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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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shakespeare Glimpses His Future

In July 1575, Queen Elizabeth I visited Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire.

She stayed for 19 days, from 9 to 27 July, at the invitation of her “favourite” Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

He wanted her to marry him, and this was his last best chance to make her say yes.

A model of Kenilworth, as it would have appeared in 1575

He spent a lot of money to woo her, and did everything he could to entertain her.

There were pageants, fireworks, bear baitings, mystery plays, hunts and lavish banquets. 

More than any other person, Leicester was responsible for the birth of playing companies. He had playing companies, and actors, of his own for many years. He had petitioned the Queen to give them license to perform freely and organise into troupes.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
in his tilting armor, a drawing by Zuccaro 1575

At Kenilworth in 1575, he would have had many of these actors with him, including James Burbage. Burbage would build The Theatre, the very first permanent structure built as a theatre in England since the Roman times.

Burbage had a son named Richard Burbage, who would go on to be the leading actor in Shakespeare’s plays (and arguably the greatest actor of all time) -- the first actor to play Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, and so many more.

Richard Burbage would have been 8 years old in 1575, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he was with his father at Kenilworth in 1575

Queen Elizabeth, in 1575

Kenilworth Castle is only 23 kilometers away from Stratford-upon-Avon.

It is believed that a young William Shakespeare, who would have been 11 years old at the time, may have witnessed much of the festivities.

Was this the first time that he saw Queen Elizabeth? Perhaps. 

She had made a short trip to Kenilworth 3 years earlier in 1572, so perhaps Shakespeare had seen her then.

But in 1575, he could have gotten a really good look at her. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went to Kenilworth every day to catch a glimpse of Elizabeth, and Leicester and all of the excitement they had brought to his relatively simple Midlands life.

Queen Elizabeth dancing La Volta with Leicester

But what is almost even more interesting is that he saw not only the Queen, but he also saw Leicester, the father of playing companies, he also saw James Burbage, the father of theatre in England, and he probably saw Richard Burbage, who would be the first true superstar of England’s theatre.

Just think of that. When Shakepspeare was only 11 years old, in July 1575, he was getting a glimpse of his future. One day he would act and write for the Queen, in the company of these very men.

I think Shakespeare fell in love with theatre and plays and acting earlier in his life, when he was 5 years old.

But if there was any doubt that he would go on to become an actor and a writer, all doubt would be gone in July 1575.

I like to imagine that the young boy Shakespeare walked among the festivities and entertainments, with his jaw dropped open and was delighted by everything he saw.

What he saw stayed with him his entire life. He must have seen Leicester’s fireworks and a spectacle of a 24-foot-long dolphin emerging from a lake, inside of which was an actor playing the Greek poet Arion.

Arion on a dolphin's back

When Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night many years later, he referred back to “Arion on the dolphin’s back” and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream he referred to the fireworks and the “dolphin’s back” again.

I have this image in my mind of this young Warwickshire boy witnessing what sounds like the grandest entertainment of the 16th century, staring up at the sky as the fireworks explode -- and whatever dreams he had get even bigger with every explosion.

Fireworks over Kenilworth Castle

Somewhere inside him, he must have decided that when he grew up, he wanted to act in and write plays for the Queen.

Around 13 years later, by the end of the 1580’s, that little boy was a young man. Shakespeare would be in London, part of a playing company, and acting and writing as much as he could to secure his future and fortune on stage.

But one of the most important moments in his life that led him to London was at Kenilworth in July 1575.


David B. Schajer

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