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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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

Monday, November 21, 2016

Faction of Fools Merchant of Venice

I just saw The Merchant of Venice production at Gallaudet University by Faction of Fools — a Commedia dell’Arte theatre company in Washington, D.C.

If you are anywhere near Washington, you can not miss this extraordinary production — it’s hilarious!

The show runs through 11 December — so please order your tickets soon!

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would love to share some of my thoughts with you about this wonderful show.

Two years ago, I saw Titus Andronicus by Faction of Fools (my review). After having seen Merchant yesterday, I think Faction of Fools makes a very convincing case that Commedia dell’Arte just might be the best and only way to perform Shakespeare.

The Merchant of Venice is my favourite Shakespeare play. It is the funniest play he ever wrote, and the most politically incorrect — in a good way.

Most of what makes the play so side-splittingly funny has been lost over time. Today it is too often performed without any real understanding of what the play is, and what the play should be.

So, it is so exciting to see this production that really understands how absurd the play really is. The Commedia dell’Arte performance style perfectly suits this farcical and screwball comedy.

There are many screwballs in this play, and Faction of Fools really truly understands how to throw them. The audience yesterday with me laughed loud and laughed often.

I have just never seen such a funny Merchant of Venice

Here is a quick video that captures some of the madcap comedy:

Director Paul Reisman has done something truly extraordinary. He has taken Shakespeare’s most problematic “problem play” and made it fun to watch.

Mr. Reisman and his stellar cast have created a truly entertaining play, that never slows down and makes you laugh all the way through.

The cast deserves so much praise. They throw themselves into their roles with so much energy and love of the play and the language that it really immerses you — I couldn’t believe how quickly 2 hours flew by, especially when you consider the fact that almost the entire text of the play is retained.

Each and every member of the cast deserves great credit. They all double up and triple up (and sometimes quadruple up) the roles. 

The fact that they could change costumes in a split-second and come back on as another character is remarkable. If there was an Olympic athletics event for actors, I think they would win the Gold.

They do something that is quite extraordinary. They let loose with each of their characters with so much abandon, with so much love of the play, that the whole play is lifted and elevated. I truly think this is the closest this play has come to its original staging. This is what it may have looked like circa 1596.

The other extraordinary thing about this great cast of actors is that they each steal the show and upstage each other constantly. It is not uncommon to be looking at one actor when the other actors are meant to be front and center. 

If ever there was a company of actors that made you want to see the same show twice (or even three times) it is this one!

Natalie Cutcher is phenomenal as Portia. 

She has that rarest of talents, when it comes to performing Shakespeare. To “suit the action to the word, the word to the action” sounds easy. But it is up to every single actor to find and create the body language that suits Shakespeare’s written dialogue.

Ms. Cutcher found that body language for Portia, and therefore translated Shakespeare’s language more effectively than I thought possible.

Did I mention that she's funny? Her contortions during Bassanio’s casket test is priceless. Portia as Balthasar is a laugh riot. I loved her exaggerated “manly stride”.

Matthew Pauli is the most extraordinary Shylock I have ever seen.

It is almost inconceivable to me that any actor could deliver such a powerful performance — especially considering that he was in a mask the whole time!

He breathes so much life into this misunderstood character, the most enigmatic character in Shakespeare’s entire canon. There is so much complexity to Shylock, and Mr. Pauli is terrific at exploring all of the nuance.

And this is by far the funniest Shylock I have ever seen. Shylock is far too often played as gloomy and grave, when in fact he is one of the most lively and three-dimensional characters he ever created. Mr. Pauli understands this very well.

Vince Eisenson as Bassanio with Matthew Pauli as Shylock

There is so much I could say about each and every single one of the other actors, they are all so unusually good. And as good as every one of them is, together they are even more fantastic as an ensemble.

Vince Eisenson is a terrific Bassanio. I especially love the casket scene, which will make your head spin with laughter. He also perfectly underplays Tubal. I didn’t think Tubal could make you laugh, but I was wrong.

