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.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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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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