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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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

Monday, April 28, 2014

Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth's Funeral

The funeral of Queen Elizabeth I took place in London, on 28 April 1603.

She had been lying in state at Whitehall since 24 March, the day that she died, her body in a lead coffin. There was a life size effigy placed on top of the coffin.

The original effigy no longer exists, but a duplicate has been made:

On the evening of the 28th of April, the coffin was moved on a horse-drawn hearse. The coffin was covered in expensive purple cloth. The horses were draped in black velvet.

Six knights walked with the hearse, holding a canopy over the coffin.

They traveled from Whitehall to Westminster Abbey, past thousands of people who came out to see the procession. It has been recorded that many people wept at the sight.

Elizabeth had reigned as queen for a very long time. Her death was a truly unique event in the lives of the people at the time, and her funeral sounds like it was as grand and magnificent as was to be expected for such a revered monarch.

King James is said to have spent £11,000 on the event.

Where was Shakespeare in all of this?

If he was not in London when she died, then I think he would have come back in the days following. No doubt he would have been one of the thousands of people who saw the funeral procession with his own eyes.

I think he would have followed the procession, and watched as she was carried into Westminster Abbey.

It is doubtful that he would have seen any ceremony inside. 

But I think he would have returned to Westminster Abbey in the days afterwards and looked upon her tomb, in the chapel built by Elizabeth’s grandfather Henry VII.

I don’t think Shakespeare and the Queen were very close, but they must have met and exchanged words from time to time. 

I have a hard time thinking that when Shakespeare and his fellow actors performed for the Queen at court that the Queen wouldn’t talk with the greatest and most popular playwright in all of England.
I do think that Shakespeare would have fallen from the Queen’s favor after the failed Essex Rebellion in 1601. 

Queen Elizabeth circa 1601

There is no evidence that Shakespeare took an active role in the rebellion itself, and took up arms against the Queen. 

However, he was very close to Essex, and tried to influence the public on Essex’s behalf -- before and after the rebellion.

After the rebellion, Shakespeare continued to write and perform plays, even for the Queen. I think this is an indication of just how popular and influential Shakespeare had become by this time, and also to what degree the Queen’s power had waned.

In the last days of Elizabeth’s reign, Shakespeare was just too high profile of an artist to be imprisoned or tortured, or killed -- like Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd.

With Elizabeth’s passing, Shakespeare may have been eager for a new monarch, King James, to succeed Elizabeth.

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet at the end of 1601, he was already anticipating the arrival of James, and there is a great deal of James in the character of the Prince of Denmark.

I often wonder what Shakespeare would have said to Elizabeth had he had the chance to speak to her before she died.

I think he would have put aside any differences he had had with her, and he would have thanked her for having allowed the arts, and especially plays and playhouses, to flower and prosper during her reign.

The Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth, 1588

He could not have had the life he had without her.

At some point, either before or after her funeral, Shakespeare would have started to prepare for the imminent arrival of King James into London.

James was en route to London by 28 April.

Shakespeare probably would have started to read over the books in his personal collection. He would look for any historical precedent or literary figure that could be re-written to celebrate the new king.

As Shakespeare went through his books, he might have opened Plutarch.

One date might have caught his attention -- 28 April 32 AD.

The day that the Roman Emperor Otho was born.

As I have written before, Shakespeare created the name of his character Othello from this ancient emperor named Otho, in order to paint a portrait of King James.

There is some irony in the fact that the same day as Elizabeth’s funeral was the same day that Otho was born -- and the new king named James was himself truly a new Otho.


David B. Schajer

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shakespeare's Shylock Solved Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about why Shakespeare would have written the character of Shylock to represent himself.

(Click Here for Shakespeare's Shylock Solved Part 1)

Today I would like to show how Shakespeare named Shylock after himself.

I think I have found the last piece of the puzzle that is Shylock's name.

Today is the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth.