Daniel Flint is the most foolish Gratiano I can remember, and the best Morocco I’ve seen. It is hard to believe that Gratiano, the most unlikeable character in the play, could be funny, but Mr. Flint makes him funny.

Ben Lauer plays Lorenzo, Aragon and the Duke. It is his heartfelt and sincere Lorenzo that I liked the most, and his chemistry with Alexseyia McBride as Jessica was superb. 

Ms. McBride, who is deaf, signs her dialogue. I think it improves the play. Her performance was far more eloquent without spoken lines. I especially liked her in the “in such a night” scene.

Teresa Spencer plays Salanio and Old Gobbo. But it is her Nerissa that is so wonderful. It is so playful and funny, and the chemistry between her and Ms. Cutcher as Portia is fantastic. I especially love her as in the trial scene, as she plays a man. Great moustache!

Ryan Tumulty is easily the best Antonio I’ve ever seen. But it is his Launcelot Gobbo that is so remarkable. It is one of the most underappreciated roles in Shakespeare’s canon, but in this version he is a star. The fiend/conscience is a critical moment in the play, and he just nails it.

I wholeheartedly recommend this play, for anyone who loves Shakespeare, and for anyone who doesn’t. You won’t be sorry.

Merchant is a very special play for me. It is the play that made Shakespeare take over my life, and sent me on my continuing adventure to solve his life and plays. 

I avoid seeing it anymore. I just don’t enjoy watching the play much any longer, since it is so misunderstood. I couldn’t even sit through the recent Shakespeare’s Globe production because they so mutilated the play.

But Faction of Fools restored a great deal of the joy that I have when I think about this play. 

No, they did not solve the play as I have. They do not understand the sexuality in the play, including the fact that Bassanio and Antonio are more than just dear friends. 

Yes, Ms. Cutcher plays Portia as a hot mess, but I do wish she made this princess the racist swine she really is. The name “Portia” means “pig” for a reason.

They do not understand how Shylock is not the villain, but rather the hero of the play. The unfortunate effect of this is the problem of anti-Semitism in the play is not satisfactorily resolved in this particular production.

The play is not anti-Semitic, nor was Shakespeare. Shakespeare loved the Shylock so much he named character after himself. Yes, “Shylock” means “Shakespeare”.

But the depiction of Shylock in this production is so funny, and human, that it makes up for much of their misunderstanding.

And I even got to play a small part as the County Palatine suitor to Portia. I always love it when the audience gets in on the act!

The trial scene

Whatever shortcomings in the production are more than made up for in the jubilant and thrillingly funny performances by these spectacular actors.

I do hope that you go see this play, and like me, you should make an effort to see every Faction of Fools production in the future.


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Friday, August 12, 2016

Ralph Fiennes as Richard III

I just saw Richard III starring Ralph Fiennes last night.

It’s an incredible production, and you should go see it.

This production, which just completed its run at the Almeida Theatre in London, is being distributed around the world in cinemas.

You can find showtimes and tickets here:

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I want to share with you some of my thoughts about this great production.

I have never seen a more complete and balanced production of Richard III. The acting is superb, there is not a weak link in the acting ensemble, and they explored the characters more fully than the productions I have seen before.

I must give particular credit to the actresses - to Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret, Susan Engel as Richard’s mother the Duchess of York, Aislín McGuckin as Elizabeth Woodville, and Joanna Vanderham as Anne Neville.

I have never seen a production that gave as much emphasis to these characters, and the actresses all rose to the occasion. Each of them had moments that just about stopped the show, and stole the scene away from every other actor, even Mr. Fiennes. As a result, they provided a much-needed emotional counterbalance to all of the evil that these men do. 

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret
Susan Engel, on the left, as Duchess of York
Aislín McGuckin as Elizabeth Woodville
Joanna Vanderham as Anne Woodville
But of course, the play belongs to King Richard III, and Ralph Fiennes did not disappoint at all. He was marvelous.

