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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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Shakespeare and Walter Raleigh's Arrest

On 17 July 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh was arrested, on treason charges.

Arrest of Sir Walter Raleigh, from Cassell's Illustrated History of England

He was implicated in plotting to remove King James from his throne, and put Arbella Stuart (James’s cousin) in his place.

James had been King of England only a few weeks, since March 1603. He had not even had his coronation yet -- that would happen one week later, on 25 July 1603.

He had been King of England for such a short time, and already there were those who wanted to see him removed.

It must have been a very confusing and turbulent time for everyone in England, including William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare had benefited a great deal when King James arrived. King James gave Shakespeare and his fellow players a promotion. He made them the official royal players to the King, the King’s Men.

This promotion would enrich Shakespeare personally, and helped secure his fame while he lived and after he died.

Imagine what it must have been like for Shakespeare, in the earliest days of King James’s reign. He has just been given this tremendous and very prestigious honor.

But then Sir Walter Raleigh is arrested.

There is no evidence to suggest that Shakespeare and Raleigh liked each other, or were well acquainted with each other.

But there is no doubting that Raleigh was one of the most important and famous men of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. He is well known for spreading his cloak for Queen Elizabeth to walk across when she came to a muddy patch on the ground.

If Raleigh was conspiring against King James, then it spoke to a deep level of distrust and fear that many people in London, and in England in general, had of this new king.

I have written before that the imprisonment and later trial of Raleigh marked the end of the Elizabethan era. An era that had known for such wonderful freedoms, like theatre and playwrights like Shakespeare, and for its adventure and exploration, like Sir Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, had come to a definite close in the summer of 1603, with Raleigh’s arrest.

Yes, there had been plots against Queen Elizabeth, too. Yes, Elizabeth was known to have an effective and ruthless intelligence network, and was not above torturing suspects and traitors. She was not shy about executions. 

But when she died, there was a great deal of hope that with her death, England could become a better country, a country that was more free, and would finally allow people of different faiths to co-exist in peace.

Many believed that King James would allow religious freedom for Catholics in England. While he was King of Scotland, he had made many assurances to that effect. One could argue that he could not have become King of England if he was not seen as friendly towards the rather large Catholic community in England.

When King James allowed Raleigh to arrested, it was a clear signal that the hopes of a newer and better England were in vain.

In the days that followed, many people, perhaps including Shakespeare himself, believed that King James would be lenient to Raleigh, and let him out of jail.

But as the days and weeks passed, while Raleigh sat in jail, it was clear that King James was not quite the king everyone wanted.

With Shakespeare’s promotion to King’s Man, it was a signal that King James wanted the arts to continue to flourish, and he wanted theatres to remain open.

In time it was also clear that King James wanted exploration to continue. It was in 1607 that Jamestown, Virginia was established in the Americas.

But it was also clear that spy networks, arrests, and religious persecution, including against Catholics, would also continue.

I think that Shakespeare was very pleased when he became the King’s Man. 

But 410 years ago, on 17 July, Shakespeare may have realized that he got more than he bargained for.


David B. Schajer

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