I have been waiting a long time for this day to share some discoveries I have made.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

When I wrote my version of The Merchant of Venice play, I was convinced that the character of Shylock was meant to represent Shakespeare himself, that Shakespeare was Shylock.

I looked into the name Shylock. It is a completely original name.

The name has no precedent in history or literature. 

Shakespeare invented it, just like he invented the name Othello (the meaning of which I solved last year), and he invented the name Jessica, Shylock’s daughter.

Yes, you can thank Shakespeare for inventing that beautiful name, since the name Jessica first appeared in Shakespeare’s Merchant play:

Shylock and Jessica, by Maurice Gottlieb 1876

But where did the name Shylock come from?

John Gross’s excellent book ‘Shylock: A Legend & Its Legacy’ lists some of the common theories:

The name Shylock could be a reference to Caleb Shillocke, who was mentioned in a Jacobean pamphlet.

It could have come from the word ‘shullock’ which means ‘to lie about, or to slouch.’

It might refer to Shelah, an ancestor of Abraham, in Genesis 10:24.

It might be from the Hebrew word ‘Shallach’ for the cormorant bird.

Kenneth Gross’s excellent book ‘Shylock is Shakespeare’ very persuasively argues that Shakespeare did in fact write the character after himself.

He refers to Professor Stephen Orgel who says that Shylock echoes ‘Selah’ or ‘Shiloh’ from the Bible, and the Hebrew ‘Shelach’ for the cormorant bird. Orgel says that the name Shylock ancient Saxon roots, and means ‘white-haired.’

I came across a great blog article which discusses the question of Shylock’s name:

It seems that there was a British man named ’Sylock’ who lived in the 14th century.

The blog mentions a theory by the journalist Maurice Brodzky who wrote that Shakespeare may have read the Pirke Avot, a collection of Rabbinacal ethical sayings and maxims. 

I would like to quote a paragraph from this blog in full:

‘What if, Brodzky asks, the name Shylock comes from the Mishna in the 5th chapter of Pirke Avot, where "the man who says שלי שלי ושלך שלך, the man who stands on the letter of the law" is described; neither evil, nor pious. An average sort of person, who says "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours."  (More intriguing; the Mishnah says that some say that this person is not "average," but displaying the qualities of Sodomites, which according to Jewish tradition was the trait of inhospitality, rather than homosexuality.) Brodzky suggests that Shakespeare may have seen some Latin translation of Pirke Avot, and was struck by the recurring term "Sheloch, in connexion with sayings descriptive of Jewish business men." Brodzky does not implausibly suggest that William read Hebrew, but wonders if he discussed the passage with a learned man. Although he did not know it, his conjecture that there was a Latin version of Pirke Avot is entirely correct.’

What I found persuasive in this paragraph is that is really suggests the character of Shylock in the play. Shylock stands on the letter of the law, and he is behavior towards Antonio and Bassanio could be characterized as inhospitable. 

And much like I established when I wrote my version of the Merchant play, Shylock is not 'evil' nor is he the villain. He is in fact the hero of the play.

Also, there is a mention of Sodom and sodomy. This is key since Venice was a Sodom and Gomorrah in the Elizabethan period, and part of the bawdy comedy in the Merchant play comes from this understanding.

I considered all of these possible solutions to the riddle of Shylock’s name.

Nothing seemed convincing.

But then I looked closer at the word ‘cormorant.’

It appears in Shakespeare’s Richard II, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Coriolanus and Troilus and Cressida. Perhaps Shakespeare was fond of this word for some reason.

The word ‘cormorant’ can mean a greedy person, which would strongly suggest the character of Shylock.

But there is a bird called a ‘cormorant.’

This bird is also called -- a ‘shag.’


‘Shag’ rang a bell in my memory.

According to Wikipedia

‘There is no consistent distinction between cormorants and shags. The names "cormorant" and "shag" were originally the common names of the two species of the family found in Great Britain, Phalacrocorax carbo (now referred to by ornithologists as the Great Cormorant) and P. aristotelis (the European Shag).’