There are precious few actors who understand how to make you believe that they are evil.

Mr. Fiennes really specializes in this, what with his roles in Schindler’s List, as Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies, and even as Hades in the Clash/Wrath of the Titans movies.

But I have never seen him more evil before. He was truly scary.

I think this is his greatest performance by far. He wasn’t just camping it up as some sort of preening villain, twirling his mustache.

He was charismatic, and funny, very funny in fact, and that made the evil within the character come out even more.

The Richard III character is one of the most fully dimensional characters in world literature/theatre. He has so many sides, it is hard to grasp him. He is so slippery, like an eel (or a toad) that you can’t catch him.

Ralph Fiennes clearly understands this very thoroughly. He embraces the character so fully, without any reservation. Most actors pull punches when performing the crookback King Richard. Not Mr. Fiennes — he throws his punches fast and hard.

As great as his performance is — truly a historic accomplishment for him, for theatre, and especially for the greater history of Shakespeare in general — it cannot be accomplished alone. He must have great actors to play onstage with him.

And in that respect, Rupert Goold found and directed an all-star team of actors.

James Garnon, on the left, as Hastings
James Garnon was the most moving and compelling Hastings I have ever seen. Mr. Garnon has made a real name for himself, especially at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I saw him as Caliban in their production of The Tempest, and he really redefined the role.

Finbar Lynch as Buckingham

Finbar Lynch is a wonderful Buckingham. He was equally good (meaning despicable) as one of Richard’s most willing co-conspirators, as he was when he finds himself somehow growing a conscience. 

Scott Handy as Clarence

Scott Handy is one of the best Clarences I have seen. He is suitably pathetic. Clarence’s murder is meant to shock our conscience, and the murder in this production is the most frightening I can recall.

I do think it is a mistake to cut out what I think is Clarence’s most important line. When his murderers come to kill him, he insults them by saying that he is royal and they are not. Shakespeare’s original lines are meant to make us, the audience, dislike him. As odd as it may seem, we are supposed to want him to die, and enjoy watching his murder.

This gets to the heart of the play. We are supposed to sympathise with Richard III and enjoy watching him kill off his enemies, and the obstacles in his path to the throne.

For an otherwise very balanced and faithful production of the play, Mr. Goold put his thumb on the scale too heavily with this one edit.

The tone of the play was excellent, and while at times it was dark and gloomy, it was also funny more than I expected.

I have written quite a lot about how Richard III should be classified as a comedy rather than a tragedy. It is a very funny play, and it has never been performed with as much humour as it should.

Mr. Fiennes brought out much of the humour, and he could have gone much further with it. But what he did do, in exchange for more comedy, was to add a level of malevolence that is extraordinary. This production is not for anyone who needs safe spaces, and whose emotions are too easily triggered.

I don’t want to give anything away, but this Richard preys as much on the women as he does on the men.

It is always a pleasure when the actors in modern productions of Shakespeare break the fourth wall, and speak to the audience, and involve the audience. It is all too rare, especially when you consider that all of Shakespeare’s plays, especially when he wrote soliloquies, are really conversations with the audience.

I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but there is a fantastic moment where Mr. Fiennes engages the audience. The choice of moment is brilliant.

I strongly recommend this production. If you can find it at a cinema near you, you should not miss it. I doubt you will see a better version, or a more nightmare-inducing King Richard.


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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Shakespeare's Crimes

Did Shakespeare ever go to jail?

Did he ever do hard time?

The eminent Shakespeare scholar, Jonathan Bate once wrote that “Unlike nearly all his contemporaries, Shakespeare never wrote plays that put him on the wrong side of the law.”

I have read this claim quite often as I read books about Shakespeare.

It begs the question: did the Bard ever go to the big house?

I think it is quite possible that he did. In fact, I think it was almost inevitable for a playwright to face some kind of incarceration, or at least be detained in prison, during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Ben Jonson was the most famous repeat offender of them all. I think he prided himself on being a scofflaw and jailbird.

