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

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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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fiasco Theater's Cymbeline at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre

I just saw the Fiasco Theater's production of Cymbeline at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.

It's a great show!

Hurry up and go see it -- it's only playing until this Sunday, 1st of June!

Go to this link to buy tickets:

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share some of my thoughts with you about this exciting production.

I wrote about the New York City based Fiasco Theater before, when I saw their wonderful production of Two Gentlemen of Verona.

I was very excited to see this, especially since it is the first time in about 18 months they have performed it, and I was not disappointed.

I have to admit that Cymbeline is a problem play for me. I understand the play on one level, while on another level I have my own ideas about what the play really means,  but it's not a play I particularly enjoy. 

I have never seen it before, so I was very eager to see any live performance.

I am so glad that I saw it first with this excellent production.

What grabbed me was that the actors are so skilled, and so energetic that they bring to the play a lot of … fun, joy, spirit.

The set is very simple, a few boxes and other props. It struck me that the set is almost like a child's playroom, but with adult and very professional actors who have this amazing childlike enthusiasm for the material. 

Their spirit is infectious and I was laughing all the way through.

They also made a wise choice to smooth over the rougher patches of the play with a sort of Monty Pythonesque quality of just going with it, and never letting logic get in the way of a good joke.

So, if you are like me and Cymbeline has never won you over, this may be the one production to do it.

Also, the music in the play is great, and the cast members sing and play instruments with a surprising and unusual degree of skill.

Also, I hope you check back here on this blog. I will definitely write about Cymbeline again, and share with you some of my own conclusions about the true meaning of the play.


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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Shakespeare's Daughter Susanna

On 26 May 1583, Shakespeare and his wife Anne baptised their first baby Susanna.

Shakespeare reading Hamlet to his family
with his son Hamnet standing, Susanna and Judith on either side
and his wife Anne seated opposite
engraving by unknown artist, 1890

Anne was already pregnant with Susanna when she wed Shakespeare in November of 1582.

Some people think this means that Shakespeare and Anne were forced to marry because of the pregnancy, and for some people this means they did not love each other.

I don’t agree.

Perhaps they really did love each other and they were so eager to get married and have children that they rushed into it happily.

Perhaps instead of thinking how Susanna was born to two people who weren’t supposed to get married, we should think of Susanna as the first child who was born of an intense and romantic love between Shakespeare and Anne -- lovers who did belong together.

After all, it was not the last child they would have. Shakespeare and Anne had twins, named Judith and Hamnet, in February 1585.

This means that Anne conceived the children in May 1584, only one year after Susanna was born.

Does this mean that Shakespeare and Anne didn’t like being married, and they were regretting the fact that they were together?

Were they having more children because they wanted to try and just make the marriage work?

Maybe they wanted to have more children because they were so happy together that they wanted to make even more children!

For all we know, they may have been trying for one full year to have more children until the twins were conceived.

Maybe they were so busy enjoying Susanna so much in that first year that they waited some time before having any more.

In the case of Shakespeare and Anne’s first child Susanna, I like to look at the glass half full. I think it is very likely that they loved each other, loved being married, loved being parents and wanted more children.

I liked to think that those were very happy days for Shakespeare and Anne. Like any parents who have just had their first child, they doted on her and showered her with love and affection.

Shakespeare and Anne would have more children, but Susanna was the first and she would always have a special place in their hearts.

When Susanna was born, the house would have gotten a little more crowded. Shakespeare and Anne were living with his parents John and Mary.

These three generations of the family living together would have been very busy with the new child, but would have been immensely proud. I like to imagine neighbors, friends and family all paying visits and eager to see little Susanna.

I like to think that in those early years, Shakespeare would treasure the memories he had with his family, and he would preserve those memories when he would travel to London in the next few years to become an actor and playwright.

Susanna's signature

As far as education was concerned, any school records from the time are lost. But Susanna was known to be able to sign her own name. I am not surprised at all. After all, she was born to one of the greatest writers in history. He probably taught her reading and writing himself.

