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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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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Shakespeare and Henry, Prince of Wales


401 years ago, on 6 November 1612, King James’s son Henry died of typhoid fever.
Heir to the throne, Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales was only 18 years old when he died.

Prince Henry, ca. 1610

At the time he died, there was a rumor that he was poisoned.
But who would want him dead?
Was King James, his own father, behind it?
For many years, Prince Henry was loved by the public in a way that his father was not. There is evidence that King James felt threatened by his son’s popularity.

Prince Henry, 1610

King James did not attend his son’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. This would have only increased suspicion that he killed his own son.

"The Hearse of Henry, Prince of Wales" by William Hole 1612

We may never know if King James killed Prince Henry, but at the time it would have been seriously considered.
What did Shakespeare think of all of this? He had known King James very well, serving him as a King’s Man, the official royal playwright.
Shakespeare also must have known Prince Henry. There is no evidence to suggest that he was close to Henry, or any of King James’s children for that matter, but he met them on many occasions, and would have had a good understanding of who they were.
It has been said, by Professor James Shapiro amongst others, that the last plays Shakespeare wrote -- like Cymbeline, A Winter’s Tale and The Tempest -- were written in a fairy-tale style because they were meant to appeal more to King James’s children than to King James himself.
Why would Shakespeare write for Prince Henry, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Charles instead of for their father?

Princess Elizabeth by Marcus Gheeraerts, 1612

The plays that Shakespeare had written earlier, like Macbeth, Othello and King Lear, were written entirely for King James.
Those plays were messages from Shakespeare to King James, and filled with lessons on the nature of power.
But it is clear that King James did not receive the messages, and the lessons that Shakespeare was teaching were falling on deaf ears.
In the early days of the reign of King James, there were assassination plots, a monkey trial against Sir Walter Raleigh which resulted in his life imprisonment in The Tower, and and of course, the Gunpowder Plot. 
The early days of King James's reign were very frightening, and Shakespeare's early plays were expressions of that fear, and warnings against any further violence.
If King James did not listen to Shakespeare’s message, then Shakespeare may have turned to the children instead.
Prince Henry was described as "Upright to the point of priggishness.” He also made people pay a fine if they cursed or sweared.
He did not swear and was upright probably in direct proportion to the degree that his father swore and was un-priggish, meaning crass and rude.
Prince Henry liked Sir Walter Raleigh, and tried to get his father to release him from The Tower. Henry also did not like his father’s string of male lovers, like Robert Carr.
During his short life, Prince Henry had attracted many artists and writers, who considered him to more enlightened than his father. 
Shakespeare could not, and would not have joined such gatherings, since he was in the service of King James. But it does not mean that Shakespeare did not share the view that Henry was a finer man than his father.
Had Prince Henry not died, it is unclear how he would have ruled as King of England. Arguably he would have been a good monarch, maybe better than his father, and most probably better than his brother, Charles, who was next in line to the throne.

Prince Charles by Robert Peake, 1613

Later, Charles succeeded King James, who died in 1625. King Charles I brought the country to civil war, and was executed.
It would seem that whatever lessons in humility and on the nature of power Shakespeare had tried to teach King James's children, including Charles, did not work.

Did Shakespeare believe that King James killed his son? There is no evidence to suggest it, but I do think that Shakespeare knew King James well enough to believe that he was capable of doing such a thing. If King Lear is any indication, Shakespeare had a dim view of King James as a father.
By 1612, Shakespeare was out of favor with King James, and was probably in retirement in Stratford for good.
I think he had lost favor with King James many years beforehand, which would also explain why his last plays were written for the children.
In the period after Prince Henry’s death, 32 of the greatest poets of the age wrote poems in his memory. But nothing from Shakespeare.
This may be further evidence of Shakespeare’s loss of status. 
For all his troubles, for the plays he had written for King James, and the later plays he wrote for the children, Shakespeare was all but thrown away and discarded by his King.

But his plays continued to play in London, and fortunately they have survived to remind us of what he witnessed.
Cheers,
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