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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Shakespeare and Nicholas Hilliard


Nicholas Hilliard, who died on 7 January 1619, was one of the most important figures during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and King James.




Self Portrait, 1577



He was one of the principal artists of the time, and his paintings and miniatures captured the faces of some of the most important and significant people in history.

Here are some of his works, and as we look at these faces, we can come closer to understanding the people that Shakespeare knew.

Some of these people Shakespeare loved, and some he feared. Many of them Shakespeare turned into characters in his plays.

First and foremost is Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare repeatedly put her in his plays. For example, she is the inspiration for Portia in The Merchant of Venice.




Queen Elizabeth, 1572 -- when Shakespeare was 8 years old



Queen Elizabeth, The Pelican Portrait, 1572




Queen Elizabeth, The Phoenix Portrait, 1575

Around the same period of time, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was Queen Elizabeth's "favourite." She favored him more than any other man at the time. 

Shakespeare may have been thinking of Leicester when he created the character of Claudius in Hamlet.




Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1572


Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester,  1576



I think Leicester is the man whom Elizabeth would have married had she ever married.

In 1575, Leicester held a 19 day celebration at his Kenilworth Castle in her honor.

Kenilworth is only 23 kilometers, or about 14 miles, from Stratford-upon-Avon. It is very likely that an 11-year-old William Shakespeare saw this Kenilworth celebration.

Most likely, it would have been the first time he saw Queen Elizabeth in person.

These miniature paintings of Queen Elizabeth and Leicester were probably painted for this Kenilworth event:


Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1575


Leicester eventually married another woman, Lettice Knollys:



Lettice Knollys



While she was previously married to Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, she had given birth to a son in 1565 and named him Robert.

It was rumored that while she was married, she had an affair with Leicester. 

I think that Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex is in fact the son of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

When Leicester died in 1588, Essex was 23 years old.

Essex quickly became Queen Elizabeth's new "favourite" at court. She also transferred many of Leicester's titles and property to him.

It is my theory that Queen Elizabeth loved this young man as if he were the son she never had with the man whom she had wanted to marry. It would go a long way towards explaining the degree to which she loved and would later fear him.

As far as Shakespeare is concerned, Essex would become Shakespeare's patron around 1593.

Essex was an inspiration for several of Shakespeare's characters, including Henry V and Hamlet.



Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, 1588 -- the same year that Leicester died



Young Man Among Roses, believed to be Essex, 1588



Essex, c. 1587 -- I think this is actually much later, when Essex fought in Ireland in 1599


One of Essex's closest friends was Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Southampton was also Shakespeare's patron, and is believed to be the Fair Youth in Shakespeare's Sonnets.


Both Essex and Southampton are featured in my versions of Richard III (written about 1593) and The Merchant of Venice (1596).




Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton


One of Essex's greatest foes at court was William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Shakespeare's character of Polonius is a caricature of him.



William Cecil, Lord Burghley


It was due to this battle between Cecil and his son Robert Cecil that Essex and Southampton led a failed rebellion in 1601. Essex was executed. Southampton was sent to the Tower.

Shakespeare's friends and patrons were gone, and it must have been a very dark time in his life.

I write about these events in my version of Hamlet, which I argue was written in 1601 in response to this Essex Rebellion.

But whatever troubles Shakespeare faced during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, they were nothing compared to what would happen during the reign of King James.

For Shakespeare, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire.

As I will show in my forthcoming versions of Shakespeare's plays, most all of Shakespeare's next plays were written for, about and featuring characters based on King James himself.



King James, 1603-9




The Lyte Jewel, with miniature portrait of King James,  1610


There is much more of Hilliard's work well worth seeing, and you can start here.


Cheers,