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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Shakespeare's New Globe Built

In June 1614, the Globe theatre -- which had burned down on 29 June 1613 -- was finally rebuilt.

The new theatre was located on the exact same site, and was built with the same design.

The biggest difference was the new use of tiles for the roof, instead of thatch, to hopefully prevent another fire. It was the thatched roofing that had caught fire the year before.

It must have been a very busy and difficult year indeed for Richard Burbage, Henry Condell, the other shareholders in the company, and the actors. They needed to get back to business, and every day they didn't have a theatre was another day without income.

I think Shakespeare had been retired, and was living in Stratford-upon-Avon, before the Globe burned down, and would have taken it very hard when it was destroyed by fire.

But what did he think of the new Globe?

I like to imagine that Shakespeare made a rare and special journey back to London to see the new Globe.

Perhaps he was there to open the doors to the new Globe for the first time to the public.

I even like to think that he would have been celebrated on the stage of the new Globe itself! 

His return to London might have been newsworthy, and the audience, many of whom had seen Shakespeare on stage over the years, would have wanted to applaud him once again.

So, perhaps at the beginning, or at the end of a play, Shakespeare would walk on stage to a crowd that must have clapped their hands, stomped their feet, and cried his name so loudly that the whole theatre was shaking.

What was the first play to be performed in this new Globe?

I can't find the answer.

So, was it something funny and whimsical like A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Was it something funny and bloody like Richard III? Was it Henry V, the first play that was performed in the old Globe in 1599?

I happen to think it was The Tempest, which may have been the last play that Shakespeare wrote and performed in, probably in the role of Prospero.

It seems fitting that Shakespeare would want to see this play again, his personal farewell to his life on stage.

Sir Ian McKellen as Prospero, in 1999

But the more I think about it, he would have wanted to sit in the Lords’ Rooms, above and behind the stage, where he could hear the dialogue better.

And more importantly than watching the actors, he would have wanted to see the faces of the crowd, and he could take delight in watching them take delight in the characters and words he had created for them.

If Shakespeare was there, then I would imagine that every last seat in the galleries was taken, and the yard was completely packed.

So, it may very well be that Shakespeare's last sight of a stage and an audience, and the last time he saw many of his dearest friends, was in June 1614.


David B. Schajer

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shakespeare's Globe Burns Down

On 29 June 1613, the Globe theatre burned down.

During a performance of Henry VIII, some cannons were fired, and the sparks ignited on the thatching and wooden beams of the gallery.

It only took an hour for it to burn down.

It seems that no one was seriously hurt. There was a man whose clothing caught on fire but it was put out with some ale.

If you were standing in the yard, or seated in the galleries, it must have been very frightening. Especially if you were in the top gallery, and you had to make your way out of a burning and crowded theatre.

The closest I came to a burning building was while I was in a movie theatre (!) and the building next door caught on fire. My theatre evacuated safely, but the smoke in the air outside was so heavy that it was very difficult to breathe, and I had to run a block away before I could breathe normally.

For the audience, the Globe was an important part of London life, and when it burned down, it would be sorely missed. There were other theatres, but nothing was like the Globe. It was the most popular playhouse and it had the best plays.

For the actors, like Richard Burbage and Henry Condell for example, it must have been truly heartbreaking.

The Globe was built from what was taken from the old Theatre in Shoreditch, when that was torn down in 1598 and rebuilt into what became the Globe in 1599.

The Theatre in Shoreditch

Richard Burbage’s father had been a joiner, and he had built the Theatre piece by piece. When those pieces of timber were burned into ashes in 1613, Burbage was watching part of his family’s very significant personal history vanish.

I don’t think Shakespeare was anywhere near London on that day. By 1613, he would have gone back to Stratford for good. He would die within 3 years, in 1616.

What did he think of the news when he heard it?

The Globe to him was not just a place to perform plays. It was more than just a home away from home for him. His whole identity was tied to that building.

