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.

Please join over 68,000 people on facebook & Twitter following Shakespeare Solved ® -- the number one Shakespeare blog in the world!

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Did Shakespeare Write Henry V, Part 2?

King Henry V died on 31 August 1422, one month shy of his 36th birthday.

Shakespeare had dramatized him in three plays -- Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.

Tom Hiddleston in the Hollow Crown series

Shakespeare refers to him in the series of plays about his son, the Henry VI plays. Henry VI, part 1 opens in Westminster Abbey at for the funeral for Henry V.

But there is a great deal that happened in Henry V's life between these two series of plays.

It begs the question: did Shakespeare write a sequel to the Henry V play?

Even if he didn't actually complete a written play for it, did he plan to write it?

At the very least, was he thinking of writing a sequel?

At the end of the Henry V play, he has won the battle of Agincourt, and he has successfully wooed Catherine de Valois.

But he would go on to live almost 7 more years. 

Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in the 1989 film

His success at Agincourt was not the last time he fought in France. He would continue the war there. 

There is so much more to his life that it is hard to believe that Shakespeare never even considered telling more of that story.

Another reason why Shakespeare may have wanted to write a fourth chapter in he Henry's life is because when Shakespeare wrote about Prince Hal/Henry V, he was writing for Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

Essex was Shakespeare's friend and patron from around 1593-4. Shakespeare had written plays for Essex (and for his friend the Earl of Southampton) for many years. They were the two most dashing young men in all of London, and Shakespeare was very lucky to have made friends with them.

Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton

Essex and Southampton turn up time and again in the plays: as Mercutio and Romeo, as Demetrius and Lysander, as Valentine and Proteus, Don Pedro and Benedick, etc.

The most controversial play Shakespeare wrote on behalf of Essex was his Richard II play -- which was a case for deposing a sitting monarch, and a thinly veiled threat against Queen Elizabeth.

Most famously, Shakespeare modeled his Prince Hal/King Henry V character after Essex. In a sense, Shakespeare was writing pro-Essex propaganda at a time when Queen Elizabeth's court was divided between two factions, the Essex faction and the Cecil faction.

Essex was the Queen's "favourite" for many years, but there were many at court, primarily Wiliam Cecil and his son Robert, who conspired against him.

When Shakespeare wrote his plays supporting Essex, he was trying to inspire London to rally behind Essex. When he wrote Henry V for Essex, he was writing a play for him as he was marching off to war, against Irish rebels.

Essex in armour

That play was first performed in early 1599. The Essex campaign in Ireland was a complete failure, and it led to Essex's complete failure at court, and his loss of favour with Queen Elizabeth.

Things were so bad for Essex, that by February 1601, he led an armed rebellion against the Queen and her court. He was executed.

David Tennant as Hamlet

So, between 1599 and 1601, when Essex was at his lowest point, and in desperate need of any and all support, could Shakespeare have thought of a sequel to his Henry V play?

He might have written about the events between Agincourt and Henry's death seven years later, how his fighting in France dragged on, and how he became sick. There would of course have been a deathbed speech to make everyone in the Globe cry.

What better way to gain sympathy for Essex than to show Henry's death on stage, whose  death came much too soon?

Shakespeare and Essex may have talked about this sequel. They may have even crafted whole scenes, and lines of dialogue.

Perhaps Shakespeare even wrote the entire play.

Perhaps he was still working on it when Essex could wait no longer, and rashly, insanely took up arms against Queen Elizabeth.

Jude Law as Henry

It is interesting to imagine what that play could been like. It is also interesting to think of what effect the play might have had, had it been completed and performed.

I want to believe that it would have repaired Essex's relationship with Queen Elizabeth and restored him to his privileged place in her court.

But sadly that is not what happened.

What do you think? Did Shakespeare plan to write a Henry V, Part 2?


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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shakespeare Solved Blog on Instagram!

Hi everyone!

I just wanted to let you know that this Shakespeare Solved blog is now on Instagram:

Our Shakespeare Solved community has grown to over 60,000 people across the world. Hopefully this will help to grow the community even larger.

I want to thank each and every one of you for buying my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, for following this blog, and spreading the word to your friends and family about this new way of understanding Shakespeare's world, his life, and his plays.

There are a lot of new discoveries I will share with you in the coming months, so I hope you stay tuned and visit this blog frequently.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Shakespeare and Depression

Was Shakespeare depressed when he wrote King Lear?

Simon Russell Beale, as King Lear

The great actor Simon Russell Beale has recently suggested that Shakespeare may have been depressed and may have "temporarily lost faith in human nature" when he wrote the play, and while he wrote Timon of Athens, which may have been written at the same time.

