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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Shakespeare & Meryl Streep

I make an effort not to pick fights with anyone, as far as Shakespeare is concerned.

But Meryl Streep is picking a fight with Shakespeare, and I feel as if I must stand up for him.

Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and she were interviewed by Buzzfeed about their upcoming movie.

In light of the recent allegations of sexual assault and rape against Harvey Weinstein — and other accusations against actors like Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman and others — Streep and Hanks were asked “the question of what to do with art once an artist's reputation has been compromised.” 

Apparently, Meryl Streep did not acknowledge the work she has done with Hoffman, Spacey, and Weinstein — and she did not speak to their alleged sexual crimes.

Instead, she decided to answer the question by accusing Shakespeare of being a terrible man, in order to defend and protect Weinstein and others:

“We still revere Shakespeare,” Streep said. “We haven't thrown it out, and there is no question that [The Merchant of Venice] is anti-Semitic. There is no question that The Taming of the Shrew is misogynist [sic]. Everybody has their blank spots, but the genius that understands so much else about the human experiment is worth safeguarding, and shouldn't be touched.”

She continued to say: “People who are terrible also have terribly clear insights on other subjects, so I don't think you throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

There is so much about her answer here that is offensive and wrong. 

What is most abhorrent about her answer is that she is trying to normalize deviant and criminal behavior, and she is suggesting that men like Weinstein should not be punished — they should be safeguarded, and they should not be thrown out.

Sexual assault and rape should not be watered down and excused as merely “terrible” misdeeds of “genius” men who have “blank spots.”

In the process, she is tearing down William Shakespeare, who is not here to defend himself.

She also says that there is “no question” that the Merchant of Venice play is anti-Semitic.

Is she saying that Shakespeare was an anti-Semite — that he hated Jews?

She also says that The Taming of the Shrew play is “misogynist” — which is a noun, not an adjective.

Did she mean to say the play was misogynistic? Or was she trying to say that Shakespeare himself was a misogynist?

In other words, was she saying that Shakespeare wrote a misogynistic play, and therefore was only partially misogynistic — or was she saying that he was wholly a misogynist, and perhaps all of his plays should be judged as woman-hating?

Is she saying that Shakespeare hated women?

She also says that there is “no question” about the misogyny in the play.

She speaks as if it is common knowledge, as if there is not any debate on the matter, and as if everyone agrees on the anti-Semitism and misogyny.

That is incredibly offensive, and it betrays her utter lack of understanding of these plays, and of Shakespeare himself.

I have discredited the charge of anti-Semitism in Merchanthere and here.

I have also discredited the charge of misogyny in Shrewhere.

You may not agree with my conclusions, or my interpretation of the plays. But I do not think you can agree that there is “no question” as she would have you believe.

Her attack on Taming of the Shrew also reveals her to be a hypocrite. 

After all, she did play Katherine, with Raul Julia as Petruchio, in a Shakespeare in the Park production, in 1978 (which was later filmed).

So, if the play is misogynistic, why did she play Kate?

If Shakespeare was a misogynist, why did she even do any Shakespeare at all?

Why would she perpetuate a woman-hating play written by a woman-hating man — by playing Kate, the lead role?

It seems to me that Meryl Streep has not figured out what to say about her friends like Mr. Weinstein, so she has resorted to insulting the memory of Shakespeare.

When she won an Oscar, for The Iron Lady, produced by Weinstein — she thanked him on stage and called him “God.”

Roman Polanski has multiple accusations of multiple sexual crimes, including the allegation that he raped a 10-year-old girl.

When Polanski was awarded his Oscar in 2003, many people in Hollywood applauded at the Academy Awards ceremony, and gave him a standing ovation — despite the fact that he was not there to collect it, since he has been a fugitive from U.S. justice since 1978.

Meryl Streep was one of those who stood up and applauded him.

When the news broke about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Meryl Streep issued a statement, which began: “The disgraceful news about Harvey Weinstein has appalled those of us whose work he championed, and those whose good and worthy causes he supported.”

She did not condemn the man.  

More recently, she said that the kinds of things Weinstein was accused of doing were “the most gargantuan example of disrespect.”

Again she did not condemn the man, and again she excused his alleged criminal behavior as nothing more than “disrespect” towards women.

