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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Friday, June 27, 2014

Is Shakespeare Hiding In His Plays?

Does Shakespeare appear in his own plays?

Did he write himself into some of the characters?

It is known that he was not just a playwright, but an actor, too. So, he certainly created roles for himself in the plays he wrote.

But are there other characters that seem to you like Shakespeare was sneaking himself into the play, and hiding behind a mask?

I recently wrote about a different way to enjoy reading Shakespeare's plays, by using a technique called Imaginative Meditation. 

As you read one of the plays, try entering the story, and imagine that you are there with the characters. Instead of just being a spectator to the story, try to become a participant in the story.

One of the reasons why I think this is such a great way to read not just Shakespeare, but any stories really, is because it is a great way to exercise and develop your imagination.

Artists have different ways of developing their talent and their imagination, and I am sure that many of them have used something like this.

When Shakespeare was a schoolboy in Stratford, he learned Latin. He would read Ovid in Latin, and the plays of Plautus. He would have also performed some scenes from these plays.

Shakespeare's Schoolroom in Stratford

What if, while he was reading plays and stories like these, he was imagining that he was actually in the stories themselves?

It's very likely. After all, he had a great imagination, he was very creative with stories, plots, characters, memorable lines, and he invented many words, and phrases.

What if the spark of creativity that made him into the greatest writer of all time, was lighted by this kind of Imaginative Meditation?

So, if he was good at putting himself into the stories of Ovid and the plays of Plautus, did he go one step further and put himself into his own plays?

I was thinking of this as I was reading Antony and Cleopatra. When I read the lines for the character Enorbarbus, I get this strange feeling that it is Shakespeare himself, sticking himself in this history play.

Enobarbus was a real person, but it seems like Shakespeare is using him as a sort of Blackadder-type figure, so Shakespeare can speak his own mind, and express his own opinion.

There are some very funny lines, like how Enobarbus describes Cleopatra as Antony's "Egyptian dish." 

Judi Dench as Anthony Hopkins's "Egyptian dish"
in a 1978 production

I especially like it when Antony orders Enobarbus, whom he commands in the army, to be silent and "speak no more."

Enobarbus is rather sarcastic with his commanding officer: "That truth should be silent. I had almost forgot." 

Antony: "You wrong the presence. Therefore speak no more." Translation: "You are not worthy. Shut up."

Enorbarbus: "Go to, then. Your considerate stone." Translation: Yes, sir. I will be silent as a rock.

This kind of funny and irreverant exchange, between a very important man, and a lackey who doesn't entirely show respect to that man, is very common throughout Shakespeare. 

You can see it between Hamlet and the Gravedigger, or between Lear and his Fool, and perhaps most famously between Prince Hal and Falstaff.

Ian McKellen and Sylvester McCoy in King Lear
RSC 2007

With each of those disrespectful lackeys, I often sense Shakespeare's voice, and his real personality.

If these characters do represent Shakespeare's voice, why does he do this? Why does he slip into these characters?

Perhaps it is best understood with these lines by Enorbarbus, which he speaks to the audience: 

Mine honesty and I begin to square.
The loyalty well held to fools does make
Our faith mere folly: yet he that can endure
To follow with allegiance a fall'n lord
Does conquer him that did his master conquer
And earns a place i' the story.


My integrity and I sometimes fight.
Loyalty to a fool (his master Antony) makes loyalty foolish.
But anyone who can stay true to a fallen master
Defeats the person who defeated the master
And earns a place in history.

Shakespeare is saying, through the character of Enorbarbus, that in order to earn his place in history, and be remembered, he has to stay a loyal (but occasionally disrespectful and irreverant) servant to his master.

Who was Shakespeare's masters? He had several. 

Earl of Essex

The Earl of Essex, and the Earl of Southampton were his patrons for many years, until they conspired against Queen Elizabeth in 1601. Essex was executed and Southampton was put in the Tower.

Then his master was King James himself, when Shakespeare was made the official royal playwright, in 1603.

He had several masters, and he stayed true and loyal to each of them, despite their faults.

Can you think of any other characters in which Shakespeare is hiding?

Please let me know. I would love to hear your ideas!


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