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.

Please join over 68,000 people on facebook & Twitter following Shakespeare Solved ® -- the number one Shakespeare blog in the world!

Articles Written For:

The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

Most Popular Posts:

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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Richard Armitage and Shakespeare

Happy Birthday Richard Armitage!

Wouldn't he be great in some Shakespeare?

Of course he would!

He is such a great actor. I have seen just a great deal of his work, from North and South, MI:5 / Spooks, Robin Hood, and of course most recently as Thorin Oakenshield in the new Hobbit films.

There are so many Shakespeare roles he could play -- from Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, Iago, Coriolanus, and Brutus. I would personally love to see him as Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew.

He would be fantastic as Mark Antony.

Looking at his biography, he has some classical training, he has done quite a bit of stage work, and even was a supporting player for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

He also was in the Shakespeare ReTold episode of Macbeth, and he was in a TV film adaptation of Macbeth back in 2001. So, he is not unfamiliar with the Bard.

What about Richard Armitage in some Shakespeare Solved?

I think he would also be perfect as one of the Elizabethan actors with Shakespeare, performing some of these plays for the very first time in history, in my new versions of the plays.

It would be exciting to see him with other great UK actors, on the stage at the Theatre in Shoreditch or the Globe, bringing these plays to life in an entirely new way.

What do you think?

If you agree with me that he should do some Shakespeare, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


David B. Schajer

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Shakespeare and Witches

In August 1612, the trials of the Pendle witches were held, and ten people were executed for witchcraft.

It is one of the most famous, and important witch trials in world history, and it occurred towards the end of Shakespeare’s life.
What would he have thought of these trials?
I don’t think he would have been surprised at all.
He was born during the English Reformation, a time of tremendous cultural and religious upheaval, and was commonly referred to as a powerful storm, a tempest.
He may have considered events like witch trials, as shocking as they were, as more likely to happen during such a tumultuous period.

The Lancashire Witches

Shakespeare addressed the religious confusion of the time in his plays, perhaps most famously in his Hamlet play. Hamlet does not know if the Ghost of his father is a Catholic ghost or a Protestant ghost, or is appearing to him because of his melancholy over his father's death. 
Hamlet’s confusion about the Ghost is a metaphor for the religious confusion in England at the end of the 16th century.
King Henry VIII, in the process of breaking from the Catholic Church, had ordered that monasteries should be dissolved, and monastic property should be seized for the crown.
Shakespeare's father John was one of the local officials who was responsible for dissolving the monasteries and seizing these properties, in the Warwickshire area. He was responsible for painting whitewash over Catholic images on the walls inside churches.
An abbey near Pendle was ordered to be dissolved, and there were many who complained that it was the center of the religious life in the Pendle area. But the abbey was closed and the abbot himself was executed.
The people in the Pendle area still clung to their Catholic faith. But by the end of the 16th century, the area had fallen on hard times. It deteriorated into a lawless region. It had lost its faith.
Even though Shakespeare may never have visited Pendle, he was not unfamiliar with such areas in England during his lifetime. He was, like any Englishman at the time, well aware that some parts of England were suffering during the Reformation more than others.
When King James of Scotland became King of England in 1603, the area was ripe for a witchcraft trial.

Daemonologie by King James

King James was obsessed with the subject of witches, ever since he was a child. When he traveled to Denmark to marry his wife Anne, he became increasingly fascinated with the subject. 
There were storms on the seas as he traveled back to England with his new bride, and he was convinced that witches were trying to kill him at sea.
When he came back to Scotland, he personally supervised the trial of the North Berwick witches.
Not long after that he even wrote a book, Daemonologie, about witches and witchcraft.
Shortly after he was crowned King of England, he changed the witchcraft laws.
Shakespeare wrote his Macbeth play, which prominently featured witches, shortly after James came to London. It is often considered a play that Shakespeare wrote to entertain the new King.

