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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Articles Written For:

The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

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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

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe's Death

This is the third in a series of articles about Christopher Marlowe's last days:

1. Thomas Kyd's Arrest

2. Shakespeare and Marlowe's Last Words

On 30 May 1593, Christopher Marlowe was killed.

He was the most famous, the most successful, and the most influential playwright in England.

Shakespeare came to London in about 1587, when Marlowe’s first play Tamburlaine was playing to huge crowds.

In the years after that, Marlowe continued to rule the theatres in London. Other playwrights scrambled to catch up to him, but there seemed to be no one who could beat him.

Until Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s earliest plays, like the Henry VI plays were immensely popular. Like Marlowe, Shakespeare seemed to be an overnight sensation.

While Marlowe and Shakespeare may never have been acquaintances or friends, they must have met each other at one time or another.

Marlowe could not ignore the success of this new playwright, who seemed to be the only one who could compete with him.

As Stephen Greenblatt writes, one of the earliest descriptions of Shakespeare was that he was a good man but that he was not a “company keeper” and he “wouldn’t be debauched.” If he was invited to go out he would be “in pain.” 

Shakespeare was a writer and he preferred to stay in his flat and write.

Christopher Marlowe seemed to be the exact opposite kind of man. Not only did he have a scandalous reputation but he was suspected of being an agent for the government. Harold Bloom aptly describes him as "a veteran street fighter, a counterintelligence agent, and generally bad news."

Marlowe seemed to want to be something more than just a writer, and he sought challenges and was willing to risk his life for some greater purpose.

If we look at Marlowe’s plays, it is clear that he was motivated by politics and each play was more controversial than the last.

Shakespeare, at this point, did not seem to be motivated by politics and he didn’t seem to want to run afoul of the Queen and her royal censors.

But all of that changed when Marlowe died.

He died under suspicious circumstances. He may have been murdered by government agents. Was he assassinated, or was it merely an drunken argument?

We may never know the answer.

But more importantly, what did Shakespeare think of his death?

Shakespeare may not have known why Marlowe was killed. He may have heard dozens of rumors and theories. It must have infuriated Shakespeare that he might never know the truth, the full truth. 

But in his period of history, at the dawn of the English Renaissance, it was almost impossible to know what was true or not. Stories and myths, like Robin Hood, were considered fact, not fiction.

Shakespeare must have been upset and sad when Marlowe died. Marlowe was a hero to every actor and playwright.

But he couldn’t have been surprised that Marlowe was killed. As far as Shakespeare was concerned, it was just a matter of time before Marlowe was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.

What would Shakespeare have thought when he heard the news of Marlowe’s death? What did he do?

He would have been afraid. The theatres had been closed for many months due to the plague. Marlowe was the greatest playwright, and his death may have meant that the theatres would remain closed permanently.

For all Shakespeare knew, his short career may have ended before it really began.

As soon as it was safe to do so, he probably would have gathered with friends and colleagues in a tavern, to spend the whole night drinking and telling stories about Marlowe. 

Imagine the greatest actors in London, or in history for that matter, gathered together to celebrate the life of Marlowe -- and roast him while they were at it!

Shakespeare may have thought it was a shame that other people, who had never met Marlowe while he lived, might not understand how brilliant, how talented, how devilishly funny Marlowe was.

As Shakespeare went back to his flat he may have wondered... what now?

What was Shakespeare going to do? He wanted to do more.

How he could he properly pay his respects to Marlowe? How could he publicly express the love and the admiration he had for Marlowe? 

And most importantly, how to make it funny and entertaining?

Well, Shakespeare was a playwright, so he would have searched his mind for some way to tell a story that was in fact a story about Marlowe.

I think that Shakespeare took Richard III, a play that he had already staged, or was working on at the time that Marlowe was killed, and re-wrote it for this purpose. 

Why did he re-write it? Because in re-writing a history play about King Richard III, he could create a public spectacle which served to celebrate the life and memory of Christopher Marlowe.

Shakespeare's play Richard III would be something of a Requiem Mass.

Much has been written about the influence that Marlowe had on Shakespeare, and on several of Shakespeare's characters including Richard III.

If Marlowe was such an influence on Shakespeare, then it stands to reason that these characters are descriptions of Marlowe himself.