I do not mean this blog post to be an attack on her personally. But she seems to represent a privileged attitude, especially in Hollywood, where what is illegal for the rest of humanity is excusable for “genius” artists.

She seems to want to defend Harvey Weinstein, who it should be noted, is perhaps most famous for producing the film, Shakespeare In Love.

I think it is more than a coincidence that one of the most notorious alleged sexual criminals in Hollywood is the same man who made a film in which Shakespeare was unfaithful to his wife.

Clearly, Weinstein needed to dishonor Shakespeare and blacken his reputation, in order to normalize and excuse his own alleged sexual deviancy. 

Tom Hanks was there for the same Buzzfeed interview, and apparently did not say anything to challenge Streep’s attack on Shakespeare.

Hanks is a patron of the Shakespeare Center for Los Angeles, and could have defended Shakespeare.

He chose not to. However, he did mention how “Picasso was a womanizer” — which is another attempt to normalize criminal behavior.

Steven Spielberg was there too, but is not reported to have defended the Bard.

Sadly, it looks as if too many people in the world, and in Hollywood, do not understand and do not appreciate Shakespeare.

Even worse, it seems that they need to pull down Shakespeare to their level, rather than try to lift themselves up to his.

If they continue to say things like this, and continue to diminish Shakespeare, there might come a day when Shakespeare will be thrown out, with the bathwater. With guards like Streep and Hanks to keep Shakespeare safe, who needs enemies?

I hope you will join me, and become a voice to defend Shakespeare, and rescue him from anyone who abuses his memory.


David B. Schajer

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Shakespeare & Falstaff Strong

Do you ever feel like Shakespeare is a waste of time?

Do you sometimes feel that Shakespeare is too hard to understand, or is too boring, too old-fashioned -- or just isn’t important to your life?

Shakespeare had an answer for you, to allay your fears, and overcome your objections.

His answer is Falstaff.

Falstaff, by Eduard von Grützner
Wikimedia Commons

Falstaff — the fat, drunken, scheming, and lovably dishonorable knight — is Shakespeare’s greatest character.

And Shakespeare wrote him for you — for anyone who would rather take a good nap than read his plays and poems, anyone who thinks that his plays were only written for college professors, anyone who would rather pour hot water over their head than read or watch a play of his, etcetera.

Shakespeare probably knew that he had to create a great character who would catch the eye, get the attention of his audience, and force them to pay attention to what he was writing.

Maybe that’s why Falstaff is so big and fat. 

Watching one of his plays, you wouldn’t miss him. With a dozen actors on stage, you can’t mistake Falstaff for anyone else. And he is too big to overlook.

Falstaff with big wine jar and cup
by Grützner
Wikimedia Commons

You might say Hamlet was the greatest character, or King Lear. Both Romeo and Juliet are truly great characters.

But the more you read Shakespeare and watch his plays, there is no more important character in all of his works than Falstaff.


Because Falstaff was so flawed.

All of Shakespeare’s characters have fatal flaws.

Hamlet’s indecision stopped him from stopping the violence and the scheming that was destroying the royal court of Denmark. Had he taken action, real decisive action, he might have saved many lives, including his own.

King Lear’s blindness caused him to see two truly evil women as loving daughters, and caused him to see his one true and loving daughter as his enemy. The whole kingdom suffers for his blindness, and many people die.

Romeo and Juliet both believe in true love, an understandable and noble but flawed belief that they can love each other without consequences. However, the real world doesn’t work like that, and many people die because of their innocent and naive belief in true love.

Each and every major character in Shakespeare’s plays is terribly flawed — each with at least one flaw that can be a source of great constructive and positive power, but can also be a source of destructive and negative power.

Macbeth is a great example. His ambition drives him to achieve greatness, and he distinguishes himself with his monarch, King Duncan. But then that same ambition drives him insane, to the point of murdering King Duncan, and others.

Henry IV part 2 act II scene 4
by Henry Fuseli
Wikimedia Commons

Falstaff is unlike all of the other characters Shakespeare ever wrote — he is a whole heaping stew of flaws, a whole laundry list of dirty and smelly bad habits and weaknesses.

There is not one thing that is bad about Falstaff — there are too many to count!

Why did Shakespeare create this character, who stumbles in and out of trouble, who cheats and steals, and lies, who has a heart of gold, and is drunk almost all of the time?