Ben Jonson
The Most Wanted playwright/criminal 

He was put in prison for his controversial Isle of Dogs play in 1597. Two of the actors were put in prison, too. Thomas Nashe, who co-wrote the play, skipped town. 

But Nashe was no stranger to jail, having been sent to Newgate prison in 1593 for an offensive pamphlet he wrote.

The next year, Jonson killed an actor in a duel, and was thrown back in prison.

Ben Jonson's duel

During the reign of King James, Jonson’s play Sejanus landed him in jail again.

Only days before the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, he had party with some of the conspirators!

There is no record of his being imprisoned again, but I think it is highly likely that he was put in jail, or at least detained for questioning.

It is important to understand that Jonson’s plays were often performed by Shakespeare and his fellow actors. 

Shakespeare and the King’s Men performed the controversial Sejanus play, for example. So, it is hard to believe that only Jonson would be punished. Shakespeare and the actors were all complicit in the act of performing the play.

In other words, if Shakespeare was so famously cautious, if he was so good at behaving and never offending the authorities, why would he perform Sejanus? He must have known that the play would provoke a reaction.

Other playwrights had spells in prison, especially Christopher Marlowe. In 1593, he was interrogated and died soon after.

Christopher Marlowe
playwright / spy / repeat offender

His flatmate, Thomas Kyd, was imprisoned and tortured during the same period. He died a year later, probably due to his injuries.

Thomas Dekker was in prison twice. The second time, he was there for seven years!

So, it is entirely likely that Shakespeare could have been thrown in jail, for owing money, or for having offended someone in his plays.

There are some specific moments in Shakespeare’s biography where he could have been imprisoned.

In the 1590’s, Shakespeare created a farcical character named Sir John Oldcastle. 

William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham, was very offended by this character because that was the name of his very real ancestor.

Cobham was a member of the Queen’s Privy Council, and with his kind of power, Shakespeare could have faced severe punishment.

Shakespeare changed the name of the character to Falstaff.

Falstaff could have landed Shakespeare in jail

Shakespeare’s 1595 Richard II play was censored. 

The scene in which King Richard II is deposed had been cut out of the printed quarto versions. It was not until 1608 that the deposition scene appeared in print. We don’t know if the deposition scene was performed on stage.

If there was ever a moment when Shakespeare could have been put in The Tower, or Newgate prison, or Marshalsea, it was this one scene in this Richard II play. 

It might be considered the most controversial scene in any one of his plays. Even if he did not face prison, he would have been watched very closely by the authorities and the censors.

During the reign of King James, it is quite likely that Shakespeare could have been punished with jail time after the controversial play, The Tragedie of Gowrie.

The play was based on the real-life events of King James, who was kidnapped, and who was rescued in a big brawl. It had been a big scandal in Scotland, and the 1604 play was even more scandalous.

King James rescued from his kidnappers

The play was banned after only a couple of performances, and the play has been lost to history. It is very possible that it was destroyed.

We don’t know who wrote the play, but it is very improbable that anyone other than Shakespeare would have even dared to write a play about King James.

So, here are three very good examples of how Shakespeare could have faced prison time.

But let’s look at it another way.

Knowing that he wrote controversial plays, and was a known associate and colloborator with controversial playwrights like Jonson, let us assume that he never went to jail.

If that is true, that he was never punished for his plays, then that leads to other questions, questions that are never explored.

 How is it conceivable that he did not get punished?

I think the only answer to that question is that he had some very powerful artistic patrons. These patrons blocked him from any and all threats by the monarch, or by disgruntled and offended men like Lord Cobham.

Lord Strange
Shakespeare's first patron

Shakespeare had many patrons in his life, including Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange and Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton.

I have written about these men quite often in this blog. The one point I want to make here is that if Shakespeare was never punished for his plays it was because he was protected by men who had real power.