In my version of Richard III, I explore the love/hate relationship between Shakespeare and Marlowe in the months leading up to his death.

Richard III is considered one of Shakespeare's masterpieces, and probably his very first.

It makes a lot of sense that Shakespeare's first great work was written for the purpose of remembering Marlowe, who was the greatest of them all... before Shakespeare, that is.

Shakespeare must have known that if he pulled it off, if he could conjure the spirit of Christopher Marlowe on stage in the form of bloody King Richard, he could have a huge hit.

Shakespeare knew that this play could announce that he was the undisputed and rightful heir to Marlowe.

I hope you take a moment today to remember Marlowe. Please raise a glass of something, and toast to his memory. 


David B. Schajer

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Shakespeare and Marlowe's Last Words

This is the second of three articles written about the last days of Christopher Marlowe:

1. Thomas Kyd's Arrest

3. Christopher Marlowe's Death

On 20 May 1593, the famous playwright Christopher Marlowe appeared before the Privy Council to answer to the charges of heresy.

As I wrote recently, Marlowe’s flatmate and the fellow playwright Thomas Kyd had been arrested on the suspicion of writing posts around London which the authorities considered heresy.

He was tortured, and he implicated Marlowe.

An arrest warrant for Marlowe had been issued on 18 May.

It is surprising that Marlowe waited an extra day to appear before Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council.

What was he doing?

He doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who would run from a fight.

If anything, he probably relished the opportunity to stir up even more trouble and face the Council immediately.

Would he have visited Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, Earl of Derby? At that time, Derby may have been the aristocratic patron to Marlowe, Kyd and even Shakespeare.

Would Derby and Marlowe have prepared Marlowe’s defense strategy together?

Ferdinando Stanley

At this point in history, Derby had a very good claim to the throne, and was quickly becoming a threat to Queen Elizabeth.

Derby had attracted many of the greatest actors and playwrights, and his playing company, Lord Strange’s Men was one of the very best in London.

If Marlowe visited with Derby, and if Shakespeare was employed by Derby, is it possible that Shakespeare saw Marlowe, even if only briefly on 18 or 19 May 1593?

If Marlowe did speak with Shakespeare, I often wonder what they would have said to each other?

Both playwrights, in early 1593, had been almost entirely out of work since the theatres were closed almost continuously since June 1592 due to the plague.

Marlowe’s career may have been stalling. He was at work on his poem Hero and Leander. When there was a break in the plague in late January 1593, his last play, The Massacre at Paris was performed.

The play, which dealt with the religious violence in France and specifically the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre would not have been appreciated by Queen Elizabeth and her court. The last thing they would have wanted an audience to see is a bloodbath of religious violence on stage.

Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s career was going very well. He had just published his erotic poem, Venus and Adonis. It was the Fifty Shades of Grey of the Elizabethan period, and he must have been enjoying some of the greatest success of his career.

They were not entirely friends and nor were they entirely enemies. I think Marlowe liked Shakespeare but looked down on him. 

They were born only a few weeks apart, Marlowe in February 1564 and Shakespeare in April 1564. Marlowe’s father was a shoemaker. Shakespeare’s father was a glovemaker.

Marlowe went to Cambridge. Shakespeare’s family could not afford to send him to university.

Marlowe became an overnight success right after university.

Shakespeare’s success came quickly, but not as fast as Marlowe's.

Marlowe and Kyd had blazed the trail for future playwrights like Shakespeare, and I think Marlowe would have always looked at any future playwrights, no matter how talented, and especially if they showed true talent like Shakespeare, as inferior.

I like to imagine that Shakespeare would have told Marlowe not to rock the boat. He may have begged him not to jeopardize the remarkable freedom they had enjoyed as actors and playwrights, the kind of freedom England had never known before.

The theatres were closed. If Marlowe, as London's greatest playwright, disturbed the peace between the theatres and Queen Elizabeth, she might just decide to close the theatres permanently.

She had allowed them to flower and develop, and had allowed playhouses like The Theatre to be built, the first theatre built for plays in England since the Roman times.

The Theatre in Shoreditch

Shakespeare wouldn’t want to stop being a playwright. He belonged in a theatre. To him, very little else mattered.

