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, July 31, 2015

Shakespeare's Lost Bawdy Song Found

Recently a discovery was made about Love’s Labour’s Lost that reveals just how bawdy Shakespeare could be.

In the play, Don Adriano De Armado asks his servant, Moth to sing. As it is written Moth simply says the word “Concolinel” and begins to sing.

This has baffled scholars ever since.

But Ross Duffin, a music professor has discovered the exact song Moth would have sung.

“Concolinel” as actually a French song from the same period called “Quand Colinet.”

The song is very bawdy, involving a man and his penis, and Shakespeare seems to have chosen this song in order for Moth to mock De Armado’s sexual shortcomings.

You can read more about this discovery here:

This song gives us a good idea of how the play was performed in the 1590s — and it seems likely that the audience would know the song and might sing along with Moth, while jeering and de Armado. 

Since an English audience in the mid-1590s (when England and Spain were warring against each other) would hate the Spanish, they would relish the opportunity to mock and insult them, and Shakespeare happily gives them a chance here.

I found the lyrics to the song online and with my limited French and some help from my family, here is a rough translation of the song.

But I warn you that the song is rather lewd, and may not be for everyone.

Quand Colinet faisot l'amour (bis)
Avec sa toque de velours (bis)
Et sa belle jaquette,
Qui n'a faict, qui n'a dit:
Colinet, mon amy,
Et sa belle jaquette,
Vray Dieu qu'il est joly:

When Colinet made love (repeat)
With his velvet hat (repeat)
And his beautiful jacket,
Who has not done it, who has not said it:
Colinet, my friend,
And his beautiful jacket,
Really God, isn’t he pretty:

Hélas! Guillaume,
Sur le vert, sur le gris, sur le jaune,
Hélas! Guillaume, t'y lairray-tu mourir!

Alas, Guillaume,
On the green, on the grey, on the yellow,
Alas! Guillaume, You would leave yourself to die!

(I sense that this means "on the grass, on the dirt, on the beach")

Colinet s'en va pourmener (bis)
Avec sa maitresse à Ducler, (bis)
Pour se donner carrière;
Qui n'a faict, qui n'a dit:
Colinet mon amy,
Pour se donner arrière, 
Est-il pas bien joly!

Colinet goes for a promenade or for a walk (rep)
With his mistress to Ducler, (rep)
To give himself a career (or “prestige” or “status”)
Colinet my friend,
To give himself back,  (or give himself more“airs” )
Isn’t he very pretty!

Hélas! Guillaume,
Sur le vert, sur le gris, sur le jaune,
Hélas! Guillaume, t'y lairray-tu mourir!

Quand Colinet, revient des champs (bis)
Il veut qu'on frotte son galand  (bis),
C'est pour afin qu'il entre,
Qui n'a fait, qui n'a dit:
Colinet mon amy, 
C'est pour afin qu'il entre
Dedans le pertuis

When Colinet, returns from the fields (rep)
He wants his member to be rubbed (rep)
So that it will enter,
Who has not done it, who has not said it:
Colinet my friend,
So that it will enter
Inside the hole (well?)

Hélas! Guillaume,
Sur le vert, sur le gris, sur le jaune,
Hélas! Guillaume, t'y lairray-tu mourir!

Quand Colinet veut s'aprocher (bis)
Sa femme ne faict que gronder (bis),
Luy disant que son membre
Qui n'a faict, qui n'a dit:
Colinet mon amy,
Luy disant que son membre
Est trop mol et petit:

When Colinet wants to approach (rep)
His wife only scolds (rep),
Telling him that his member
Who has not done it, who has not said it:
Colinet my friend,
Telling him that  his member
Is too soft (limp) and small:

Hélas! Guillaume,
Sur le vert, sur le gris, sur le jaune,
Hélas! Guillaume, t'y lairray-tu mourir!

Par la morguoy sera vendu (bis)
Et couppé rasibus du cul, (bis)
En dépit de ma femme,
Qui n'a faict, qui n'a dit:
Colinet mon amy,
En dépit de ma femme,
Qui dit qu'il est trop petit:

By the morgue it will be sold (rep)
Cut right up to the ass (rep)
Despite my wife,
Who hasn’t done it, who hasn’t said it
Despite my wife,
Who says it's too small:

Hélas! Guillaume,
Sur le vert, sur le gris, sur le jaune,
Hélas! Guillaume, t'y lairray-tu mourir!