Most Shakespeare scholars are reluctant and or unwilling to connect Shakespeare to men like these, and do not understand how intimately connected Shakespeare was to the royal courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Shakespeare was not some jobbing playwright who sat around in taverns and cheated on his wife with pretty women, even if they were as alluring as Gwyneth Paltrow.

He was as much a part of the royal court as the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Steward, and Lord Admiral.  

So, did Shakespeare go to prison?

I think he did.

But if he didn’t, then it was because his power was greater than we have been taught.


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Friday, July 15, 2016

Shakespeare's Porter in Macbeth

King James, the main target of the Gunpowder Plot
painted in 1606, the year in which Macbeth was written

I want to share with you something I discovered, something I think may have been overlooked by Shakespeare scholars.

When Shakespeare wrote his Macbeth play, he created the character of a drunken Porter who acts as if he is the Porter at the gates of Hell, and he famously asks who’s knocking:

Knocking within. Enter a Porter

Here's a knocking indeed! If a
man were porter of hell-gate, he should have
old turning the key.

Knocking within

Knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i' the name of
Beelzebub? Here's a farmer, that hanged
himself on the expectation of plenty: come in
time; have napkins enow about you; here
you'll sweat for't.

Knocking within

Knock, knock! Who's there, in the other devil's
name? Faith, here's an equivocator, that could
swear in both the scales against either scale;
who committed treason enough for God's sake,
yet could not equivocate to heaven: O, come
in, equivocator.

Knocking within

The Porter goes on like this for a bit, but the point is that he is drunkenly having some fun.

Scholars have pointed out that when the Porter refers to the equivocator, Shakespeare is referring to Father Henry Garnet.

Henry Garnet

Garnet had been arrested, put on trial, and executed. The government accused him of being part of the Gunpowder Plot.

At Garnet’s trial he was accused of equivocating, of saying one thing and believing another. 

The matter of “equivocation” was discussed in great detail during the treason trial. The point was to prove that Garnet, and his fellow Catholics, were liars — they would say whatever they needed to say (“swear in both the scales”) to escape punishment, while secretly in their hearts they were traitors to the Crown.

Also, one of the names that Garnet used, as he traveled across England undercover, was Farmer. So when the Porter refers to a “farmer” it may be an additional reference to Garnet.

So, Shakespeare seems to have included this reference to equivocation in order to remind the audience about Garnet.

It is very convincing that Shakespeare would refer to Garnet.

But I discovered something else. One of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators was a man by the name of Everard Digby.

Everard Digby

After Digby had been captured, he wrote many letters in jail.

He also wrote a poem:
Who's that which knocks? Oh stay, my Lord, I come:
I know that call, since first it made me know
My self, which makes me now with joy to run,
Lest he be gone that can my duty show.
Iesu my Lord, I know thee by the Cross
Thou offer'st me, but not unto my loss.

Come in, my Lord, whose presence most I crave,
And shew thy will unto my longing mind.
From punishments of sin thy Servant save,
Though he hath been to thy deserts unkind.
Iesu forgive, and strengthen so my mind,
That rooted vertues thou in me maist find.

Stay still, my Lord, else will they fade away,
As Marigold that mourns for absent Sun:
Thou know'st thou plantest in a barren clay,
That choaks in Winter all that up is come.
I do not fear thy Summers wished heat,
My tears shall water where thy shine doth threat.

The first line of this poem is incredibly similar to what Shakespeare’s Porter says.

What the Porter asks seems like an inversion of what Digby asks. When Digby speaks of the Lord, the Porter speaks of Beelzebub, the Devil.

More importantly, Digby’s question “Who’s that which knocks?” would seem to have been what first inspired Shakespeare to create “Knock, knock! Who’s there?” in the first place.

Did Shakespeare read Digby’s poem in 1606?

Was Digby’s question the genesis of the Porter’s question?

There is no hard evidence to prove that Shakespeare read Digby’s poem and had the idea to make fun of it in in Macbeth

But on the face of it, when you compare Digby’s poem and Shakespeare’s Porter’s routine, it is hard to believe that Shakespeare did not use Digby’s poem.

