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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ira Glass's Shakespeare Blindness

I have three stories for you:

I just read a quick article about Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, who went to see John Lithgow as King Lear on Friday, and thinks "that maybe Shakespeare sucks."

He tweeted to John Lithgow after the performance:

@JohnLithgow as Lear tonight: amazing. Shakespeare: not good. No stakes, not relatable. I think I'm realizing: Shakespeare sucks.

— Ira Glass (@iraglass) July 28, 2014

He then followed that with:

Same thing with the great Mark Rylance shows this yr: fantastic acting, surprisingly funny, but Shakespeare is not relatable, unemotional.

— Ira Glass (@iraglass) July 28, 2014


@dpecs that maybe Shakespeare sucks— 

Ira Glass (@iraglass) July 28, 2014

Ira Glass needs more Shakespeare in his life

I went to the performance the next night, on Saturday (here is my review) and unless John Lithgow managed to completely bungle the performance before mine, I can't see how anyone would say that the play is bad.

I also saw both Rylance performances he refers to, (here is my review to Twelfth Night, and to Richard III), and again I don't know what plays he was watching, but they were both brilliant.

I don't want to spend too much time on Ira Glass's Shakespearean blindness, but I do want to comment on his criticism of Lear as "unrelatable."

Does he have a father? Siblings? Does he consider the effects of aging? Does he not foresee a day when his mental and physical powers will diminish and desert him?

I will agree with him that some productions of Lear can leave you cold. I was unmoved by Simon Russell Beale as Lear, despite his talent and my love of his work. But for the first time watching Lear, Lithgow as Lear made me cry.

John Lithgow as King Lear

Anyway, I have two other funny stories for you.

While I was sitting in the audience during, before the play began, I overheard two men talking about the play. One of them seemed to know it rather well, and the second man was unfamiliar with the story and characters.

The second man said: "I'm sure I won't have a hard time understanding it. After all, I'm more educated than the audiences in Shakespeare's time."


I love this story. As you may know, I am re-writing the plays to show how they were performed in Shakespeare's time, and the one assumption I am definitely NOT making is that his audience was dumb.

Rather, Shakespeare's audience, comprised of people from a broad social spectrum, had varying degrees of education. Some had little to no formal education, and some had the highest educations possible at the time, the Earls who frequented the theatres, and the law students from the Inns of Court, for example.

Guess what? I am positive that all of them were smart enough to understand the plays.

Finally, the plays were meant to act as dress rehearsals for performance at royal court of Queen Elizabeth and King James, two of the most educated people in the history of the world.

I have a feeling they understood the plays better than the hipster guy behind me. Just a hunch.

with Annette Bening as Goneril

The third story I want to share with you is about two other people I overheard at the theatre on Saturday.

During the interval, or intermission, a young woman apologized to her male friend for having nodded off, and sleeping during the play. She said that she was bored, and it was hard to understand.

Her male friend tried to make her feel better, and said: "Don't worry. I'm sure there isn't one person here who understands everything that's going on in the play."


I had to resist the urge to turn around.

So, I spent some time thinking about these three stories, and I came to a conclusion.

Each of these people needs more Shakespeare in their life.

We all need more Shakespeare in our lives, whether we know a lot about the Bard, very little, or think we know enough to make stupid tweets.

I don't imagine that everyone will enjoy every last Shakespeare play, but it does worry me that a particular performance might turn someone off of Shakespeare.

I listen to all kinds of music. I don't stop listening to a particular band because they have one bad song, or a bad album.

So, I hope Ira Glass, and the people in the audience, and anyone out there reading this, might consider giving Shakespeare another shot. Watch a Shakespeare DVD, see another play, or read one, or two.


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Monday, July 28, 2014

John Lithgow as King Lear in Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park

I just saw John Lithgow as King Lear in the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park.

Do not miss it! A production as moving and perfect as this does not come around very often.

The show runs through August 17, so get your tickets as soon as possible:

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would like to share my thoughts with you.

This is the first time that King Lear has been performed in Central Park since 1973. So, not only would you be seeing a great production, you are seeing a piece of theatre history in the making.

It just set the play in what appeared to be an ancient time, perhaps 8th century Britain, which is when a legendary King Leir is said to have reigned. The costumes were rather simple robes and such, without too much color or decoration. I admired the choice, because it didn't draw your attention away from the play.

