time perhaps. But even though I wear Shakespeare-colored glasses, I think there is something to this theory.

What do you think?


David B. Schajer

If you like this, you may like these other blog posts about Dame Judi Dench & Daniel Craig:

Dame Judi Dench and Listening to Shakespeare

Dame Judi Dench and Shakespeare Solved

Shakespeare In Love, Part Two?

Daniel Craig and Shakespeare

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hugh Jackman and Shakespeare

Should Hugh Jackman do Shakespeare?

I have found only some hints online that he has an aspiration to do some Bard.

He is such a versatile actor, doing action, drama and comedy -- and he loves to perform on stage.

I really enjoy him in the X Men films, and as Wolverine, but my favorite performances are in Kate and Leopold and The Prestige and The Fountain. I can't wait to see him in Les Miserables, and I think the role is perfect for him. I enjoy it when he challenges himself to do something that defies the predictions of audiences. I think he would surprise everyone if he did some Shakespeare, and he would more than rise to the occasion.

In my versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, I recreate the plays as they would have been seen for the very first time -- their world premieres -- and performed by the original actors, including Shakespeare himself.

I think he would be perfect as one of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, working on stage with Shakespeare and the other actors, like Richard Burbage and Henry Condell.

If you have been reading this blog, or have read my versions of the plays, you know that these actors were far from stuffy and melodramatic performers -- they were very engaging entertainers, and they did anything they could to move an audience to laughter, to tears, to fear or pity.

I think Hugh is such an actor, who has a great passion to entertain, and as such I think he would be perfect in Shakespeare.

What do you think?

If you want to see him in this series of films, 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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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hamlet and The Massacre at Paris

Christopher Marlowe's last play The Massacre at Paris was revived at the Rose Theatre from about 3 November 1601.

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

The first recorded performance was in 1593, not long before he was killed in Deptford, under suspicious circumstances.

Christopher Marlowe, 1585

There was an outbreak of the plague for over a year, which prevented the play from being performed until the middle of 1594, and then for only a few performances.

The play was again revived, and performed only a few times in 1598.

The play was revived again in late 1601, and it would seem that this run lasted into 1602. It was so successful that the theatre impresario Philip Henslowe bought the playbook, for about 2 pounds, which was not an insubstantial sum in those days.

He bought it from the famous actor Edward Alleyn, who had been performing it with The Admiral's Men at the Rose -- the company and theatre that was second only to Shakespeare with the Lord Chamberlain's Men at the Globe.

Why would the play attract so much attention in late 1601?

The full title of the play is The Massacre at Paris With the Death of the Duke of Guise. (the Marlowe Society has some fascinating research regarding this one play)

The play depicts events from the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in Paris, in 1572. 

Henri I, Duke of Guise

When the Catholic Henri I, Duke of Guise (nicknamed Scarface) tried to assassinate the most influential Protestant Huguenot Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, it set off a chain of events.

Upwards of 30,000 men, women and children were killed in the ensuing violence.

The Duke of Guise eventually got his comeuppance and was himself assassinated.

Marlowe's play is wall to wall violence and bloodshed -- a very gruesome spectacle that may have upset some and excited others in the audience.

Why would this play, centered around the Duke of Guise be revived all of a sudden, in November 1601?

In early 1601, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex led his failed rebellion against Queen Elizabeth and was executed.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

During the Essex trial, Sir Francis Bacon compared Essex to the Duke of Guise.

The point that Bacon was making, and a fear that he shared with many people (including the Queen perhaps) was that the Essex Rebellion could have set off a wave of violence similar to the one in Paris.

As I have written before, I think in the aftermath of the Essex Rebellion, the theatres would have been quiet for a time. There is reason to believe that acting companies left London to go on tour, until the tensions ended.

In my version of Hamlet, I depict how Shakespeare would have gone home to Stratford and while he was there, he wrote the version of Hamlet that we know today.

Hamlet was written in response to the Essex Rebellion and there are shades of Essex in the Hamlet character.

I think that Shakespeare wanted to honor Essex, his friend and patron, and his memory with this new Hamlet, and what better day to do so than Essex's birthday, 10 November 1601?

Was Hamlet first performed for Essex's birthday?

If Shakespeare had written Hamlet in order to remember Essex, then there is every reason to believe that others would have heard about it -- including Edward Alleyn and Philip Henslowe, his biggest competition in London.

There was a royal statute preventing playhouses from performing anything that depicted recent political history and heads of state. You could write plays about past Kings and Queens, but you couldn't write a play about Queen Elizabeth for example.

The only way that Shakespeare could address the Essex Rebellion was to represent the characters in an old myth of Amleth, which was ancient history, and therefore safe from the censors.

