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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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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