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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thomas Kyd and Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales

6 November would have been an important day in Shakespeare's life -- for three very different reasons.

Thomas Kyd was a playwright whose play The Spanish Tragedie, written in the middle to late 1580's, was a huge success.



Kyd was arguably the first celebrity playwright. Christopher Marlowe would be the second, when his Tamburlaine, written in 1587, would conquer the London stage.

This is around the time that Shakespeare arrived in London and would be swept up with the exciting prospect that he could write and act in plays, and perhaps be as famous as Kyd and Marlowe.

Kyd was the son of a scrivener, didn't go to university, and now here he was in London, the toast of the town. Kyd was only about 5 years older than Shakespeare.

Marlowe was born to a shoemaker, he went to Cambridge, and here he was in London, the new toast of the town. And Marlowe was only 2 months older than Shakespeare.

Shakespeare -- son of a glovemaker, without a degree from university but brimming with ambition and enthusiasm -- must have thought to himself that if they could make it in London, so could he!

I wouldn't be surprised if Shakespeare met these men early on, befriended them, and perhaps celebrated Kyd's birthday with them -- with drinking, reciting poetry -- excited to be among the first wave of poets and playwrights to make names for themselves in the history of England.

Kyd was baptized on November 6, 1558. So, Shakespeare would have celebrated with Kyd, on or near that day.

Almost right away it would seem that Shakespeare rose to the challenge and his first plays also were successful. The audiences couldn't get enough of all of them.

Kyd is believed to have written a play called King Leir and may have written a play that would be the foundation of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

So, in the late 1580's to 1592 -- it must have been terribly exciting.

1593 was different.

Kyd was arrested by the authorities on suspicion of having written libelous tracts. He was tortured.

Christopher Marlowe was arrested during this time and soon after was killed, in what may have been a politically motivated murder. He was only 29 years old.

Kyd's career was ruined and he died the next year. He was only 35 years old.

The impact this would have on Shakespeare can not be calculated. I wrote about this in my versions of Hamlet and Richard III.

I think that Shakespeare was never the same after this. While their deaths immediately cleared the way for Shakespeare to be the one and only great playwright of the era, it must have come at great emotional cost.

Before 1593, Shakespeare may have enjoyed the freedoms of acting and writing for the stage -- and for the pleasure of the Queen -- but now he knew that he too could be arrested, tortured, even killed by that very same Queen.

For many years, I think Shakespeare would think of 6 November as a reminder of the limits of his freedom.

6 November 1612 held a third significance in Shakespeare's life.

King James' firstborn son and heir to throne, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales died of typhoid fever. He was only 18 years old.



The whole country mourned him. He was a popular and bright young man.

But for Shakespeare, on a personal level, this was a cruel and devastating loss. Shakespeare had tried to appeal to King James for more religious toleration between Protestants and Catholics, and an end to the religious persecution.

But by 1611 Shakespeare was no longer writing and would have pinned his hopes on this young man, Henry, to fulfill his dreams where James had not. Shakespeare's last four plays are thought to have been written not for the King but for Henry.

So, when Henry died, Shakespeare would have taken it very hard, and would have shuddered at the thought that Henry's younger brother Charles, who was nothing like his older brother, would some day become king.

Shakespeare would have feared for a future where Charles succeeded his father. His fears were not unfounded -- after all, Charles did usher in the Civil War and was beheaded.

By the time Shakespeare died in 1616, the 6th of November would have had three meanings -- Kyd's birth, Kyd's demise, and Henry's death.

I don't think this day was one that Shakespeare enjoyed, and while he may not have done anything or said anything to his friends and family to remember this day, it would have haunted him more than just a little.


Cheers,

David