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 70,000 people on facebook, Twitter & Google Plus 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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Shakespeare & Twelfth Night's Malvolio

Did William Shakespeare play the role of Malvolio when Twelfth Night was first performed, in 1602?

Yes, he may have, according to Katherine Duncan-Jones, in her excellent book Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes From His Life.

Stephen Fry as Malvolio

She makes a persuasive point that when Malvolio wears the cross-gartered stockings, it may have been Shakespeare’s way of making fun of himself.

I think she is right, and there is more to this puzzle which I would like to contribute and support her thesis.

First, she discusses Shakespeare’s coat-of-arms, which he purchased in the late 1590’s. He bought this in the attempt to become a gentleman, and elevate his family to gentle status. By the time Twelfth Night was performed, Shakespeare's purchase backfired, and rather than improving his reputation, it had hurt his reputation.

Here is an image of what the coat of arms looked like:

 She describes this coat of arms in great detail: the gold-yellow of the shield, the spear on the black stripe running diagonally across the shield, and Shakespeare’s motto “Non Sanz Droict” which means “not without right.”

 The falcon on top has its wings open, which is called “shaking” — a term in falconry referring to the moment immediately before the bird takes flight. So, the falcon is shaking and holding a spear: Shakespeare.

Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s friend and rival playwright, mocked Shakespeare’s attempt to climb the social ladder. Jonson made fun of the yellow/gold color on Shakespeare’s coat of arms when he created a character in his Every Man out of His Humour play who has a family crest with the motto “Not without mustard.” 

According to Katherine Duncan-Jones, Shakespeare took the insult, and may have turned it into an opportunity to make fun of himself.

Shakespeare may have done this when he has Malvolio tricked into wearing yellow stockings, which would resemble the yellow on the shield of Shakespeare’s coat of arms, and the black garters which would resemble the stripe on the shield.

Stephen Fry wearing the stockings and garters, with Mark Rylance

If Shakespeare himself was on stage, as Malvolio, and wearing the cross-gartered stockings, there is every reason to believe that the Elizabethan audience would have understood the joke, and laughed at this “exquisitely ridiculous” effect, as she describes it.

Her point is very persuasive, and it is fun to imagine that Ben Jonson himself would have been in that audience, and would have found the joke very witty, and would have found Shakespeare’s self-deprecation very entertaining.

But there may be even more evidence to support her idea. 

Let’s look at the name Malvolio. 

According to the Arden edition of Twelfth Night, the name may come from the Italian malvoglio which means “I dislike.” The expression “mala voglia” means “ill will.”

The Italian word “male” means “evil, bad, hurt, wrong, harm, ill.”

But what if there is another meaning for the name Malvolio? It is impossible to decipher every last meaning, and discover every last nuance of the name, but there might just be one more facet to the name Malvolio.

What if Shakespeare chose the name Malvolio to mean “bad flight?”

“Mal” for bad, and “vol” for flight. The Italian word “volare” means “flying.” The French word for “flight” is “vol.” The Latin word for “winged creature” is “volucris.”

It seems that Shakespeare is adding another dimension, another facet to the name Malvolio, something having to do with birds and flight. But why?

Well, Katherine Duncan-Jones has already supplied the answer. The falcon whose wings are “shaking.” 

If she is correct that Shakespeare is making fun of his own coat of arms when Malvolio is wearing the cross-gartered stockings, then it is entirely plausible that he is making fun of the falcon on that same coat of arms in the choice of the name, Malvolio.

If this is true, then Malvolio may also be loosely translated to mean “a bird that can’t fly,” “a hurt bird,” “a bird that has been wronged,” and so on.

Right away, the image of Malvolio in prison comes to mind:

Malvolio in prison

There is even more evidence to support this new translation. 

Fabian speaks of Malvolio’s arrogance: “Contemplation makes a rare turkey-cock of him: how he jets under his advanced plumes!” which can roughly be translated as “look how he acts like a proud strutting peacock.” “Advance” would perfectly describe the purpose of Shakespeare’s coat of arms, he was trying to advance himself and his family.

More importantly, the word “gull” is used five times in the play, almost exclusively in reference to Malvolio. 

Shakespeare only used the word "gull" 11 times in all of his plays, so the fact that he uses this word so much in Twelfth Night seems to have been done for a specific purpose.  