Since there was no standardized spelling in the Elizabethan period, the name Shakespeare had several different spellings during his lifetime. The variations include:


And so forth.

But the one I remembered most was ’Shagsper.’

Say the name Shakespeare out loud and it could easily sound like Shagsper.

Say the name Shakespeare out loud and it could also sound like Shags-bird.

So, does Shakespeare’s ‘Shylock’ mean ‘Shelach’ (or ‘Shallach’) mean ‘Cormorant’ mean ‘Shag’ which means ‘Shakespeare?’

I have not found anyone else who has come to this discovery.

As far as I know this is an original theory.

But I found more pieces to this puzzle.



Socrates wrote a play ‘The Clouds’ in which there is a scene with a money-lender named Pasias that is very similar to the scene where Antonio and Bassanio take a loan from Shylock.

I have found very little evidence linking these plays together.

As much as I thought that there was no link between the two plays, I could not eliminate it from my mind.

The one idea that I found tempting was that Socrates was famous for being sentenced to death, and drinking the poison hemlock.

Shylock is sentenced to a fate worse than death. He loses his money, and he has to renounce his faith and convert to Christianity.

So, I wonder, is it too much to think that the ‘-lock’ in ‘Shy-lock’ comes from Socrates who drank hemlock?

I don't know, but I find it very plausible.

Jessica, by Samuel Fields 1888


There is one last piece to this puzzle.

Why did Shakespeare create the name Jessica, for Shylock’s daughter?

It is commonly believed that the name derives from ‘Yiskah’ in the Bible.

But why?

Well, Yiskah was the daughter of Haran, and sister to Lot who fled Sodom.

Sodom again.

So, this goes back to the Pirke Avot which refers to sodomites, or the people who were from Sodom and Gomorrah.

As I have already mentioned, the Venice in Shakespeare’s play was a Sodom and Gomorrah.

So, Shakespeare it seems was making another reference to Venice as Sodom by naming Jessica after Yiskah.

I have found no other evidence to support or refute this theory, but it seems very persuasive.

In conclusion, yesterday I wrote about why Shakespeare would have written himself into the Merchant play, and today I have explained how Shylock is in fact Shakespeare himself.

I consider Merchant to be his best play, and now with this new understanding I hope that you consider reading, or re-reading it again.

If you want to read a version of the play that shows how it would have been performed in 1596 at The Theatre in Shoreditch by Shakespeare's company of actors, I recommend reading my version of the play. It is fresh and funny, and quite unlike any other version you have ever known.

Thank you for visiting this blog and I hope you do something special today to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday!


David B. Schajer


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Shakespeare's Shylock Solved Part 1

Did William Shakespeare put himself in one of his own plays?

Did he create a character in one of the plays that speaks as Shakespeare spoke and thinks as Shakespeare thought?

Yes, he did.

For the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, I have a very special discovery to share with you.

Shakespeare is Shylock, and Shylock is Shakespeare.

Tomorrow I will reveal how the names Shakespeare and Shylock actually mean the same thing.

(Click Here for Shakespeare's Shylock Solved Part 2)

Today, I want to tell you how I discovered Shakespeare in his Merchant of Venice play, which might give us a better idea why he named Shylock after himself.

The Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare

This discovery was part of a longer journey that started in 2005. 

I had watched The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino as Shylock. As I watched the film, I realized that they got it all wrong. 

I started to read everything I could get my hands on about Shakespeare, his life and work.

I realized that I could write a version of the play that was unlike anything we have ever known, and would solve all of the problems with the play, arguably the most problematic of his ‘problem plays.’

When I set out to write this version, I intended only to show the play as it would have been first performed in 1596 at The Theatre in Shoreditch. I intended only to present the entire play, without any other scenes. I would not write anything in addition to or outside of  the play.


Because I did not want to create a ‘Shakespeare’ character. I did not want to have any scenes where this ‘Shakespeare’ character would talk. 