Because Shakespeare knew that Falstaff’s unrivaled multitude of weaknesses makes him great, despite all of his flaws — and because of his flaws.

But perhaps most importantly, because Falstaff was not blind to his faults. He embraced his human weakness, and did not try to act like anyone other than himself. He wants more than he has, and he wants to be more than he is, but don’t we all?

We relate to him more than any other character because we want to see ourselves through him and his faults. Since he has so many faults, he attracts more of us to him.

Falstaff was so great that he even educated the future King Henry IV of England.

Henry IV part 1 act II scene 4
by Robert Smirke
Wikimedia Commons

How many men do you think young Prince Hal trusted about anything? Not many. For all his many faults, Falstaff educated the Prince about how the world works, how it really works.

Put another way, without Falstaff’s education, Prince Hal might never have become King Henry IV.

Shakespeare wants you to know that it is not your weaknesses that define you — it is your spirit, your will, your hopes and your dreams that makes you who you are.

But Falstaff also teaches us that we must learn how to operate in the real world, in order not only to survive but even to thrive!

You might not become the King of England, but you might become the kind of person a king most trusts, and from whom the king most learns.

Falstaff and Hal at the Boar's Tavern
unknown artist
Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare also asks a very shrewd question with Falstaff — if Falstaff was Hal’s greatest teacher and mentor, then who is the real King of England?

Is it possible that Falstaff is even wiser, and is even worthier to be king, than the man who became the King?

Was Shakespeare also suggesting that Falstaff was actually more worthy of being the king — since he was so much more worldly-wise, and confident in himself, in spite of flaws which he knew he had?

When Prince Hal is crowned King Henry IV, he infamously rejects Falstaff, and banishes him from his courtly universe, as if Falstaff is beneath him and below his consideration.

In that moment, you have to ask yourself — is Hal/Henry a good man?

In that moment, it is difficult to wonder who is the better man — King Henry or Falstaff?

Put another way, would you rather have a king who acts high and mighty and holier-than-thou, or a king who is all-too-human and down-to-earth?

Pistol announcing to Falstaff the death of the King
by John Cawse
Wikimedia Commons

What does all of this mean for you? What was Shakespeare’s message to you?

That your weakness can be strength.

And perhaps the more weaknesses you possess, the stronger you can become.

Shakespeare wanted to invite you to watch his plays and study his works by creating the character Falstaff.

Shakespeare didn’t hate people for our ignorance, our weakness, our wickedness, our sin, our faults — he welcomed us all, he loved us all.

He invited people into the theatre, which was inviting them into his home, for a celebration of life.

He wanted to celebrate with us — he wanted us to glory in the fact that we are human beings, and if we acknowledge what makes us great, and what makes us human, what makes us laugh and cry, what makes us pity and fear — then our revels can be a revelation of how we can be even greater.

Roger Allam as Falstaff
Shakespeare Globe Theatre

Shakespeare could never hate you, because he loved Falstaff.

So, the next time someone says that Shakespeare is stuffy or boring or just a dead white male or snooty or not worth reading or watching — I encourage you to respond with one word — Falstaff.


David B. Schajer

P.S. I highly recommend the Shakespeare’s Globe productions of Henry IV part 1 and part 2, starring Roger Allam as Falstaff, and Jamie Parker as Hal/Henry. It is a lot of fun to watch. 

I highly DO NOT recommend the Hollow Crown version — Tom Hiddleston makes a great Hal/Henry, but the depiction of Falstaff is too serious and not light-hearted enough.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Dream of Shakespeare

Is Shakespeare a nightmare or a dream to you?

Does he seem frightening, intimidating, or impossible to understand? 

Or does he bring you pleasure when you read his poems, or read/watch a production of one of his plays?

The Reconciliation of Titania and Oberon
by Joseph Noel Patton
Wikimedia Commons

I think most people don’t enjoy him as much as they should, and are frustrated when they try to read or study his works.

I think that there is a terrible trend, encouraged by some people, to make Shakespeare more confusing, and a tormenting chore to study, and to cloud our minds with incorrect ideas about him.

Universities in the United Kingdom recently started to issue trigger warnings for Shakespeare. 

That is a sure sign that some people want you to be afraid of Shakespeare, as if there is something wrong with him, or that reading Shakespeare is bad for you. They want to alienate him from you.

Also, there are some people who want to present Shakespeare in a false light, and make him appear to be a false idol.