The word “gull” means “a dupe,” “a fool,” “a simpleton” and an “unfledged bird” — a young bird whose wings are undeveloped and cannot fly.

1. Maria says to Sir Toby: “For Monsieur Malvolio, let me alone with him. If I do not gull him into a nayword, and make him a common recreation, do not think I have wit enough to lie straight in my bed. I know I can do it.” (2.3.129-32).

2. Fabian says of Maria, who has written the letter to deceive and ensnare Malvolio, as she enters: “Here comes my noble gull-catcher.” (2.5.180)

3. At the end of Act 3 Scene 2, Maria and Sir Toby discuss the plan even further. Notice how Toby refers to Maria as a wren, or a “songbird” and how the word “gull” is inserted into the very plotting of the cross-garters and yellow stockings:


Look, where the youngest wren of nine comes.

If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourself
into stitches, follow me. Yond gull Malvolio is
turned heathen, a very renegado; for there is no
Christian, that means to be saved by believing
rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages
of grossness. He's in yellow stockings.

And cross-gartered?

Paul Chahidi as Maria and Colin Hurley as Sir Toby

4. Later, after he has been wounded, Sir Toby refers to himself as a gull: “Will you help? an ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull!” (5.1.203-4)

5. When Malvolio confronts Olivia at the end, for the first time he describes himself as a “gull.” 

Madam, you have done me wrong,
Notorious wrong.

Have I, Malvolio? no.

Lady, you have. Pray you, peruse that letter.
You must not now deny it is your hand:
Write from it, if you can, in hand or phrase;
Or say 'tis not your seal, nor your invention:
You can say none of this: well, grant it then
And tell me, in the modesty of honour,
Why you have given me such clear lights of favour,
Bade me come smiling and cross-garter'd to you,
To put on yellow stockings and to frown
Upon Sir Toby and the lighter people;
And, acting this in an obedient hope,
Why have you suffer'd me to be imprison'd,
Kept in a dark house, visited by the priest,
And made the most notorious geck and gull
That e'er invention play'd on? tell me why.

Why would Shakespeare choose "gull?" Why that particular word? Katherine Duncan-Jones, later in her same book, mentions that Ben Jonson's plays are full of "gulls" -- like the Town Gull and the Country Gull characters in his Every Man In His Humour play from 1598.

Finally, the last piece of evidence is the fact that Shakespeare had already compared himself to a bird, a cormorant or shag, in his previous Merchant of Venice play, written around 1596. I wrote more about that here.

In Conclusion, this evidence supports the idea that Shakespeare was making fun not only of the coat of arms, but the falcon as well.

Therefore, this evidence also supports Katherine Duncan-Jones’s idea that Shakespeare may have been the actor to portray Malvolio on stage in 1602.

It makes a great deal of sense that Shakespeare is poking fun at his own foolish arrogance, his own immature ambitious desire for advancement. Perhaps Shakespeare came to realize that his falcon’s wings are undeveloped, and not ready to fly. No matter how much they are “shaking."


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Friday, December 12, 2014

George Lucas and Disney's Shakespeare Strange Magic

In case you haven't heard, George Lucas has teamed up with Disney to create an animated film based on William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

It's called Strange Magic and it's coming out 23 January and it stars one of my favorite Shakespearean actors Alan Cumming (whose one-man Macbeth was brilliant) with Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina and many more.

Here is the brief article announcing it:

And here is the Trailer:

click on image for trailer


David B. Schajer

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Birthday Kenneth Branagh

Happy Birthday Kenneth Branagh!

It’s been a busy year for him — he directed and starred in the newest Tom Clancy film, Shadow Recruit, he took his production of Macbeth to New York City, he filmed the new Cinderella movie (to be released in March) and he just began shooting the final episodes of the Wallender series.

There are precious few artists in this world with that kind of range.


Despite my disappointment with the production of Macbeth (my review here) I was very pleased that he has still continued to make Shakespeare a priority in his career — and I do hope that he continues to produce more Shakespeare projects, for film or stage.

I remember it was not that long ago he was talking about making a 3-D version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think all of us would like to see that.

He also mentioned that he would like to remake Much Ado About Nothing and for his Benedick he spoke of Tom Hiddleston — whom he cast as Loki in the first Thor film, and with whom he starred in Wallender. It’s not fair to tease us like this, so I do hope that this film will made, and soon!

I hope you join me today in wishing Sir Kenneth a very happy birthday.