I think that after the Essex Rebellion, no playhouse or company wanted to touch the issue of Essex -- it was too dangerous, too controversial.

But if Shakespeare, the most popular and influential playwright, wrote about the Essex Rebellion -- then others could too.

Of course, I think that Shakespeare took a great risk. He could lose everything -- including his life. I wrote about the dangers he faced in writing the play, and what punishment he may have endured, in my version of Hamlet.

But the show did go on, and Shakespeare survived. That would have sent a message to others that they too could address the Essex Rebellion on stage.

In order to compete with Shakespeare it would make sense that Alleyn and Henslowe would want to stage a play that also remembered Essex.

Since Essex had publicly been compared to the Duke of Guise, then what better play could be stage than The Massacre at Paris?

I think that Shakespeare's Hamlet was a wild success, and audiences came not just to see a play but to pay tribute to the memory of Essex, who was a very popular figure.

I think audiences went to see Massacre at Paris for the very same reason.


David B. Schajer

Related article:

A Toast For The Premiere Of Hamlet

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Monday, November 19, 2012

King Charles I and Shakespeare

King Charles I was born 19 November 1600.

King of England, from Three Angles, by Anthony van Dyck

He was about 2 1/2 years old when Queen Elizabeth died and his father became King, but he was so sickly as a child that he did not join them in London for another year. It would seem that Charles suffered from rickets, as his father had.

When James became King, many in England rejoiced, not just because there was a peaceful transfer of power, but also because James had three children, and three clear heirs to the throne -- Henry, Elizabeth and Charles.

Queen Anne with King James and the young Charles

All attention was paid to the oldest, Henry who was smart, athletic and loved the arts.

I think it would not be surprising if Charles was not the center of attention. He was small (when he grew to manhood he only stood 5' 4"), he was sickly, and he was the third child. He probably felt ignored much of the time.

Once in England, Charles was put in the care Alletta Carey, wife of Sir Robert Carey.

This is interesting since Carey's father was Shakespeare's patron, he was the Lord Chamberlain whose company of actors was The Lord Chamberlain's Men, to which Shakespeare belonged.

When Robert's father died, Robert's brother inherited the company until James became King and Shakespeare became a King's Man.

Shakespeare would know this family quite well, and would no doubt have witnessed the education of Charles first hand.

I find it odd, and telling, that Charles was taught to speak by Alletta -- by someone who was not his own family. I think this indicates how marginalized Charles was in these early years.

Did he become resentful? Did he hate his siblings? Was he more of an Edmund than an Edgar, to James's Lear?

What did Shakespeare think of these children, and of Charles in particular? Did Shakespeare like what he saw?

Many in England were disenchanted with King James and pinned their hopes on Henry. But Henry died in 1612, at the age of 18, and whatever hopes for him, and for the country, were gone.

The funeral hearse of Prince Henry

Elizabeth married soon after, to Frederick V who became King of Bohemia and whose reign gave birth to the Thirty Years' War.

Princess Elizabeth, ca 1612

Charles succeeded his father as King and shared his father's belief in the Divine Right of Kings. Charles famously said "Kings are not bound to give an account of their actions but to God alone."

Charles managed to antagonize and alienate his Parliament, infuriate both Catholics and Protestants, embroil the country in the Thirty Years' War, inflame tensions with Scotland and Ireland and finally lead the country into a Civil War.

Charles was executed, beheaded at Whitehall, in front of the Banqueting House, in 1649.

The Execution of Charles

This Banqueting House was where Shakespeare had performed some of his most famous plays, for King James and his family. No doubt Charles had seen these plays.

Plays like King Lear, Macbeth and Othello.

If there is a common moral to these stories it might be best expressed with Lord Acton's quote: "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

But Charles, who seems to have been more of a Goneril or Regan than a Cordelia, obviously did not heed the warnings in these plays.

I think in the last years of Shakespeare's life, he saw the potential for something like a Civil War.

He had lived through some of the most tumultuous events in England's history, and he probably knew that the worst may yet come.

He might have taken comfort in the thought that he would not live to see it, but also he would have died with a heart broken by the knowledge that, despite the success he had enjoyed and plays he had written, so little had changed for the better in his lifetime.


David B. Schajer

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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Beginning and End of the Elizabethan Era

17 November is important for three different reasons.

1. On 17 November 1558 Queen Mary I died and Elizabeth succeeded her to the throne -- and the Elizabethan Era began.

A young Elizabeth

This era was known for many things, including a flowering of the arts the likes of which had never been seen in England, and gave birth to playhouses and playwrights, including William Shakespeare.