When he had a hand in tearing down the Theatre and creating the Globe in 1599, it was at a very critical moment in his own life. He was very involved with the Earl of Essex, who was fighting at court with the Robert Cecil faction, over the fate of the country.

The end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign was coming, and Essex, Cecil and Shakespeare knew it.

Whatever each of them did in this period of time would determine their fates in the future after Elizabeth, and it could mean disaster or triumph.

When Shakespeare opened the Globe in 1599, the first play was probably Henry V, which was written to celebrate Essex, just as he was riding off to fight in Ireland.

The Globe, circa 1600

In the same year, Julius Caesar was performed for the first time. It was a play about the plot to kill the emperor.

It would seem that Shakespeare, based on these plays, was struggling with the possibility that his friend and patron was building support to lead a rebellion and overthrow Elizabeth.

Essex did lead a rebellion in February 1601 which lead to his execution.

Essex was gone, and Shakespeare’s future was in doubt.

The fact that he survived the rebellion’s fallout, and the Globe remained open is something of a miracle.

Much of Shakespeare’s later success was due to King James, who made him a King’s Man, and the Globe owes its existence to the patronage of the king himself.

But Shakespeare knew that at any moment that all of the theatres could be closed down, and theatre as he knew it could come to a halt.

Shakespeare fought for over ten years to keep the Globe alive and I think the toll of that fight had much to do with his death, at the relatively early age of 52.

The Globe, center, and The Rose on Bankside

If he had not succeeded in keeping it open, we would not have King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet, and many more.

By 1613, the relationship between Shakespeare and King James was not what it once was, and Shakespeare retired to the country.

I don't think he went willingly. I think it was very hard for him to separate from the Globe, and the audiences he wrote for.

For Shakespeare, when the Globe burned down, it would have been like the final nail in his coffin. 

Despite the fact that the Globe was to be rebuilt, I think that its destruction had a hand in accelerating Shakespeare's own death.

I hope that when audiences go see Shakespeare plays, especially when they see them in the new Globe in London today, that they realize the tremendous personal risks and the sacrifices that Shakespeare made to make the Globe, keep the Globe open, and make the Globe famous enough to be remembered all these years later.


David B. Schajer

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shakespeare and King Richard III

On 26 June 1483, Richard, Duke of Gloucester ascended the throne as King Richard III.

Was he a good king? A bad king? Was he anything like Shakespeare’s representation of him? Did he really kill the princes in the Tower?

At this point in history, based on the evidence that we have, it is almost impossible to truly understand who and what he really was.

But I am optimistic that in time we may get a better insight into this controversial man.

After all, his skeletal remains were missing for centuries, only to be discovered just last year, buried in a car park in Leicester!

And just in case you think that these discoveries can only be made by the greatest scientific minds in the world, Richard III's final resting place was found by a screenwriter who had a powerful hunch!

Screenwriter Philippa Langley and Richard III

So, who knows? Maybe there is something buried in a backyard somewhere in England that will change our understanding about Richard III.

If you live in England, you might want to get a metal-detector. Just make sure you ask your parents for permission before you start digging up the yard!

Recently, a man in Hertfordshire discovered £100,000 worth of Roman gold coins with a metal-detector he had bought just 20 minutes earlier! 

I just love discoveries like this!

Who knows what more there is to discover about Richard III.

As far as Shakespeare was concerned, he didn’t much care about the real Richard III, who did in fact have a hunchback. 

He used the character in order to comment on the court of Queen Elizabeth, and specifically to criticize her main councillor Robert Cecil, who also had a hunched back.

Robert Cecil, Shakespeare's Richard III

I was very excited as I wrote my version of Richard III. I was able to see a version of the play that is entirely unlike what we have come to know about the play.

If we watch the play today, it is fascinating in many different ways. The character of Richard III is so charismatic, and we can’t get enough of him. Why else has the play been so watchable all these centuries?

But the rest of the play is not so interesting. Much of it is boring in fact.

The play is really all about Richard III. His character steals every scene he’s in, and even though he is killed at the end as the villain he is, he has stolen the whole show.

