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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Monday, April 28, 2014

Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth's Funeral

The funeral of Queen Elizabeth I took place in London, on 28 April 1603.

She had been lying in state at Whitehall since 24 March, the day that she died, her body in a lead coffin. There was a life size effigy placed on top of the coffin.

The original effigy no longer exists, but a duplicate has been made:

On the evening of the 28th of April, the coffin was moved on a horse-drawn hearse. The coffin was covered in expensive purple cloth. The horses were draped in black velvet.

Six knights walked with the hearse, holding a canopy over the coffin.

They traveled from Whitehall to Westminster Abbey, past thousands of people who came out to see the procession. It has been recorded that many people wept at the sight.

Elizabeth had reigned as queen for a very long time. Her death was a truly unique event in the lives of the people at the time, and her funeral sounds like it was as grand and magnificent as was to be expected for such a revered monarch.

King James is said to have spent £11,000 on the event.

Where was Shakespeare in all of this?

If he was not in London when she died, then I think he would have come back in the days following. No doubt he would have been one of the thousands of people who saw the funeral procession with his own eyes.

I think he would have followed the procession, and watched as she was carried into Westminster Abbey.

It is doubtful that he would have seen any ceremony inside. 

But I think he would have returned to Westminster Abbey in the days afterwards and looked upon her tomb, in the chapel built by Elizabeth’s grandfather Henry VII.

I don’t think Shakespeare and the Queen were very close, but they must have met and exchanged words from time to time. 

I have a hard time thinking that when Shakespeare and his fellow actors performed for the Queen at court that the Queen wouldn’t talk with the greatest and most popular playwright in all of England.
I do think that Shakespeare would have fallen from the Queen’s favor after the failed Essex Rebellion in 1601. 

Queen Elizabeth circa 1601

There is no evidence that Shakespeare took an active role in the rebellion itself, and took up arms against the Queen. 

However, he was very close to Essex, and tried to influence the public on Essex’s behalf -- before and after the rebellion.

After the rebellion, Shakespeare continued to write and perform plays, even for the Queen. I think this is an indication of just how popular and influential Shakespeare had become by this time, and also to what degree the Queen’s power had waned.

In the last days of Elizabeth’s reign, Shakespeare was just too high profile of an artist to be imprisoned or tortured, or killed -- like Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd.

With Elizabeth’s passing, Shakespeare may have been eager for a new monarch, King James, to succeed Elizabeth.

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet at the end of 1601, he was already anticipating the arrival of James, and there is a great deal of James in the character of the Prince of Denmark.

I often wonder what Shakespeare would have said to Elizabeth had he had the chance to speak to her before she died.

I think he would have put aside any differences he had had with her, and he would have thanked her for having allowed the arts, and especially plays and playhouses, to flower and prosper during her reign.

The Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth, 1588

He could not have had the life he had without her.

At some point, either before or after her funeral, Shakespeare would have started to prepare for the imminent arrival of King James into London.

James was en route to London by 28 April.

Shakespeare probably would have started to read over the books in his personal collection. He would look for any historical precedent or literary figure that could be re-written to celebrate the new king.

As Shakespeare went through his books, he might have opened Plutarch.

One date might have caught his attention -- 28 April 32 AD.

The day that the Roman Emperor Otho was born.

As I have written before, Shakespeare created the name of his character Othello from this ancient emperor named Otho, in order to paint a portrait of King James.

There is some irony in the fact that the same day as Elizabeth’s funeral was the same day that Otho was born -- and the new king named James was himself truly a new Otho.


David B. Schajer

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