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 70,000 people on facebook, Twitter & Google Plus 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, December 19, 2014

Shakespeare & Twelfth Night's Malvolio

Did William Shakespeare play the role of Malvolio when Twelfth Night was first performed, in 1602?

Yes, he may have, according to Katherine Duncan-Jones, in her excellent book Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes From His Life.

Stephen Fry as Malvolio

She makes a persuasive point that when Malvolio wears the cross-gartered stockings, it may have been Shakespeare’s way of making fun of himself.

I think she is right, and there is more to this puzzle which I would like to contribute and support her thesis.

First, she discusses Shakespeare’s coat-of-arms, which he purchased in the late 1590’s. He bought this in the attempt to become a gentleman, and elevate his family to gentle status. By the time Twelfth Night was performed, Shakespeare's purchase backfired, and rather than improving his reputation, it had hurt his reputation.

Here is an image of what the coat of arms looked like:

 She describes this coat of arms in great detail: the gold-yellow of the shield, the spear on the black stripe running diagonally across the shield, and Shakespeare’s motto “Non Sanz Droict” which means “not without right.”

 The falcon on top has its wings open, which is called “shaking” — a term in falconry referring to the moment immediately before the bird takes flight. So, the falcon is shaking and holding a spear: Shakespeare.

Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s friend and rival playwright, mocked Shakespeare’s attempt to climb the social ladder. Jonson made fun of the yellow/gold color on Shakespeare’s coat of arms when he created a character in his Every Man out of His Humour play who has a family crest with the motto “Not without mustard.” 

According to Katherine Duncan-Jones, Shakespeare took the insult, and may have turned it into an opportunity to make fun of himself.

Shakespeare may have done this when he has Malvolio tricked into wearing yellow stockings, which would resemble the yellow on the shield of Shakespeare’s coat of arms, and the black garters which would resemble the stripe on the shield.

Stephen Fry wearing the stockings and garters, with Mark Rylance

If Shakespeare himself was on stage, as Malvolio, and wearing the cross-gartered stockings, there is every reason to believe that the Elizabethan audience would have understood the joke, and laughed at this “exquisitely ridiculous” effect, as she describes it.

Her point is very persuasive, and it is fun to imagine that Ben Jonson himself would have been in that audience, and would have found the joke very witty, and would have found Shakespeare’s self-deprecation very entertaining.

But there may be even more evidence to support her idea. 

Let’s look at the name Malvolio. 

According to the Arden edition of Twelfth Night, the name may come from the Italian malvoglio which means “I dislike.” The expression “mala voglia” means “ill will.”

The Italian word “male” means “evil, bad, hurt, wrong, harm, ill.”

But what if there is another meaning for the name Malvolio? It is impossible to decipher every last meaning, and discover every last nuance of the name, but there might just be one more facet to the name Malvolio.

What if Shakespeare chose the name Malvolio to mean “bad flight?”

“Mal” for bad, and “vol” for flight. The Italian word “volare” means “flying.” The French word for “flight” is “vol.” The Latin word for “winged creature” is “volucris.”

It seems that Shakespeare is adding another dimension, another facet to the name Malvolio, something having to do with birds and flight. But why?

Well, Katherine Duncan-Jones has already supplied the answer. The falcon whose wings are “shaking.” 

If she is correct that Shakespeare is making fun of his own coat of arms when Malvolio is wearing the cross-gartered stockings, then it is entirely plausible that he is making fun of the falcon on that same coat of arms in the choice of the name, Malvolio.

If this is true, then Malvolio may also be loosely translated to mean “a bird that can’t fly,” “a hurt bird,” “a bird that has been wronged,” and so on.

Right away, the image of Malvolio in prison comes to mind:

Malvolio in prison

There is even more evidence to support this new translation. 

Fabian speaks of Malvolio’s arrogance: “Contemplation makes a rare turkey-cock of him: how he jets under his advanced plumes!” which can roughly be translated as “look how he acts like a proud strutting peacock.” “Advance” would perfectly describe the purpose of Shakespeare’s coat of arms, he was trying to advance himself and his family.

More importantly, the word “gull” is used five times in the play, almost exclusively in reference to Malvolio. 

Shakespeare only used the word "gull" 11 times in all of his plays, so the fact that he uses this word so much in Twelfth Night seems to have been done for a specific purpose.  

The word “gull” means “a dupe,” “a fool,” “a simpleton” and an “unfledged bird” — a young bird whose wings are undeveloped and cannot fly.

1. Maria says to Sir Toby: “For Monsieur Malvolio, let me alone with him. If I do not gull him into a nayword, and make him a common recreation, do not think I have wit enough to lie straight in my bed. I know I can do it.” (2.3.129-32).

2. Fabian says of Maria, who has written the letter to deceive and ensnare Malvolio, as she enters: “Here comes my noble gull-catcher.” (2.5.180)

3. At the end of Act 3 Scene 2, Maria and Sir Toby discuss the plan even further. Notice how Toby refers to Maria as a wren, or a “songbird” and how the word “gull” is inserted into the very plotting of the cross-garters and yellow stockings:


Look, where the youngest wren of nine comes.