You can read the full article here:

Mr. Beale points to Shakespeare's "savage rewriting" of the ending of the Lear story, which traditionally ended with Lear and Cordelia alive. He wonders why Shakspeare would  "obliterate a happy ending entirely" and write a version that has Lear and Cordelia die.

Mr. Beale is quoted as saying: "I wonder if he was going through a bad patch. I know it's a dangerous game to play, but I can't believe you do something so violent to your source material as that without a personal investment of some kind."

John Lithgow as King Lear

I find these kinds of questions very interesting, and very healthy to ask.

Mr. Beale has every right to consider this, considering that he recently played King Lear at the National Theatre (here is my review) and has performed Timon on stage.

Some people may think that Shakespeare's plays should be read just as plays, and nothing beyond the words written in the plays should be considered. I appreciate that argument, but I think it is a disservice to Shakespeare, whose biography is as compelling as the plays he wrote.

Also, if we can understand Shakespeare's life and the frame of mind he was in at the time he wrote the plays, it will help in understanding the plays better.

This question of depression and Shakespeare also comes only a few weeks after the suicide of Robin Williams, who suffered from depression.

Can any of us ever watch a Robin Williams movie again without thinking of his death? Perhaps I am only speaking for myself, but I won't be able to stop thinking that there are clues and signals to his depression in the films he made.

The life of the artist is as important as the art he creates. Or, as the brilliant film director Federico Fellini said: “All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography.”

Is Mr. Beale right? Was Shakespeare depressed when he wrote Lear and Timon?

Michael Pennington as King Lear

I think it is possible, but I do not think that he was depressed while he wrote these plays.

How do I arrive at these conclusions?

First, I look at the time in his life that he wrote the plays, and the events surrounding him. Secondly, I read the plays very closely to sense what he was writing and why. It is a combination of homework and empathy.

There are other plays that seem to indicate that he was in a very sad, and darker, state of mind.

When I wrote my version of The Merchant of Venice, I sensed a greater despair and sadness.

He wrote the play during arguably the worst time in his life. His only son Hamnet, who was 11 years old, had just died.

Shakespeare had spent years of hard work to build his reputation in order to create a lasting legacy for his family and heirs, and with the death of Hamnet, he had lost his only male heir. It must have devastated him.

But how did he respond to this tragedy? He wrote a new play.

Charles Macklin as Shylock

What is fascinating about Merchant is that it is such a funny comedy. He had written other comedies before, all of them funny, but this one was different. It is dark and angry, and the humour is sharper and much bawdier than anything he wrote before or after.

As I re-wrote the play and solved the problematic tone of the play, I realized that he was desperately trying to find meaning at a time when he felt his life had become meaningless.

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in 1601 he was probably at the second lowest point in his life.

Shakespeare's great friend and patron, the Earl of Essex, had just been executed earlier that year, and Shakespeare's future was very uncertain.

And to make matters worse, his father died.

If ever there was a time in Shakespeare's life when he might have packed up and retired to Stratford, it was in 1601.

As I wrote my version of Hamlet, I sensed a great deal of depression. 

Of course, Hamlet famously considers suicide. It is impossible to think that Shakespeare could have written such speeches without intimately understanding the darkness of depression.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Hamlet

But what is remarkable about Hamlet, is that instead of harming himself or ending his life in some fashion, Shakespeare wrote a play.

Time and again, Shakespeare responded to adversity with his writing, with his art.

It was probably the one and only effective method he had to treat himself for any depression he may have suffered.

When it comes to King Lear and Timon of Athens, Shakespeare may have been depressed.

They were written at a time when he was the official royal playwright to King James. It would not have been a happy and stress-free work environment. Shakespeare may have bitten off more than he could chew, in writing and performing for King James, and he may have been overall very down.

King James had just survived the attempt on his life, on 5 November 1605. He and his family could have been killed at the hands of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes, and others.

King James, in 1606, around the same time as Shakespeare wrote King Lear

It must have been a frightening time for the country, and for Shakespeare, as the king's servant. It could have contributed to any depression Shakespeare may have suffered.

But what is more interesting perhaps is that while King James had survived the Plot, he was suffering the humiliation of having been the target of the greatest terrorist plot in Britain's history.

In this historical context, any depression Mr. Beale and others might sense in these plays might not be an indication of Shakespeare's mind, but rather of King James himself.

As I read and study the plays Shakespeare wrote during King James's reign, the plays are clearly written for King James and are all about King James. 

King James, in 1606

If there was a time that Shakespeare was most depressed it may have been when he retired to Stratford around 1611-2.

If writing plays was what sustained him, and helped him manage his emotions, then this retirement may have hit him rather hard.

He died not long after, in 1616. He was only 52.

It is sad to think that he suffered from depression in his final days.

But he would have died knowing that his plays were still played at the Globe, and audiences still flocked to them.