But when I did my version of the play, I had to try and figure out how the play entertained the audiences in 1590’s London. 

What did they see? What was its meaning for them?

The main question is why did Shakespeare write a play where Richard III is so fascinating and magnetic, and every other character, including the future King Henry VIII, is so boring?

What did that mean?

Was this some sort of anti-Tudor propaganda?

No, I don’t think that was Shakespeare’s purpose, and he knew that he could land himself in jail for something so seditious.

I don’t think Shakespeare was an anti-monarchist, but I do think he was afraid and aware of the absolute power of the monarchy.

I think he was trying to make the audience share his fear of a powerful monarch. 

If you were an average Englishman in 1593, you disliked Richard III even though you never met him. You have been taught to hate him.

You also probably liked Queen Elizabeth, even though you probably never met her in person. You have been taught to like her.

Therefore Shakespeare was asking his audience to see past what they have been taught and think for themselves.

In a sense, Shakespeare is saying that not every bad monarch is all bad and not every good monarch is all good.

This may seem like a quaint idea today. This idea doesn't surprise our modern minds. We have seen so many movies and TV shows that say something similar.

But in the police state that was Elizabethan England, it was very controversial, and every last person in the audience -- who had been taught not to think for themselves from the time they were born -- would have been shocked at such a message.

It is my firm belief that Richard III was the play that launched Shakespeare's career. Before he wrote this play, he was a very good playwright with a lot of promise.

After he wrote this play, around 1593, he was the only playwright in London worth seeing. 

He secured his position as the greatest playwright of the era with Richard III, and he would hold this position almost unchallenged until 1611.

Before he wrote this play, he was satisfied to write interesting plays, that would draw big crowds.

But something happened to him, to make him write this Richard III play, and afterwards he would forever challenge the status quo.


David B. Schajer

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Stage-Struck Shakespeare

444 years ago, in the summer of 1569, Queen Elizabeth own company of players, the Queen’s Players was on tour across England.

They stopped in Stratford-upon-Avon and performed at the Guildhall.

The Guildhall in Stratford-upon-Avon
William Shakespeare was 5 years old, and it is very likely that he saw them perform. It is possible that this is the first time Shakespeare saw “professional” actors.

What did he see? It may have been Sir Clyomon and Sir Clamydes, otherwise known as The History of the Two Valiant Knights, Sir Clyomon Knight of the Golden Shield, Son to the King of Denmark, and Clamydes the White Knight, Son to the King of Swabia.

This play did in fact have an influence on Shakespeare, when he wrote As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cymbeline, and Henry IV, Part 2.

This would not be the last time young Shakespeare would see acting companies in and around Stratford.  In fact, by the end of the same summer of 1569, he would have seen the Earl of Worcester’s Men, too.

inside the Guildhall

What kind of effect did these plays have on Shakespeare, who would go on to write the greatest plays in history?

Stephen Greenblatt, in his brilliant and essential biography of Shakespeare Will in the World, has a wonderful description of the “stage-struck” “young and awkward Shakespeare” “filled with visions his tongue could not conceive and eager to play all the parts.”

I like to imagine that this young Shakespeare was so excited by the plays he saw, that he would act out characters and lines for weeks after. He was so thrilled that he probably couldn’t get to bed those nights after he saw a play.

It is important to remember that Shakespeare was not enrolled in school yet. He would start when he was 7 years old, in 1571.

So, this moment early in Shakespeare’s life gives us an idea of who he was long before he had the kind of education, with an emphasis on Latin and Greek (and the stories in those languages) that would help him unleash his talent as a writer.

What is also fascinating is these Queen’s Players, which were an early version of what would later become The Queen's Men, also acted as spies for the Queen. It was an ingenious use of the actors. Since they were travelling across England, they could also collect intelligence.

I wonder what they told the Queen, and her spymaster Frances Walsingham, about Stratford.

There probably wasn’t much to tell.

But did any of them happen to notice a bright young boy, who probably sat as close to the stage as possible, whose entire life was changed the moment they hit the stage?

