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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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.


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