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



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.

Why?

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.

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.


Cheers,


David B. Schajer


Click Here for Shakespeare's Shylock Solved Part 2

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