Vendons, brebis, vendons moutons (bis),
Vendons tout ce que nous avons,
N'y vendons pas ce membre,
Qui n'a faict, qui n'a dit:
Colinet mon amy,
N'y vendons ce membre
Qui faict la paix du lit:

Let us sell the ewes, let us sell the sheep (rep)
Let us sell all that we have,
Don't sell this member,
Who has not done it, who has not said it:
Colinet my friend,
Don’t sell this member
Which makes peace in bed:

Hélas! Guillaume,
Sur le vert, sur le gris, sur le jaune,

Hélas! Guillaume, t'y lairras-tu mourir.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Shakespeare and King James's Coronation

On 29 July, 1567 King James was crowned King of Scotland.

He was 13 months old.

By the time that he was crowned, in the short time that he had lived, he had experienced a lifetime’s worth of danger and drama.

Even before was born, there were threats on his life. 

In the months before he was even conceived, his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots had rashly married Lord Darnley in July 1565.

This wedding plunged Scotland into civil war.

Darnley and Mary

And shortly after that her forces were joined by the Earl of Bothwell.

As she was trying to keep her country together, she became pregnant, in October 1565.

There are suspicions that the child was not Darnley’s but rather Bothwell’s. Even if there is no proof of such a claim, it is supported by her next actions against Darnley.

Mary and Bothwell

During the earliest months of her pregnancy, she was struggling to maintain power with her rebellious lords, while also fighting off Darnley who wanted more power.

She became fond of an Italian, David Rizzio, whom she made her personal secretary.

Darnley and others at court grew jealous of her attention to Rizzio and on 9 March 1566, they gathered to butcher him to death, stabbing him repeatedly — in front of the 5 months pregnant Mary!

The Murder of Rizzio
by John Opie 1787

The fact that she did not miscarry is remarkable. The emotional toll this took on her body, and the damage it may have done to her baby must have been significant.

Two days later, Mary convinced Darnley to join her, and they escaped from Edinburgh. As Alison Weir describes it, they “rode like the wind through the night for twenty-five miles.”

Whatever damage may have been done to her child, it must have been compounded by riding “like the wind.”

The fact that she did not miscarry again is even more remarkable.

Within days they were back in Edinburgh, and over the next months she continued to struggle to keep her country from civil war again.

On 19 June, baby James is born. 

Mary and baby James

He had bad legs, he suffered from rickets, and his health would never be quite robust for the rest of his life.

But after all of these events, it is a miracle that he was born at all.

Over the next few months it would be surprising at all if she had time for her child, as the country was falling apart.

The stress of all of this must have been terrible, and Mary became very ill in October. She was close to death, and it is another miracle perhaps that she recovered. 

She did recover her health, but she began to plan to address the problem of her husband, Darnley, and his demands for co-equal power.

February 1567, the problem of Darnley was gone, when he died under suspicious circumstances. He and his valet were found strangled outside his house at Kirk o' Field that had just been blown up by gunpowder!

Kirk o' Field crime scene sketch
Darnley's body and his valet Taylor's body top right

Many suspected Mary for killing her husband, with the help of Bothwell.

Even if they were not guilty, their immediate actions made the appearance of guilt even worse.

On 24 April she was either abducted by Bothwell, or ran off with him willingly. But it seems more likely that she was not taken against her will, because she married Bothwell on 15 May!

Right before she left with Bothwell, she had seen her baby boy, James. It would be the last time she saw him.

Her marriage with Bothwell plunged the country back into civil war, and before long she was captured.

But she was also pregnant by this time, with twins.

Sadly, she miscarried those children, days before she was forced to sign over her reign to her son, and abdicate, on 24 July, 1567.

Her baby boy immediately became King of Scotland and was crowned on the 29th.

King James when he was 8

We are all products of our past and our parents, and in many ways shapes our future.

King James of Scotland was the product of one of the most tempestuous monarchs in history, at one of the most dramatic and dangerous periods in Scotland’s history.

In his future lay his succession to the throne of England, and the union of the England and Scotland.

