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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Friday, June 24, 2016

Young Shakespeare's First Play

About 447 years ago today, William Shakespeare saw his first play.

The earliest recorded performance by a troupe of actors in Stratford-upon-Avon was in the summer of 1569, when Shakespeare was 5 years old.

The Guildhall where Shakespeare probably saw his first play

He had the pleasure of seeing none other than the Queen’s own troupe of actors, the Queen’s Players.

John Shakespeare, his father, was the Bailiff (or Mayor) of Stratford. He was the man in charge of receiving the Queen’s Players, and approving their performance. He also paid them 9 shillings for their performance.

It is fun to imagine what kind of boy Shakespeare was. I like to think that was headstrong and funny. In other words, his parents probably couldn’t control him, and perhaps didn’t want to, since he was such a humorous child, so full of life.

Did young William look something like this?

I am fascinated by those moments in history when great artists are first introduced to the medium with which they will change history. What was it like for Shakespeare to see his first play? Or when Mozart first heard the sound of violin? Or when Michelangelo first touched paint?

There are great moments like this, when the universe aligns to create incredible beauty, that have happened throughout the ages. With any luck, it is happening right now somewhere with other children.

I like to think that as young William Shakespeare watched his very first play, there wasn’t just a lightbulb going off over his head, but rather there was the light of billions of neurons firing inside his brain and exciting him like nothing ever had or would.

But what play did he see?

Could it have been The Cradle of Security? It was performed by any number of troupes at the time.

It was a morality play, in which simple moral lessons were taught. The characters represented good or bad qualities, like Virtue or Vice, for example.

Examples of Morality Play characters -- Charity and Youth

It is very likely that his parents, John and Mary, sat with him as they watched this performance. Perhaps he sat on their laps, or was he so excited by the event that he stood, on the bench, between them?

In the play, evil councillors turn a good king into a bad king, with the help of three women who represent Pride, Covetousness and Lust (and/or Luxury).

Young William probably enjoyed rooting for the good king who should turn away from evil and sin, but doesn’t. And he probably joined the rest of the audience who hissed and booed at the evil characters who corrupted the king.

The women persuade the king to lie down “in a cradle” -- they rock him to sleep with a siren’s song until his face turns into the face of a pig!

At the tender young age of 5, young William probably was shocked and mesmerized as the king turned into an animal (with the help of a crude mask). Did the king oink and snort like a pig?

Animal masks in mummers plays

And young William probably was anxious and scared that the king was perhaps going to lose this battle of good versus evil — the dramatic tension must have been unbearable for such a young boy.

But later two men appeared on stage, one as the End of the World and the other as the Last Judgment, carrying a sword!

Did the Last Judgment look something like this?

Did young William cry? Did he yell, with the audience, for the king to wake up before it was too late? Did he stomp his feet and clutch his hair in despair?

But the king is not saved. His sins defeat him, and he is carried away by these wicked spirits to his doom.

How did young William react to this tragic and apocalyptic climax? Did he cry his eyes out? Did he bury his head in his father or mother’s lap, and want to wake up from the hellish nightmare he had just witnessed?

Did he lose sleep all night, restless and afraid, replaying the images of evil and the king’s destruction over and over again in his mind? Did he talk about, think about, chew over this play in the days and weeks afterwards?

Did he play out the story himself, with his friends? Did he play the king. I can’t help but think he played anyone other than the king. Did he change the story — from the tragic destruction of the king, to a victorious king, who instead triumphs over evil? 

Did he pray to God, and ask Him for guidance? 

Did young William make a firm resolution to spend the rest of his life in the service of protecting his monarch from the forces of evil?

I think it is reasonable to think that this play was permanently seared on his still-developing psyche. 

Ralph Fiennes as Richard II

This simple moral story shows up repeatedly in his plays. Richard II was famous for his evil councillors. In Hamlet the entire court of Elsinore is carried away into the abyss. In King Lear, he stubbornly drags his nation to its doom.

And is it just me, or does the king's turning into a pig seem a lot like Bottom's turning into a donkey?

To say that this morality play influenced Shakespeare is an understatement. I think it shaped his mind and his character, and inspired him to make the world a better place, and protect his beloved England from evil.

After all, Shakespeare was born on St. George’s Day —  and St. George, the patron saint of England, was believed to be the protector of the royal family.

What greater calling could a young boy have than to preserve and protect his countrymen and their monarch from harm? 

What boy wouldn't want such a life -- to be a knight in shining armour?


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