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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Anne of Denmark and Shakespeare

Anne of Denmark was born 12 December 1574, ten years after Shakespeare was born.

She is most famous for having married King James VI of Scotland, in 1589, who later became King James I of England in 1603.

Anne and James had quite a romantic episode surrounding their wedding -- when storms prevented her from sailing to England -- and James took a perilous voyage to join her and get married. It was due to this trip that James became obsessed with the subject of witchcraft -- which Shakespeare would write about in Macbeth.

King James in 1586

The fact that she was born to the King and Queen of Denmark, and the fact that Anne and James stopped off in Elsinore on their way back to England are worth noting, since some have considered that Shakespeare modeled his Hamlet character after James.

Kronborg Castle in Elsinore, Denmark

And from what I have read about her father King Frederick II, what with his huge appetite for food, drink and marital infidelity, he sure sounds like a Claudius.

It appears that they did love each other, as much as can be expected between a 23 year old man and a 14 year old girl.

They had many children, but only three survived to adulthood.

Henry Frederick was by all accounts a remarkable child and there were many, including Shakespeare I think, who had high hopes for him to succeed his father, and be a better monarch than his father. It was a sad day when Henry died, in November 1612.

Their daughter Elizabeth was named after Queen Elizabeth, in order to put James in the Queen's good graces, as far as succession to the throne was concerned. Elizabeth's February 1613 marriage to Prince Frederick, Elector Palatine was upset by the recent death of her brother Henry.

Anne of Denmark, King James and Prince Charles, in 1612

Charles later became King, and is most famous for having been the first monarch tried and executed for treason, which led to the abolition of the monarchy. Just recently I found this article about his favorite chessboard, which he carried with him to his execution. Odd.

If we are to judge her based on her children, I think we would find her a disappointment.

I don't think we can blame her too much though, since she was married very young, to a man who seems to have been more interested in men than women, who kept the children from her to be raised by others, and whose theory for the theological basis for monarchy, the divine right of kings, smacks of a certain megalomania.

By 1607, having had some of her children die, and having had three miscarriages, it is believed that she decided to stop having children.

I would think that these difficult childbirths might have something to do with her alleged secret conversion to Catholicism, which caused considerable strife.

Over time, it seems that she busied herself with the arts -- she was a patron of writers and artists -- and she even liked to perform in them! She was a great fan of masques, the more lavish the better.

What would Shakespeare have thought of his Queen?

Anne of Denmark, by Paul Van Somer

I think that the demand for masques, frivolity, for pomp and pageantry, and music had an impact on his writing and may have spelled the end of his career. Yes, his later plays written for indoors entertainment had music and a greater emphasis on costumes, but it is hard to imagine him writing the kind of masques that Ben Jonson did.

Most of Shakespeare's last plays -- Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale, The Tempest and The Two Noble Kinsmen -- I think were attempts at escapist entertainment to suite the tastes of his monarchs, but they may have not been enough to satisfy Anne, James and their court which was becoming infamous for its levels of decadence.

And if it is true that the King would on occasion fall asleep during plays, then Shakespeare had a serious problem on his hands.

It would also seem that Anne favored Ben Jonson, whose career skyrocketed past Shakespeare's during this time.

By the time that Anne's son Henry died, and her daughter Elizabeth got married, I think Shakespeare did not like what he saw in her son Charles, the future king.

Perhaps Shakespeare was well past the point of thinking that he could entertain his King and Queen, let alone keep their attention. I think he was looking to retire to Stratford as soon as possible.

He did, and he died not long after, in 1616.

I often think to what degree Anne of Denmark hastened an end to Shakespeare's career. Perhaps he just could not adapt to the court of King James. Perhaps he should never have become a King's Man.

Anne of Denmark, in 1612, by Marcus Gheeraerts

Maybe that doesn't matter. He wrote so many masterpieces -- Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and so on -- that maybe his time was just done, and there he had no more left to write.

I don't have any answers, but the questions are quite fascinating.


David B. Schajer

Related articles:

Anne Of Denmark -- on Wikipedia

King James, Anne of Denmark and Macbeth

King Charles I and Shakespeare

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