For Elizabeth herself, there was never a moment where she could feel safe, since plots against her were always brewing. She knew that many people considered her claim to the throne to be illegitimate and her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots to have the rightful claim.

Mary, Queen of Scots with her son James

One of the reasons they considered Mary to have a greater claim was because of the birth of her son, James -- who would later succeed Elizabeth.

In 1569 there was the Rising of the North, a Catholic revolt against Elizabeth in order to put Mary on the throne. It was led by some of the most powerful men in England. It failed, and Elizabeth executed more than 750 rebels.

In 1570 there was the Ridolfi Plot, for the same purpose.

In 1583 there was the Throckmorton Plot, for the same purpose.

In 1586 there was the Babington Plot, for the same purpose.

It was because of plots like these, that a case was made against Mary that she was conspiring against Elizabeth.

Mary was sentenced to death, and was executed in 1587.

Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

As far as it relates to Shakespeare himself, I think that he would have celebrated Queen Elizabeth's reign, and would have acknowledged the day she became Queen.

But it must have become more bittersweet as the years went by, especially once Shakespeare found himself at court, performing for her.

He would have found the corruption, the abuses of her power, and the ceaseless religious persecution due to the Reformation, harder and harder to stomach.

I think he would have also been in a perpetual state of fear of these kinds of plots against the Queen, and while he would not have personally supported such plots, he could well understand where such anger and resentment came from.

2. On 17 November 1603 the trial of Walter Raleigh began, for his part in the Main Plot to assassinate King James.


James had only been King for a few months at this point, and already there were many who wanted him dead. There would of course be the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 that was the ultimate expression of anger against James.

At his trial, Raleigh argued in his own defense, and was found guilty.

The King spared his life, but kept him in prison for 13 years, until 1616.

King James, by Nicholas Hilliard

It is an interesting fact that Raleigh's wife was Elizabeth Throckmorton, whose relatives were infamous for their part in the Throckmorton Plot against Elizabeth in 1583.

I am tempted to think that King James's anger towards Raleigh was tempered by the fact that Raleigh's wife's family fought on his mother Mary's behalf, and therefore on his own behalf.

I think Shakespeare would have been terrified of such developments, because he could see first hand, now that he was serving in the King's court as a Groom of the Chamber, how the country was again shocked with the potential for violence against the monarch.

I think Shakespeare feared such violence, and it turns up in his plays time and time again, in Julius Caesar for example.

3. I think there is a third reason why this day was significant.

In putting Walter Raleigh on trial, I think that Shakespeare would see that James was punishing the man, Raleigh, who had once been a favorite to Queen Elizabeth, and was one of the shining examples of what the Elizabethan Era represented -- adventure, exploration, military victories, and a flowering of science and the arts.

In effect, King James was trying to lock the door on the Elizabethan Era, and throw away the key.

I think that there were probably very few things that would drive King James to real anger, to fury -- and the memory and legacy of his mother was one of them. I think James had a burning passion to punish Queen Elizabeth, even after death, for having killed his mother Mary.

I think Shakespeare saw this as it was, a repudiation of all things Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth dancing a Volta with Robert Dudley

It has been noted that Shakespeare's plays in this Jacobean period grow darker and more violent. I think was due to the fact that Shakespeare saw no end to the violence, and the potential for violence, all around him, and he may have given up any hope for real and peaceful change.

Shakespeare would not have ignored the message of Raleigh's prison sentence.

Happily, Shakespeare lived long enough to know that Raleigh was released from prison in 1616. Only weeks later, Shakespeare himself died.

I am also pleased that Shakespeare did not live to know that Raleigh was eventually executed on orders by the King in 1618.


David B. Schajer

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Shakespeare and the Law

I was fortunate to have attended the Shakespeare and the Law: Shakespeare and Corrupt Practices event, sponsored by SCOTUSblog, and held at The Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, D.C. this past Tuesday.

This was the first time I attended a Shakespeare and the Law event, and I will definitely go to others in the future -- and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is in or near the nation's capital. Please check the STC website for future events.

The event was moderated by Abbe David Lowell, Esq., a partner at Chadbourne & Parke LLP. He is also on the Board of Trustees of the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

The panel included:

Stephen M. Ryan, Esq., the head of the Government Strategies Practice Group in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP

Paul L. Friedman, United States District Judge of the District of Columbia

Neil H. McBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia

Nina Totenberg, NPR's legal affairs correspondent, who reports on All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition.

There were also two Shakespeare advisors: Michael Evans, a partner at K&L Gates, and Drew Lichtenberg, a Literary Associate to the STC.

The topic of the event was corruption in Shakespeare. The panel explored modern corruption, abuses of power and office, scandals and the like in regard to characters like Iago, Falstaff, Henry V, Lady Macbeth and so forth.

