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.

Please join over 70,000 people on facebook, Twitter & Google Plus following Shakespeare Solved ® -- the number one Shakespeare blog in the world!

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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Thank You from Shakespeare Solved!

Thank you!

This Shakespeare Solved blog is 1 year old!

I started writing this blog on 28 April 2012.

I expected maybe a few people would find the blog and follow it. 

I had no idea it would be so popular!

As of 28 April 2013, this blog has been viewed over 80,000 times!

Thousands of people are following Shakespeare Solved on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest!

I can not thank you all enough. 

There are many reasons why I wanted to write this blog.

I wanted to advertise my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice.
I also wanted to write in greater detail about some of the moments in Shakespeare’s life, moments that I couldn’t dwell on too much in my published versions of the plays.

But perhaps the most important reason I decided to write this blog was to make Shakespeare more accessible -- to see him as a real human being who lived a very unusual life and who triumphed in his art, even when his life was full of tragedies.

If we don’t understand who he was and how he lived, then we can not fully appreciate his plays.

If we don’t understand that he lived in a time of great fear and death -- due to the plague -- then we can’t appreciate why his plays are so great.

If we don’t understand that he lived under very repressive monarchs -- Queen Elizabeth and King James -- then we can’t appreciate how well he wrote for those monarchs but also for the crowds.

The very fact that he survived, and indeed thrived, during these politically volatile times is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries about him.

As you read my versions of the plays, you will begin to see Shakespeare as flesh and blood human being who fought a long and hard battle against the powerful nobility and monarchy -- not with a sword, but with a pen!

His greatest weapons were the words, the characters, and the plays he wrote!

Most of us are not fighting the kinds of battles he fought.

But all of us fight battles in our lives.

Most of us thankfully don’t live with the hardships -- plague, political repression, threat of war -- that Shakespeare faced.

But all of us have hardships of our own to face.

When Shakespeare’s friend and enemy (his frenemy) the famous playwright Christopher Marlowe died -- or was he murdered by the government? -- Shakespeare wrote his first masterpiece, Richard III, as a way to manage his grief and celebrate his fellow playwright.

After his 11-year-old son Hamnet died, Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice as a way to manage the grief. The play itself is actually a very bawdy comedy -- but in the center of it all is a man who has lost his daughter. 

After his great friend and patron, the Earl of Essex, led a rebellion against the Queen, and was executed -- in the same year that Shakespeare’s father died -- Shakespeare wrote his masterpiece Hamlet, to remember his close friend and his dear father.

Most of our lives are not as difficult as Shakespeare’s.

But we can all find inspiration in the story of Shakespeare’s life. 

I look forward to writing more about him, and his plays, as I continue to work on new versions of his plays.

I am at work on Othello, and I can't wait to share it with you this year!


David B. Schajer

P.S. Please feel free to send me your comments/questions -- I would love to hear from you!

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Happy Birthday Al Pacino!

Today is Al Pacino’s birthday.

He's an amazing actor. I have seen just about every single film he has ever done, and he is one of those rare actors you can watch again and again.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched the Godfather films. I saw Heat in the movie theaters 4 times!

Even when the movie isn’t very good, he is great.

I loved the documentary he starred in and directed, Looking For Richard (1996) which is really a love letter from Pacino to Shakespeare.

I even saw him on stage in Joe Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival production of Julius Caesar in 1988. 

I guess you could say that I would watch anything he does.

That is why I decided to watch him portray Shylock in the film version of The Merchant of Venice (2004) by Michael Radford.

I had never wanted to watch any version of it, or even read the play. I had learned long ago that it portrayed Jews badly, and while Shakespeare may not have been anti-Semitic, the play itself certainly was.

I loved Shakespeare. But I couldn’t bring myself to read it or see it.

Until Al Pacino made the film.

If he could make sense of the play, then I would watch it.

Pacino was great, and I really enjoyed his performance. He is a master at what he does, and he made Shylock jump off the screen. He made this character fully three-dimensional and very human.

But what really confused me were the other characters.

Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio and Lynn Collins as Portia were all great. 

But it was like they were in an entirely different movie. It was like what they were doing was entirely mismatched with the story of Shylock. 

And while Irons, Fiennes and Collins are all fine actors, but they were falling flat.

It was hard to watch at times. It was as if each actor was struggling to make sense of their part.

Jeremy Irons was trying to make Antonio noble and vulnerable -- when in fact Antonio is arrogant and scheming.