As talented a writer as I consider myself to be, I didn’t presume to write dialogue for the greatest writer in history.

I struggled with this for a long time. I was faced with the problem of translating the Merchant of Venice play, and I knew it would help to have other scenes, in order to help our modern-day audience understand why Shakespeare wrote the play in the first place.

For example, Shylock is a usurer, and the practice of usury, charging interest on a loan, is a central issue in the play.

Usury was illegal in England, and it was a sin.

But in 1571, when Shakespeare was 7 years old, the law was changed. Usury became legal. Also, it was unsavory but it was no longer considered a sin.

Englishmen, for the first time in history, could charge interest on a loan, up to 10%.

Part of the financial success of the Elizabethan era is due in part to this extraordinarily important change in the law.

As a writer, I asked myself: how do I insert all of this crucial background information in my version of Merchant of Venice

The easiest way would be to have a character explain it. But which character? 

I wanted to have a ‘Shakespeare’ character explain it, but I was committed to not writing a ‘Shakespeare’ character.

The Droeshut Portrait of Shakespeare

I continued my research, and I put off the problem. I hoped a solution would eventually present itself.

I continued to learn more about Shakespeare and his life. 

I learned that Shakespeare’s father John had been in trouble with the law, and went to court. He was accused of making loans at higher than the legal 10% rate of interest. In time, John Shakespeare would eventually bring his family to financial ruin. 

Usury. A courtroom trial. Financial ruin. 

These three elements feature prominently in Merchant.  

It seemed that it was not just a coincidence that Shakespeare was writing a play about these elements.

There was a reason why Shakespeare wrote this play, and the idea that it had personal autobiographical meaning seemed very intriguing. I continued to learn more about his life.

I learned that Shakespeare did not attend university most probably because of his father’s dramatic reversal of fortune. It has been speculated that Shakespeare would have studied law at Oxford. I read that even if Shakespeare did not study law, he must have had first-hand knowledge and experience with the Elizabethan legal system. 

Also, I learned that around the time that Shakespeare wrote Merchant, in 1596, his only son died.

Shakespeare and his family

He had three children, but only one son, named Hamnet. It must have been a very painful loss, and it was arguably the worst moment in Shakespeare’s life.

One more reason the loss was so great was because Hamnet was the only child who could carry on the Shakespeare name, and preserve the legacy that William Shakespeare was building as a playwright.

When you look at his entire life, Shakespeare’s greatest ambition was to make the Shakespeare name last. The story of how he he bought a coat-of-arms is a very telling moment in his life. He wanted to confer gentle status upon his family, and the plays and poetry he created was a means to that end.

The application for the coat-of-arms

The Shakespeare coat-of-arms

Without that legacy, there was nothing. In other words, legacy was the prize. Legacy was power, and wealth.

When Hamnet died, I have to think that Shakespeare could see clearly that one day, sooner or later, his name would die out, and perhaps never be remembered.

Unfortunately, only decades after he died his bloodline and the Shakespeare name did in fact come to an end.

In Merchant, Shylock loses his daughter, who runs off. She also takes the family jewels. She has been lured out of her house to elope with a Christian man — who in fact only wants her for her money. 

Horrified, Shylock cries out: ‘My daughter, my ducats.’ He is mourning the loss of the two things most precious to him — his daughter and his wealth.

Actor Charles Macklin as Shylock
I like to think this captures the moment he cries out

Shylock is crying because he has lost any hope of preserving his family and his name. He has lost his legacy, much like Shakespeare did with the death of Hamnet.

It was at this point that I was convinced that Shakespeare wrote Merchant for these reasons.

But I didn’t have ‘proof.’ My evidence was very circumstantial. I had to work harder.

I looked closer at the Shylock character. I read his dialogue, and I read it again over and over.

I am very good at putting myself in other people’s shoes. As a writer, this skill — this empathy — is something I have developed over many years.