The witches in the recent Kenneth Branagh production of Macbeth

I think it's much more than just entertainment. Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that Shakespeare was writing Macbeth after decades of moral and social deterioration across England, and he was trying to alert this new monarch that things could get much worse before they got any better.
It would seem that King James did not heed Shakespeare’s warning.
The decay continued across England, and by 1612, the Pendle witch trials began.
Why did they begin? It would seem that there was a renewed effort to discover and punish hidden Catholics in the Pendle area at the beginning of 1612.
In this atmosphere of religious danger and paranoia, neighbor turned on neighbor, and accusations of witchcraft were made. 
What is most disturbing to me is that during the trial, a young girl, a daughter was ordered to testify against her own mother, who was then executed.
This was not the way trials were supposed to be conducted, but the law as King James had written it, was unclear. In his Daemonologie book he made a case for suspending normal rules of evidence in witchcraft trials. 
The judges themselves were ambitious and wanted to please their King, who was the head of the judiciary of England. 
However, they did not know whether they should just convict the witches or have them executed.
The trials resulted in the executions of ten people.
Shakespeare would die, less than 4 years later. He had lived a relatively long life, and his life was full of triumph and success.
He must have been very proud of the accomplishments he had made in his life.
But his life was also filled with fear of the plague, fear of war, and fear of religious violence -- which included witchcraft.
To his very last day, he must have been haunted by such fears, and faced such demons.
I would like to say that our modern 21st century age is better, and less haunted by such fears, but I cannot. We have our own demons, witches and evil to face.

Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth, faces the witches

Perhaps that is why his plays, including Macbeth, still fascinate us.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

Shakespeare and Richard II Deposed

On 19 August 1399, King Richard II was surrendered to Henry Bolingbroke at Flint Castle and was deposed.

For several years before that, the government was in turmoil. 

Some of his courtiers had grown in power until the government was taken over. King Richard regained control, and for a time there was relative peace. But then he began to execute and exile many of his opponents.

Henry Bolingbroke, one of the exiles, invaded England, forced Richard to abdicate his throne, and claimed the throne for himself, crowning himself King Henry IV.

The real historical story of these events is quite fascinating.

But what did the story of King Richard II mean to Shakespeare?

Shakespeare wrote his Richard II play in around 1595, at a time when Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex was his friend and patron.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

Essex was involved in a long battle in Queen Elizabeth’s court with the Cecil faction -- led by William Cecil and his son Robert Cecil.

Robert Cecil

They were the two most powerful men at court, and when William Cecil died in 1598, his son Robert became the single most powerful person in England. I consider him more powerful than the Queen herself, since she would not have been able to exercise her power without him.

Essex and his supporters, including that other great patron of Shakespeare’s, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, believed that the Queen was giving too much power to the Cecils, and others, like her spymaster Francis Walsingham.

So, Essex, Southampton and others feared that Queen Elizabeth was making the same mistake that Richard II had made. It should not come as a surprise then that Shakespeare, employed by Essex, would write a cautionary play about trusting the wrong courtiers.

As the years went by, Essex lost most of his ground at court with Elizabeth. He had once been her “favourite” and by 1600 he was a threat to her.

In the beginning of 1601, Shakespeare and his company were paid an unusually large sum of money to perform the Richard II play again on a specific date -- 7 February.

Shakespeare did perform the play, and the very next day, Essex led a rebellion with upwards of 300 men from the finest families in England.

In the days that followed, as Essex was captured, imprisoned, tried and then executed, Shakespeare and his players continued to perform the Richard II play.

Why? What did the play mean to Essex and Shakespeare?

It is commonly believed that the 7 February performance was an attempt to gain widespread support for the rebellion, and spark a popular uprising.

But why then did Shakespeare perform it after the rebellion failed? 

I would argue that he was trying to curry sympathy for Essex with the public and persuade Queen Elizabeth to spare his life. If the audiences turned out to see the play, which they did, then that was a clear indication that the public loved Essex, despite what he did.

It didn’t sway Elizabeth, and she sentenced him to death. He was executed on 25 February, beheaded at Tower Green.

The Tower Green, Site of the Scaffold where Essex was beheaded

It is unclear if the Richard II play was performed once the sentence of execution was declared, and after the execution itself.

If it was, then it may have been a form of protest against such a harsh punishment.

The fact that Shakespeare would perform the play under such circumstances would suggest that Essex was loved by the public more than we think. Even though his rebellion was unsuccessful and it did not spark a popular uprising, that does not mean that the public was not on his side.

In fact, Queen Elizabeth did not sentence anyone else to death for the rebellion. Many, like Southampton, were imprisoned.

Shakespeare's efforts, in performing Richard II, and keeping public pressure on the court, may have saved their lives.

There is one great mystery at the center of the Essex Rebellion. What did Essex intend to do to Queen Elizabeth?

Did he want to kill her? Did he want her to abdicate, like Richard II? Did he want to exile her? Did he merely want an opportunity to speak against the Cecil faction?

If the Richard II play and the historical story of King Richard II is any indication, then Essex may have considered himself another Henry Bolingbroke. He may have wanted to depose Queen Elizabeth, and claim the throne for himself. 