If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourself
into stitches, follow me. Yond gull Malvolio is
turned heathen, a very renegado; for there is no
Christian, that means to be saved by believing
rightly, can ever believe such impossible passages
of grossness. He's in yellow stockings.

And cross-gartered?

Paul Chahidi as Maria and Colin Hurley as Sir Toby

4. Later, after he has been wounded, Sir Toby refers to himself as a gull: “Will you help? an ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull!” (5.1.203-4)

5. When Malvolio confronts Olivia at the end, for the first time he describes himself as a “gull.” 

Madam, you have done me wrong,
Notorious wrong.

Have I, Malvolio? no.

Lady, you have. Pray you, peruse that letter.
You must not now deny it is your hand:
Write from it, if you can, in hand or phrase;
Or say 'tis not your seal, nor your invention:
You can say none of this: well, grant it then
And tell me, in the modesty of honour,
Why you have given me such clear lights of favour,
Bade me come smiling and cross-garter'd to you,
To put on yellow stockings and to frown
Upon Sir Toby and the lighter people;
And, acting this in an obedient hope,
Why have you suffer'd me to be imprison'd,
Kept in a dark house, visited by the priest,
And made the most notorious geck and gull
That e'er invention play'd on? tell me why.

Why would Shakespeare choose "gull?" Why that particular word? Katherine Duncan-Jones, later in her same book, mentions that Ben Jonson's plays are full of "gulls" -- like the Town Gull and the Country Gull characters in his Every Man In His Humour play from 1598.

Finally, the last piece of evidence is the fact that Shakespeare had already compared himself to a bird, a cormorant or shag, in his previous Merchant of Venice play, written around 1596. I wrote more about that here.

In Conclusion, this evidence supports the idea that Shakespeare was making fun not only of the coat of arms, but the falcon as well.

Therefore, this evidence also supports Katherine Duncan-Jones’s idea that Shakespeare may have been the actor to portray Malvolio on stage in 1602.

It makes a great deal of sense that Shakespeare is poking fun at his own foolish arrogance, his own immature ambitious desire for advancement. Perhaps Shakespeare came to realize that his falcon’s wings are undeveloped, and not ready to fly. No matter how much they are “shaking."


BUY NOW from Amazon

Friday, December 12, 2014

George Lucas and Disney's Shakespeare Strange Magic

In case you haven't heard, George Lucas has teamed up with Disney to create an animated film based on William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

It's called Strange Magic and it's coming out 23 January and it stars one of my favorite Shakespearean actors Alan Cumming (whose one-man Macbeth was brilliant) with Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina and many more.

Here is the brief article announcing it:

And here is the Trailer:

click on image for trailer


David B. Schajer

BUY NOW from Amazon

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Birthday Kenneth Branagh

Happy Birthday Kenneth Branagh!

It’s been a busy year for him — he directed and starred in the newest Tom Clancy film, Shadow Recruit, he took his production of Macbeth to New York City, he filmed the new Cinderella movie (to be released in March) and he just began shooting the final episodes of the Wallender series.

There are precious few artists in this world with that kind of range.


Despite my disappointment with the production of Macbeth (my review here) I was very pleased that he has still continued to make Shakespeare a priority in his career — and I do hope that he continues to produce more Shakespeare projects, for film or stage.

I remember it was not that long ago he was talking about making a 3-D version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think all of us would like to see that.

He also mentioned that he would like to remake Much Ado About Nothing and for his Benedick he spoke of Tom Hiddleston — whom he cast as Loki in the first Thor film, and with whom he starred in Wallender. It’s not fair to tease us like this, so I do hope that this film will made, and soon!

I hope you join me today in wishing Sir Kenneth a very happy birthday.


BUY NOW from Amazon

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Judi Dench Muse of Fire Shakespeare Interview

Happy Birthday Dame Judi Dench!

This is an exciting year for her, considering that she will do some more Shakespeare, by agreeing to join Benedict Cumberbatch in his BBC Hollow Crown version of Richard III. I can't wait for that!

Also, I just finished watching the interview she made for the great Shakespeare documentary Muse of Fire, which you can find here on the Shakespeare Globe Globe Player.

The interview is just over and hour long and it goes by quickly. I am one of those people who could sit and listen to her talk about the weather for hours and hours, so a one hour interview on her career doing Shakespeare is much too short.

I don’t want to ruin the interview for you, but there is one major part of what she says that really intrigues me, and I would like to share my thoughts with you.

She says that her least favourite Shakespeare play is Merchant of Venice. She apologizes to Will, but calls the play “ghastly” and she regrets ever having played Portia herself.

She says that it was the first play that she read as a schoolgirl, and the teacher  instructed the children to recite the play aloud, each reading six lines at a time. As Dame Judi puts it: “It ruined the play for me, completely ruined the play for me.”

She doesn’t go into too much detail about it, other than to say that the characters “all behave too badly” and she disliked the “terrible trick at the end” with Portia and Bassanio with the rings.