For a man who dedicated his life to the theatre, there may have been nothing more gratifying to him than that. It is very likely that he died knowing that his life had had meaning and that he had touched the lives of so many of his fellow Englishmen.

What do you think?


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Monday, August 18, 2014

Shakespeare and Lawyers

I just read a great article about Shakespeare's (in)famous quote: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

The article explores the meaning of the quote, and whether or not Shakespeare was truly inciting violence against members of the legal profession.

I am not surprised that many lawyers, including David Epstein, argue that Shakespeare did not support killing lawyers. I doubt that any reasonable person really wants to murder all lawyers.

And yet, most people will laugh at dark humor directed at lawyers. I am reminded of the old joke: 

Q: "What do you call 100 lawyers on the bottom of the ocean?"

A: "A good start."

I think Shakespeare understood this tension between needing lawyers yet disliking them, and he was exploiting that tension for effect. The fact that we are still talking about this quote some 400 years later is evidence how effective he was.

I really admire how Mr. Epstein is addressing the issue. Rather than write an article about the matter, he has been taking a creative writing course, and is currently writing a play that puts us in the audience, to see and hear what is going on as the Henry VI play is performed.

It is an inspired idea. In fact, I had the same idea almost ten years ago, and that's how my versions of Shakespeare's plays came about.

The idea was based on one of my favorite quotes/challenges: "Don't criticize. Create."

Rather than write criticism about Shakespeare's life and plays, I am creating my own versions.

But let's take a look at this (in)famous line:

The "let's kill all the lawyers" line is in Henry VI, Part 2, and is spoken by Dick the Butcher, a co-conspiror in Jack Cade's rebellion against King Henry VI.

Jack Cade's Rebellion

The fact that the line is spoken by some minor henchman is significant. If Shakespeare had given the line to another character, someone more heroic, like Henry V perhaps, it would take on a greater significance, and perhaps show what Shakespeare really thought of lawyers in general.

By giving it to such a minor character, Shakespeare is essentially covering himself and evading the Elizabethan censor, the Master of the Revels, who might have struck the line or even disallowed the entire play for such incendiary language.

But what Jack Cade says in response to Dick is perhaps more significant: 

The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable
thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should
be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled
o'er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings:
but I say, 'tis the bee's wax; for I did but seal
once to a thing, and I was never mine own man

Cade is saying that the law, and written contracts between men, can "undo a man."

Another term to express this could be to emasculate, which in turn becomes to castrate. What better way to undo a man than to make him not a man, and take that which most signifies manhood?

This leads me to The Merchant of Venice, written a few years after the Henry VI plays, which has arguably Shakespeare's most famous trial scene.

The trial scene

While I was researching my version of this problem play, I solved a very important problem. What is Shylock referring to when he speaks of "a pound of flesh?"

I had discovered that this play, Shakespeare's most problematic problem play, is not a tragicomedy at all, but rather a very bawdy farce. 

The entire play is filled with hilarious jokes, and whenever you think the play will get serious, it gets even more funny, and Shakespeare doubles down on the farce.

So, when Shylock refers to taking a pound of Antonio's flesh, he is in fact demanding to castrate him. Yes, the pound of flesh is Antonio's penis, his manhood.

The fact that the taking of a pound of flesh is written into the contract between Shylock and Antonio is reminiscent of what Jack Cade said about contracts.

I have written recently about the fact that Shakespeare created the character of Shylock to represent himself and his father, John Shakespeare, and the fact that the meaning of Shylock's name is Shakespeare.

Shylock means Shakespeare, and Shakespeare means Shylock

John Shakespeare was in and out of court, and the lawsuits against him may have been the financial and psychological ruin of him. 

This happened just at a time when Shakespeare would have been going off to university.

It has been argued that Shakespeare would have become a lawyer himself. Perhaps he admired the lawyers he saw as a child. Perhaps his father and mother had told Shakespeare that he should one day practice law, at the Inns of Court in London perhaps.

But with his father's reversal of fortune, from the lawsuits brought against him, Shakespeare never went to Cambridge, or Oxford, as was more likely since it was only a day's ride away.

Shakespeare may have witnessed the trials himself. At the very least he saw the emotional and financial toll they took on his father.

What did Shakespeare see? What happened to his father?

I think he saw his father become undone. This undoing would have stayed with Shakespeare his entire life, and it looks like it made its way into his plays.

So, when Shakespeare wrote "let's kill all the lawyers" he is being funny. He is also being provocative. He is also speaking his mind, and expressing a lifelong anger, and frustration at a system of contracts and courts that could destroy a great man like his father.

The fact that this line represents something very personal about Shakespeare and his father is part of the reason the line resonates all these years later.

What do you think?


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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

It is very sad news to hear that Robin Williams has died.

