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

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 Einf├╝hlung 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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Friday, July 1, 2016

Shakespeare the Player

There are some wonderful new discoveries which add great weight to the argument that “Shakespeare was Shakespeare.”

The newly discovered Coat of Arms from 1600 compared to a 1700 copy
from left: via the College of Arms; via the Folger Library
Heather Wolfe, the curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. recently discovered new documents about Shakespeare’s Coat of Arms, in which Shakespeare is referred to as “Shakespeare the Player.”

These documents prove that during Shakespeare’s lifetime he wanted to be known as a playing actor, and they arguably prove that he was well known to his Elizabethan contemporaries as a player.

As professor James Shapiro puts it: “It’s always been clear that Shakespeare of Stratford and ‘Shakespeare the player’ were one and the same. But if you hold the documents Heather has discovered together, that is the smoking gun.”

What I find remarkable about this is that these documents have remained undiscovered for so long, and that no scholar had found them before.

These documents were not found buried in the ground somewhere, or hidden inside a book at some obscure library — but in the archives of the College of Arms in London!

And it wasn’t just one or two documents — but a dozen!

You would think that the heralds at the College of Arms would have wanted to find every last scrap of information about Shakespeare — arguably the most important man who ever applied for a Coat of Arms in their College. But it seems that they overlooked this evidence, or ignored any effort to track him down.

It is thrilling to see new discoveries like this, since it shows us how History is not dead and buried but rather still living and breathing, and surprising us in new and exciting ways.

For the full article about this discovery:


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