Queen Elizabeth had just died on 24 March.
|Elizabeth's funeral cortege|
King James had been declared her successor the same day.
I think Shakespeare would have been in Stratford for the Easter holiday. He probably left London a few days before, maybe even before Elizabeth had died.
|Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon|
After services at Trinity Church, he probably celebrated the holiday with his wife and daughters, with his mother Mary, who lived with them, and any other relatives and neighbors whom they invited into their large house New Place.
I like to imagine that it was a lively event, and there was cause for some celebration.
They would have celebrated the memory of Elizabeth, who had reigned as queen for a remarkable 44 years.
Everyone had stories about her reign. Shakespeare's mother Mary, who was about 65 years old in 1603, would have a great deal to say about life before, and during Elizabeth's reign.
Mary probably had some stories about King Henry VIII, who died when she was about 10 years old.
I like to think that everyone took turns telling story after story of the changes that had occurred in the country in the last 50 years, some of most tumultuous years in England's history.
Shakespeare would have been at the head of the table, and the center of all of this storytelling. He probably got to tell his stories last, because he had met Queen Elizabeth, and had performed at court for her.
If ever there was a time when Shakespeare would talk about the queen publicly and at length, this would be it. With his closest friends and family around him, he could share what he had seen, heard and what he had himself experienced firsthand.
He probably told them about the first time he ever saw Queen Elizabeth. In 1575, she traveled with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester to his castle at Kenilworth, for several days worth of entertainment.
It is believed that as an 11 year old boy, William Shakespeare traveled the 23 kilometers from Stratford to see these festivities.
He must have seen the queen. It must have excited him so much.
He had witnessed the greatest monarch on earth, in his backyard.
If ever there was a moment when Shakespeare had prayed to become successful and meet the queen one day, that was the moment, right there at Kenilworth.
|Queen Elizabeth arriving at Kenilworth|
Notice the little boy in the lower left corner...
Shakespeare may have told his family and friends about the years before he moved to London to pursue a career there.
He probably told the story about the first time he came face to face with Queen Elizabeth, at court.
We don't know under what circumstances he first met her. But there must have been a moment when the queen would have wanted to personally greet the greatest playwright in her realm.
What did they say? What happened?
In my version of Hamlet, I created a scene where they meet.
|What happened when Shakespeare first met Queen Elizabeth?|
Shakespeare is the unrivaled playwright in London, and the Queen wants to get a sense of the real man, without any costumes or make-up on.
Shakespeare had worked his whole life for one such moment, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
Without giving too much away, suffice to say that he pays his respects to the queen, amuses her, and she definitely gets a sense of him.
Shakespeare would have had many occasions to entertain the queen at court, with his plays. His success as an actor and playwright depended on successfully entertaining Elizabeth.
Shakespeare did his job. He entertained her and she liked his plays. Shakespeare was more and more successful as the years went by.
Shakespeare would probably have told his family and friends about these occasions -- what she said to him and his fellow actors, what she wore on this or that occasion, and how she behaved when he performed for her.
I don't think Shakespeare would have told his friends and family much more beyond that, and they would have known better than to probe him on the last years of her reign, when despite Shakespeare's success with his plays, his relationship with the queen had changed for the worse.
Shakespeare would keep all stories about the Earls of Southampton and Essex to himself, and he probably never shared them with anyone other than his own wife.
I think Shakespeare would look back on the reign of Elizabeth with happiness and sorrow in equal measure.
I also think that it would not have escaped his notice that Easter, a holiday regarding death and rebirth, had fallen in the same week as Elizabeth's death and King James's succession to her throne.
I don't think Shakespeare was superstitious to think that this was an omen, but it would have been a rather strange coincidence.
He would probably share stories with his family and friends about England's past, with Elizabeth, and then intrigue them with predictions about England's future, with James.
Shakespeare had been in London for many years, and had been at court on many occasions. He must have heard the stories and rumors about King James of Scotland.
He must have heard so many of them, and so many versions of each story that he didn't know what to believe.
But his family and friends in Stratford, on that Easter, they would have wanted Shakespeare to tell them all.
He probably told them the familiar romantic story about how James heroically sailed from Scotland to marry his wife, Anne of Denmark.
He also probably told them some of the stories about James's mother, Mary, Queen of Scots who had been executed by her cousin Queen Elizabeth.
For the sake of any children in the room, he probably didn't tell them the scary stories about the witchcraft trials which James personally supervised.
Shakespeare perhaps told a few stories, as entertainingly as possible, but kept his real thoughts to himself.
In March of 1603, like most Englishmen, Shakespeare didn't know what to think of King James of Scotland.
They were afraid of him, and curious about him. While they were thankful that there was a peaceful transition from Elizabeth to James, they probably wished that there had been someone else, someone less Scottish, and more British who should have inherited the throne.
They didn't know what they were in for, with James as king.
They would soon find out.
And Shakespeare would have many more stories to tell.
David B. Schajer
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