Theatre in England had just been born, and Shakespeare would have pleaded with Marlowe not to kill it in it's infancy.

I think Shakespeare's words would have fallen on deaf ears.

Marlowe strikes me as the kind of man who would destroy the entire theatre community if it helped score a political point against the Queen.

I think Marlowe would have mentioned Venus and Adonis, which I'm sure he would have read immediately, and probably made fun of Shakespeare for having written Elizabethan mommy porn.

I think that Marlowe would have antagonized Shakespeare. Marlowe may have known that Shakespeare was likely to eclipse his own fame and success, so he would have asked if Shakespeare thought he was better than him.

Shakespeare would have said no, of course. He would have politely told him that he, Marlowe, was the greater and more significant artist.

I think Marlowe would have thanked Shakespeare for his advice.

Then he would have told Shakespeare to go stuff it.

Whether it was on 18 or 19 May, or shortly after, the last words between Shakespeare and Marlowe would probably not have been very kind.

Shakespeare and Marlowe
Were they the best of friends and worst of enemies?

Shakespeare would have been even more worried after seeing Marlowe.

Marlowe went to the Privy Council on 20 May. For some odd reason, there were not in session and did not hear him.

Within days, Marlowe was dead, under suspicious circumstances. He was only 29 years old.

Ferdinando Stanley would die, on 16 April 1594, under suspicious circumstances. He was only 35 years old.

Thomas Kyd, whose career was ruined, would die in August 1594, most likely from the wounds he suffered while tortured in prison. He was only 35 years old.

In late 1594, Shakespeare was at a terrifying and crucial point in his life. His greatest friends and rivals in the theatres were gone, but so too was his patron.

Shakespeare was free to dominate the theatre scene in London. All he needed to find was a new patron, who could provide him with political cover.

Shakespeare must have thought himself lucky to have both Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton -- not just one but two noblemen who were eager to become Shakespeare’s patrons.


David B. Schajer

Related Articles:

Ferdinando Stanley and the Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare

Hamlet and the Massacre at Paris

Fifty Shades of Shakespeare

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Shakespeare Theatre Company's The Winter's Tale

I just saw The Winter’s Tale in Washington, D.C. last night at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre.

It was excellent!

Brent Carver, Ted van Griethuysen, Tom Story, Nancy Robinette, Todd Bartels and Heather Wood
photo by T. Charles Erickson
If you are in or near Washington, I highly recommend you go see it. The play runs through 23 June.

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share some thoughts with you.

The cast was excellent, the direction was very strong, the music was very inspired and the entire production was very engaging.

Mark Harelik as Autolycus
photo by T. Charles Erickson

The actor Mark Harelik gave a bravura performance. Getting to play Leontes and Autolycus in the same show must be an actor’s dream, getting to play some of Shakespeare’s darkest drama and some of his lightest humor. Mr. Harelik clearly reveled in it, and it was very entertaining to watch him.

And, when he reads the Oracle’s prophecy, his choking on bitter laughter was incredibly moving.

As Hermione, Hannah Yelland was very good. She breaks your heart when she learns that her son has died, and she mends it when she comes to life at the end. I think it is the hardest role of the entire play, and Ms. Yelland makes it seem effortless.

Nancy Robinette as Paulina, Heather Wood as Perdita, Mark Harelik as Leontes, and Todd Bartels as Florizel
photo by T. Charles Erickson

I especially liked Nancy Robinette’s performance as Paulina. As the one person who speaks truth to the power that is the King of Sicilia, it is critical role, and she really sank her teeth into it.

But the rest of the cast was great, too. 

There are only nine actors altogether, including Sean Arbuckle as Polixenes, Todd Bartels as Dion and Florizel, Brent Carver as Camilo, Tom Story as Cleomenes and the Clown, Ted van Griethuysen, and Heather Wood as Mamilius and Perdita.

I liked the fact that the actors were so few, because it’s small size made for an excellent ensemble.

Do yourself a favor and go see this production. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Hannah Yelland as Hermione, center stage
photo by T. Charles Erickson

I will admit that I have often struggled to understand this play. I understand the action of the play, the story and characters. But I have grappled with its meaning in the context of Shakespeare’s life.

Perhaps the greatest mystery to me is when the play was first written.