I tried to imagine what it must have been like for Shakespeare as a boy to sit and watch his father’s honor disputed in a court, and the shame that Shakespeare must have felt. 

Even if Shakespeare was not in the courtroom watching his father defend himself, he would have heard all about it, and it would have been a powerfully formative moment in his early life. The pain and fear would be a wound that would never really heal, and Shakespeare most likely lived with that pain every day for the rest of his life. 

There were other men who were in and out of courtrooms in those days, men who were shady businessmen, or who were honest businessmen wrongfully accused. It was not uncommon. The Elizabethans were very litigious. 

But a trial like this could make or break the Shakespeares. It could decide John Shakespeare’s fate forever. His whole life, and the future of his family, was hanging in the balance.

If John Shakespeare won, he could hold his head up high and become an increasingly prosperous businessman.

If he lost, he would have been ruined. Without a good reputation, people might not do business with him.

It would seem that, whatever happened in the courtroom between John Shakespeare and his accuser, he lost. He may have won the case, but his reputation probably suffered a blow too fatal to recover from.

Shylock also loses his case in court. Not only has he lost his daughter and his wealth, he is forced to convert to Christianity. Everything about him is undone, his ruin is complete and total. It is a fate almost worse than death.

Reading the play became even harder to bear. The idea that the Shylock character was part John Shakespeare and part William Shakespeare was truly sad. 

It was at that moment that I felt like I was coming face to face with William Shakespeare.

It also convinced me that, with this insight into him, I might possibly write a character of William Shakespeare.

I attempted to write it. It was not easy. It was difficult to find his voice.

As a writer, I have written dozens of characters. Some are easy, others are hard. This was the hardest by far.

But I tried and I tried again.

Then it happened.

I wrote a scene between Shakespeare and the Lord Mayor of London, John ‘Rich’ Spencer.

Believe it or not, this Lord Mayor was a notorious money-lender. His wealth, in today’s money, would have been about £21 billion. Funny, isn’t it?

I had wanted Shakespeare to say something about the change in the usury laws in 1571. I wrote that dialogue.

I could hear Shakespeare as I wrote the dialogue. For the first time, I could hear him as easily as I can hear my own thoughts.

The Cobbe Portrait of Shakespeare

What did he sound like?

He was very shrewd, very smart, funny, proud, and — defiant.


I would think of that word frequently as I wrote, and eventually completed, my version of Merchant. When I wrote my versions of Richard III and Hamlet, that word came to me often.

What was Shakespeare’s whole life? It was a marvelous act of defiance.

It was a grand gamble, that a boy from Stratford who came from such humble beginnings could conquer the London stages and play for the richest and most powerful people in England — including the Queen than later the King.

He didn’t come from wealth. He had something even better — a burning ambition and a talent forged in a wonderful Guildhall Schoolroom in Stratford.

Shakespeare's Schoolroom in Stratford

That was the first time I met Shakespeare.

I continue to write this character, which has become the greatest artistic challenge and pleasure of my life.

I will continue to write more versions of his plays (including the forthcoming Othello) and tell the story of his life.

As great as his plays are, the story of his life is a far greater story. It is also a story that has not yet been told, and I am thrilled to share it with you.

Please visit this blog tomorrow when I will reveal how Shakespeare and Shylock mean the same thing.


David B. Schajer

Click Here for Shakespeare's Shylock Solved Part 2


Monday, April 21, 2014

Fiasco Theater Visits The Folger Shakespeare Theatre

I went to see the Fiasco Theater’s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. yesterday.

It’s hilarious!

If you are anywhere near Washington, do yourself a favor and go see this great show!

It runs until 25 May, so you better hurry!

Fiasco Theater is based out of New York City, and has received great acclaim for their productions of Two Gentlemen of Verona, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline and Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

They have come to the Folger for the first time, and in addition to Two Gents, they’re doing a very short run of Cymbeline at the Folger from 28 May to 1 June. 

Tickets to that are almost all sold out, so you have to REALLY hurry up!