We may never know the full truth of the events surrounding the Essex Rebellion, but from what we do know, William Shakespeare took a tremendous risk in having not only written the Richard II play but in having performed it at such an important moment in England's history.

In reading and learning about the life of William Shakespeare, it is not often that he is described as brave or courageous. But he was. 

Not only for his Richard II, play but in taking an even greater risk later in 1601 by turning the tragic events of the Essex Rebellion into his greatest masterpiece, Hamlet.


David B. Schajer

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Era of Shakespeare Begins

On 15 August 1594, the famous playwright Thomas Kyd was buried. He was only 35.

If Shakespeare was there for his burial at St. Mary Colechurch, he was witnessing the end of an era, and the beginning of another.

Site of St. Mary Colechurch, on Old Jewry, which burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 and was not rebuilt

In the 1580’s Thomas Kyd was one of the first significant playwrights in London, and arguably the greatest of them all.

His play The Spanish Tragedy was arguably the first important play in the period.

Soon after Kyd made his mark, Christopher Marlowe arrived on the scene and became the second great playwright of the period. 

Marlowe’s plays, especially Tamburlaine, were the hottest tickets in town.

When Shakespeare arrived in London around 1587, he would have been obsessed with Kyd and Marlowe, and their plays.

The influence Kyd and Marlowe would have on Shakespeare is profound. 

Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy influenced Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There is reason to believe that Kyd even wrote an early (1588-90) version of a Hamlet play.

Kyd also is believed to have written a play based on the story of King Leir, which Shakespeare would later turn into his masterpiece King Lear.

The influence Marlowe had on Shakespeare is even greater, and permeates many of his plays.

For example, in my version of Richard III, I propose the idea that this play was Shakespeare’s first real masterpiece and was written as a sort of theatrical requiem mass for Marlowe, who had just been killed. 

There were other great playwrights during the period from 1587, when Shakespeare arrived in London, to 1594, when Kyd was buried. But Kyd and Marlowe were the greatest of them all.

Shakespeare had only begun to become popular and successful since about 1590, but he would always be in the shadow of these two great playwrights.

But all that changed in 1593. Marlowe and Kyd got in trouble with the authorities. Suddenly, Marlowe was killed under suspicious circumstances. Kyd was imprisoned and tortured to obtain intelligence. 

In the months that followed, Kyd was a broken man, and it is believed that he died from the wounds he suffered while tortured.

The theatres in London were closed anyway due to the plague. It was a dark time, and for Shakespeare an especially difficult time, in which he could well have given up and gone back to Stratford-upon-Avon and never enjoy the success and fame he eventually did.

By 1594, with the theatres open again, and with Kyd’s death, Shakespeare faced a new challenge.

He was no longer one of several promising playwrights. He was the one and only playwright worth seeing. 

If Shakespeare was there, watching Kyd’s body put in the ground, he was witness to the end of the era of Kyd and Marlowe, the end of the birth of Elizabethan theatre.

The days and weeks after Kyd’s burial must have been both frightening and exciting for Shakespeare, because he knew that without any real competition and with any luck, London's stages could be his, and he could single-handedly define the next era of Elizabeth theatre. 

It could become the era of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's Theatre, by Gustave Klimt


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Monday, August 12, 2013

Shakespeare & Shylock and Hamnet & Hamlet

On 11 August 1596, William Shakespeare buried his only son, Hamnet.

Would Hamnet have looked like his father William Shakespeare, as drawn here at the age of 12?
from Harper's Young People, 1880

Hamnet was 11 years old when he died. The cause of his death is unknown, but it may have been the plague.

When Hamnet died, Shakespeare was left with two daughters. While there is every reason to believe that Shakespeare loved his children equally, the death of a man's only son was especially painful.

Without a son, there was no one to carry on the Shakespeare name. 

This, the matter of his legacy, was not a small matter to Shakespeare. From what we know of his life, he was very ambitious and he wanted to make a name for himself. 

Not long after Hamnet died, Shakespeare applied for a coat of arms at the College of Arms in London. They still have his handwritten application.

The Latin motto that Shakespeare chose for his coat of arms was "Non Sanz Droit." It roughly translates as "not without right." For a man whose family was not considered noble and of the gentle class, and therefore whose rights were limited, it was an important message. 

Shakespeare was declaring that he and his family, who now had the gentle status, had as much rights as anyone else in England. Shakespeare was declaring that he had arrived, and the Shakespeare name would live on.

Coat of Arms Application
The hand-drawn image for the coat of arms

In a sense, perhaps more than anything else in his life, it was this ambition to become a gentleman, and elevate his family, that was the driving force for Shakespeare. It was his reason for being. 

