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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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

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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

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