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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Monday, June 3, 2013

Shakespeare's Dance of Death

In January of 1563 people started dying in England, due to the plague, but by June it was an epidemic.

There had been no plague in London for about 12 years, but when it returned in 1563 it became the worst outbreak in the entire 16th century.

Dance of Death by Hans Holbein the Younger

It lasted for over one full year, until June 1564.

About 20,000 people in London died from it, which was about 25% of the total populace.

But what is fascinating is that arguably the two most influential men of the 16th century were born during this year of plague.

Robert Cecil, whom I have written about here, was born on 1 June 1563.

And William Shakespeare, whose birth was truly a miracle, was born on 23 April 1564.

I am tempted to think that the fact that they were born such a dangerous time had something to do with their greatness.

If they had been born in a time of peace and prosperity and without the plague, they may have not understood how fleeting life really is, and they may not have been as ambitious as these men were.

I think both Shakespeare (who wrote that "all the world's a stage") and Cecil understood that life is a danse macabre, a Dance of Death, where each and every actor is led off the stage by Death eventually. 

Robert Cecil was taught by the two most powerful men in England, his father William Cecil, and Sir Francis Walsingham. They were Queen Elizabeth’s two most trusted and closest councillors.

When they both died, Robert Cecil inherited their position and became the only man whom Queen Elizabeth could not reign without.

By the time that she died, in 1603, Cecil was the most powerful man in England and he was the one who put King James on the throne.

William Shakespeare never had the political power that Robert Cecil had, but by the time Queen Elizabeth died, Shakespeare was the most powerful and influential man in London society -- there were no other men who could communicate directly with the general public as well and as directly as he could, and who could shape their opinions.

It makes sense that these men would have met. There is very little evidence that they met in person more than once or twice. 

But both would have understood the power that the other one wielded.

After the failed Essex Rebellion in 1601, I think Shakespeare finally came face to face with Cecil.

In my version of Hamlet, I created something of a showdown between Shakespeare and Cecil in which they would fight. 

Shakespeare was fighting to survive. He may have taken an active part in the failed Essex Rebellion. It is possible that he could have been imprisoned, or even killed, for his involvement. 

Thomas Kyd had been tortured for far less, and he later died due to his wounds. Christopher Marlowe may have been killed by the government, also for far less.

Shakespeare would also have fought Cecil for the freedom of the theatres. If Shakespeare was imprisoned indefinitely or killed, it is possible that the theatres could have been shut, maybe for good.

Shakespeare had used the theatres as a way to rally support for the Earl of Essex before, and after the Rebellion. Cecil could have decided to just shut them.

This was part of Shakespeare's Dance of Death. He knew that he would die one day or another. He had suffered great losses in his life, with his son Hamnet in 1596 and his father John only months after the Essex Rebellion, and had written about these deaths in his plays.

I think he wrote Hamlet knowing that it could mean the end of him.

Today we know that Shakespeare was not imprisoned indefinitely, was not killed and that the theatres remained open.

But it is just possible that history could have been different.

And if we stop for a moment, it is just possible that we have Shakespeare to thank for the theatres remaining open.

Shakespeare would go on to write and perform, and Death would have to wait to take him from the stage.


David B. Schajer

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