To me it seems like two entirely different plays that were weaved together. Shakespeare often edited his own work, and re-wrote his plays, so it is not impossible to think that this play, as we have it now, is the product of more than one attempt to tell this story.

The tone of the first half of the play, set in Sicilia, is so dark. The tone of the second half, much of it in Bohemia, is so light.

What was Shakespeare doing?

When I wrote my version of Richard III, I found clear indications that the version of the play as we have it now is a product of two different versions stitched together. 

The character of Richard III in the first half of that play is not at all like the character of Richard III in the second half. One is funny and wickedly charismatic, while the other is dull and two-dimensional.

So, why should The Winter’s Tale be any different?

The Winter’s Tale may have been written as late as 1611, or as early as 1594. So which is it?

I think it was both.

In 1594 Shakespeare was quickly establishing himself as the greatest and most successful playwright in London, without a rival. His plays at the time were full of boundless energy and wit.

Elizabeth was Queen, and while there were problems during her reign in 1594, Shakespeare’s perhaps naive optimism for the future could have inspired him to write a light and funny play called A Winter’s Tale.

By 1610-11, he was facing the end of his career and while he was still the greatest playwright in London, playwrights like Ben Jonson were overtaking him.

James was King, and there were so many problems with his reign by 1610, that Shakespeare may have given up any hope for the future, his or the country’s.

I can easily imagine that he would dust off an old play like A Winter’s Tale and surprise the audience with a darker version of Shakespeare’s earlier lighthearted play, and with a character of Leontes who was clearly an unflattering caricature of King James.

As I continue to write my versions of Shakespeare's plays, the next one being Othello, I will demonstrate why Shakespeare wrote what he did in the last years of his career, including The Winter's Tale, and what these plays mean in the context of his own life.

So, please stay tuned.

And in the meantime, go see this excellent production from the Shakespeare Theatre Company.


David B. Schajer

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Friday, May 24, 2013

Shakespeare's Nemesis Robert Cecil

Shakespeare had a nemesis.

There was one man Shakespeare hated the most.

Shakespeare wasn’t alone in hating this man. He was arguably the most despised man in England.

That man was Robert Cecil, who died on 24 May 1612.

Robert Cecil

Why did Shakespeare hate him so much?

They had many things in common, but were different in so many ways.

Cecil and Shakespeare were born only ten months apart, June 1563 and April 1564 respectively.

Cecil’s parents had three children who died in infancy before Cecil was born. Shakespeare’s parents had two children before Shakespeare was born.

Shakespeare was born in humble Stratford-upon-Avon. His parents were solid and prosperous citizens with some property.

Cecil was born in cosmopolitan London. His parents were arguably the most powerful couple in London. His father was Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, and his mother was one of the Queen’s confidantes.

Shakespeare’s parents sent him to school, and trained him in his father’s respectable glovemaking business. But then they faced a financial crisis that kept Shakespeare from attending university.

Cecil’s parents tutored him in statecraft, and he undoubtedly learned more in and around Elizabeth’s court than he did at Cambridge.

William Cecil and his son Robert

It is very interesting to note that while Cecil was a boy, he was educated by his mother Mildred. 

She was also in charge of the education of some other very important young men -- Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (born in 1565, he was only a little younger than Cecil), Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (born in 1550, 13 years older than Cecil) and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (born in 1573, 10 years younger than Cecil) -- all of whom had lost their fathers and were wards to William Cecil.

While Cecil, Essex, Oxford and Southampton were not brothers by blood, they were brothers of a sort. 

Brothers have a tendency to fight, and whatever differences they may have had as children turned to deadly hatred in later years.

When Shakespeare was on his way to London as an actor and playwright in the late 1580’s, Cecil was already working for both his father (who had become the most powerful man in England, second only to Queen Elizabeth, acting as her Lord Privy Seal and Lord High Treasurer) and Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s spymaster.

At this critical point in their lives, Shakespeare was about to become the greatest artist in the country, at the same time that Cecil was about to become the most powerful person in the country.

Walsingham died in 1590. Cecil became the Secretary of State.

Shakespeare was enjoying the first successes of his career at this time. 

Essex and Southampton were known to visit theatres very often, and it is entirely possible that they met Shakespeare around this time. They would have been 25 and 17 respectively.

