Shakespeare Solved ®

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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.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Shakespeare & Lèse-Majesté Laws

I read a news article recently about two actors in Thailand who were sentenced to jail for having performed a play that was deemed offensive and "damaging to the monarchy."

I confess that I don't keep up with modern news and history, since I am so busy reading about the past Elizabethan and Jacobean history.

But when I saw this article, I had a profound sense of déjà vu.

The actors, Patiwat Saraiyaem and Pornthip Munkong

These actors in Thailand performed the play only once. The play, The Wolf Bride, is set in a fantasy kingdom and portrayed a make-believe king and his advisor.

Thailand is one of several countries that has lèse-majesté laws -- laws against injuring the dignity of the majesty, the reigning monarch.

These two actors will spend two and a half years in jail for this "crime."

It is a light sentence in Thailand, where the punishment under the lèse-majesté laws can be up to 15 years.

Thailand's king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has ruled Thailand since 1946, and is revered as something of a god by many Thai people. 

King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Queen Elizabeth I and King James I were also treated, and expected to be treated as divine. They considered themselves God's anointed.

King James advanced the theory of the divine rights of kings, more so than Elizabeth. This led to frequent difficulties with his Parliament, since he believed that all power came from him.

King James

The author of this divine-right theory was a Frenchman, Jean Bodin, who was also famous for his writing on demonology, which was one of King James's great passions. King James seemed to believe, as Bodin wrote, that kings should be "responsible only to God."

During Elizabeth's reign, the two most famous playwrights (before Shakespeare) were Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe. 

Kyd was thrown in jail, tortured and died not long after, probably from the wounds he suffered from the torture.

Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe died under suspicious circumstances, not long after he too was questioned by the authorities. It is possible that he was murdered by agents close to the court of Queen Elizabeth.

The up-and-coming playwright Ben Jonson was thrown in jail for satirising Queen Elizabeth in his Isle of Dogs play.

Despite the lack of evidence that Shakespeare was ever thrown in jail, I think he was, for having written Hamlet in 1601. It was a very political play and unflattering to Queen Elizabeth. I wrote about that recently, here.

Ben Jonson

During the reign of King James, Ben Jonson and his co-writer George Chapman were thrown in jail for their Eastward Ho play in 1605.

Chapman's two-part play The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, performed in 1608, was so scandalous, and offensive to visiting French Ambassador, that King James sent three of the actors to prison.

The three actors were boys.

But it seems that King James relented, and in his mercy he released the boys from prison. He even had them perform the Byron plays during the Christmas festivities at court.

Thailand's king was quoted as saying, in 2005: "Actually, I must also be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the king cannot be criticised, it means that the king is not human", he claimed. "If the king can do no wrong, it is akin to looking down upon him because the king is not being treated as a human being. But the king can do wrong."

Despite this confession, he has not relaxed the lèse-majesté laws in his country. Before 2005, there were on average, five or six such cases per year.

Since 2005, the cases have increased. In 2010, there were 478 cases.


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