I hate pointing out only some of the performances. The entire cast was really superb. But I do want to mention some of them:

Clarke Peters as Gloucester

I have never seen such a perfect Gloucester. Clarke Peters, probably best known for The Wire and Person of Interest, was just terrific.  When Gloucester is blinded, I have never been so horrified. Mr. Peters did something electric with the moment, and he made the moment more than just acting. When Lear recognizes him, it is so touching, it moved me to tears.

I don't want to spoil the surprise for you, but when he leaps off the cliffs of Dover, it is the simplest and most heartbreaking staging of the moment I have ever seen.

Chukwudi Iwuji was great as Edgar. Most actors are just fine when they play Edgar but never manage to make the transformation to Tom o'Bedlam very convincing, and hardly ever manage the tightrope walk between Edgar and Tom when he is with his father Gloucester. Mr. Iwuji is the first actor I've seen to make it all work, and make it look effortless.

Also, Messrs. Peters and Iwuji have a fantastic rapport on stage. They really make the relationship seem convincing.

Chukwudi Iwuji as Edgar/Tom

Jay O. Sanders, who has done so much work at the Public, was terrific. There are great moments for the Kent character, like when he gets to insult Oswald, and Mr. Sanders made the most of it. But what I really appreciated about his performance was the fact that even when he wasn't the focus of the action, he was constantly supporting the other actors, fully engaged with them, and connected to the action on stage. 

Too often I see actors who don't engage in this kind of character acting, and sometimes almost imperceptibly the play suffers. When an actor like Mr. Sanders puts all that effort into it, it makes it more engrossing.

The daughters, individually and as a whole, were great. I liked the fact that they actually looked like sisters, which made their individual traits all the more interesting.

Sometimes, I find there is no real rapport between the actress who plays Cordelia and the actor playing Lear. Not with Jessica Collins. There was an infeffable emotional connection between her and John Lithgow. He really seemed to care for her, before he banishes her of course, and when they are reunited. Ms. Collins really seemed to regard this man as her father.

She performed the role and recited the lines as well as any actress I can remember, but what set her apart was the real feeling she had for Mr. Lithgow as Lear.

Jessica Hecht as Regan was great. She is always excellent, and I always enjoy her acting. She added something to Regan I don't think I've ever seen before: a great passive-aggressive quality. It seemed to suggest a real princess, who only care about the big picture, but can't be bothered with the little stuff. It was very entertaining, and made the character rather fresh.

Annette Bening as Goneril

I was thrilled to see Annette Bening on stage. I have been a fan of her work, and I was especially excited to see her in Shakespeare again, after her performance in Richard III with Ian McKellan.

She brought something new and refreshing to the role of Goneril. She had this imperious quality that further emphasized that she is not just somebody's daughter -- she is King Lear's first-born daughter, a real princess.

That is an elusive thing for most actresses, but Annette Bening nailed it. She wasn't just one of three sisters, as fars as she was concerned, she was the only sister who mattered. 

What made this performance even more memorable, and very unique in my experience, is that she was very convincing as the daughter who loves her father in the beginning, and later she was very convincing as a daughter who means to destroy her father. It made Goneril truly frightening, in this production.

That leaves John Lithgow as King Lear.

I saw Mr. Lithgow on stage in M. Butterfly. It was so well written, incredibly gripping and beautifully acted that I went to see it twice!

I have seen him so often and in so many roles on TV and in films, and he is always reliably excellent. But to see him on stage is a whole different matter. The stage is probably where he most enjoys himself as an actor, because he clearly relished this opportunity, and made the most of the performance.

What I found the most extraordinary about his performance was his voice. His voice is the most magnificent instrument. It can express such a variety of emotional nuances. My written words here don't do it justice. You just have to see him perform live to get what I am saying.

When he divides his kingdom between his daughters, he clearly adores them. He doesn't love them, he cherishes them, and the warmth in his voice makes the words more than what's written. When he banishes Cordelia, when he curses Goneril with sterility, it is all the more effectively tragic. His voice, which can be so sweet, becomes malignant, vicious, violent. I could hear people gasping in shock when he cursed them.

Steven Boyer as the Fool

When he cries out to the storm, it is precisely the booming, almost God-like voice I want to hear from King Lear. After all, he is a King, and he should speak and shout like no common man. The sound effects in the theatre, with the thunder crashing, could not drown out Mr. Lithgow's awesome vocal strength.

I know this play very well. I have seen it several times before. As moving as the play can be, I never cry. I know what's coming, and I am not surprised by the tragedy. So, I don't cry.

Well, Mr. Lithgow got me to cry twice.