Here is a link to learn more about the show at Folger, and get tickets:

Here’s a link for more information about Fiasco:

Some of the Fiasco players

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share some thoughts about this show.

I loved it!

I have to admit that I have never seen it performed live. I had read it years ago, and re-read it more recently in order to understand how it fits into Shakespeare’s life, in regards to my Shakespeare Solved versions of the plays.

I found it entertaining to read, but watching performed by such expert players was thrilling!

I could see how badly this play could be performed if it were in the wrong hands, but this cast did a superb job of wringing as much comedy out it as possible.

The energy, the enthusiasm, and the artistic choices each actor made all added up to one of the greatest performances of Shakespeare I have ever seen. 

Emily Young as Silvia

It seems that this group of actors chose the name Fiasco because they want to make brave choices as actors and really connect with the audience. They do this with great ease, and the audience I was with was laughing all the way through.

As far as brave choices is concerned, the bravest of all is to see and engage the audience. Most productions suffer because the audience is invisible to the performers and they do nothing to include them.

Fiasco doesn’t make the audience part of the play as much as they could (or should, in my humble opinion) but they acknowledge the audience enough to make the play more fun, as it should be.

Zachary Fine as Valentine with Emily Young

It also seems like they even surprise each other on stage. When Ursula — a character who only appears once in the play — brings a picture to Silvia, the actor as Ursula rushed on stage and made the other actors crack up and break character for a moment. It is refreshing and unexpected moments like this that makes this happily unlike most any other Shakespeare I have seen.

The ensemble is very small, only 6 actors, and they never leave the stage area. It was even fun to see the actors not performing at the moment enjoy the actors who were performing. It is clear that as actors they support each other and are constantly trying to entertain themselves at the same time they are entertaining the audience.

Unlike other Shakespeare productions I have seen, there is no lead actor, there is no one star performer. It is a true ensemble. Each actor would be a star in another company of actors. They are each masters in their own right, and the quality of the production is exponentially increased by each actor’s contribution to the show.

Jessie Austrian as Julia with Noah Brody as Proteus

I can’t single out any of them as better than any other. They each have their moments to shine and they all make the most of it.

And what makes them truly remarkable is that they never seem to break a sweat. They make it look effortless and easy to dust off one of Shakespeare’s problematic plays and make it light and funny and unforgettable.

They all play an instrument or two, and there are several quite lovely musical moments in the play.

It was also one of the fastest productions I have seen, running at just over 2 hours. I didn’t even notice how fast it was until it was over.

Zachary Fine, Emily Young, Andy Grotelueschen, Paul L. Coffey and Noah Brody

What was exciting for me personally was the fact that I could better understand this play as it would have been written and performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Fiasco perfectly understands the screwball nature of the play, and they make this play a window into Shakespeare’s madcap Elizabethan world.

For example, Andy Grotelueschen as Launce had a very clear understanding of the kind of humor Shakespeare’s clown Will Kemp employed to make audiences laugh at The Theatre in Shoreditch circa 1595. 

Kemp was more of a stand-up comedian than an actor. I think he would stop the show for as long as he wanted as he improvised off-script. If ever there was a Shakespeare play where Kemp could hold court and take his time, and make fun of a Groundling or two, this is the play.

Also, I enjoyed seeing how Shakespeare was writing for and about his artistic patrons, the Earls of Essex and Southampton when it comes to Proteus and Valentine. 

For example, in 1593 Shakespeare's rival playwright Thomas Nashe wrote a very bawdy poem called The Choice of Valentines, which was a parody of Shakespeare's earlier and hugely popular erotic work Venus and Adonis -- which was the Fifty Shades of Grey of the period.

Nashe's poem was most probably dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, who was arguably the prettiest man in England and whose romantic escapades inspired Shakespeare to write Romeo and Juliet.

In any case, I can’t recommend this show highly enough, and you should order your tickets as soon as possible.


David B. Schajer