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

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



Monday, April 23, 2018

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!



Happy Birthday Shakespeare!



April 23 is the day we celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday. He was baptised on April 26, which means that his date of birth would have been right before that. The precise day he was born is a mystery.

But — what if we looked at this mystery backwards to find the solution?

What if there was a clue in his writing that would suggest when he was born?

April 23 is Saint George’s Day — the feast day of the great warrior saint who slew a dragon, and who is the patron saint of England.

Young William Shakespeare, from the time he was a boy, would have undoubtedly been inspired by this very heroic figure. As a boy, Shakespeare might have fantasized about fighting and slaying dragons.

Saint George and the Dragon, by Raphael
Wikimedia Commons

If Shakespeare was born on April 23, then all his life he would have celebrated his own birthday on the day of the greatest celebration of the English nation.

Shakespeare clearly loved England, as demonstrated in his writing. England to him was “this scepter'd isle / This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, / This other Eden, demi-paradise” and “This precious stone set in the silver sea” and “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England” and “This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land, / Dear for her reputation through the world”.

This sounds like a man who enjoyed celebrating England every St. George’s Day — and drinking toasts to the country he loved.

St. George was also considered the “protector of the royal family.”

Shakespeare himself might have grown up with a strong desire to fight for and to serve the monarchy. It might have been this same sense of duty that inspired him to write plays, and serve Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Shakespeare might not have been useful on a battlefield. But in writing plays about England’s chivalrous soldiers and their great triumphs and their sacrifices — like King Henry V, and Talbot and his son — Shakespeare was inspiring his fellow countrymen to take up arms and fight for England, and their monarchs.

This is strong evidence that Shakespeare was born on April 23.

But what if he was born on April 20 instead?

Is there a way to figure out if that day meant anything to him?

Well, April 20 is the feast day for Saint Agnes of Montepulciano.

St. Agnes of Montepulciano
Wikimedia Commons

The town of Montepulciano in Italy was founded by Lars Porsena, who tried to help his fellow Etruscan king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, retake Rome and reclaim his throne.

This is the same Tarquinius whose son’s rape of Lucrece was the basis of Shakespeare’s epic poem.

According to Wikipedia, Agnes was “frequently called upon to bring peace to the warring families” of Montepulciano.

This seems to echo the Italian city of Verona in Romeo and Juliet: “Two households, both alike in dignity, / In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

When Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, was he thinking of Agnes, and drawing inspiration from her? Was the play itself an attempt to bring peace to the warring families and political factions in London?

It might have been impossible to bring peace to London at the time — but Shakespeare might have believed that the spirit of Agnes might heal the city. 

Agnes was known for performing miracles, and London in the late 16th century needed a miracle.

Despite this persuasive evidence, it is impossible to conclusively determine that Shakespeare was born on April 20.

What if Shakespeare was born on April 21? That is the feast day of Saint Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saint Anselm
Wikimedia Commons

In Romeo and Juliet, on the invitation list to the party at the Capulets is ”Anselme and his beauteous sisters”.

What makes this especially tantalizing is that Saint Anselm was not British — he was originally from Italy!

In the play, we never meet “Anselme” or his sisters. The choice of the name “Anselme” could be a coincidence, or it could be a hint — Shakespeare’s way of hinting that he was a student of Anselm’s writings.

Saint Anselm is considered the founder of Scholasticism. It was a method of learning about philosophy and theology, to show that faith and reason were compatible. It became part of the foundation of the educational system we use today.

Scholasticism used dialectics — which is a debate between two opposing sides.

This may not be relevant to Shakespeare. But I think there is a very compelling argument that Shakespeare was an educator at heart. 

It is not hard to imagine that Shakespeare was a very good student at his school. His writing demonstrates a mind that loved history and philosophy and language. 

So is it hard to imagine that he wanted to become a teacher himself — and share the scholastic gifts he was given?

In writing plays, did Shakespeare think that he was educating his audiences?

His plays are filled with Schoolmasters — like Holofernes  in Love's Labour's Lost.

In Taming of the Shrew, Lucentio woos Bianca with a Latin lesson.

In Titus Andronicus, Young Lucius holds a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. 

Shakespeare wanted people to watch his plays — but he also wanted them to consider education as a positive influence — at a time when most of the nation did not go to school.

And what are his plays but dialectics — not written down to be read, but rather to be performed on a stage by actors? 

Julius Caesar can be considered a dialectic on rebellion. A Midsummer’s Night Dream could be considered a dialectic between court life and country life.

Hamlet’s speech “To be, or not to be” is a dialectic with himself — a debate between life or death.