When he reunites with Cordelia, and when he dies holding her dead body, he got me. And what made it almost impossible for me not to cry was his voice, which had been so manic and so crazy for so long in the play, finally became still and soft and tender.

With Christopher Innvar as Albany

He also did something with Lear that I didn't think was possible. I have considered, and I seem to recall reading somewhere, that there is no catharsis by the end of King Lear. There is all this tragedy, and by the end so many characters have died, and there is no outlet for our grief.

But as I watched Mr. Lithgow die on stage, I felt a catharsis. Odd.

So, I thought over his performance and I think I figured out what he did to make Lear's death less tragic, and actually emotionally satisfying.

Edgar falls apart and becomes Tom o'Bedlam. Tom is meant to represent the lowest low anyone could imagine reaching. He is an almost naked homeless lunatic.

In previous productions I have seen, King Lear also falls apart and eventually meets Tom, but never seems to fall as low as Tom.

But in this production, Mr. Lithgow takes Lear to Tom's level, and arguably even lower, even more pitiful and pathetic.

So, when Lear meets Cordelia and is cleaned up, he is a kind old lunatic. He is a vegetable really. It is as if it were better that he were dead, than live his days like a ghost of the man, the king, he was before. If he were to live any longer, he might be remembered more for his insanity than his greatness as a king.

Therefore, when Mr. Lithgow dies on stage as Lear, I felt a catharsis. I felt that this is a satisfying end to the life of a great king. It was also so powerful, that it was hard to watch, like it was too intimate a moment to be seen publicly.

Also, the director Daniel Sullivan is brilliant at moving the play along with such energy, and with so much humor. The comedy here is critical, because watching Lear can be a chore if it is all doom and gloom. And, if the comedy is handled well, which it is here, it adds to the eventual grief at the end. Without these little hints of comedy, the tragedy is less powerful.

I can't recall ever reading any analysis of the play to suggest that Lear's death can lead to catharsis, or be a good thing. 

But leave it to an excellent actor like Mr. Lithgow, under the superb direction of Daniel Sullivan, and supported by a terrific ensemble, to find something new, break new ground, and take King Lear to emotional heights arguably never seen before.

Do yourself a favor, and go see this play. It is only playing for a limited time.


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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Helen Mirren & Shakespeare

Happy Birthday Helen Mirren!

I really wish that she would do more Shakespeare.

Early on in her career she was in the Royal Shakespeare Company, acting in a variety of roles. She played Ophelia, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Rosalind, Gertrude, Isabella in Measure for Measure, and more.

She played Prospera in Julie Taymor's film version of The Tempest, but that was 4 years ago.

As Prospera in The Tempest

She clearly has a passion for Shakespeare. I just wish she would continue to perform Shakespeare, especially on screen.

I wouldn't be surprised at all to see her in the Hollow Crown series of Shakespeare TV films. I would love to see her in Coriolanus, as his mother, Volumnia.

As Cressida at the RSC

She also clearly loves performing on stage, what with the recent play The Audience, so I would hope that she would continue to perform Shakespeare there, too.

I would love to see her as Queen Margaret in Richard III. She played the same role in the Henry VI trilogy. So, it would be a natural evolution for her as an actress to complete the role on stage.

As Cleopatra at the RSC

But more than anything else, I would love to see her in these Shakespeare Solved series of films.

She was brilliant as the queen in the 2005 TV film, Elizabeth I. It was great to see her in that period of history, and she fits into it effortlessly.

I thought the film was fantastic, but in the course of 4 hours I was surprised that they could not find any place to include Shakespeare!

In the 2005 mini-series Elizabeth I

As much as I would love to have her reprise the role of Queen Elizabeth in these Shakespeare Solved films, I would prefer to see her as a more down to earth character -- like Shakespeare's mother, Mary.

It isn't as flashy as Queen Elizabeth, and the costumes are not as pretty, but the importance of Mary Shakespeare in the life of her son has not been explored at all. 

It would be an interesting and unusual choice for Helen Mirren, and I think she would be wonderful as the woman who nurtured and helped inspire Shakespeare to be the great artist he would become.

What do you think?

If you want to see her in some more Shakespeare, and in this series of Shakespeare Solved films, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Who Was Shakespeare's Falstaff?

On 23 July 1596, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, died.

Was he the man who inspired Shakespeare's character Falstaff?

Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff in the Hollow Crown series

Carey was one of the most influential courtiers at the time, and very close to his cousin, Queen Elizabeth -- his mother Mary was Anne Boleyn's sister.

He was very busy in his lifetime serving Elizabeth in many offices, and even on the battlefied, helping to defeat the Northern Rebellion.