Little did the Queen know, or the Queen’s Players know, that while they were collecting data on England -- they were also inspiring children like Shakespeare to become actors and playwrights.

And if Queen Elizabeth had known that she had “created” Shakespeare -- who would later become such a source of trouble for her -- she might never have allowed playing companies to form in the first place.

When Shakespeare became the most successful and popular playwright in London, in the late 1590's, he was embroiled in the most important power struggle in Queen Elizabeth's court. Shakespeare was a weapon used by the Earl of Essex against Robert Cecil.

This power struggle would lead to the failed Essex Rebellion, which in turn would inspire Shakespeare to write his greatest masterpiece, Hamlet.

It is funny to imagine that in a summer not entirely unlike this one in 2013, there was a young boy who would go see a play, and he would grow up to change the world.


David B. Schajer

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Shakespeare and the 1606 Oath of Allegiance

On 22 June 1606, a New Oath of Allegiance was proclaimed.

King James in Parliament

The new Oath was a provision of the Popish Recusants Act which was passed right after the 5 November 1605 Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James and blow up Parliament.

This new Act and the new Oath were made in order to force Catholic recusants to declare their allegiance to King James, and not the Pope.

In other words, life for Catholics in England was getting a lot harder.

The Gunpowder Plot, which was hatched and carried out by Catholics, was devastating not for just for King James but for the Catholic community in England as well.

Guy Fawkes discovered in cellar

It is very difficult for us to appreciate how difficult a time it was in those weeks and months after the Gunpowder Plot. I am sure it was very frightening for Catholics as well as non-Catholics, and the fear of continuing violence was very real.

For a man like William Shakespeare, who seems to have kept his faith to himself and does not take a clear side in the tumultuous English Reformation, it would have made life even harder.

By the time of the Gunpowder Plot, Shakespeare was no longer just one of many playwrights who wrote and performed and tried to entertain crowds.

His company of actors was the official royal company -- the King’s Men. 

They were the most important and powerful company of all, and nothing even came close to being as powerful and influential as they were, as far as theatre and politics were concerned.

Whether Shakespeare liked it or not, he was part of the government. He, and his fellow actors, were an instrument of the state.

Whether Shakespeare liked it or not, when he wrote a play, it would be associated with the king whom he served.

Would Shakespeare have felt that the Gunpowder Plot was not just an attack on the King but an attack on him too?

There is so much to say about King James, especially around the time of the Gunpowder Plot.

But suffice to say that Shakespeare’s art and King James’s politics were not the same thing, and never were the same thing.

How Shakespeare was able to escape having to write plays that merely gave the party line is a real mystery, but it is important to understand that Shakespeare’s plays during King James’s reign were truly acts of disobedience.

Look at Macbeth and King Lear, written in late 1606. Both of them are cautionary tragic tales with kings on blood-soaked stages.

James McAvoy as Macbeth on a very bloody stage

What was Shakespeare saying in these plays?

Whatever it was, it was not flattering to King James.

I think Shakespeare, in writing the plays for his audience and future audiences, was dis-associating himself from King James.

When we understand these plays in the light of the Gunpowder Plot, the Popish Recusants Act and the new Oath of Allegiance, we can start to see how Shakespeare was biting the hand that fed him.

Shakespeare may have known all too well that he was a ‘brief chronicle of the time’ and his plays could help future generations understand the blood-soaked nightmare that was the early years of King James.


David B. Schajer

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Happy Birthday King James!

Happy Birthday King James!

Charles James Stuart was born 447 years ago today, on 19 June 1566.

He was named after Charles IX of France, his godfather.

He was the only living child of Mary, Queen of Scots. His father was Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who would die 8 months later at Kirk O’ Field -- due to injuries he sustained from an explosion under his room, although it is possible that he was poisoned as well.

There is some possibility that the real father was James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell.

Bothwell was rumored to have had an affair with Mary, and they were both suspected of murdering Darnley.

Mary and Bothwell married only 3 months after the death of Darnley, and their marriage set off a  civil war that would last for 5 years.