Joseph Fiennes was trying to make Bassanio virtuous and romantic -- when in fact Bassanio is a hustler and lothario.

Lynn Collins was trying to make Portia beautiful and wise -- when in fact Portia is ugly and bigoted.

The Bassanio and Portia stuff was like a light romantic comedy.

The Shylock stuff was very dramatic.

Why were these two stories combined?

Nothing made sense.

Why was I rooting for Shylock and rooting against Antonio, Bassanio and Portia?

Why do Antonio, Bassanio and Portia win at the end -- and Shylock loses everything?

The answer came to me very suddenly. The film was all wrong.

This wasn’t part romantic comedy and part drama.

This was one big bawdy farce.

The whole play is a comedy, but a rude and politically incorrect one.

I started to see the film in a completely different way.

The Merchant of Venice has been Shakespeare’s most problematic problem play for centuries. On that night, as I watched the DVD, I could see a solution. It would take me several years to create that solution.

Nothing I could say can describe how the play should be performed. You have to read it for yourself.

I am eternally grateful to Al Pacino.

Had it not been for him, I may never have seen or read The Merchant of Venice.

Had I not seen his version when I did, I wouldn’t have written my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and Merchant.

I think the film version he did was made with the very best of intentions, but ultimately it was misguided. 

I recommend you watch it yourself. You should make up your own mind. 

But after you watch it, read my version of the play. I am confident that you will agree with me that my version is as close to a definitive understanding of the play as we may ever know.

I admire Al Pacino. He once went looking for Richard. (Who knew that he should have looked in a Leicester carpark?)

By the way, did you know that it was a screenwriter who actually located Richard III's remains? Funny but true.

Pacino was looking for Shylock. He didn't find him, but it did inspire me to look for myself.


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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

What's your Shakespeare Wish?

I was thinking of ways to celebrate April 23rd -- the day that we traditionally observe Shakespeare’s birthday, and the same day that Shakespeare died.

And then I thought why not make a Shakespeare Wish?

Then tell everyone you know to make a Shakespeare Wish!

What is a Shakespeare Wish?

Your Shakespeare Wish can be just about anything -- as long as it brings a little more Shakespeare into your life.

If you are a student:

You can make a Shakespeare Wish for a copy of a play you don’t already have. 

Yes, you can read all of the plays online -- but wouldn’t you like to have your own copy of the play, just for you? I always like having my own copy so I can write in it, and make that copy unlike any other book in the world.

You can make a Shakespeare Wish for a film version of a Shakespeare play -- a DVD or Blu-ray copy of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, or Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, or Ian McKellen as King Lear, or Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus, etc.

You can make your Shakespeare Wish wish to your mother, or father, or sibling, or someone in your family, or a friend.

Try this -- make a Shakespeare Wish with some friends or family to read a play together. If you live close to each other, you can read the parts out loud or even act them out. If you are not nearby to each other, then you can read them separately. You can even make your own Shakespeare Club.

Many years ago I did this with my father and brother. We lived far from each other, so we read some plays separately, and we called each other on the phone to talk about the plays. It was fun, and it gave us a reason to call each other. It was our own personal Shakespeare club. I even made hats!

If you are a parent:

You can make a Shakespeare Wish to your children to read more Shakespeare. And why not read it together? 

You can watch a DVD instead, but you would be surprised how fun the language is to read together!

There are so many kinds of Shakespeare Wishes you could make today:

Is there a Shakespeare production on stage you really want to see?

Perhaps something from the Globe Theatre On Tour or what about from the Globe Theatre On Screen, starting in June?

Maybe you want to visit Stratford-upon-Avon for the first time? 

You can see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It while you’re there:

Maybe you want tickets to Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic, starring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave, and directed by Mark Rylance?

Maybe you want to see Orlando Bloom as Romeo on Broadway?

If you are in Washington DC, you can see Coriolanus at the Shakespeare Theatre Company:

And you can see Twelfth Night at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre:

Or maybe there is some theatre local to you. Make a Shakespeare Wish with your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, or with someone in your family, or one of your friends.

Don’t let the opportunity pass you by! Go see some live Shakespeare!

Do you want someone to help you learn a Sonnet? Make a Shakespeare Wish.

Do you want someone you love to learn a Sonnet to recite to you? Make a Shakespeare Wish.

Are you an actor and you need help learning some lines, or rehearse your part? Make a Shakespeare Wish.

Wouldn’t it be fun to make this a yearly tradition? You can make a different Shakespeare Wish every year!

