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 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.

Cheers,


David B. Schajer