Mary would  abdicate her throne in 1567, and her son James succeeded her.

He became King of Scotland when he was 13 months old.

There is so much to say about King James. 

Since I write about Shakespeare, I would like to share one little story today, for his birthday.

When James became King of England and Scotland in March 1603, almost immediately he made Shakespeare and his company the official royal playing company to the king -- the King’s Men.

What did this mean to Shakespeare personally?

Was he happy? Scared? Reluctant? 

Did he see this as a blessing or a curse?

Queen Elizabeth in her time had her own official royal players -- the Queen’s Men.

Why don’t we hear about the plays and actors from this company, while we know so much about Shakespeare and his company of actors?

One reason might be the fact that in addition to performing in London, in other cities, and at court -- this company was a propaganda tool for the Queen. 

They were probably also required to spy on the country and report back to the Queen, and her spymaster Francis Walsingham.

Walsingham may have been the one who created the Queen's Men in the first place.

It is very clear that Shakespeare’s career as an actor and playwright would not have been seen as propaganda for the Queen. I think his success was due to the fact that he challenged the state as far as he could without being stopped by the royal censor.

He did criticize and satirize the Queen personally -- as Portia in The Merchant of Venice for example -- but he knew how to get it past the authorities. I think Elizabeth even liked being roasted like this.

So, when James became King of England, would Shakespeare really have wanted to create propaganda for James?

I think he was terrified of being a King’s Man, and selling his soul to James.

As far as Shakespeare knew, he could lose most if not all of his audience if they thought he was working for the King, and was a spy for the crown.

If we look at the plays he wrote after James became king, like Measure for Measure, Macbeth, Coriolanus and Othello -- it is clear that he is not writing propaganda.

Which begs the question -- how did he get away with writing what he wanted to write?

How was he able to secure the freedom to write what he wanted?

What did King James think of these plays? Could he really have been pleased at Shakespeare’s disobedience?

I think I have found the answer to this mystery.

But that’s a story for another day...

I hope you join me in remembering King James today -- he is a remarkable man who lived an incredible life -- which is even more remarkable and incredible for having inspired Shakespeare to write many of his greatest masterpieces!


David B. Schajer

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Shakespeare and the Battle of Carberry Hill

On 15 June 1567, the Battle of Carberry Hill took place.

A sketch of the Battle drawn at the time

Mary, Queen of Scots had just married James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell on 15 May.

She married Bothwell shortly after visiting her only child, James, who was not yet one year old.

Mary and Bothwell

This marriage enraged the Scottish lords, who already suspected Bothwell and Mary of conspiring to murder her husband, Henry Stuart,  Lord Darnley. 

He had died under very suspicious circumstances only a few weeks before, in February 1567.

The Scottish lords wanted to take revenge for Darnley’s murder, and to stop Mary and her much disliked new husband from ruling the country.

Mary had her supporters, and altogether her forces numbered just over 2,000.

The Scottish lords and their men numbered about 2,000.

The army of the Scottish lords

These armies faced each other in the field.

Bothwell offered single combat to any of the Scottish lords. Several lord took him up on his offer, but he refused them.

Not only did Bothwell not accept any challenger, but as the day dragged on, it became clear that he was intending to escape alone and abandon Mary!

He did just that -- he rode off, and left her.

It was the last time they saw each other.

The Scottish lords took her into custody and put her in Lochleven Castle for the time being, where they put pressure on her to abdicate.

Mary was pregnant at this point, with twins. Historian Antonia Fraser claims that the twins were conceived with Bothwell.

Within a year, by 1568, Mary would divide the country and a war would start over her that would last for 5 years.

William Shakespeare was only 3 years old in June 1567.

While it is doubtful that he would have known much of anything at such a young age, it is equally doubtful that, as he grew older, he didn’t hear every last story about Mary.

When Mary was executed in 1587, Shakespeare would have been 23 years old, and this was around the same time that he was arriving in London to start his career.

