Shakespeare Solved ®

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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.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Shakespeare and Southampton's Release

410 years ago today, on 10 April 1603, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton was released from the Tower of London.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton
in the Tower of London, 1603

Southampton had been in prison for just over 2 years. 

He had played an important part in the failed Essex Rebellion of 8 February 1601. He had originally been sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison.

When Queen Elizabeth died on 24 March 1603 and King James had inherited the throne, fortune smiled on Southampton.

James was well on his way from Scotland to claim the throne when Southampton was released.

I don’t think that his two years in prison were really all that hard. But I do think that it would have changed the man.

It was not the first time he had seen the inside of a jail. The Queen had once imprisoned him for the crime of falling in love, and marrying a lady-in-waiting without the permission of the Queen.

Southampton and his wife both did time in Fleet Prison. It must have angered him, and was part of the reason he joined his close friend Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex in a rebellion against the Queen.

Essex was sentenced to death and was executed. Southampton escaped that fate.

But these events must have scarred him. For the rest of his life it seems that he was more interested in building a fortune than he was in fomenting rebellion.

Southampton and Essex had been William Shakespeare’s greatest patrons.

Southampton and Essex had paid Shakespeare to perform Richard II the night before the Essex Rebellion, in order to signal to the public to rise up with them.

When Southampton was released on 10 April, Shakespeare must have been very pleased. He must have been very concerned for his friend and patron while he was in prison.

I like to think that Southampton would have celebrated his release from prison together with Shakespeare. Much had happened, much time had passed and much was changing. They would have had a great deal to talk about.

But they would have been very optimistic about the future, with a new king.

They didn’t know what to expect from King James.

Southampton surely knew, and Shakespeare probably knew, that Essex and King James had corresponded by letter for some time. There is evidence to suggest that Essex led his rebellion in order to put James on the throne in 1601.

The fact that Southampton was released is evidence that King James was rewarding those who were close to Essex, who may have been fighting on his behalf.

So, on the night of 10 April 1603, it is very likely that Shakespeare was invited to Southampton’s house.

It is nice to think of Shakespeare, dining with Southampton and his wife Elizabeth, the real Romeo and Juliet.

It was a happy and romantic ending to a long nightmare.

There would be many more nightmares in the months and years to come, but at that moment, things were well and as good as they could be.


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