The people who made the otherwise light-hearted Shakespeare In Love movie would have us believe that Shakespeare wrote his majestic works out of selfish and base desires -- the screenwriter Marc Norman was quoted as saying that Shakespeare was "not a magical, mysterious, genius playwright. … He was broke, he was horny and he was starved for an idea.”

And in the same movie, they want you to believe that Shakespeare was unfaithful to his wife, and had all but abandoned his three children.

It should then come as no surprise that the film was produced by Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of many sexual crimes and transgressions.

This must not continue. We must not allow ourselves to be fooled by these people who want to desecrate and alienate Shakespeare. 

If we do not stand up and defend Shakespeare, one day his works might even be banned.

What is more likely, than an outright ban, is that we will get more depictions of him like the one in the recent TV series Will, created by Craig Pearce. I only watched the first episode, but that was enough for me to see that they wanted to defame Shakespeare.

We can not allow these people to present Shakespeare as a false idol, when there is so much about him that is truly worthy of our genuine praise and sincere exaltation.

That would be a true nightmare.

I encourage you to read and study and enjoy Shakespeare as much as possible, and keep the dream of him alive.

If nothing else, I want to encourage you to dream of a Shakespeare that is not bad or frightening, or impossible to understand.

The Comedies of William Shakespeare, 1896
An image of Titania and Bottom
Wikimedia Commons

One of the first steps in understanding Shakespeare is to realize that he is being framed.

We assume that Shakespeare was just a playwright, not much different than playwrights today.

We assume that the theatre industry in London, during Shakespeare’s time, was not much different than the theatre scene in London today.

We assume that there was nothing particularly special about being a playwright in London circa 1600, just like we don’t think there is anything particularly extraordinary about being a playwright in London today.

We assume wrong.

We have put Shakespeare in our contemporary frame of reference for playwrights and theatres.

This is the wrong frame of reference.

We have to take that frame away and replace it with another frame of reference, one that Shakespeare would have understood.

Because when Shakespeare came to London around 1587, he had no idea what being a playwright meant, and he had no idea what a theatre industry even meant.

The theatres in London were almost entirely brand new, when Shakespeare arrived. There had been no theatres in London for over 1000 years — from the time of the Romans.
The first theatre in London was the Red Lion. It was built in 1567, about three years after Shakespeare was born. The Red Lion closed a year later.

The Comedies of William Shakespeare, 1896
An image of Titania
Wikimedia Commons

The next theatre to be built was The Theatre, in Shoreditch. It opened in 1576, when Shakespeare was about 12 years old.

There had been a very loose system of playwrighting, actors and performances up to and including the early years of Elizabeth’s reign.

But there was no theatre industry. There was no organized effort to create plays, find and train actors, and perform them with any regularity.

There was also never an effort to create plays that could be seen by both the royal court and the public at large.

Queen Elizabeth felt pressure from within her royal court, from her powerful Lords like the Earl of Leicester, who wanted to share the plays with Her Majesty’s subjects.

Much to her credit, with a royal licence in 1572, Elizabeth allowed playing companies to organize and perform publicly across England.

But even then, it took many years for plays to mature. It would take years for them to become something more than just royal parlor dramas, and for them to attract audiences at the theatres that were being built.

I contend that it was not until the late 1580s that something resembling a theatre industry was taking shape.

It probably started with Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine play, which was probably first performed in 1587.

The fact that Marlowe quickly wrote a sequel to Tamburlaine, to capitalize on the success of the first part, suggests that this was the real birth of a true organized industry for playgoing.

1587 was also when Shakespeare first arrived in London.

Hermia and Lysander. A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1870
John Simmons
Wikimedia Commons

So, this means that when Shakespeare left his home and family in Stratford-Upon-Avon, he probably had no idea how he was going to get a job as an actor or playwright. 

He also had no reason to think that such work could guarantee a steady income, or that work in theatres could be a career.

There were many guilds in England at the time — for all sorts of industries, like glovemakers, fishmongers, salters, musicians, etc.

But there was no guild for playwrights or for actors. It was a poorly regulated chaotic mess.

When Shakespeare first arrived in London, he was joining an exciting experiment, that just might succeed and endure. 

But it was also very likely that plays and theatres might be closed down by royal decree, and theatre would vanish from London — perhaps for many years. Perhaps for another 1000 years. Perhaps forever.