His work in the theatre was just a means to make money and become wealthy enough to make sure that his family would live on forever.

He considered himself to be from a very good family. His great-grandfather, on his father’s side of the family, had served King Henry VII and was rewarded with land to farm in Warwickshire.

Shakespeare’s mother’s family, the Ardens, are one of only three families in England that can trace their lineage back to Anglo-Saxon times, and were one of the most prominent families in Warwickshire. One of her ancestors served in King Henry VII’s court.

Shakespeare would have been raised on such stories of the past glory and importance of his family. It makes sense then that he would want to restore his family’s name as much as possible during his life.

When he had Hamnet, he chose his son’s name with great care.

The name Hamnet was based on a story of Amleth, a boy who was a commoner, who married the daughter to the King of England, who takes revenge for his father on his uncle, and becomes a hero.

Shakespeare obviously related to this story, and in naming his son Hamnet, he was passing on to his son his own ambitious plans for becoming a noble family once again.

The name Hamnet is interchangeable with the name Hamlet.

Why then did Shakespeare write a play called Hamlet, in which almost everyone dies, including Prince Hamlet himself?

I explore this question in my version of Hamlet. But to give you an idea, I think Shakespeare wrote more than one version of the play.

In the earlier versions, the play would have not been a tragedy, and Prince Hamlet may not have died. He may have survived, as in the heroic story of Amleth, which served as the basis for Shakespeare’s play.

These early heroic versions of Shakespeare’s play would have been written before Hamnet died. The later versions, written after Hamnet died, would have become more tragic, and would have included Prince Hamlet’s death.

It is very sad then to imagine that Shakespeare, so full of hope and dreams for his future and the future of his family, just becoming the greatest playwright in London by 1596, would suddenly lose the future of his family and lose the reason for those hopes and dreams.

When I wrote my version of The Merchant of Venice, I discovered that it would have been written right after Hamnet’s death. It may have been written because of his death.

It has been written that Shylock may have been a representation of Shakespeare himself. In the play, Shylock’s only child, his daughter Jessica, has run away and left him. She has also taken all of the family’s wealth.

Shylock’s desperation, and his anger, come from the fact that his daughter has left him. He cries out “My daughter! My ducats!” because everything that is valuable to him is gone.

English actor Charles Macklin as Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice at Covent Garden, London, 1767-68, by Johann Zoffany

When Shakespeare lost Hamnet, it was arguably the most desperate and saddest time of his life. What was most valuable to him was gone.

When we consider this, it is even more remarkable that Shakespeare not only survived this tragedy, but that he channeled it into his writing, and these plays have become some of the greatest works of art in human history.


David B. Schajer

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Shakespeare: Glorious Victory and Shameful Peace

On 8 August 1588, the Spanish Armada was defeated at the Battle of the Gravelines by the British fleet.

English ships and the Spanish Armada, 1588

This was one of the greatest military battles in England’s history, and it was the single most important event in the Anglo-Spanish War, which had begun in 1585.

It was a victory to celebrate, and England had every right to be proud.

William Shakespeare had gone from Stratford-upon-Avon to London by this time to break into the theatre world and become the famous actor and playwright he was.

Queen Elizabeth herself gave arguably her most famous speech to mark the occasion, when she visited her troops at Tilbury.

Queen Elizabeth's Armada Portrait

The speech is probably most famous for the line: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm.”

Shakespeare, like any Englishman at the time, would have been proud of Queen Elizabeth. Whether you liked or disliked her, she was a strong Queen to have stood up to Spain, and defeat them!

She also said in the speech: “My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes for fear of treachery; but, I do assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself, that under God I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects.”

Queen Elizabeth, who was under threat of assassination, and who was unpopular with some people for different reasons, was appealing to her country -- she loved England and she wanted England to love her back.

Shakespeare would eventually write plays and perform them for Queen Elizabeth, and during the 1590’s he would become the greatest playwright, almost completely without a rival.

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, King James inherited the throne.

I have written before about the beginning and the end of the Elizabethan era.

As James became King of England, Shakespeare must have seen all sorts of changes around him, as is natural when one monarch succeeds another.

One such change was when King James promoted Shakespeare and his playing company. Shakespeare and his men became the official royal playing company to the court of King James, the King’s Men.

The King’s Men were expected to perform all sorts of duties, including performing plays.

One of their duties was to welcome a delegation of Spanish envoys to England in May 1604. They came to negotiate a peace treaty.

King James wanted to make peace with Spain, which had been fighting with England off and on since 1585.

This is another very important moment of change. This was another very clear sign that the Elizabethan period was over.