Years later Susanna would lose her younger brother, Hamnet. He would die tragically, at the age of 11.

It could not have been easy for any of them, but it would have been especially hard for Hamnet’s twin sister Judith.

Susanna would have been hit hard by the loss, as would Shakespeare, Anne and Judith of course.

But it was also a critical moment in Susanna's young life. Hamnet was the heir, and it was his responsibility to carry on the Shakespeare name.

When Hamnet was gone, that responsibility fell to Susanna. Now the focus was on her to continue the Shakespeare line and elevate the family further than even her father had.

It would seem that she rose to the challenge, eventually marrying a decent, responsible and respectable man, John Hall.

It would seem that she took her duty as a daughter and as a wife seriously. She had her first child in 1608, a girl named Elizabeth.

This child was the only grandchild that Shakespeare would know, when he died in 1616.

I often wonder why she didn’t have more children, especially considering the importance of male heirs, but that is a mystery we may never solve.

Another interesting insight we have about her life is that she was accused of not attending Easter day church service in 1606.

This was a serious offense, especially since the Popish Recusants Act had just been passed in order to punish those who were secretly Catholic and who would not attend services like the one that Susanna missed. 

This Act was written in response to the Gunpowder Plot on 5 November of 1605. Tensions across the country would have been high, and anyone who missed any church service, and especially the Easter service, would have been suspected of being a secret Catholic.

We don’t know why she missed the service, but it does suggest that Susanna was more than just a dutiful daughter who never got into trouble.

When her father died in 1616, he left almost everything to her and her husband. It was a very detailed last will and testament, which tried to preserve the property and fortune that Shakespeare had worked so hard to earn.

It says a lot about Susanna that he would entrust her with such a responsibility. 

I like to think that he gave her more than money and property. I think that he made her understand that she was preserving a legacy that was without equal. She would have understood that her father was not any ordinary man, and what he had accomplished was remarkable.

She died in 1649, at the age of 66.

It is very sad to think that she died while England was engaged in a civil war.

I think she would have been especially sad that the theatres had been closed in 1642.

They would open again many years later, but long after she died.

Her father had been an actor and a playwright in one of the most incredible periods in England’s history, a period of freedom and a flowering of the arts. Shakespeare had been at the vanguard of that artistic movement.

For her, in 1642, that was all gone in 1642. As far as she knew at the time she died, Shakespeare’s plays might disappear, and never be seen again.


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Happy Birthday Laurence Olivier!

Happy Birthday Sir Laurence Olivier!

He is arguably the greatest actor of the 20th century, and undoubtedly the greatest interpreter of Shakespeare in the 20th century.

His career playing Shakespeare is extensive and fascinating. He started young, at age 9 playing Brutus at school.

Many of his films have endured, and he is still thrilling to watch. My personal favorite is Rebecca. How could you not love Alfred Hitchcock directing Olivier and Joan Fontaine?

But it’s his work with Shakespeare that is most interesting to me, especially as far as it concerns my articles here on this blog and my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice.

I took a course in film history in college. We studied Olivier’s 1948 film version of Hamlet in great depth.

As Hamlet

I watched the film over a dozen times for that college course. It is a fantastic film, and very engrossing. It had a great effect on me, and I have enjoyed watching it over the years.

Every time I watched it I tried to find answers to the play within the film, and the dialogue. I thought if I studied it closely enough that I would discover some great deeper insight into the play, and figure out what it all really meant.

Even then, I thought I could figure out Shakespeare if I only paid closer attention to a performance like Olivier’s. 

I can only imagine what kind of impact it had when it was first released. Not only did Olivier direct the film, he played the part of Hamlet, but he won the Oscar for Best Actor and the Best Picture Academy Award! 

He is still the only actor to win an Oscar for a Shakespearean role.