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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Judi Dench Muse of Fire Shakespeare Interview

Happy Birthday Dame Judi Dench!

This is an exciting year for her, considering that she will do some more Shakespeare, by agreeing to join Benedict Cumberbatch in his BBC Hollow Crown version of Richard III. I can't wait for that!

Also, I just finished watching the interview she made for the great Shakespeare documentary Muse of Fire, which you can find here on the Shakespeare Globe Globe Player.

The interview is just over and hour long and it goes by quickly. I am one of those people who could sit and listen to her talk about the weather for hours and hours, so a one hour interview on her career doing Shakespeare is much too short.

I don’t want to ruin the interview for you, but there is one major part of what she says that really intrigues me, and I would like to share my thoughts with you.

She says that her least favourite Shakespeare play is Merchant of Venice. She apologizes to Will, but calls the play “ghastly” and she regrets ever having played Portia herself.

She says that it was the first play that she read as a schoolgirl, and the teacher  instructed the children to recite the play aloud, each reading six lines at a time. As Dame Judi puts it: “It ruined the play for me, completely ruined the play for me.”

She doesn’t go into too much detail about it, other than to say that the characters “all behave too badly” and she disliked the “terrible trick at the end” with Portia and Bassanio with the rings.

This breaks my heart. 

First, I hate to think that children can be so poorly served by their teachers as to turn them off a Shakespeare play for life.

Second, Merchant is my favourite play of them all, so it upsets me to think that she doesn’t enjoy it as much as I do.

But it really is not her fault, since this is arguably the most problematic of the “problem plays,” and the play has been grossly misunderstood for over 400 years.

She knew there was something wrong with the play when she says that the characters all behave so badly. She was onto something. Perhaps what confused her was the fact that the characters are so ill-behaved but are meant to be virtuous as well.

How do you reconcile the fact that Portia is supposed to be wise and merciful, when she is also a racist (towards Morocco)?

And how can Portia be a good girl, when Shakespeare gave her a name which means “pig?”

How can Bassanio be a good lad when he is trying to woo Portia under false pretences, acting like the prince he is not?

How can Shylock be the villian when Shakespeare wrote him as an auto-biographical character, and when the name Shylock means Shakespeare?

The first play I solved for this Shakespeare Solved series of adaptations was Merchant. I discovered that it is not a romantic drama, or romantic comedy, or comedic drama — the play is a bawdy, rude and offensive farce.

The Merchant of Venice was listed in the First Folio by John Heminges and Henry Condell — men who acted in the original production of Merchant — as a comedy.

It is supposed to be funny.

I have never seen any version of the play that makes you laugh.

My version makes you laugh.

I like to think that had Judi Dench, when she was a young schoolgirl, read the play or seen the play as the raucous and satirical comedy it is, she would have laughed her head off, and would have grown up enjoying The Merchant of Venice.


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Friday, December 5, 2014

Tom Hiddleston Wins London Evening Standard Award

Congratulations Tom Hiddleston!

He just won the London Evening Standard Award for best actor, for his performance as Coriolanus.

It was indeed a fantastic performance (my review here) and it is wonderful that he is being recognized for such excellent work.

I do hope that this award might inspire him to return to the stage sooner than later to do some more Shakespeare. How about Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew? Or Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing?

As I have said before, as famous as he is for his work as Loki in the Marvel films, I think as the years go by, Tom Hiddleston will become as famous for his work in Shakespeare.

I just looked at some of the photos of the event and it is fun to see him with other actors whom I should like to see work together in my series of Shakespeare Solved films.

What do you think about Benedict Cumberbatch as William Shakespeare with Tom Hiddleston as Richard Burbage?

What do you think about James McAvoy as King James?

As always, if you want Tom Hiddleston to do more Shakespeare and do these Shakespeare Solved films, 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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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Museum of London Archeology & Shakespeare's Theatre in Shoreditch

In case you have not seen this, here is a great video of what the Theatre in Shoreditch would have looked like back in 1595.

The Theatre in Shoreditch is where Shakespeare may have had his start in London, and where he may have first performed as an actor, and where his first plays were performed.

Sir Ian McKellen visiting the site of The Theatre

The video is from Museum Of London Archeology which was responsible for the excavation of the site, and also of the discovery of the Curtain Theatre site in Shoreditch, in 2012.