It is during this decade, the 1590’s that Essex and Cecil had a well known struggle at court. There were two great factions that developed, the Essex/Southampton side versus the Cecil/Oxford side.

Essex was the Queen’s favorite, and she showered him with favors and love. Cecil was the Queen’s councillor, and she gave him a lot of responsibility.

Cecil hated Essex and the feeling was mutual. Essex may have wanted to become the king himself, and Cecil would have tried to stop him.

While Cecil and his family may have patronized artists, there were arguably no greater artistic patrons in the 1590’s than Essex and Southampton together.

They would become Shakespeare’s patrons during this decade.

Shakespeare often wrote his plays to honor and celebrate them. Southampton, for whom Shakespeare is thought to have written many of the Sonnets, was Shakespeare’s inspiration for Romeo. Shakespeare wrote Henry V to celebrate Essex.

Also, Shakespeare found ways of making fun of and insulting the Cecil family, and especially Robert Cecil, in his plays. 

A notable example is his Richard III play written in 1592-3 about the famous hunchbacked king, who plots, schemes, and murders his way to the top.

An Elizabethan audience would have instantly recognized this as a caricature of Cecil, the hunchbacked councillor who plots, schemes, and may have murdered (Ferdinando Stanley, Shakespeare’s first patron) on his way to the top.

The reason why Shakespeare would not have been dragged to the Tower and tortured was because he had very powerful patrons, Essex and Southampton. 

He was also telling a well known story of a historical figure. He could hide behind the fact that he was just writing a history play. It wasn’t his fault that Richard and Cecil both had hunchbacks!

In a sense, in this war against Cecil, Shakespeare was Essex's weapon. 

In my versions of Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet, I tell the story how Shakespeare was more than willing to be used against Cecil, and others at court whom he considered to be having a corrupting influence on the country.

For example, Richard III is a caricature of Robert Cecil. Antonio in Merchant is a bawdy caricature of Oxford, and Polonius in Hamlet is a caricature of both Cecil and his father William.

But by the end of the decade, Cecil's side was winning at court. Essex and Southampton were losing.

Robert Cecil

The struggle for the fate of the country came to a head in 1601 when Essex and Southampton led a failed rebellion.

Why did they lead a rebellion? Was it against Queen Elizabeth herself? Did they want to kill her? Or were they leading the rebellion to force the Queen to remove Cecil from power?

Was the Queen the target or was Cecil the target?

Essex was executed. Southampton was sent to prison.

Shakespeare was at his most vulnerable. He had no one to protect him. This is why he was able to write his greatest masterpiece.

It is at this moment in history that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.

In my version of Hamlet, I explore the relationship between Shakespeare, Essex and Cecil to prove once and for all that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet for Essex after he was executed.

My version depicts an interrogation Cecil would have had with Shakespeare.

This would have been the first time that Shakespeare and his nemesis would have come face to face, and could argue openly.

Also, in my version, I don't portray Cecil as some cartoon villain, twirling his moustache. Cecil must have thought that he was doing the best he could for the country, and I did my best to represent him as fairly as possible.

Not long after the rebellion, Queen Elizabeth died.

At that moment, Robert Cecil was the most powerful person in England.

He was the man who put King James on the throne of England.

In the early years of his reign, while King James was busy hunting, he left almost all matters of state to Cecil.

King James had rewarded Shakespeare, too. He was now the official playwright and actor to the court.

In the years that followed, Shakespeare and Cecil would continue their fight.

When Cecil died, I am sure that Shakespeare, as good and decent a man as he was, took some satisfaction and was greatly relieved.

He would have been very pleased that he had lived long enough to see his great nemesis die.

I hope you continue to read this blog, and look out for other versions of the plays I am writing.

My next work is Othello, and while the play has everything to do with King James -- Robert Cecil plays a critical part, too.


David B. Schajer

Related Articles:

Richard III was Shakespeare's Revenge

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shakespeare and the Birth of the Gunpowder Plot

On 20 May 1604, the five principal conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot met for the first time.

Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes aka Guido Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, John Wright and Thomas Percy all met in London, at the Duck and Drake Inn, off the Strand.

An Elizabethan-era Inn

Catesby was in charge of the Plot, and it was his idea to blow up Parliament on its opening day. He wanted to kill King James and his family, and murder as many men in the government as possible.