He would meet William Shakespeare in 1603 and make him a groom of the chamber, and the royal official court playwright.

What we read about King James in history books gives us only part of his story. 

But if we read Shakespeare’s plays written in the reign of King James, we may be able to learn more.

There is more than a little bit of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Darnley, and Bothwell and James himself in the plays from this period.

Plays like Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, and King Lear were not merely entertainment, written to amuse the King. They were mirrors held up for him to see his past, and perhaps find a new, and better future.


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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Shakespeare and Daniel Radcliffe

Happy Birthday Daniel Radcliffe!

Wouldn’t he be great in some Shakespeare?

He is so talented and he has accomplished so much in his career, that it is surprising he has not done any yet.

Some time ago he said that he would like to play Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and how he might eventually like to do other Shakespeare roles eventually, even though he considers the language intimidating:

I don’t think he has anything to be worried about. He is a very confident actor, and seems to enjoy challenging himself.

He does seem to enjoy working on stage, which is exciting. If he were to start doing Shakespeare on stage soon, I think he would not only enjoy the experience but he would return to Shakespeare on stage, hopefully on a very regular basis, for the rest of his career.

There are so many roles for him to do: Benedick, Iago, Edmund in Lear, Henry V, and so on.

As much as I would love to see him perform Shakespeare on stage, I would hope that he finds an opportunity to do some Shakespeare in film.

And he would be great in my Shakespeare Solved versions of the plays.

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

It would be exciting to see him as an Elizabethan, 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.

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!


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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet

Happy Birthday Benedict Cumberbatch! 

This is a great year for him, and especially exciting with all the Shakespeare he has been doing.

It appears as if his work as Richard III for the Hollow Crown TV series is completed. Now we just have to try and be patient until the shows come out on TV.

But he has also just begun rehearsals for Hamlet!

Some photographs of these rehearsals have already leaked online:

I am thrilled that he has plunged into Shakespeare feet first with two of the greatest of the Bard’s plays, and I do hope that these experiences will compel him to return to Shakespeare over and over again over the course of his career. There are so many great roles for him to play, and I hope that he does them all. I believe that he could become as famous for his work with Shakespeare, over time, as his excellent work in film and TV.

As far as his Richard III, we shall wait and see. But for TV, there are fewer options for him as an actor, whereas for Hamlet on stage, he can explore so many ways to express Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark.

I hope he explores Hamlet as fully as possible. I have every reason to expect that his Hamlet will be great, and remembered for a long time.

But I hope that he takes some risks with the role, and makes a Hamlet that is more than just great, and would be remembered as a defining moment in the history of the performance of that unparalleled role.

The one single thing I hope is that Benedict tries to connect with the audience. I mean really speaks to them, makes eye contact with them, and involves them in the play. 

This is the way that Shakespeare wrote his plays, for the actors to speak with the audience, not speak at them. For far too long, actors mistakenly perform without seeing or acknowledging the audience. If Shakespeare came back and saw a performance of his play today, he would be bewildered, and confused at how silent the audiences are.

At the end of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquy “To be, or not to be” Hamlet says “Soft you now! The fair Ophelia!” as Ophelia enters the stage.

What does “Soft you now!” mean? It means “shush” or “be quiet.”

Is Hamlet telling himself to be quiet? Is he shushing Ophelia? Of course not. 

He is telling the audience to be quiet. Hamlet has been debating whether to kill himself or not, and the audience has been loudly pleading with him to continue to fight against Claudius.

In fact, if you consider all of Shakespeare’s soliloquies, you will see that they are not soliloquies at all. They are colloquies — conversations. They are a dialogue with the audience, in which Shakespeare does not only hope the audience responds, and speaks aloud to the actor.

No, Shakespeare wrote these “soliloquies” to actually elicit responses from the audience.

“To be, or not to be” is the question posed to the audience, and Hamlet wants to hear the audience. In a sense, the voices from the audience become the thoughts and impulses in his brain, helping him to chart a course, and come to a decision.

I recently wrote about Mark Rylance, who is arguably the greatest Shakespearean stage actor. In an interview he discussed how as he performed Shakespeare over the years, the audience sometimes would say things aloud.

