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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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Shakespeare and the Tudor Period

June 24 was a very busy day in Shakespeare history.

On June 24, 1509, Henry VIII was crowned King of England.

On June 24, 1532, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was born.

On June 24, 1604, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford died.

In a funny way, these are some of the most important events in the Tudor period, and they all relate very directly to the life and career of Shakespeare.

Battle of Bosworth Field

The Tudor period began in 1485 when King Henry VII defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and won the throne. Not long after that, his son Henry succeeded him in 1509, and became arguably the most influential of all the British monarchs.

Henry VIII in 1509, when he was 18 years old

In breaking away from the Catholic Church, Henry VIII set England on a different path from the rest of Europe. In terms of religion, and culture, England would never be the same.

Coronation of Henry VIII

For Shakespeare, he might never have become the playwright he did, had Henry VIII broke from Rome. 

Before Thomas Kyd, and Christopher Marlowe, and the other playwrights like Shakespeare, there were religious mystery plays, and other church-related entertainment. If England had not had its Reformation, the entertainment in England may never have been reformed either. 

Shakespeare might have just acted occasionally in the Stratford area, while perhaps following in his father's career as glove-maker and maybe holding local government office.

I wonder if Shakespeare ever stopped to think that his entire playwriting career was due King Henry's desire for another woman, and wish to be divorced.

Henry in 1531

But if King Henry VIII was responsible for the overall environment in which a playwright could have a career, it was Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, born in 1532, who might be considered the father of playwrights and actors in Elizabethan England.

Leicester was the "favourite" of Queen Elizabeth. She loved him more than any other man, and arguably would have married him had she been truly free to do so.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Leicester enjoyed the company and entertainment of actors and performers. One of these performers was Will Kemp, who would later be the second greatest actor who worked with Shakespeare, and was the man who first played Falstaff. The most important was Richard Burbage, who played Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and all of the other major roles.

Will Kemp

Leicester also employed a man named James Burbage, who was the father of Richard Burbage.

James Burbage wanted to have the freedom and legal protection to travel the country without being arrested. Leicester turned to Queen Elizabeth, and she granted this licence in 1572.

James Burbage would soon build The Theatre, the first building created specifically for the purpose of performing plays, since the Roman times.

The Theatre, in Shoreditch

It was in The Theatre that Shakespeare may have first performed when he came to London in around 1587.

In no time, Shakespeare was working with, and writing for Richard Burbage, and it was a match made in theatre heaven.

Edward de Vere, who is often incorrectly believed to be the real author of Shakespeare's plays, was a wealthy and influential courtier during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

But I consider him to represent some of the best and worst qualities of the Elizabethan era. He was a patron of artists and playwrights, and was a writer himself, though much of his writing does not survive. He inherited his wealth, and by the end of his life he had lost all of it.

It is entirely reasonable to conclude that Shakespeare knew Oxford, and had met him frequently. Why? Because Oxford had grown up as a ward in the Cecil household. 

This is the same household where Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton had grown up, also as wards to the William Cecil, the chief adviser to the Queen.

Essex and Southampton were Shakespeare's patrons, and there is every reason to believe that they had nothing but disdain for their fellow ward, and housemate, Oxford. Oxford was pro-Cecil where Essex and Southampton were not.

Oxford was famous for his travels in Italy, including Venice, which was sort of like the Las Vegas of the time. Oxford was known as the "Italian Earl" and was described as a "ridiculously foppish Italianate courtier."

In the course of writing my version of The Merchant of Venice it became rather apparent that Oxford was the inspiration for Shakespeare's character Antonio. That is not a compliment, since the caricature Shakespeare created is not flattering to Oxford at all. The character of Antonio has been mistakenly played as if he is a fine gentleman, but in fact the character is a ridiculous Italianate fop.

When Oxford died, in 1604, Queen Elizabeth had been dead for over a year, and King James sat on her throne.

His death would have been a rather clear indication that the Elizabethan era, and the Tudor period, had come to a close.

Shakespeare had worked his way to the top of the Elizabethan world, without a title, and an inherited family fortune. He was an example of what was great about Elizabeth's reign.

Without King Henry VIII he would not have been a playwright. Without Leicester he would not have been able to flourish as a playwright. Without Oxford, and men like him, he would not have been able to write characters as funny as Antonio.

And just thing, Shakespeare's career had many more years to go!


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