It is hard to imagine that Elizabeth would have ever made peace with Spain, but James was a different kind of monarch. Elizabeth, who had declared that she had placed her "chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill" of her subjects was replaced by a King who seemed to care less about the hearts and minds of his people.

For Shakespeare, and any Englishman at the time, the news that King James was negotiating a peace treaty with Spain, would have been very confusing, and maddening.

There were many reasons to make peace with Spain, and it was good for Spain and for England. But at the time, during the actual treaty process, it was controversial. Many in the English delegation were suspected of taking bribes from the Spanish.

Also, Spain and England would resume their hostilities in 1625.

It is hard to know what Shakespeare thought of the peace treaty with Spain, the Treaty of London, signed on 18 August 1604 -- almost 16 years to the day that the Spanish Armada was defeated.

The Treaty of London delegations,
 the Spanish on the left,
and the English on the right

It is very likely that while he was entertaining King James and the Spanish during the summer of 1604, he was writing Othello and Measure For Measure. These were the first two plays that Shakespeare wrote for King James.

If these plays are any indication, Shakespeare was not pleased at the direction the country was going in. 

Corrupt and evil men, like Angelo in Measure for Measure, and Iago in Othello, could very well have represented the kind of men he was meeting, as the peace negotiations were dragging on.

Shakespeare lived during some of the most consequential moments in England's history. In the case of the Treaty of London, he had a front row seat. 

He had known a Queen who had the heart and stomach of a King, and he knew her successor, a King who seemed to have no heart nor stomach.


David B. Schajer

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Shakespeare's Muse Anne Hathaway

On 6 August 1623, William Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway died.

He died April 1616, which means that she lived without him for 7 years. It must have been lonely without him all those years, but when she died, at 67 years old, surely she had known that she lived a very full and rewarding life.

She was eight years older than Shakespeare, and by the time he was born in 1564, it is very likely that she knew him as a baby.

It is hard to imagine that her father and Shakespeare's father didn't know each other. Anne’s father was a farmer, and Shakespeare’s father had farming interests, and also held local government positions.

Not much is known about William Shakespeare’s relationship with Anne Hathaway. They were married in 1582, when he was 18 and she was 26. They had a baby not long after.

Some people think they were forced to get married, because she got pregnant, and that Anne pursued William.

I agree with Germaine Greer that William pursued Anne.

Furthermore, I like to think that the young William Shakespeare’s courtship of Anne Hathaway was long and slow, and occurred over the course of many years.

I like to think that as he grew up, by the time he was 14 or 15, he was very familiar with Anne. 

I don’t think that there was just one summer where Anne fell in love with William, and she got pregnant.

I think she knew a great deal about him, and his family, and the more she got to know William, the more she liked him.

Anne, far right, with her family

They were neighbours of a sort. Arguably she may have been the most beautiful young lady around, if she caught his eye and caught his interest. 

I like to think it was simply a matter of his liking her, and her liking him. He made her laugh, and she made him laugh.

Since he would become famous for writing and acting, she may have been the very first person he wanted to impress and entertain. 

More than any woman in his life, Anne Hathaway was his muse. She was the goddess who inspired him to write and perform.

When he began to dream of becoming a writer and actor, she may have been the first one he shared this dream with. It says a lot about her that she allowed him to pursue that dream. I like to think that she encouraged it.

She stood by him all the years, when they had children, when he went to London, when he risked his life and reputation on stage (during the period of the Essex Rebellion) and when he became a King's Man to King James, starting in 1603.

None of these years would have been easy, and there were probably more bad years years than good.

In all those years she had as much to gain as her husband did, and she had as much to lose.

I like to think that by the time that he died in 1616, she was as responsible for his success as he was.

We don't know much about the years after Shakespeare's death.

How exactly was he remembered?

But we do know that just after her death, the First Folio (the collection of Shakespeare's plays) was published.

It is impossible for me to believe that she did not know this, and that her late husband's best friends in the world, Richard Burbage and Henry Condell, would not tell her that they had gathered the plays, edited them and were preparing to publish them in a book.

It must have made her very happy to know that the plays would not be soon forgotten, and may have a chance at being read and performed in the years after.

I don't think she would have had any idea that these plays would endure and be so successful some 400 years later!

I hope you join me today in remembering this remarkable woman. Without her, one could argue that we would not have the works of Shakespeare. For that, we should be forever grateful to her.


David B. Schajer

Related Articles:

Anne and William Shakespeare's Wedding

Shakespeare's Father-In-Law

Fifty Shades of Shakespeare

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