Please let me know what your Shakespeare Wish is. You can post a comment here on this blog.

Or you can Tweet it -- or post it on Facebook, or on Google Plus.

I would love to hear from all of you!

And -- if someone makes a Shakespeare Wish to you, you have to honor it. 

Please do your best to make their Shakespeare Wish come true!

What’s my Shakespeare Wish?

My Shakespeare Wish is for all of you reading this to make a Shakespeare Wish.

Why am I doing this?

Because I want everyone to read more, and see more Shakespeare.

The more we do that, the more we will understand his plays.

All of us know something about Shakespeare’s plays, like a line or a scene, or a character.

But very few of us have read all of his plays, or seen all of the movies based on his plays, and can travel to see all of the stage productions.

Also, very few people know anything about Shakespeare’s life.

Over the last year, I have been writing on this blog about different moments in Shakespeare’s life:

Did you know that it was a miracle that he was even born?

Do you know anything about the love of his life, Anne?

Did you know that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in response to the death of his friend and patron, the Earl of Essex -- who was executed for leading a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth?

I created this blog on 28 April 2012, and as I am writing these words, the blog has been viewed 78,000 times!

I made a Facebook Page -- with 13,000 followers in one year!

I made a Twitter account, a Tumblr page, and even a Pinterest page!

I am so excited that so many people are engaged in Shakespeare Solved, and I am so grateful for all of the great comments, feedback and support from people from all over the world!

There are people from as far away as Queensland Australia to Tunis Tunisia all coming together to learn more about Shakespeare -- not just his plays but about his life, too.

You are all changing the world, with each Facebook Like and Tweet.

I created the blog and all the other social media pages because because I have written new versions of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice. I am working on a new version of Othello right now.

These new versions take us back in time to see the plays as they were first performed, by Shakespeare himself and his fellow actors.

When we see the plays this way, the plays become much easier to understand, and the mysteries surrounding them are solved for the first time.

It is my ambition that my new versions of these plays will be turned into films -- and starring as many of the greatest actors and actresses in the UK as possible.

I have written about many of these actors. I did this so to share my vision of these new films.

But in the meantime, I ask you read this blog, and continue to follow Shakespeare Solved. I ask you to tell as many people as possible -- your family and friends -- about this new way of seeing Shakespeare differently.

Because if you want to celebrate Shakespeare -- we should celebrate not just plays but the incredible life he lived!


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shakespeare and Chaucer

616 years ago, on 17 April 1397, Geoffrey Chaucer read his Canterbury Tales aloud for the first time.

He read his new work to King Richard II.

I find this interesting, because I think Shakespeare modeled much of his writing and his life after Chaucer’s.

I have already written about the influence that the great Roman poet Ovid had on Shakespeare.

But Chaucer would have a greater and more immediate meaning for Shakespeare.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Of course, Chaucer was English. He was born in London, which made him English through and through. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. It has been said that Stratford is exactly in the heart of England, which makes Shakespeare English through and through.

Chaucer was one of the first poets to use a five-line stress that is directly related to Shakespeare and his iambic pentameter. 

His contribution to the English language is so important, Chaucer is considered the Father of English Literature. 

Shakespeare’s contribution to English literature and the language is so immense, we might consider him Chaucer’s Son.

Chaucer’s stories -- especially the Canterbury Tales, with their use of language, humor (often bawdy) and plot twists involving colorfully written common people -- have all the hallmarks of Shakespeare’s plays.

from The Canterbury Tales

Shakespeare must have found inspiration not only from Chaucer’s writing but also his life.

King Edward III rewarded Chaucer for his poetry, and gave him a place in his court. As such, Chaucer was the precursor to the later poets laureate -- government appointed poets.

King James made Shakespeare a King’s Man in 1603, the official company of players to the king, with Shakespeare as their head play-poet.

I think Shakespeare would have thought that he was following in Chaucer’s footsteps.

It begs a question: to what degree were King James and Shakespeare aware of the precedent set by Edward III and Chaucer?

When Shakespeare was writing plays during the reign of King James, surely he must have felt what it was like for Chaucer to write the Canterbury Tales during the reign of King Richard II.

Richard II

Chaucer’s father and grandfather were vintners. However, it is clear that his family name Chaucer, which derives from the French “chausseur” meaning shoe-maker, would indicate that his family were from humble beginnings.

I think this would have appealed to Shakespeare, whose father was a glove-maker. 