Catesby is believed to have been born in Warwickshire. His family were prominent Catholics who violated the recusancy laws by practicing their faith in secret.

His father spent many years in prison for breaking the law, which included harboring the famous Jesuit priest Edmund Campion. His relative Sir Francis Throckmorton was executed for his part in the attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and replace her with her Catholic cousin Mary, Queen of Scots.

At some point in Catesby’s life, probably after the death of his beloved wife Catherine, he became radicalized. 

He was involved in the failed Essex Rebellion against Queen Elizabeth in 1601, for which he was put in prison and forced to pay a crushing penalty.

It is very likely that he met William Shakespeare at one point or another in those years.

Shakespeare was from Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire.

Shakespeare’s friend and patron was the Earl of Essex, who led the failed Essex Rebellion. It is entirely possible that Shakespeare met Catesby around the time that Catesby joined Essex’s conspiracy.

One of Catesby’s ancestors, Sir William Catesby, was one of Richard III’s councillors. Shakespeare included him as a character in his Richard III play. 

Brass rubbing of Sir William Catesby

It is entirely likely that Catesby would have visited the theatre to see how Shakespeare depicted his ancestor on stage. 

He may not have liked it, since his ancestor was called a "dull and unmindful villain" on a public London stage.

I am not suggesting that Shakespeare was a co-conspirator in the Essex Rebellion or in the Gunpowder Plot.

But Catesby, as well as the other Gunpowder Plot conspirators, give us a look into the life of Shakespeare that has not been explored in detail.

Shakespeare knew many people in his years in London. In the years from 1593 to 1610, he was the most famous man in London.

He would have wanted to meet the rich, the powerful and the influential. They would have wanted to meet him. 

Some of these people were leading lives as recusant Catholics. Shakespeare may or may not have who was or was not a secret Catholic.

But he could not have been ignorant of the fact that any one of them could be a potential threat to the state. Any one of them could be a terrorist, or could be harboring potential terrorists, or could be funding terrorists.

Shakespeare’s life was bad enough with the threat of the plague, the occasional closing of the theatres, and deaths in his family.

He also had to worry about his reputation.

Shakespeare had to tread very cautiously in Elizabethan and Jacobean London. It was very risky if he was too close to anyone, whether they were rich and powerful or not.

He could never know if the man or woman he just met would turn out to be part of a plot against the state.

The closest Shakespeare had come to being implicated in a plot was the Essex Rebellion. 

In my version of Hamlet, I portray the events surrounding the Rebellion and Shakespeare's involvement with the Earl of Essex.

If Shakespeare had the even the slightest knowledge of the Essex Rebellion it could have cost him his life.

The famous playwright Thomas Kyd had been imprisoned and tortured for less. Ben Jonson had been imprisoned for less. Christopher Marlowe may have been murdered for far less. 

I think Shakespeare paid a price for the Essex Rebellion, and I think he did in fact almost lose his life because of it.

In the years after, Shakespeare would have been more reluctant to associate with men like Essex, or Catesby.

But he knew they were out there.

When Catesby and the others met for the first time on 20 May 1604, it was a Sunday.

They swore an oath of secrecy on a prayer book.

Just after that, in another room, the Jesuit priest John Gerard celebrated an illegal Mass with them, and they took the Sacrament of the Holy Communion together. 

Father John Gerard

Gerard later claimed that he had no knowledge of the Plot, despite the fact that he was friends with Catesby. I find this very hard to believe.

On that Sunday, Shakespeare would have attended church. The theatre was normally open on Sundays but there was a plague so bad in these early days of King James's reign that all theatres were closed.

It was a frightening time in the early days of King James's reign.

Shakespeare knew that before long, especially since King James was abusing his power and making the country suffer, it could get much worse.

Shakespeare would perform Othello for the first time in November 1604. He must have been already thinking about the play, and figuring out the plot and the characters.

Shakespeare wrote Othello for many reasons, one of which was to warn the King that he was not uniting the country, but in fact tearing the country apart, especially along religious lines.

Shakespeare may not have known that there were Catholics who were conspiring to kill King James at that very moment, probably not so far away from him, but it would not have surprised him in the least.


David B. Schajer

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