We should not assume what Shakespeare was doing was ordinary, common, or guaranteed to succeed.

He and his fellow actors and playwrights were creating an industry from scratch.

There was no precedent for what they were doing. There was no promise of success. There were very real threats of failure.

Playwrights today could have a long career, even if some of the plays they write are not successful.

For Shakespeare, each and every word of each and every play had to be successful. Failure was not an option.

Also, he truly believed that each play he wrote, and every poem he wrote, could have been his last. He never knew when all of it would disappear.

He could have failed. He could have died of the plague, especially during the period of 1592-3 when a major plague struck England.

He could have been imprisoned and persecuted for his plays. The Queen’s government tortured Thomas Kyd, and he died from his wounds. Ben Jonson spent many nights in jail, for offending the government.

Writing was a life-or-death experience for Shakespeare. He was on the razor’s edge the entire time he wrote plays and poems.

Today, I am not aware of many artists whose art could get them killed — and none of them are currently producing plays in London’s West End.

Gustave Doré, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" 1870
Wikimedia Commons

We take so much of what Shakespeare accomplished for granted, because we have been taught to think that he was just an ordinary guy who did nothing special.

That is not the real Shakespeare. That is a nightmare-inducing version of Shakespeare.

The truth is that he was an extraordinary man who did something astonishing.

Almost single-handedly he created a real theatre industry. 

There is so much more to this incredible story of his. I am very eager to share it with you, starting with my forthcoming first novel in a whole series of books about his life.

I want to introduce you to a new Shakespeare, the one you have not been told about, or taught to understand.

William Shakespeare; poet, dramatist, and man (1901)
Wikimedia Commons

When Shakespeare is put in his proper frame of reference — and placed in his original historical context — he will begin to be someone we can believe in, and look up to.

When you know the true story, I am confident that you will find more to admire about him than not.

It is my humble hope to restore Shakespeare to his proper place in our culture, as a source of inspiration.

I want to reward you for your faith in Shakespeare, and offer you more knowledge about him, more truth about him — so you can continue to dream of him.


David B. Schajer

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shakespeare's Huge Blunder

Does Shakespeare sometimes seem impossible to understand?

It’s not your fault.

First of all, his plays and poems were written a long time ago.

It is hard to figure out what happened last week, let alone determine what Shakespeare was doing in London 400 years ago.

There is another reason why Shakespeare is hard to understand. He wrote in what is called Early Modern English.

It is very similar to our Modern English, but different enough to make it sometimes sound like gobbledygook.

As far as I know, Early Modern English is not commonly taught in any school. So we can be forgiven for not easily understanding Shakespeare’s words and phrases.

However, even if we did study Early Modern English, we still would find his plays and poems hard to understand. We would still be left scratching our heads.


Because he wrote in a language he thought we would all know.

But Shakespeare was wrong. 

He made a huge blunder.

Yes, even Shakespeare, a brilliant genius, was human enough to make a mistake. And it’s a whopper!

Where did he go wrong?

He expected that all of us today would know the Bible.

Image taken from 'The holi bible'. The Bishops' Bible, 1569
Wikimedia Commons

He also expected us to know Ovid, Plutarch, Aeschylus, Socrates, Aesop, and all the rest.

How could he have made such a huge miscalculation?

Because in his day the audience of his, who could read, were reading the Bible or hearing it recited aloud on a daily basis. They were also steeped in the Classics.

Minerva transforms Nyctimene into an owl
From Ovid's Metamorphoses
Wikimedia Commons

There were many people in his audiences who could not read nor write. But they knew the Bible, and they had heard Aesop’s Fables from the time they were children. 

Also, Shakespeare kept this audience, of those who could not read, entertained by all of the stage antics.

 When we just read the plays instead of seeing them performed, we miss all of the stage action and physical comedy that carries the plays along.

Don’t think that Shakespeare was writing only for the literate in the audience. Why would he? They were in the minority.

No, he wrote for the majority, who were illiterate. He wanted the widest audience possible, and that meant writing primarily for the audience who could not read.

At some point in his career, Shakespeare realized how the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament had been read and studied for thousands of years.

He also realized that the ancient Greek and Roman classics had endured for millennia.

He made an assumption that if those books had lasted so long, then they would continue to last thousands of years into the future.