Also, if Digby’s poem was well known at the time, then it would have been an odd coincidence that Shakespeare’s dialogue is so similar.

And if Shakespeare was already referring to Garnet in his Porter’s routine, then it is just as likely that Shakespeare was referring to another one of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators, Digby.

The fact that Shakespeare was so interested in the events of the Gunpowder Plot should come as no surprise. It was a huge event in his life, and in the history of England.

What is more fascinating is why Shakespeare would make distinct references to Garnet, and clearly to Digby. 

It would be easy to assume that Shakespeare referred to them to mock them as the evil men they were.

It seems to me that Shakespeare was trying to find a way to introduce to his audience of fellow Englishmen the idea that the history of England was now divided into two periods: the period before the Gunpowder Plot and the period after the Gunpowder Plot.
The period before the Gunpowder Plot was a time of relative innocence and peace.

The period after the Gunpowder Plot would be a time of neverending fear of terrorism, and include monstrously evil terrorist acts.

Yes, there was violence, war, and targeted assassinations before 1605. the Gunpowder Plot. But the Gunpowder Plot was meant to kill King James, and many others almost indiscriminately.

Sadly for us today, if Shakespeare was indeed alerting us that, forever after 5 November 1605, the world in which we live would witness successive acts of terrorism, then it would seem that he was not far wrong.


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Thursday, July 7, 2016

A New Vision of Shakespeare

I have a new vision of Shakespeare I want to share with you.

By the time I first began this blog in 2012, I had written three adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays — Hamlet, Richard III and Merchant of Venice.

I had originally planned to write a series of 6 or maybe as many as 8 adaptations — all written to be made into feature films.

So, my original vision was to create a series of adaptations, written for the screen, that you could see in a movie theatre.

But over the last three to four years, I have discovered so much about Shakespeare’s life and plays that I could not fit the entire story in the space of 6 to 8 film adaptations.

It dawned on me that the story I wanted to tell about Shakespeare needed to be longer, to give us as full a depiction of his life as possible.

Therefore I want to let you know what my new vision of this story is, and why today is exactly the right time in history to tell this story.

I have prepared and mapped out a full outline not for 8 individual films — but 8 seasons worth of television.

If a single season is from 10 to 13 episodes, that means that the entire story I want to tell is approximately 80 to 104 hours.

So, one day, hopefully sooner than later, you will be able to watch the entire story of Shakespeare’s life on TV.

This TV series would include parts of every single play he wrote in the course of his career in London.

In the same way that the TV shows like Empire and Nashville have sequences where you see the singers perform, in this Shakespeare TV show you will see sequences from Shakespeare’s plays in the original historical context in which they were written.

As I have written before, it is only when you see how and why Shakespeare wrote the plays that we will begin to understand what they really mean. The plays as we perform them today have lost their original meaning and significance.

Some may think that Shakespeare’s story is very small, all about a playwright who had some success, who hung out in taverns with Christopher Marlowe, and who cheated on his wife. 

Some may think that Shakespeare’s story is about the theatre he performed in, and the friends and colleagues in his life, but don’t consider how and why he would have met and worked for, and written plays about both Queen Elizabeth and King James.

My story of Shakespeare, which will be as historically accurate as possible, is much larger and much more epic. There is so much more to his story that we have not considered, and do not know.

I like to think that my story of Shakespeare is a cross between House of Cards and Game of Thrones.

As you may know, House of Cards with Kevin Spacey is based on an older British TV show called House of Cards, starring the incredible Ian Richardson. You should watch it, if you haven’t seen it already. In many ways it’s better than the American version.

House of Cards is based on Richard III by Shakespeare.

So, Shakespeare’s Richard III play is the original House of Cards.

What I have discovered is that Shakespeare was not writing his Richard III play just to tell the story of the crookback King Richard’s rise to power. No, there was more to it than that. 