If you want to learn more about MOLA and the Theatre you can follow these links:

I love the MOLA blog, it has excellent articles, which are quite fascinating on a range of issues:

I also highly recommend this excellent book about the playhouses in Shakespeare's times: Shakespeare's London Theatreland: Archeology, History and Drama.


David B. Schajer

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Will Ferrell and Shakespeare

I just read that Will Ferrell plans to make a comedy about the “intense, competitive world inside a Shakespearean theater company.”

You can read the brief article here:

I think it’s a fantastic idea. I have been a fan of Will Ferrell’s for a long time, and I am excited to see what kind of insanity he will bring to the Bard.

I think Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby is the second funniest movie ever made (after Blazing Saddles), and the dinner scene in that movie is the funniest 10 minutes in any movie. While all of his films have not been as funny as Talledega Nights, he has more hits than misses, and it is impossible to miss one of them. 

He does have a zany Falstaff quality, and while I am sure that he would be making fun of Shakespeare a lot, it would be very entertaining nevertheless. I have written before that Mr. Ferrell's type kind of comedic energy is needed in Shakespeare's plays, and that the actors in Shakespeare's times were something more like stand-up comics than serious Actors with a capital A. This became very clear to me when I discovered that Merchant of Venice is not a dramatic comedy but rather a bawdy farce.

There is very little to go on from this article, and it is not clear whether the Shakespearean theater company is set in the modern period, or in the Elizabethan/Jacobean period.

I hope that it’s set in Shakespeare’s time. I think it would give them more to play with. Also, I hope that Shakespeare is featured as a character. He could even be the man with whom Mr. Ferrell competes, which would make Mr. Ferrell something like a Edward Alleyn or Philip Henslowe character.

Also, I hope that Mr. Ferrell brings some of his frequent collaborators with him. At the top of that list would be John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Steve Carell, and Paul Rudd. Also, I would love to see Mark Wahlberg do some Shakespeare. It would be hilarious!

What do you think?


Friday, November 21, 2014

Globe Player from Shakespeare's Globe

In case you have not heard, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has just created a Globe Player online video service.

You can visit the Globe Player here:

Many of the productions online so far are from 2012 Globe to Globe Festival, which include a Hamlet spoken in Lithuanian, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Korean, Titus Andronicus in Cantonese and many more. I saw the production of Venus and Adonis spoken in various African languages, when it toured to the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.

Stephen Fry and Mark Rylance in Twelfth Night

Roger Allam as Falstaff

Jamie Parker as Henry V

But there are also some of their better known productions like Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry (which I saw in New York City), Henry IV parts 1 and 2 starring Roger Allam as Falstaff and Jamie Parker as Prince Hal (my review here), and Henry V starring Jamie Parker (my review here).

I hope you watch as many of these plays as possible on the Globe Player. Because if the Globe Player is as successful as it should be, then they will hopefully put more plays online, and many more in the future.


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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Shakespeare's Sisters & Shakespeare on TV

I read that there will be a TV show about young William Shakespeare, and his early days as a playwright in London.

You can read the full article here:

The US show is called Shakespeare's Sisters. It is “described as a tale of black magic, romance and revenge" and "the drama is set in 1590s London and chronicles a young Will Shakespeare's rise to prominence as he finds himself caught in a deadly conflict among three witches and the most powerful woman in the world, Queen Elizabeth. The project is described as having the grit of HBO's hit fantasy drama Game of Thrones with the wit and heart of Shakespeare in Love.”

The show will be made for the CW Network, which has a very young audience, and has enjoyed some success with the series Reign, about Mary, Queen of Scots as a young woman. The show is being developed by actor/producer Mark Harmon, most famous for the hugely popular NCIS TV show.

The Grafton Portrait
This may be what Shakespeare looked like in 1588, age 24

I think this is an exciting idea for a show, and I love the idea of Shakespeare’s story being told across many episodes and hopefully many seasons. So much happened in his life, and so much was happening around him that a single film, even a 3 or 4 hour film, can not contain it all.

And yes, there is a great story to tell about the early days of Shakespeare’s career. In fact, Shakespeare’s entire life is a very dramatic story that deserves to be told. 

However, I am worried about the idea of a “deadly conflict among three witches” and the “black magic.” I’m not sure what that means, but I do hope that the show does not become some sort of supernatural thriller. Shakespeare’s life is a gripping story already, and it does not need witches and black magic to sex it up.