All he had to do, in the hopes that his plays and poems would endure, was to write with a similar language, with similar character types and with themes similar to those found in the great books from the past.

He predicted that as long as people continued to study what was written in the past, with the Classics and with the Bible, then his plays and poems would have a future and would be understood completely.

He was half right.

Shakespeare’s work has indeed endured. We still read and perform his plays. We scrutinize his poems.

But he got the other half wrong.

It probably never occurred to him that we would ignore the great written works of the past.

It would astonish him to think that we have allowed so much great writing, and such essential history, to be dismissed and disparaged.

Do you want to understand Shakespeare? 

Do you want to solve Shakespeare for yourself?

I invite you to read the Bible and the Classics.

It is all right there.

It has been right there all along — hiding in plain sight.

 Heracles gets the Belt of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
 J. M. Félix Magdalena.
Wikimedia Commons

Once you begin to know these books, and begin to see Shakespeare for yourself, you won’t be blind to him anymore.

You will discover that Shakespeare’s life and works are not shrouded in the dark.

You will begin to understand why, in Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare named one of his characters Hippolyta -- and what that has to do with Amazonian Queen of the same name.

You are probably wondering why no one has come along and solved Shakespeare before.

Why hasn’t someone with a university degree in Theology and/or the Classics ever used the Bible and ancient Greek and Roman writing in order to translate and solve Shakespeare?

How is it possible that all it took to decipher Shakespeare was to use these great books as a cipher key?

There is a rather simple reason.

It has only been in the last 100 years or so that Shakespeare has been performed and studied with any real frequency.

Before that, many of his plays were performed infrequently, if at all. 

King Lear, for example, was rarely performed. It was even rewritten -- the tragic ending was replaced with a happy one!

Here is a picture of the cover page of the Lear with "Alterations":

The History of King Lear (an adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy by Nahum Tate) from 1681.
Wikimedia Commons

Before Shakespeare became popular with the general public, the scholarly elite did not like him, or they ignored him.

As early as the 1660s — only a few decades after his death — Shakespeare’s plays were considered “ungrammatical” and “coarse.”

Even today, there are British theatre critics who hate how vulgar the plays can be, and abhor efforts to make the plays more entertaining and funny.

In my forthcoming novel, I will introduce you to a new Shakespeare.

He is a Shakespeare you have never met before. He has been hidden from you, for far too long.

This first novel weaves together Shakespeare’s biography with his plays.

It is my hope that you will finally understand who Shakespeare really was, and what his writing really means, in this sweeping and historically accurate narrative of his life.


David B. Schajer

Friday, November 10, 2017

Shakespeare's Grasshopper Solved

A grasshopper has just recently been discovered stuck in a painting Vincent Van Gogh made 128 years ago!

I love stories like this, when something is discovered, or revealed, something that was always right under our noses, something that was always hiding in plain sight!

Van Gogh's Olive Trees
picture: AP

I love the idea that something as well known as a Van Gogh painting had been admired for so long, but never really examined.

It reminds me of Ron Piccirillo, a graphic artist who recently discovered images hidden in Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa that had not been seen in 500 years!

How did he find the hidden images of a lion, an ape and a buffalo in the Mona Lisa?

He turned the painting on its side!

I think both of these stories serve as a lesson for us, teaching us not to take what we see for granted. We should look closer, and pay more attention to great works of art, and study history with more curiosity than we have.

I think both of these stories serve to prove that even the greatest experts in the world make mistakes and have blinders on — they don’t see and understand everything.

It is especially true of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare has lots of “grasshoppers” hidden in his plays and poetry that have been ignored for over 400 years.

If we were to spend more time studying who Shakespeare was, in his original historical context, we might discover more than we have seen before.

Did Shakespeare ever use the word “grasshopper?” 

Yes, he used the word once, in the King Edward III play.

An illuminated manuscript miniature,c.1430-40, of Edward III of England (1327-1377).
Wikimedia Commons

Some people argue that Shakespeare did not write that play. Those people are wrong. He did write it, and I have a great deal of evidence to prove it.

But for now, let me focus on the word “grasshopper” and show you how his use of this word in this play actually bolsters my argument that Shakespeare was the author of the play.

The word is used in act 3, scene 2. Several characters, Frenchmen and Citizens, discuss how the English have invaded France. They debate whether they should flee their land, and escape the English, or whether they should stay, in the hope that English will never penetrate too deeply into their nation.