This breaks my heart. 

First, I hate to think that children can be so poorly served by their teachers as to turn them off a Shakespeare play for life.

Second, Merchant is my favourite play of them all, so it upsets me to think that she doesn’t enjoy it as much as I do.

But it really is not her fault, since this is arguably the most problematic of the “problem plays,” and the play has been grossly misunderstood for over 400 years.

She knew there was something wrong with the play when she says that the characters all behave so badly. She was onto something. Perhaps what confused her was the fact that the characters are so ill-behaved but are meant to be virtuous as well.

How do you reconcile the fact that Portia is supposed to be wise and merciful, when she is also a racist (towards Morocco)?

And how can Portia be a good girl, when Shakespeare gave her a name which means “pig?”

How can Bassanio be a good lad when he is trying to woo Portia under false pretences, acting like the prince he is not?

How can Shylock be the villian when Shakespeare wrote him as an auto-biographical character, and when the name Shylock means Shakespeare?

The first play I solved for this Shakespeare Solved series of adaptations was Merchant. I discovered that it is not a romantic drama, or romantic comedy, or comedic drama — the play is a bawdy, rude and offensive farce.

The Merchant of Venice was listed in the First Folio by John Heminges and Henry Condell — men who acted in the original production of Merchant — as a comedy.

It is supposed to be funny.

I have never seen any version of the play that makes you laugh.

My version makes you laugh.

I like to think that had Judi Dench, when she was a young schoolgirl, read the play or seen the play as the raucous and satirical comedy it is, she would have laughed her head off, and would have grown up enjoying The Merchant of Venice.


BUY NOW from Amazon

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tom Hiddleston Wins London Evening Standard Award

Congratulations Tom Hiddleston!

He just won the London Evening Standard Award for best actor, for his performance as Coriolanus.

It was indeed a fantastic performance (my review here) and it is wonderful that he is being recognized for such excellent work.

I do hope that this award might inspire him to return to the stage sooner than later to do some more Shakespeare. How about Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew? Or Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing?

As I have said before, as famous as he is for his work as Loki in the Marvel films, I think as the years go by, Tom Hiddleston will become as famous for his work in Shakespeare.

I just looked at some of the photos of the event and it is fun to see him with other actors whom I should like to see work together in my series of Shakespeare Solved films.

What do you think about Benedict Cumberbatch as William Shakespeare with Tom Hiddleston as Richard Burbage?

What do you think about James McAvoy as King James?

As always, if you want Tom Hiddleston to do more Shakespeare and do these 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

BUY NOW from Amazon

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Museum of London Archeology & Shakespeare's Theatre in Shoreditch

In case you have not seen this, here is a great video of what the Theatre in Shoreditch would have looked like back in 1595.

The Theatre in Shoreditch is where Shakespeare may have had his start in London, and where he may have first performed as an actor, and where his first plays were performed.

Sir Ian McKellen visiting the site of The Theatre

The video is from Museum Of London Archeology which was responsible for the excavation of the site, and also of the discovery of the Curtain Theatre site in Shoreditch, in 2012.

If you want to learn more about MOLA and the Theatre you can follow these links:

I love the MOLA blog, it has excellent articles, which are quite fascinating on a range of issues:

I also highly recommend this excellent book about the playhouses in Shakespeare's times: Shakespeare's London Theatreland: Archeology, History and Drama.


David B. Schajer

BUY NOW from Amazon

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Will Ferrell and Shakespeare

I just read that Will Ferrell plans to make a comedy about the “intense, competitive world inside a Shakespearean theater company.”

You can read the brief article here:

I think it’s a fantastic idea. I have been a fan of Will Ferrell’s for a long time, and I am excited to see what kind of insanity he will bring to the Bard.

I think Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby is the second funniest movie ever made (after Blazing Saddles), and the dinner scene in that movie is the funniest 10 minutes in any movie. While all of his films have not been as funny as Talledega Nights, he has more hits than misses, and it is impossible to miss one of them. 

He does have a zany Falstaff quality, and while I am sure that he would be making fun of Shakespeare a lot, it would be very entertaining nevertheless. I have written before that Mr. Ferrell's type kind of comedic energy is needed in Shakespeare's plays, and that the actors in Shakespeare's times were something more like stand-up comics than serious Actors with a capital A. This became very clear to me when I discovered that Merchant of Venice is not a dramatic comedy but rather a bawdy farce.

There is very little to go on from this article, and it is not clear whether the Shakespearean theater company is set in the modern period, or in the Elizabethan/Jacobean period.

I hope that it’s set in Shakespeare’s time. I think it would give them more to play with. Also, I hope that Shakespeare is featured as a character. He could even be the man with whom Mr. Ferrell competes, which would make Mr. Ferrell something like a Edward Alleyn or Philip Henslowe character.

Also, I hope that Mr. Ferrell brings some of his frequent collaborators with him. At the top of that list would be John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Steve Carell, and Paul Rudd. Also, I would love to see Mark Wahlberg do some Shakespeare. It would be hilarious!

What do you think?