From 1585 he served Elizabeth as the Lord Chamberlain. It was in this capacity that he became Shakespeare's royal patron in 1594, when the company known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men was created.

The actors in this new company were men like Richard Burbage and Will Kemp. Burbage would go on to create the roles of Hamlet, Lear, Othello, Macbeth, Henry V, and so on. Kemp would create the role of Falstaff, and other very comedic roles.

This company was so popular that by the time Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, her successor, King James of Scotland chose to make this company his official royal court players, and re-christened them the King's Men.

In 1596, around the time when Carey died, Shakespeare wrote and his players performed Henry IV, Part 1. He introduced the world to a new character that would live on as one of his most beloved, Sir John Falstaff.

Roger Allam at Shakespeare's Globe, 2010

It is uncertain if Shakespeare wrote the play before, during or after Carey's death, but it seems likely to have been after Carey's death because very soon after, Shakespeare would write another chapter in the Falstaff story, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

So, it is possible that Shakespeare wanted to include a character in Henry IV, Part 1 that honored and celebrated the memory of his dearly departed patron, Henry Carey.

The only character that would seem to fit is Falstaff.


By 1594, when the Lord Chamberlain's Men was created, Shakespeare was the single greatest playwright in London. Christopher Marlowe had died the year before, and Thomas Kyd was about to die, in August 1594, from the torture he received from the investigation into Marlowe's activities. 

 Shakespeare also gained royal patronage from both Earls of Essex and Southampton, who were two of the most influential and popular courtiers. Queen Elizabeth considered Essex her "favourite."


Essex would later allow his ambition to get the better of him, and he would lead a failed rebellion (with Southampton) against Queen Elizabeth, in 1601. 

Essex was handsome, brave, foolish, and obviously hot-tempered. Southampton was also known for getting into trouble, such as his scandalous affair with Queen Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Vernon. 

In the plays Shakespeare wrote from 1594 onward, there are some characters who resemble Essex and Southampton: Romeo and Mercutio, Demetrius and Lysander, Bassanio and Lorenzo, Benedick and Don Pedro, Hamlet and Horatio, etc. They are all young men who get in over their heads.


I have already written on this blog how Southampton's affair inspired Romeo and Juliet, and I have written about how the Henry V play was written as propaganda on behalf and in support of Essex.

Since Shakespeare wrote the character of Henry V for Essex, in 1599, then going backwards, it is very clear that young Prince Hal and his trouble-making friend Poins are pictures of Essex and Southampton once again.

If Essex and Southampton are Prince Hal and Poins, then who is Falstaff?

Just as Falstaff is a dear friend to Prince Hal and Poins, it would suggest that the real Falstaff was a dear friend to Essex and Southampton.

I suggest that Henry Carey was this dear friend.

Much has been written about another man as Falstaff, William Brooke, Lord Cobham. I don't argue with this suggestion and evidence. I agree that there is some reason why Shakespeare drew a connection between Falstaff and Cobham.

But I don't think it is the whole story.

Cobham was not friends with Essex and Southampton. At Queen Elizabeth's court, he was not on their side, he was not in their faction.

It is doubtful that Shakespeare would pour so much love and attention into Falstaff just to insult and mock Cobham.

There is a story that Queen Elizabeth loved the Falstaff character so much that she ordered Shakespeare to write a new play -- Falstaff in love.

That play would become Merry Wives of Windsor.

It is believed that this play was performed for the first time on 23 April 1597 (coincidentally Shakespeare's birthday) for Carey's son George, who was invested as a Knight of the Garter, and inherited his father's position as Lord Chamberlain, on that day.

George Carey

So, if Queen Elizabeth loved Falstaff so much, was it because the character made so much fun of Cobham? Or was it because it was a loving caricature of Carey?

Also, if the "Falstaff in love" story is true -- did Queen Elizabeth order Shakespeare to write Merry Wives because she wanted yet another play to mock Cobham? Or was it because she wanted to be reminded of her dearly departed friend Carey once more?

Why would Merry Wives be performed to commemorate George Carey's investiture and inheritance of the position of Lord Chamberlain if it was just a way to make fun of Cobham? It must have been performed as a commemoration to George Carey and a remembrance of his father.

Henry Carey is one of those figures about whom much is known but nothing is understood, especially as far as it concerns Shakespeare.

Who was he to Shakespeare? Just a distant uninvolved patron, or a dear friend -- a father figure perhaps?

What was Carey's relationship with Essex and Southampton? Was it close or not? Was he a father figure to them perhaps?