Shakespeare wrote the play as a depiction of the royal court of Queen Elizabeth I, and as an unflattering portrayal of some of the men in her court.

Therefore, my story of Shakespeare could be considered the original House of Cards.

But what my story of Shakespeare has, that House of Cards lacks, is a sympathetic hero.

I don’t think there is anyone who really roots for Frank Underwood. We are fascinated by him in the same way that we are fascinated by Hannibal Lecter — both men are so evil and charismatic.

But Frank Underwood is a villain.

In my story of Shakespeare, there are plenty of bad, evil and corrupt people. But there is one great hero in it all, one hero whom we can root for — William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s life is very heroic, and he faced many great trials in his life and career. The fact that he survived most of them is one of the reasons why we know his name today at all.

It fascinates me that we know Shakespeare’s name, but we hardly know the man. My story corrects that error. 

We should know as much about him as possible in order to fully appreciate who he was and what he did. Also, we should understand that his plays weren’t written by some playboy lounge-lizard who was drunk all the time, and who was unfaithful to his wife.

Each and every play he wrote was a trial, they were like the Labours of Hercules — each play was a life or death roll of the dice.

For example, when Shakespeare wrote his Richard III play, it was not a safe thing to do. It was a very risky to write about the Queen and her court that way, at a time when there was no such thing as free speech.

As I watch a show like Game of Thrones, I enjoy the epic scale, beautiful locations, intriguing characters, the action scenes, the dragons, etc.

I watch every episode, never miss it. But when I finish the episodes, I always think the same thing: it’s all just fantasy.

Game of Thrones is based on all sorts of real historical events and people, but it is not real history at all. 

So, as much as I enjoy the show, I often wonder why more shows about real history are not being made. 

There is so much real history, filled with incredible villains and amazing heroes, that has never been shown on screen.

My story of Shakespeare is real history, with real people, with real villains and real heroes — like Sir Francis Drake, whose heroism literally saved England from being conquered by Spain. No kidding.

And just in case you like dragons, my story of Shakespeare has that, too! 

Sorry — I can’t tell you how a dragon shows up in a story about Shakespeare. It’s a secret for now.

I’m biased, but I can’t think of any other story more worthy of being depicted in a TV series than this real and true story of real history, on an epic scale, a cast of hundreds (maybe thousands!) with lots of action, great villains, great heroes, romance — and in the midst of it all, one of the most incredible stories of sacrifice and heroism, the story of William Shakespeare. 

What is funny about this new vision, of 8 seasons worth of TV shows, is this story could not be told until now, until this time in history.

A story like this could not really be told in writing, in a book or series of books. You need to see it, especially the sequences of Shakespeare’s plays within the overall story of his life.

A story like this could not really be told in a series of movies. It’s too long for that.

A story like this probably could not have been made for television before.

The real golden age of television is now. It is happening today.

The Avengers movies are great, everyone loves Pixar movies, but movies are only a couple of hours long. You watch them quickly, and they are done. 

But shows like Homeland and Orange is the New Black are much more engaging and engrossing. These long-form binge-watching shows have arguably become the very pinnacle of Hollywood.

So, in a funny way, my story of Shakespeare, written for TV, is not too late. It’s right on time.

I hope you continue to support this Shakespeare Solved blog, because it is with your support that this TV show will eventually be made!


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lunch with Shakespeare

I recently read an article in which two people said that the one person they wish they could have lunch with is William Shakespeare.

So, what would lunch with Shakespeare be like? What kind of man is he?

The Chandos portrait of Shakespeare

In the course of all my research about Shakespeare, I have a very good understanding of his character. I have taken a good measure of the man.

In the course of my creative writing, I am producing a very full portrait of William Shakespeare — as a boy, as a father, as a husband, and as a playwright/actor who served two monarchs.

The Shakespeare I know, the Shakespeare I have discovered, is the most fascinating character I have ever written in all my years as a writer.

I want to share with you some of my discoveries about the Shakespeare I know, as I imagine him in my writings about his life.

