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.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Shakespeare's Rise and the Rising of the North

The Rising of the North began in November 1569, and would last until January of 1570.
It was a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth led by noble Catholic families in Northern England.

Queen Elizabeth
from the frontispiece of her personal prayerbook, 1569

The goal of the rebellion was to depose the Protestant Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots.
In November 1569, William Shakespeare only 5 years old. 
He was too young to have anything to say about the rebellion, but old enough to remember what was being said.
This would arguably have been one of the memorable times in Shakespeare’s youth, and it must have fired his imagination.
He would have heard stories about Elizabeth, Mary and even Mary’s son, James -- who would of course later become King James VI of Scotland and I of England.
If young William Shakespeare did not yet understand what religion was, or how men and women could and would die fighting about it, this would have been a fascinating, and probably very frightening episode in his life.
It is impossible to know when Shakespeare realized that he was born into an England, and a Europe for that matter, that was going through one of the greatest upheavals in history. 
The Protestant Reformation was the greatest issue of the period, and the clashes between Catholics and Protestants in the English Reformation were a very common occurrence.
This may in fact have been one of the most important moments in Shakespeare's early life. It may have inspired him to be the playwright he would become.
In fact, this Rising of the North was just one of a series of clashes -- there was the Lincolnshire Rising and the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, there was Bigod’s Revolt and the Cumberland Rising in 1537.
So, the Rising of the North was not the first time that Queen Elizabeth’s life was threatened, and it would not be the last.
To a young boy like Shakespeare, it must have been awfully exciting,  but also quite frightening. He must have felt that the violence around him could sweep him up and kill him. 
But as each threat faded, and Queen Elizabeth survived, Shakespeare must have felt like he lived in the most fascinating time of all.
Of all the people involved in the Rising, Shakespeare must have focused on one of the leaders, Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland. 

Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, 1566

His nephew, Thomas Percy, was one of the leaders of the Gunpowder Plot against King James in 1605. 

Thomas Percy, ca 1605

He is also descended from the same Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland and his son “Harry Hotspur” Percy that helped Henry IV seize the throne against King Richard II.

Rory Kinnear as Henry IV in the Hollow Crown series

The Percy family has quite a colorful history. A history that Shakespeare must have heard his whole life and he would make the most of it when he wrote his plays.
In 1595, Shakespeare wrote Richard II, a play about how Henry IV deposed and later killed King Richard II. Naturally, Henry Percy is featured in the play.

King Richard II

In about 1596, Shakespeare wrote Henry IV, Part 1 and then wrote Part 2 a year or so later. Naturally, it featured Henry again, with his son “Harry Hotspur.”

Joe Armstrong as Hotspur in the Hollow Crown series

Shakespeare famously depicts the fight to the death between “Hotspur” and Prince Hal, later King Henry V, at the Battle of Shrewsbury.

Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal in the Hollow Crown series

In 1601, Shakespeare’s Richard II play was performed on February 7, the day before the Essex Rebellion.
This play, about how King Richard II was deposed and later killed, served as inspiration for the conspirators of this failed Rebellion, led by the Earl of Essex.
Essex had wanted to depose Queen Elizabeth in 1601, much like Henry IV deposed Richard II. We don’t know if he intended to kill her.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

Queen Elizabeth understood what Essex was up to, and how she was perceived by the conspirators as no better than Richard II. She is reported to have said “I am Richard, no ye not that?”
Shakespeare was not implicated in the Essex Rebellion, but I explore his connection to that failed conspiracy in my version of Hamlet.
In 1605, after the failed Gunpowder Plot,  when the conspirators were identified, Shakespeare would have recognized Thomas Percy’s name right away.
Shakespeare would probably not have been surprised that Percy was part of such a plot. His family was famous for such plots.
Shakespeare was not implicated in the Gunpowder Plot, nor do I think he had anything to do with it.
But in his lifetime, the stories he had heard about famous plots, probably starting with the Rising of the North, had fed his imagination. 
His imagination led Shakespeare to write plays that dealt with such conspiracies and rebellions. 
His plays directly influenced such plots, like the Essex Rebellion.
By 1601, Shakespeare was no longer apart from history. He was part of history. He was shaping it.
It is impossible for me to imagine that Shakespeare was ignorant of this. He must have understood what effect his plays were having, and could have.
I like to think that he would have looked back at his life and understood that events like the Rising of the North were the beginning of his personal voyage from Stratford to London, from being a glovemaker's apprentice to the most famous playwright of them all.

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