He was also the first person to direct themselves to an Oscar -- a record which lasted until 1998.

The film also won the BAFTA for Best Film from any Source in 1949.

To many people at the time, and for many years after, this version of Hamlet was the definitive film version of Shakespeare’s play.

As much as I enjoy Olivier’s Richard III and Henry V, and the other Shakespeare work he did on stage and on film, it his film version of Hamlet that has meant the most to me.

If you have not seen his Shakespeare work on film, I urge you to watch them as soon as possible.

I remember reading about the way in which Olivier adapted Hamlet for the screen, and the criticism of the film at the time.

He cut out a lot of the text, and he cut some characters including Fortinbras, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Olivier also made the entire story much more of a psychological study of Hamlet. The film strongly suggests that Hamlet has a Freudian Oedipal complex in regard to his mother. 

Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis and his influence was very profound throughout the last century. It should come as no surprise then that filmmakers and actors were trying to understand the world, and re-interpreting classic texts such as Hamlet through the lens of Freud.

While Olivier may not have personally believed in Freud, he no doubt found Freud very useful in breathing new life into Shakespeare.

I think it was a very interesting creative choice. I think it works very well with the choice of black and white film. The entire movie has a very moody film noir feel to it, and it is arguably the most cinematic version of the play on screen.

Many years later, long after I graduated from college, I began my own work adapting Shakespeare, and I went back to look at Olivier’s Hamlet

I love the film and he is excellent.

But as wrote my versions of Shakespeare’s plays, instead of trying to find insights by looking deeper into Olivier’s psychological study of Hamlet, I looked at the history and the people in Shakespeare’s own life for answers.

I am very thankful that Olivier's work made me fall in love with Shakespeare in the first place.

I urge you all to see as much Shakespeare on stage and on screen as you can, whether it is Olivier, John Gielgud, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Taming of the Shrew, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes, David Tennant, Tom Hiddleston, etc.

When there is a new production of his plays near you, please go see it.

But if you want to understand what Shakespeare’s plays meant in the context of his own life, and why he wrote them in the first place, I recommend you read this blog and my versions of the plays.

I hope you join me today in celebrating the memory of Sir Laurence Olivier -- and his remarkable contribution to the history of Shakespeare!


David B. Schajer

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Shakespeare's 9 Popes

William Shakespeare was an eight year old boy in May 1572.

Sometime in that month he would have heard the news that Pope Pius V had died, on 1 May.

Pope Pius V

Pius had held the office since 1566, and he was arguably the one Pope who most shaped Shakespeare's mind regarding the Catholic Church.

In 1570, Pope Pius -- who preferred the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots over the Protestant Queen Elizabeth -- had issued the Regnans in Excelsis.

This letter, a papal bull, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, and released all of her English subjects from allegiance to their heretic queen.

Anyone who continued to obey her was threatened with excommunication.

This papal bull -- since it supported armed revolt against Elizabeth like the Northern Rebellion of 1569 -- had the effect of inspiring assassination attempts against the Queen, such as the 1571 Ridolfi Plot.

In response to Pope Pius’s official letter, Queen Elizabeth cracked down on the Catholics in England. The divide between Catholics and Protestants would grow ever wider.

This was the England into which Shakespeare was born.

By 1572, as Pius died, people in England (and Europe for that matter) asked themselves would the new Pope be more or less tolerant of the Protestant Reformation? Would the new Pope continue to fight with Queen Elizabeth, or would they come to some kind of understanding?

Pope Gregory XIII did nothing to reverse the course that Pius had set, and in fact he supported the plans of Philip II of Spain to dethrone Elizabeth.

Pope Gregory XIII

For people like young William Shakespeare, this religious tempest was far from over.

Pope Gregory died in 1585, when almost 21 years old.

By this time, the Catholic and Protestant factions in England had been in a cold war. However, this cold war turned hot in 1585. England and Spain went to war, and they would fight off and on for twenty years.