I wouldn't be surprised if Queen Elizabeth asked Carey to look after Essex and Southampton, to keep them out of trouble, and teach them how to behave like proper courtiers.

If that is the case, then Carey's death in 1596 was sadly much too soon, for he never got a chance to steer them away from their reckless behaviour, and keep them from hatching a plot against Elizabeth.

It might just be possible to find out who Carey was by looking at Falstaff.  We might just be able to discern what he meant to Shakespeare, to Essex, Southampton and Queen Elizabeth.

As you can see, I don't have any answers, but I think you will agree that these are interesting questions worth considering.


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Daniel Radcliffe and Shakespeare

Happy Birthday Daniel Radcliffe!

He is such a talented actor I am really surprised that he has not acted any Shakespeare.

I found this little article online about how he would like to perform Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and how he might eventually like to do larger roles like Hamlet:

It's odd that he would think that Shakespeare, and the language of the plays is intimidating, and how he is scared about tackling a role like Hamlet.

Daniel seems to like to challenge himself artistically and perform a variety of roles, and prominent roles at that, like in The Cripple of Inishman, Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

I also find it very encouraging that he is attracted to the stage. I think it represents a confidence as an actor that really sets him apart from his peers, and especially at such a young age.

He mentions how he is interested in the roles of Romeo and Mercutio, but I can think of several other roles for him to perform: Demetrius in Midsummer, Laertes in Hamlet, Iago, Ariel in Tempest, Fool in Lear to name a few.

As much as I would love to see him perform Shakespeare on stage, I would hope that he finds an opportunity to be in a future Shakespeare film adaptation.

Like several other UK actors nowadays, like Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Rory Kinnear, David Tennant, I think Daniel should make Shakespeare a priority in his overall career. It is something that he can return to from time to time across many years.

He would be great in some Shakespeare Solved, too.

I could easily imagine him as one of Shakespeare's friends, and fellow actor.

It would be exciting to see Daniel in Elizabethan dress, performing with the other Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men. And, I'm sure he would enjoy performing a variety of roles spread across this whole series of Shakespeare Solved films.

Also, it would be a double challenge for him, since he would be playing an Elizabethan actor, and acting these Elizabethan roles. 

But whereas Daniel may find the language of Shakespeare intimidating, it is actually quite easy to perform and understand when it is heard in the original context in which Shakespeare wrote such language.

What do you think?

If you want to see him in some Shakespeare, and in this series of Shakespeare Solved films, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


David B. Schajer

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch's Shakespeare Year

Happy Birthday Benedict Cumberbatch!

He has many reasons to celebrate, not the least of which is the very important year he has ahead of him, in which he will star in two Shakespeare productions!

He has been cast as Richard III in the forthcoming Hollow Crown series, and he will playing Hamlet at the Barbican, directed by Lyndsey Turner:

For some time on this blog, I have been talking about how Benedict Cumberbatch should do some Shakespeare, and now he is doing two productions! 

Will his Hamlet look something like this?

I was concerned that he might not pursue Shakespeare projects. Before the announcements of Richard III and Hamlet, there was a distinct possibility that he would pursue feature film and TV projects instead. He has become insanely in demand in the last two years.

There is no reason why he has to do any Shakespeare. He could no doubt work for the rest of his life without ever acting in the Bard’s plays. There are quite a few UK actors (many whom I admire) who don’t, and I was sincerely worried that he would become one of them.

So, it is thrilling to know that he values and understands the importance of Shakespeare.

As much as he will become famous for Sherlock, and for his role as Khan in the Star Trek films, I predict he will become arguably more famous for his work in Shakespeare, whether it is on stage or screen.

He is such a versatile actor that he could do any number of productions, for his entire life. He would be great as Benedick, Macbeth, as Iago, as Henry V, etc. But I also think he would be great in other less popular plays, like Antony and Cleopatra, or Timon of Athens. He would be hilarious as Petruchio, and I think his Prospero would be incredible. It would be fantastic if he did that on stage.

It’s many years away before he does it, but I think he would be amazing as King Lear.

Also, I predict that he will might turn his talents to directing as well as acting in a Shakespeare play or two, perhaps even for the screen. Ralph Fiennes has done it. Kenneth Branagh has done it. Why shouldn’t he do it, too?

So, I hope you join me in wishing him a Happy Birthday today, and say a prayer of thanks that he has declared his intention to make Shakespeare an important, and with any luck permanent, part of his life and career.

If you agree that he should continue to do Shakespeare, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


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