It must have amused him, since Shakespeare’s frenemy Christopher Marlowe was born to a shoe-maker.

In any event, Chaucer’s humble beginnings would have been a source of inspiration to a humble and young William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon, who had dreams to walk in Chaucer’s footsteps. Pun intended.

Chaucer served King Edward III and Richard II, and during his life he saw great political change, and popular unrest -- like the Peasants’ Revolt.

The same could be said for Shakespeare, who entertained Queen Elizabeth and King James, saw great political change, and popular unrest -- like the Essex Rebellion against Elizabeth and the Gunpowder Plot against James.

Chaucer died in 1400 and in 1556 his remains were moved and put in a tomb in Westminster Abbey, in what became known as Poets’ Corner.

Chaucer's Tomb

Shakespeare was born not long after in 1564. I would think that Shakespeare would have made a pilgrimage to his tomb as soon as he arrived in London. I like to imagine that he would visit it often over the years, in good and bad times.

I also like to think that Shakespeare dreamed of being buried near Chaucer, as another of one England’s most celebrated writers.

But I think Shakespeare wanted to be buried in Stratford even more -- with and near the people that meant the most to him, his family, friends, and neighbors who were arguably the source and models for all of his literary greatness.


David B. Schajer

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare

On 16 April 1594 -- Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, 5th Earl of Derby died.

Derby’s death was sudden. He was only 35 years old.

Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, 5th Earl of Derby

It was suspected that he had been poisoned, perhaps by mushrooms.

What was even more suspicious is that he was the third in line to the English throne.

Based on King Henry VIII's last will and testament, Derby's mother Margaret was the presumptive heir to the throne should Queen Elizabeth die.

His mother had once been arrested for predicting when Elizabeth would die. It was a capital offence to predict the death of a monarch.

She never again recovered royal favor, and she died in 1596 -- two years after Derby died.

Had Derby lived, he would have been the heir to the throne.

I don’t think it is surprising that Elizabeth would want to marginalize and punish Margaret, her successor.

Could the death of Margaret’s son Derby have been another punishment by the Queen?

Even if his death/murder was sanctioned and directed by the Queen, it is what was suspected at the time, by those who were close to Margaret and her family.

William Shakespeare was close to Derby's family.

Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby

Derby’s father Henry had kept players in his household for years. Derby had his own company of players, Lord Strange’s Men by the late 1580’s -- the same period of time that Shakespeare arrived in London.

By early 1592, it is believed that Shakespeare was part of Lord Strange’s Men, and some of his earliest plays were performed by this company.

We don’t know how close Shakespeare and Stanley were. 

I think they were very close, and the mysterious death of his patron changed who Shakespeare was and radically changed the direction of his life.

After Derby’s death, Shakespeare fell under the protection of the Earls of Southampton and Essex, who shared the same politics as Stanley.

Within a few years, Essex and Southampton were conspiring against the Queen, and led a failed rebellion in 1601.

Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in response to the Essex Rebellion. His character of Hamlet was based primarily on men like Essex. 

However, the character of Hamlet was also written to remember men like Derby.

Derby was one of many young Englishmen whose lives were cut short by the awesome power of a Queen who would not marry, would not produce heirs, and would charge you with treason if you discussed the question of her succession.

But the story doesn't end there. 

There is a very interesting story about Derby’s daughter, Anne.

Based on Henry VIII’s will, Anne was the next in line to succeed Queen Elizabeth upon her death.

But she was passed over in order to give the crown to King James of Scotland, who had been excluded from succession based on Henry VIII’s will.

I find this very odd. I can’t help but think that Anne was passed over due to what happened to her father and her grandmother Margaret.

What is even more odd is that Anne married in 1607, to Grey Bridges, 5th Baron Chandos.

Grey Bridges, 5th Baron Chandos

His father, the 4th Earl Chandos, had been friends with Essex.

He had in fact visited Essex House (on the Strand) the morning of the Rebellion, but in the following government investigation into the Rebellion, he was cleared of any involvement.

But his son, Grey, actually took part in the Essex Rebellion, and was arrested. He was put in Fleet Prison, but released not long after.

I have a theory.

Shakespeare was close to Derby, and his family, including his daughter Anne.

Shakespeare became closer friends with Essex and Southampton.


Shakespeare would arguably have met and perhaps known both Grey Brydges and his father.

Grey Brydges took part in the Essex Rebellion.

After Elizabeth died, Anne was passed over and James became king. 