Shakespeare, like any young man in England, must have been terrified that he would be swept up into this war.

Pope Sixtus V succeeded Gregory. He began his Papacy on 24 April 1585 -- about the time when Shakespeare celebrated his 21st birthday.

Pope Sixtus V

Sixtus continued the antagonistic policy against Queen Elizabeth.

At this moment in time, Shakespeare was already married to Anne Hathaway. He had a daughter Susanna who was almost 2 years old. Anne had just delivered twins on 2 February 1585 -- Hamnet and Judith.

Let us stop and look at this moment, and put ourselves in his shoes: No matter whether he was more Catholic or more Protestant in his personal beliefs -- I doubt he could see an end to the battle between these two sides.

At a moment when Shakespeare’s whole life was changing, one thing just would not change. There would have been little reason to hope for religious toleration. He may have given up any hope of religious peace in his lifetime, or his children’s lifetimes.

Pope Sixtus died in 1590. He was succeeded by Urban VII, who quickly died from malaria.

Pope Urban VII

He was Pope for only 13 days!

It still holds the record as the shortest papal reign in history.

Pope Gregory XIV succeeded him in December 1590, but he only lived until October of the next year.

Pope Gregory XIV

He is perhaps most famous for excommunicating Henry IV, the new king of France.

In his short time as Pope, Gregory XIV fanned the flames of the French Wars of Religion -- which would inspire assassins to try and kill Henry IV in 1593 and 1594. Henry would ultimately be assassinated by a Catholic fanatic in 1610.

When Gregory XIV died in October 1591, he was succeeded by Innocent IX.

Pope Innocent IX

But Innocent died on 30 December 1591, another one of the shortest papal reigns in history.

But even in the few weeks of his reign, he still worked at supporting Spain’s Catholic ambitions, and worked at defeating Henry IV’s ambitions.

Pope Clement VIII followed after, and his papal reign lasted until 3 March 1605.

Pope Clement VIII

Clement’s papal reign saw the reign of Queen Elizabeth end, and the reign of King James begin.

Clement seems to have wanted to put out the flames of this religious war.

In late 1595, he absolved Henry IV of France, and ended the wars of religion which had lasted thirty years.

By 1595, Shakespeare was the most popular and successful playwright in England.

When Clement absolved Henry, Shakespeare must have been very happy. It suggested that there might soon be peace in England between Catholics and Protestants. 

In this time when Shakespeare may have allowed himself to hope again for religious peace, his son Hamnet died. He was only 11 years old.

Even more cruel was the fact that any religious toleration Shakespeare anticipated did not come, and was not coming any time soon.

When Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice not long after, I think he was expressing not only the grief of having lost his son, but he was also venting his frustrations at Catholic Rome. His portrayal of conniving and lewd Venetian Catholics is very bawdy and funny, but also very cynical.

Queen Elizabeth died in March 1603. 

Many people in England, and Europe for that matter, were hopeful that King James would finally settle the matter of religious toleration once and for all. He would bring a peaceful conclusion to all the years of fear and violence.

But James made the situation even worse.

After the Anglo-Spanish peace treaty of 1604, many Catholics in England were losing hope for any support from Spain and from Rome.

Clement died in March 1605 and was succeeded by Pope Leo XI.

Pope Leo XI

His papal reign lasted only 26 days, and he died on 27 April 1605.

Shakespeare had just turned 41 years old. He was a very well established man. He was a King’s Man -- a royal player to King James.

He had money, fame, and considerable property in Stratford.

Shakespeare may have considered Clement’s papacy a real chance at some kind of peace between Rome and London, between Catholics and Protestants.

It must have been like a cruel joke, when Clement died and yet another Pope dies within mere days.

Pope Paul V was next. His Catholic diplomacy is described as “hard-edged.” He obviously was not interested in following in the footsteps of Clement, and preferred to follow in the footsteps of  Pius V.