He was in so many great projects over the years, not the least of which was his performance in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet film, as Osric.

It shows how generous he was as an actor. It is such a small role for such a famous actor, but he made the most of it, and it is a very funny performance.

He is one of my very favorite actors. I remember watching him when I was a kid, and no other comedian could make me laugh like he did. I have very fond memories of watching him, and then my brother and I would imitate him for days on end.

Many years later, I had the privilege of meeting him in person. He was as funny in person as he was on TV and in film. He would literally stop all traffic around him, and everyone would watch him as he did something funny. He loved to entertain, obviously, and he loved the laughter his entertainment created.

I saw him again a few times over the years, and every time was memorable. 

Perhaps my favorite memory of him was when a fan of his, a young Japanese woman, interrupted us as we were talking, and asked if he remembered meeting her many years ago when he was in Japan during a publicity tour.

Without hesitation, he smiled and said of course he remembered her. She got the biggest smile on her face. She looked like she was the happiest woman in the world. She was with her mother, and the mother was awestruck, too.

He chatted with her and her mother for a couple of minutes like they were old friends, and they took pictures together. I doubt that he really remembered her, but nevertheless he treated her, and her mother like they were the most special people in the world.

I have met some rather famous celebrities in my life, and Robin Williams was the nicest and friendliest celebrity of them all.

One day, we were talking and for whatever reason I jokingly called him "Señor Williams."

Without missing a beat, he called me "Mijo" -- which can mean "friend" "dude" or "my son."

Over the next couple of years it stuck. He was "Señor" and I was "Mijo."

I did not see him for many years after that, until about 3 years ago I ran into him. I wasn't sure if he remembered me. 

All I had to say was "Señor" and he looked at me and called me "Mijo." It was fun to talk again after such a long time, and he was the same as he was before, very funny and very down to earth.

That was the last time I saw him.

It is always sad when a famous and popular celebrity passes away. But Robin Williams was not like any other celebrity, and because of that I think his passing is especially hard.

Rest in peace, Robin.



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Shakespeare and the Gowrie Conspiracy

On 5 August 1600, King James of Scotland survived an assassination attempt.

It would come to be known as the "Gowrie Conspiracy" or the "Gowrie House Affair."

It is impossible to determine what actually happened that day, but King James claimed he was out hunting near Perth, when he met Alexander Ruthven, who claimed he was keeping a wealthy foreigner in Gowrie House.

King James, with several of his men, went with Alexander to investigate this story. At Gowrie House, they had dinner with Alexander's brother, the Earl of Gowrie, John Ruthven. 

After dinner, without his men knowing where he had gone, King James went upstairs with Alexander, and was held captive by force.

His men were told that the king had left without them, but before they departed the Gowrie House, they saw King James from a window above, and he cried "treason!"

His men attempted to rescue King James, and in the process they killed Alexander and his brother, the Earl.

King James survived the event, but faced scrutiny, as many people doubted his version of the events.

King James as an adult

What if King James went to the house uninvited with the intention of killing the Ruthvens?

What if King James was invited to the house as he claimed, but a fight broke out and resulted in murder?

What if King James, known to have male favourites, was having a romantic liaison with Alexander that went horribly wrong?

What if King James and the Ruthvens met to discuss the money he owed them, and instead of paying his debt, King James murdered them instead?

What if King James was worried that the Ruthvens had a better claim to inherit the English throne than he did, and he murdered them to clear his path to becoming King James of England?

Perhaps the biggest question in my mind is why did King James go to Gowrie House at all?

The Gowries were his greatest enemies. The Earl's father had once kidnapped King James when he was a boy, 18 years earlier.

King James as a boy

 His grandfather had murdered David Riccio in front of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was pregnant with her son, King James.

If he wanted to murder them, he could have just sent men to do the job without him.

We may never know the truth of the Gowrie Conspiracy.

But King James used it to his political advantage. He had Scotland light bonfires and celebrate his deliverance from Gowrie House, in the years after.

Once he became King of England and Scotland, he brought Gowrie Day to England.

Of course, it was not the last time King James's life was threatened.

After the Gunpowder Plot, Gowrie Day served as inspiration for Bonfire Night.

For William Shakespeare, the events of the Gowrie Conspiracy would probably have been as mysterious as they are today.

He would probably have heard all the theories and conjecture, either defending King James or suspecting him of something nefarious.

The mystery must have driven Shakespeare mad, and I think he would have been curious enough to know the truth, that he would have tried to tease it out of the king.

Shakespeare was probably the only man, of all the people who met and knew King James personally, who could have gotten the truth out of him.

I can't prove it, but I think Shakespeare came the closest to knowing what really happened on 5 August 1600, and what he learned was the source of a play he wrote, which was later banned and has disappeared from history.


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