The First Frenchman character argues that the English are so far away, and that they will face such heavy losses in battle against the French army, that there is no reason for these citizens to abandon their property.

 The First Citizen character disagrees, and says: “Ay, so the grasshopper doth spend the time In mirthful jollity till winter come, And then too late he would redeem his time, When frozen cold hath nipped his careless head.”

The First Citizen is saying that it is to be better safe than sorry. He even says: “’tis good to fear the worst.”

King Edward III
Wikimedia Commons

This is subtle but persuasive evidence that Shakespeare wrote this scene, and it therefore supports the idea that he wrote the entire play.

Shakespeare is alluding to Aesop’s Fable The Ant and the Grasshopper — in which the short-sighted grasshopper spent the summer having fun, while the far-sighted ant spent the same time storing up food to prepare for winter. Of course, when winter comes, the grasshopper pays dearly for his idleness.

"The Ant and the Grasshopper", from Aesop's Fables
Wikimedia Commons

Why would Shakespeare include this allusion to Aesop’s Fable?

Shakespeare had heard such public debates about wars, and the threat of invasion. 

The Spanish Armada threat in 1588, which included plans to actually invade and conquer England with the so-called "Invincible Armada" fleet, was just one of many such threats during Shakespeare’s life. He would have heard the constables, the mayors and other public officials debate plans for war, and how best to prepare.

Shakespeare’s own father, John Shakespeare, was occasionally in charge of mustering soldiers and collecting money to pay for war efforts, and national defence.

We know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that the Spanish never did invade and conquer England. But to people in communities like Stratford-Upon-Avon, they had very real fears of such attack at the time.

It is helpful to remember that Spain was the one and only superpower nation in the 16th Century. England would not be an empire until many years later.

Invincible Armada
Wikimedia Commons

So, with this otherwise simple scene, Shakespeare was reflecting the real fears, and the real debate that was being had across all of England. 

It could even be said that, with this scene, Shakespeare was inviting the public to engage in more open debate about the fate of England. It was their England, too. Perhaps Shakespeare was making a point that the nation did not only belong to the elites and the nobility.

This is not the kind of scene that an aristocrat like the Earl of Oxford, or elitist playwrights like Christopher Marlowe, would even bother to include.

Also, Shakespeare used the fable as a simple and efficient tool to communicate his point to his audience. By using one of Aesop’s Fables, he was referring to something that almost everyone had read or had heard about. 

In other words, he was making it easy for his audience to know what was being said.

Christopher Marlowe was the opposite. In Doctor Faustus, for example, he uses so many Latin phrases, which would have been unintelligible to an audience that did not have the benefit of a school education. Marlowe was showing off, not for the common man, but rather for the elites and the noble Lords and Ladies.

This demonstrates how Shakespeare was reaching out to his audience, rather than speaking above their heads.  He did not write just for the elites. He wrote for everyone, especially for the lower and unschooled classes. 

C. Walter Hodges' imagined reconstruction of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, act 1, scene 3, being performed in an Elizabethan theatre. Drawn for The Globe Restored, published by Ernest Benn, 1953. Folger Shakespeare Library
Wikimedia Commons

It should come as no surprise then that the Citizen is the wisest character in the scene!

Shakespeare has a Citizen make a better argument, for being abundantly cautious, than the foolish Frenchman.

Why would Shakespeare call the characters First Frenchman and First Citizen? He could have just made them all Citizens, or Frenchmen.

It appears that Shakespeare is making a contrast between the characters based on class — the Frenchman is a nobleman, and the Citizen is a commoner.

Therefore, in writing this apparently simple scene, Shakespeare is making many points.

He is speaking directly to the audience that can’t afford seats, and has to stand for 2 to 3 hours. 

He is speaking in a language that they recognize.

He is giving them a voice, putting words in the mouth of a commoner, who has more wisdom than his so-called superiors.

That sounds precisely like the Shakespeare I know.

Shakespeare knew that the wisdom of the common man was greater and better because they could not afford to live their lives in “mirthful jollity” like their so-called superiors. Shakespeare lived in the real world, where you had to store food for the winter, a cold season that always comes.

This is only one scene, in one play, that has been overlooked.

It makes you wonder how many more unseen “grasshoppers” are hiding in his words.


David B. Schajer