Pope Paul V

Men like Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes were spurred into action, and resulted in the Gunpowder Plot on 5 November 1605.

This Catholic plot to kill King James, his family and blow up Parliament shook England and all of Europe.

It must have shaken Shakespeare to the core.

I don’t think Shakespeare had any part in the plot, and I don’t think he sympathized with the plotters.

But Catesby was born in 1572, in Warwickshire. Shakespeare may have met him, or even known him personally. Fawkes was born in 1570, in York.

These men were born were in Shakespeare’s generation. They were born in the same era of religious violence and fear.

It would not have come as a surprise to Shakespeare, or any person born in the second half of the 16th Century, that religious violence like the Gunpowder Plot would occur.

Pope Paul V sent a letter to King James on 9 July 1606. It did nothing to decrease tensions between Catholics and Protestants. It only made it worse. King James cracked down on Catholics, and a new era, a new cold war between Catholics and Protestants began.

For Shakespeare, who lived his whole life fearing religious violence, there seemed to be no way out.

Shakespeare died in 1616, while Paul V was still Pope.

From the day he was born to the day he died, from Pope Pius V to Pope Paul V, Shakespeare was trapped in an England being torn apart by religion. 

The fear of religious violence, like the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in Paris, or the Massacre at Vassy, haunted every last man, woman and child.

Shakespeare wrote many plays that included ghosts. It suggests to me at least that Shakespeare hoped one day to live in an England that could come to terms with its Catholic past -- and not be haunted by it.


David B. Schajer

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Did Shakespeare Visit Italy?

I just read an interesting article, here:

It asks the question: did Shakespeare ever travel to Italy?


Related to that question is whether Shakespeare could have written about the country if he had never gone there himself.

I certainly think he could have written about Italy without ever having gone there. 

Even if Shakespeare did not go himself, he could have talked with many people during his career who would tell him all about their travels, to Italy and elsewhere. Italy was a destination spot for the aristocrats, and Shakespeare knew many, like the Earls of Essex and Southampton, who were among his artistic patrons.


Some people think that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford did wrote the plays instead of Shakespeare.

One reason I don't think Oxford did write the plays is because Oxford had in fact travelled to Italy. 

If wrote Measure for Measure, why would he set it in Vienna, when the characters have Italian names? Why wouldn't he just write about a city he had actually visited? 

Likewise, why would he write Two Gentlemen of Verona when he is referring to Milan instead? 

Oxford would not have made this error. 

But a Stratford boy like Shakespeare, who never left England, would.


I considered the question of whether Shakespeare ever left England some years ago, and my first instinct was to think that Shakespeare never traveled far from Stratford and London. 

The Shakespeare that I have in my mind was such a hard-working artist that he never could break away from his work and take a tour of Italy, or anywhere else outside England for that matter.

In addition to writing the plays, rehearsing them, acting in some of them, managing the plays with all the big and small decisions producing a play involves, managing his share of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (circa 1593 to 1603) and later the King's Men (1603 to 1613), Shakespeare also had all the responsibilities of running his home and the business and land interests he had in Stratford.

How he had any time to himself is a mystery.

It was also said that he was not a "company keeper" meaning that he was not the kind of man who stayed out drinking, with the actors, etc. He preferred to stay indoors and write.

So, if he was not the kind of man who would go to the local pub for a pint, because he could not break himself away from his work, then it is hard to imagine his taking several weeks off to tour another country.

However, I do think that if there was any place other than England he did indeed want to visit, it was Italy. Above all it was Italy.

Italy so dominates his plays, and Italian characters are so plentiful, that he was clearly fascinated by the place and the people.

I hate to think that he spent his entire life without ever seeing a foreign country, and perhaps even practicing to speak some Italian.


But even if he never did go to Venice, Rome, Padua, Verona or anywhere else in Italy, he spent years of his life writing about the country and fantasizing about it. 

I like to think that Italy is the land where his dreams lived.

What do you think?


David B. Schajer

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