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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

Today is the 453rd anniversary of his birth.

I want to celebrate today with a new discovery I’ve made.

The Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare
National Portrait Gallery

Did you ever wonder why Shakespeare chose the names Viola and Olivia for his characters in Twelfth Night?

Did you ever notice how the name Viola is an almost perfect rearrangement of the name Olivia?

Is it possible that these names refer to actual people, who lived in Shakespeare’s day?

Let’s look at the characters.

Olivia is a Countess, who is in mourning because her brother died.

Viola is a young woman who is ship is wrecked, and believes her brother may be dead from the same catastrophe.

Instantly we can see that Shakespeare has created characters that mirror each other.

Malvolio with Olivia and Maria
Malvolio and the Countess
engraving by R. Staines based on the
original work by Daniel Mclise

Who is Olivia?

In the context of the play, Olivia is a Countess, and has a court filled with characters, like Maria and Malvolio.

Maria is Olivia’s servant. Shakespeare’s audience, at the Globe theatre circa 1602, would have instantly recognized Maria as the equivalent of a Lady-In-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth.

Malvolio is Olivia’s steward. Shakespeare’s audience would have recognized Malvolio as the highest officer of state, which in Tudor governments was the Lord High Steward.

Therefore, as Shakespeare’s audience watched this play, it would been an almost inescapable conclusion for them to deduce that Olivia was a depiction of Queen Elizabeth I.

There is one more very telling topical allusion in the play, that supports the idea that Olivia is the Queen.

Olivia has recently lost a beloved brother.

The first performance of Twelfth Night on record was 2 February 1602.

This is almost one year after the Queen’s beloved Favourite, the Earl of Essex, had died.

The Queen loved Essex like a son. There were reports of how these last days and months of the Queen’s life (she would die almost a year later in March 1603) were the most somber and most sad of her entire glorious reign.

Did Shakespeare write this play to reflect the events of his time, and to discuss what was going on inside the court of Queen Elizabeth?

It is almost impossible to believe that his purpose was anything other than that.

If Shakespeare was not trying to reflect the events of the time, and was not trying to depict the royal court of Elizabeth, then he did a terrible job of it. 

While this may not seem like definitive proof, this evidence is well beyond a reasonable doubt.

So, if we proceed with the understanding that Olivia represents Queen Elizabeth, who does Viola represent?

Is it possible that Viola represents another real historical figure from the Elizabethan age?

There is in fact a real historical person who was lost, on a voyage to another distant land.

Her name is Virginia Dare.

Baptism of Virginia Dare
by William A. Crafts 1876

Virginia Dare was born in the New World, in 1587, not long after she arrived there by ship.

Her parents had just traveled there to establish a new English settlement.

Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the New World colony of Virginia.

This Virginia Colony was named after Queen Elizabeth, the so-called “Virgin Queen”.

So, in effect, Virginia Dare is also named for the Queen.

The fate of Virginia Dare is not known. In 1590, a ship was sent to resupply the settlers, but they had disappeared. Why they vanished remains unknown.

While the baby Virginia Dare and the other settlers were not technically ship-wrecked, it would not be too much to say that their disappearance was comparable to a voyage lost.

Shakespeare featured shipwrecks in several of his plays, perhaps most famously in The Tempest.

It is well known that one of Shakespeare’s influences in writing The Tempest was a real 1609 shipwreck in the Bermudas, in the New World.

With this play, about the shipwrecked Viola, I think it is entirely possible that Shakespeare was alluding to the loss of Virginia Dare and the other settlers from 1587.

Finally, the name Vi-rginia is eerily similar to Vi-ola.

Therefore, was Shakespeare drawing a connection between Olivia and Queen Elizabeth and Viola and Virginia?

If he was not, if he had no intention of creating these associations, then he did a very poor job.

I think that Shakespeare was far too good a writer, and far too shrewd a chronicler of his times, to make such associations by accident.

What does this mean? What if anything was Shakespeare saying with Viola and Olivia and Virginia? What was the point he was making to Queen Elizabeth?

I will answer these questions, and explore all of this, in my forthcoming series of novels, which tells the story of Shakespeare’s entire life, and all of his works.

I hope you stay tuned, and come back to this blog for more news and developments about these novels.

Finally, I hope you take a moment today to celebrate the life and work of William Shakespeare!

Cheers,

David B. Schajer