Shakespeare age 12

And when I write about him, he is not dead and buried, but very much alive and kicking — so I hope you won’t mind that I write him in the present tense. 

Shakespeare is very friendly, very affable, and easy to laugh. 

He tries to find common ground with people and create a bond with them, even with strangers and acquaintances. He always tries to find something humourous, something to laugh about.

The Human Condition is something that Shakespeare finds endlessly fascinating. More often than not, he finds it to be very funny.

Shakespeare realized at an early age that he loves people — their strengths, their weaknesses, their odd behaviour, their idiosyncracies, how they love and how they hate — and that he could do something with all that information.

Shakespeare at home with his family

In other words, before he became a great playwright, he first had to be a great fan of the Human Condition. 

How did he become the greatest playwright of all time? Perhaps because he is the greatest fan there ever was, anywhere in the world.

What quality then, that he was born with or that he nurtured, became his most powerful tool as a writer?

I think the quality is empathy, the ability to feel what another person feels, as if the feelings are your own.

But the origin of the word empathy is very interesting. The word is derived from the German word Einfühlung which means “feeling-into.”

Cobbe portrait

I like to think of this as Shakespeare’s true talent — his ability to project himself into another person, to feel what they feel and to think what they think.

But that is only half the story. 

With this gift of empathy, how did he become so successful as a writer?

I think the word is endurance. 

He has an incredibly strong drive to keep on, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how difficult his life becomes.

His endurance is not a gift, and I don’t think you can say that it is something you are born with or not. It is only through a lifetime of struggle and effort, of time and pressure, that his true talent has emerged.

Where did his endurance come from? From the love of his family, from his faith in God, from his love of England — its remarkable people, its rich history and its fighting spirit.

But most of all, his endurance is a result of hardship, and adversity.

Droeshout portrait

He could have died when he was born, as plague ravaged England in 1563-4. At a time when the mortality rates for children was terrible, there was never any guarantee that he would survive childhood.

During his lifetime, there were many moments where he could have died from disease, been conscripted into the army and died on a ship, or on a field in the Netherlands perhaps.

Later he would lose his only son, Hamnet. He would lose his father and mother, and his siblings.

He faced these tragedies the only way he knew how, by never giving up. Also, this adversity only made him want to fight even harder.

I am reminded of a book I read many years ago about how scientists interviewed people to see what happiness is. Some of the happiest people they ever interviewed were the survivors of the London Blitz.

Yes, the Blitz was a nightmare. Yes, it was dangerous. But these remarkably strong people endured it in large part by embracing life and finding the humour wherever and whenever they could.

That is a great way of describing Shakespeare. He loved life, he loved people, and none of that love was ever a waste of time. In fact, it was what gave him his true strength, his powerful endurance.

Grafton portrait

What was it like for him to write and perform plays for two monarchs?

Shakespeare finds great inspiration from Geoffrey Chaucer, who also served two monarchs. Chaucer created the precedent. If Chaucer could do it, then so could Shakespeare.

When you read Chaucer you get the same feeling when you read Shakespeare. Chaucer is full of oddball characters who say and do funny things, and underneath you can sense the political allegorical message.

Shakespeare, like anyone else in England, wondered what it was like in the royal court.

Like most people, he thought that England’s center of power was full of grand, important and noble people doing important and noble things.

But when he actually got there, it was not so grand.

Shakespeare depicts the royal court in Hamlet as a chilly and dangerous place, filled with schemers.

In the royal court in Twelfth Night, drunkards like Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek are more memorable than Countess Olivia.

Modern recreation of his face

What would Shakespeare think of the fact that his plays have endured for so long?

I imagine he would be immensely pleased, and completely surprised.

Shakespeare knew that his plays were striking a chord, and could have the potential for being remembered for as long as Chaucer, for example.

But Shakespeare never in a million years predicted that his plays have shaped our world’s culture.

For that, even he would have no words to express his thanks.

If you have any questions for Shakespeare, please feel free to send them!


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