Also, there is no mention of how Shakespeare’s plays themselves will be presented. Will they be front and center in the series, or will they be in the background? Will the meaning and real purpose of the plays be addressed thoughtfully, or mangled? If the meaning of his Macbeth play is reduced to the idea that Shakespeare actually met and knew three witches, then it is dumbing down Shakespeare to the point of absurdity, and it would truly be an insult to his memory.

I’m not sure what Game of Thrones has to do with Shakespeare. As much as I love Game of Thrones, it is in the fantasy genre. The world in which Shakespeare lived, and the life that Shakespeare lived, was much more political than it was fantastical.

As much as I love Shakespeare in Love, it is a Disney version of Shakespeare, and it does not even pretend to tell a true account of Shakespeare’s life.

As I have written before, what we have not seen is a story about Shakespeare that rivals the story about Mozart that was the film Amadeus — a drama about  Shakespeare that tells as the truth about his life and his plays, set in a world that was experiencing great upheaval, and was filled with religious and political violence.

If there is one TV show that would provide an example of the kind of show that should be made about his life, it would be House of Cards -- which incidentally is based on Shakespeare's own Richard III play. 

The reason why House of Cards is so successful, is much the same reason why the Richard III play has endured for four centuries, and why any of Shakespeare's plays are watched today -- because he lived in a ruthless political world of intrigue and murder, and he wrote plays that are ruthlessly entertaining. As I like to say, he killed his audience before they could kill him.

Last year I read about another TV show that was going to be made, called Will. The series was written and produced by Craig Pearce, who has collaborated with Baz Luhrmann on The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, Strictly Ballroom, and Moulin Rouge.

That show was described as telling the story of Shakespeare’s early days in London, and the show promised lots of sex and violence.

I don’t know what the status of the show is now, or whether it will ever get made. I hope it does. I think the world suffers from too little Shakespeare rather than from too much, and I’m sure there will be many people who would watch two different shows about the young Shakespeare. I know I would.

What do you think? What kind of story do you want to see about Shakespeare?


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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mike Tyson as Shakespeare's Othello?

Mike Tyson and Shakespeare?

You don't hear those two names together very often.

Boxer Mike Tyson say he wants to do some Shakespeare!

He expressed interest in playing Othello, on television perhaps.

You can read more about it here:

What do you think?

Should Iron Mike do it?

Do you think he's joking?

He may be joking, and it does indeed sound funny at first.

For me, I think he should do it.

It would certainly be unlike any other Shakespeare play you have ever seen before.

In the hands of a good director, and with a good supporting cast, it could be a good production.

It could be either unforgettably bad, or unforgettably bad. 

But I think there would be an audience to see it.

In my humble opinion, there is no such thing as truly bad Shakespeare, and every production has its merits and its failures.

In fact, Mr. Tyson could very well introduce Shakespeare to an audience that might never bother watching Shakespeare.

Also, when is the last time you saw an actor portray Othello, a celebrated general, who really knows something about fighting?


David B. Schajer


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Muse Of Fire Shakespeare Documentary

I just watched the Shakespeare documentary Muse of Fire, and it’s great.

I highly recommend it!

The documentary is now on Apple iTunes, and here is a link to their website for more information:

Two young actors, Dan Poole and Giles Terera,  had the idea to interview famous actresses and actors who are famous for their love of Shakespeare.

Giles Terera and Dan Poole

There are too many names to list, but there is Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Ewan MacGregor, Tom Hiddleston and many many more. There is even an interview with Romeo and Juliet director Baz Luhrmann.

Judi Dench

It’s a fun and funny documentary, and these two actors are very entertaining guides as they journey around England, to Denmark’s Elsinore Castle, and across the USA, in their quest to explore the meaning and importance of Shakespeare in the world today.

with Ian McKellen

There are lots of surprises, and it’s the twists and turns in their journey that often can be the most entertaining moments of all.

Tom Hiddleston

My only complaint is that I wanted the documentary to be much much longer, and the interviews to be more in depth. As for me, I could just sit and listen to Judi Dench and Ian McKellen talk about Shakespeare for hours.

But not to worry, they have just posted many of the full interviews online for free! Here:

I do hope they add more as soon as possible, especially Tom Hiddleston, Dominic Dromgoole, and Mark Rylance.

Do yourself a favour and watch this exciting documentary. It’s worth every penny.


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