This was at The Globe, where he was the first Artistic Director. Performing at The Globe, a reconstruction of the playing space as Shakespeare knew it, the actors discovered how Shakespeare’s plays were written for that space, with natural lighting where the actors could see the audience, for example.

So, over the years, Rylance was discovering Shakespeare’s plays in a way that arguably no other actor had ever known, at least since Shakespeare worked as an actor himself. And one of the greatest insights Rylance had was that the audience will sometimes speak aloud, whether to criticize the play, or because they are so caught up in the drama that they feel compelled to speak.

Rylance and his actors began to anticipate such outbursts, and did everything they could to manage such audience interaction. (Also, whenever he performs on any stage other than The Globe, he insists that the houselights be turned on, so he can see the audience.)

But what Rylance and his actors failed to do was not just to anticipate the outbursts, but to actually evoke them, wrest them out of the minds and mouths of the people in the audience. And not just sometimes, or occasionally, make the audience respond — but to make them respond over and over again. 

Had he done such a thing, I think it would have made history. It would have revolutionised how actors perform Shakespeare.

I hope that Benedict Cumberbatch might make such history. It’s his for the taking.


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Friday, July 17, 2015

Patrick Stewart as Othello

Great news!

Sir Patrick Stewart has announced that he will play Othello again!

Yes, you read that right. He will play Shakespeare’s great Moor — without black-face make-up, without playing the character as black.

He did this before, in 1997, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. The rest of the cast was all black in what was called a photo-negative production of the play.

I have read about this production. I even saw his Desdemona, Patrice Johnson in a production of Tamburlaine. She was great. 

Patrick Stewart as Othello
and Patrice Johnson as Desdemona
 Shakespeare Theatre Company, 1997

Ron Canada as Iago

But it is a crime that this earlier production of Othello was not preserved for DVD. But now we get to see this new production! I really hope it is filmed for DVD/Blu-Ray.

It’s very funny, I sent him a tweet for his birthday on Monday begging him to do some more Shakespeare soon, and two days later he announces this! Sometimes wishes do come true. 

I applaud him for performing this play again, and for the courage to perform a role that has too often been thought to be only for black actors. He is in rare company, with Sir Laurence Olivier and Anthony Hopkins, white actors who have performed Othello.

And I especially applaud him for not acting black as they did. He seems to understand that there is more to the character than his race. He seems to know that for Shakespeare, Othello’s race is only skin deep.

as Macbeth

Sir Patrick is such an incredible actor, and I consider his work with Shakespeare to be as important if not more important than his remarkable TV and film work. The shame is that so little of it is preserved.

I still can’t wait to see him as King Lear. I have no doubt that his Lear would be an extraordinary experience both for him as an actor and for his audience.

But what intrigues me more than anything now is why does he want to play Othello again? 

What is it about this role that speaks to him so loudly and insistently? 

What compels him to explore this character again? 

What questions does he have about this character that he feels have been unanswered?

Is it the heartbreaking relationship between Othello and Desdemona — how true love can turn to jealous hate and result in murder?

Is it the Othello and Iago relationship — how a great man can be destroyed by a small and perverse man?

Perhaps Sir Patrick understands, as I have discovered while writing my own interpretation of the play, that Shakespeare wrote the play not because of the race of the character. The play is not about race or discrimination. Those are modern-day interpretations.

as Prospero

The real question is why did Shakespeare write this play in 1603/4? 

He had different reasons,  religious and political reasons to write Othello. When we consider the play in the historical context of when it was written, during the dangerous and frightening days of the Reformation and during the very first years of the reign of King James, the play means something very different than we have come to know.

When Shakespeare put a Moor on stage in 1603/4 he knew that his audience would be shocked. They would have expected Othello to be a monster like Christopher Marlowe’s bloody conqueror Tamburlaine. 

But Shakespeare pulls the rug out from under their feet. Othello is no monster. He is good. He is brave. He is a convert to Christianity!

That is just the beginning of the tricks that Shakespeare pulls on the audience. 

as Shylock

Perhaps Sir Patrick understands that this is arguably Shakespeare’s first truly psychological play. In fact it is a psychological thriller, that explores the duality of a man’s nature. I’m surprised Alfred Hitchcock didn’t film Othello, since he loved brooding and psychologically complicated men, like Cary Grant in Suspicion and Laurence Olivier in Rebecca.