By the time he was 23, Shakespeare would have heard all of the stories of the controversial Mary, the tragedy of Darnley’s murder, the notorious Bothwell, and the child at the center of the entire story, James -- who would later become King of England and Scotland.

In 1587, Shakespeare was 23 years old and James was 21.

Shakespeare was a writer, whose profession demanded him to explore the lives of kings and queens, heroes and villains. It would have been natural for Shakespeare to imagine what kind of man James was and what kind of man he would become.

Shakespeare must have thought of James. He might have asked himself what kind of man was James? Was he good or was he bad? Was he anything like his mother, or not?

If he was anything like his mother, it could have dire consequences for Scotland.

Shakespeare might have asked himself what James thought of Mary's execution. Would it have changed James? Made him angrier, even vengeful? What form would that vengeance take? Or would James rise above the controversial life and death of his mother, and rule as a benevolent monarch?

Shakespeare may have imagined that perhaps one day he would meet this James, Mary's son, in person, and perhaps even perform a play for him.

It might not have dawned on Shakespeare in 1587 that James would or could one day become King of Scotland and England.

Little did Shakespeare know that it would in fact happen -- James would be crowned in 1603.

Little did Shakespeare know that James would make him the official royal playwright -- Shakespeare would become a King's Man.

Little did Shakespeare know that James accession in 1603 would have dire consequences not just for Scotland but for England as well.

Because little did Shakespeare know that the Battle of Carberry Hill, like the Battle of Langside, and all of the other slings and arrows that Mary suffered, were battles that were never resolved in the heart of James, and they haunted him his entire life.

I will be exploring more of this history, of Mary, Bothwell, and James -- and what it meant to Shakespeare personally -- in my forthcoming version of Othello.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Happy Birthday Sam Wanamaker!

Happy Birthday Sam Wanamaker!

Mr. Wanamaker is the father of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.

Without him, the theatre would arguably not exist.

He was a very well know American actor and director (and father to the famous actress Zoe Wanamaker) who first visited London in 1949, and immediately looked for the location of Shakespeare’s Globe.

Shakespeare’s original Globe burned down in 1613, but was rebuilt in 1614. That one was torn down in 1644, two years after the theatres had been ordered to be closed -- the same year that the English Civil War began.

Mr. Wanamaker couldn't believe that not only was there not a new Globe, but the only thing to remember the old Globe was a plaque on a wall!

In 1970, he started the Shakespeare Globe Trust in order to raise money and support to build a new Globe.

It seems that Mr. Wanamaker faced many obstacles: he couldn’t build the new Globe on the original site because of protected building, he couldn’t conduct any archaeology in order to study the exact dimensions of the old Globe, the Royal Family were “more or less supportive”, the local council was hostile, and even his British colleagues were skeptical!

It’s a miracle that it was ever built at all!

It also seems that Mr. Wanamaker put his whole body and soul, and no little amount of his own personal wealth, into the project.

It amazes me that it took so long. It took over 20 years to just start construction!

Once construction of the theatre began in 1993, it seems to have been made very quickly. In the same year, the first performances were played on a temporary stage.

In the summer of 1993, Mr. Wanamaker was made an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

But sadly, just as the construction was in full swing, Mr. Wanamaker died, on 18 December 1993, at the age of 74.

He did not live long enough to see the new theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, opened in 1997, with Queen Elizabeth herself at the inauguration.

But there is more.

At the moment, there is work underway to build a new theatre, linked to the new Globe. It will be a candlelit indoor theatre, modeled after Shakespeare’s Blackfriars theatre, which was a smaller theatre to perform plays in the winter.

It is called the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and it will only seat 350 people at a time, compared to 1500 at the Globe.

Digital image of new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

They are already selling tickets for the very first shows, beginning with The Tempest (which begins on Shakespeare’s birthday 23 April 2014) followed by A Midsummer Night’s Dream (from 24 May) and Macbeth (from 22 June).

You can also donate to the theatre here:

I hope you join me today in remembering Sam Wanamaker, and his invaluable contribution to the memory and the history of Shakespeare.


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