The event began with a discussion of what the proper definition of corruption is, and the panel had very interesting answers, and were mostly in agreement with each other.

As you can imagine, right away there were mentions of the current and still-evolving General David Petraeus scandal and the related Benghazi, Libya controversy, the lobbyist Jack Abramoff scandal, the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill scandal, etc.

Of course Richard III was mentioned, and another infamous Richard, President Richard Nixon, was mentioned. Mr. Lowell not only mentioned the Watergate scandal, but the recordings of Nixon in the Oval Office and how what the president said on those tapes was not unlike the speeches in Shakespeare where we can hear the inner workings (as uncomfortable as they are) of characters like Richard III.

These excellent and entertaining participants explored the roots of corruption, and the motivations behind such high crimes and low criminal behavior. They explored corruption that was financially motivated and corruption that was not.

One part of the discussion was an attempt to understand what motivates people to commit such crimes if there is no money involved. What drives them to do such things?

Mr. Lowell talked about how Queen Elizabeth's noblemen and courtiers had to work very hard, and not always above board, to earn their income. Graft and cronyism were very common.

Mr. Lowell asked the panel how much has this really changed since Shakespeare's day. From the answers of the panel, from my perspective, it sounds like the United States has a much more rigorous system to protect people from such crimes, and to identify and punish those who commit such crimes.

Mr. Ryan had a very funny answer when he said that in America, there may be corruption, but it is significantly better than other places. He used Afghanistan as an example, where you will have to bribe several people until you figure out who is the right person to bribe!

There was a general consensus among the participants that laws to prevent corruption have in some ways gone overboard. There was a very funny example about motion picture lobbyists who cannot have sit-down dinners, so now they eat very expensive hors d'oeuvres standing up!

The event was about one hour long, but it seemed to fly by rather quickly, and it was quite entertaining.

After the event, I spent some time considering Mr. Lowell's questions about the motives of corrupt men and women in Shakespeare and in our modern world.

I thought about Iago, whose motives for destroying Othello and Desdemona are unclear. He never admits to having a motive, which makes his crimes all the more horrible.

I thought about Elizabeth's time and the motivation for corruption in that period. I couldn't help but think that King Henry VIII's break from Catholic Rome opened the door to corruption the likes of which England had never known.

The subsequent Dissolution of the Monasteries (the seizing of the wealth and property of the Catholic Church in England) was a gold rush where wealth and power was there for the taking.

This would of course create more corruption, at court and across the country.

This was the hard-scrabble world into which Shakespeare was born. He witnessed this first hand, and I think it impacted his whole life. His father enjoyed the newfound wealth that the Reformation brought, and held office in Stratford -- until he came to financial ruin.

When Shakespeare headed to London to make his fortune, he would see inside the court of Elizabeth and James. I think he saw how incredibly wealthy, perhaps obscenely so, some noble families could become. As I wrote in my version of Hamlet, Shakespeare had a particular fascination and repulsion for the Cecil family.

The wealth, property and power that William and his son Robert enjoyed was almost without equal in those days.

When Mr. Lowell said that Shakespeare was holding up a mirror to the times in which he lived, that mirror would have been directed first and foremost at the Cecil family, and the corruption Shakespeare witnessed first-hand.

What motivated William and Robert Cecil? I think it wasn't just money, just power, or just for the sake of it -- I think it was legacy.

I think that the Cecils wanted to be in power, remain in power and keep the Cecil name alive for as long as possible. I think the Cecils, like many other powerful families of the period, knew that Queens and Kings have their place in history forever, but courtiers and noblemen do not.

From what I understand, the Cecils were successful -- they have descendants in the world today.

I think Shakespeare, for his part, wanted much the same thing. He wanted his family name to endure, and live for as long as possible. He did everything he could, with the cards that he was dealt, to make the Shakespeare name last.

He published epic poems like Venus and Adonis, wrote and acted in plays, and was a partner in the theatres he played.

He bought a coat of arms, to elevate his family name.

He bought property and invested wisely, unlike his father.

But Shakespeare had only one son, Hamnet, who sadly died. He had two daughters, but his hopes for a legacy were diminishing, especially when they married their none-too-promising husbands.

By the middle of the 17th century, only a few decades after Shakespeare himself died, the Shakespeare name died, too.

The fortunate irony is that while no one much discusses the Cecils today -- the whole world knows Shakespeare!

It would seem that Shakespeare was not corrupt, nor engaged in any corruption to make his fortune and establish his legacy. There would seem to be no lacking of corruption in the world around him, and his plays abound with corrupt men and women. That was his revenge, of a sort.