As a thriller, it keeps us on the edge of our seats. Today, most of us know that Iago triumphs over Othello because we have heard about this play, and studied the play before. But Othello himself doesn’t know how his own story ends. Iago doesn’t know if he will triumph or be killed in the process. Desdemona doesn’t know until it is too late that her husband will murder her.

Shakespeare’s original audience in 1603/4 didn’t know how the play would have ended. They would have rooted for Othello while disliking his race, while rooting for Iago because he is such a charismatic villain while also hating themselves because he is so villainous, while rooting for Desdemona to survive her husband’s jealous fury. The tension, the suspense Shakespeare creates here is unparalleled in his plays.

I can not wait until Sir Patrick Stewart plays Othello. I think it will be one of the greatest adventures in his already incredible career, and one of the greatest chapters in the performance history of Shakespeare.


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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Shakespeare a Sparrow?

Was Shakespeare, the sweet swan of Avon once a lecherous sparrow?

I came across a very interesting theory regarding Shakespeare, and I would like to add to this theory with discoveries I have made myself, in order to support and strengthen this theory.

The Shakespeare scholar Alfred Harbage has argued that the Philip Sparrow character in the obscure Elizabethan play The Tragical History of Guy Earl of Warwick (written sometime in the 1590s and may have been written by Ben Jonson, but it is not clear) is actually meant to make fun of Shakespeare.

You can read more about this theory here and here, but basically it is based on several facts:

1. Philip Sparrow is from Stratford Upon Avon.

2. Guy of Warwick was a legendary folk hero whose story would have been very well known to Shakespeare, who was from Warwickshire.

3. Philip Sparrow is about to abandon the girl he has just made pregnant, which is similar to the fact that Shakespeare had left his wife and children in Stratford so he could work in London.

4. Guy and Sparrow meet Oberon, the king of the fairies. Oberon, of course, appears in Shakespeare’s own Midsummer play, which may have preceded or may have been written after this Guy of Warwick play.

5. But the most interesting fact is that the word “sparrow” would have sounded very similar to “spear” when pronounced with an Early Modern English accent. So Sparrow would have sounded like Spear, which is a play on Shakespeare’s name.

This is a joke at Shakespeare’s expense, since a sparrow is not a very good bird — it is considered a lecherous bird! It is also known for hopping around, and not flying majestically in the sky.

This is not the first time that Shakespeare was mocked by his fellow playwrights. Robert Greene, in 1592, insulted Shakespeare as being too-ambitious by calling him an ‘upstart crow.’ 

Ben Jonson, praised Shakespeare in the First Folio which was published after Shakespeare had died, calling him the ‘sweet swan of Avon.’

I have been studying how Shakespeare used the image of birds in his play, and these discoveries of mine do help to support this theory about Philip Sparrow.

Why did the cock crow in Hamlet?

I recently wrote about Hamlet, and what the rooster means. You can read it here

I recently wrote about how Shakespeare made fun of himself by playing the character Malvolio in the first performance of Twelfth Night. I wrote about it here

Based on a theory by Katherine Duncan-Jones, I discovered evidence to suggest that the name Malvolio means a bird that can’t get off the ground. This idea of Shakespeare as a bird that can’t fly is similar to the image of a sparrow that doesn’t fly, but rather hops around.

Stephen Fry as Malvolio with Mark Rylance as Olivia.

Also, I discovered that Shakespeare’s character Shylock is named after Shakespeare himself. Yes, Shylock means Shakespeare. I wrote about it here

Shylock means Shakespeare

Shylock comes from a Hebrew word which means a cormorant bird, which is known for its greed. A cormorant bird is also known as a shag.

There was no standard spelling in the 16th century. Shakespeare was spelled many different ways, including Shaxper, Shakesbeard, Shagspur, etc. All of these variations were pronounced the same way.

Therefore, ‘Shakespeare’ would sound the same as ‘Shags-bird.’

‘Shylock’ means ‘Shags-bird’ means ‘Shakespeare.’

So, I find Mr. Harbage’s theory very convincing, and it seems that the Elizabethans were very fond of using bird images for poetic purposes, and also to praise -- and in this case, ridicule each other.


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