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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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

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