King James showed leniency towards those who had participated in the Essex Rebellion. For example, Southampton is released from the Tower, where he had been imprisoned since the Rebellion.

On 28 February 1607, Anne married Grey Brydges.

Shakespeare’s friend, fellow partner and player Richard Burbage (who was something of a painter of portraits, perhaps even his own) painted a portrait of Shakespeare.

The "Chandos" Portrait of Shakespeare

Shakespeare gave the painting to them as a wedding gift. 

This painting, now known as the Chandos Portrait, was painted between 1600 and 1610, so the timing fits.

I have no proof that such a thing happened. I cannot prove my theory.

But how else did the Chandos family get this portrait of Shakespeare?

The other theories don’t make much sense to me. 

The theory that William Davenant received it from Shakespeare doesn't make sense. Shakespeare is believed to have been Davenant's godfather. I don't think it would have been the kind of gift to give a godson, especially if this was the one and only time that Shakespeare is believed to have been painted during his lifetime.

I also don't believe the theory that Davenant was Shakespeare's illegitimate son, but that's another story.

I think it is very likely that Shakespeare would have this painting made as a significant and unique gift to a new bride and groom.

The groom was a man who had been very close with Shakespeare's friend and patron Essex.

The bride was the daughter of one of Shakespeare's closest friends, Derby -- arguably the man who gave Shakespeare his first break in theatre.

The bride was also a young woman who had every right to be queen -- she could have been queen, she should have been queen -- but she was denied it.

This version of events surrounding the origin of the Chandos Portrait makes much more sense to me.

What do you think?


David B. Schajer

P.S. I can't find any pictures of Anne. If you know of any, please let me know. I would be very grateful. Thank you!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Guy Fawkes and Catherine de Medici

Two very important people were born on 13 April.

Guy Fawkes was born on 13 April 1570.

Guy Fawkes, aka Guido Fawkes

He was one of the principal conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, which was an attempt to kill King James, his family, and blow up Parliament on its opening day, 5 November 1605.

Fortunately, he was caught below Parliament before he could ignite the fuses on 36 barrels of gunpowder.

The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot and the Taking of Guy Fawkes, by Henry Perronet Briggs (ca 1823)

He was not an Englishman who was could practice his Catholic faith in private, and keep it a secret. He wanted to fight for his faith. He fought for Catholic Spain for example.

Despite the fact that King James was not doing enough to advance religious toleration of Catholics in England, at least the country was relatively peaceful. 

Guy Fawkes wanted to shatter that peace. He wanted to bring Catholicism back to England, and if force was necessary, he was the man for the fight.

Had the Gunpowder Plot been successful, it would have been the worst act of religious violence in England’s history.

On 13 April 1519, Catherine de Medici was born.

Catherine de Medici

She was the Queen consort to King Henry II of France, until he died in 1559.

The throne was seized by Francis II, whose wife was Mary, Queen of Scots -- King James’s mother.

Francis ruled for only 18 months. He died from an inner ear infection. Some people thought he had been poisoned. It is hard to imagine that Shakespeare did not think of this when he had Hamlet's father die of poison in his ear.

Catherine’s son Charles became king, and she became the Queen Mother.

Early on in the reign, she pushed for religious toleration of Protestant Huguenots in Catholic France. She helped issue the Edict of Amboise and the Edict of Saint-Germain, which allowed greater religious freedom for the Huguenots.

But after the Surprise of Meaux where some Huguenots tried to assassinate the king, Catherine was no longer interested in toleration. 

In 1572, she is believed to have masterminded an attack on some Huguenots in Paris on St. Bartholomew’s Day.

The violence spread, killing upwards of 30,000 people -- men, women and children -- Protestant and Catholic.

It was the worst act of religious violence in France’s history.

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

William Shakespeare was 8 years old when the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre occurred.

He was only 6 years older than Guy Fawkes.

He was 41 when the Gunpowder Plot happened.

Shakespeare lived his whole life surrounded by fervent Protestants, secret Catholics, families who were divided along religious lines (including his own) and the very real fear of religious violence which could occur at any moment.

He was familiar with what religious fanaticism could do -- whether it was Catholic or Protestant.

I don’t think he was a recusant Catholic living in England, nor do I think he was a fervent Protestant.

I think he wanted religious freedom and tolerance. I think he wanted peace in his time.

He never got it.

But he channeled those fears and this anxiety and it came out in masterpieces like The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth.

We are fortunate to have such great works of art. 

But it helps if we understand the life he lived, and the fears he suffered, to bring us this art.