With his plays, Shakespeare was dramatizing complicated philosophical debates and arguments. He was making that which was very complicated into something you could watch and learn through the plot and actions of the characters.

We don’t know if Shakespeare read Saint Anselm’s works — but it is hard to deny that Shakespeare felt Anselm’s influence. 

What other writer is studied in schools more than Shakespeare?

Instead of assuming that Shakespeare’s works have just accidentally become so central to the curriculums of many of our schools, perhaps we might entertain the idea that he planned for his plays to be studied.

Perhaps Shakespeare studied Anselm in order to become a better playwright and teacher. 
  
Saint Anselm was also the first to write an ontological argument for the existence of God. 

Shakespeare depicts a King Henry V who invokes and praises God — and triumphs over the much larger French army at the Battle of Agincourt.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth character doesn’t seem to fear any god — and is punished for his sins. 

In King Lear’s pre-Christian pagan England, there is no Almighty Christian God to provide him mercy, or grant him redemption.

Shakespeare did not write liturgical or morality plays for religious ceremonies. But his plays follow the same rules, and are based on the same moral Judeo-Christian tradition.

Shakespeare did not write an argument for God’s existence that would be read only by the most literate people in society. Instead, he wrote plays — which dramatized God’s benevolence and God’s wrath — in order for everyone to watch and learn.

Shakespeare wrote plays to explore enormous religious and philosophical matters in a language that his mostly illiterate audience could understand. They might not be able to read, but he knew that they were not stupid —and that like most people in the 16th century, they had a hunger to know the world, to know themselves, and to know God.

Anselm was praised for having a “luminous and penetrating intellect” — which could easily be said of Shakespeare. 

It is impossible to prove that Shakespeare studied Anselm — but I don’t think we should ignore the possibility that he studied the writings of a very famous Archbishop of Canterbury.

What if Shakespeare was born April 22? 

That would be the feast day of Pope Caius, a 3rd century Bishop of Rome.

Pope Caius
Wikimedia Commons

The name “Caius” is a common one in Shakespeare. Some of Caius characters are based on historical figures — like Caius Martius Coriolanus.

But some of them are not historical. There are quite a few Caius characters who were made up by Shakespeare — like Caius in Titus Andronicus, or Doctor Caius in Merry Wives of Windsor, and Caius Lucius in Cymbeline.

I think the most important example is in King Lear. The Earl of Kent disguises himself as “Caius”. 

Of all the possible names Shakespeare could have used for the disguised Kent — why did he choose “Caius”?

For that matter — why did Shakespeare repeatedly draw attention to such an unusual name?

There does not seem to be very much about Pope Caius that would suggest any special significance for Shakespeare. We are left with more questions than answers.

April 22 is also the feast day for Pope Soter, about whom there is little written. There does not seem to be any significance for Shakespeare.

What if Shakespeare was born April 24? That is the feast day for Saint Mellitus, who was the third Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Scenes from the Passion, possibly brought by Mellitus to England
Wikimedia Commons

Mellitus was one of the missionaries sent to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxon people of England to Christianity, arriving in the year 601. 

Shakespeare does not refer to Mellitus in his works, as far as I can tell. 

However, as Shakespeare rang in the new year, in 1601, I think Shakespeare wondered how much of England had been converted to Christianity, and how much of it remained to be saved — 1000 years since Mellitus’s mission. 

What if Shakespeare was born on April 25th? That is the feast day for Saint Mark the Evangelist, the man who wrote the Gospel of Mark.

Mark the Evangelist
Wikimedia Commons

Mark and the related name Marcus are found in Shakespeare’s historical plays — with Marcus Brutus and Mark Antony. But there is also a non-historical character named Marcus Andronicus, in the Titus Andronicus play.

Shakespeare does not seem to have written directly about Saint Mark. But what about indirectly?

Mark is the patron saint of Venice — where St. Mark’s Cathedral Basilica, St. Mark’s Campanile, and St. Mark’s Square are all named to honor him.

In artistic works, Saint Mark is depicted as rescuing sailors and “helping Venetian sailors”.

St. Mark saves a Sarracen by Tintoretto
Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare refers to Venice many times in his plays. But there are only two plays which the city is prominent — The Merchant of Venice, and The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice.

In Merchant, there is suspense regarding Antonio’s trading ships -- will they be lost at sea, or will they arrive safely at port?

In Othello, there is suspense about a Turkish fleet, that is sailing to conquer Cyprus.

At first, Antonio’s ships are reported to be lost. But later, we find out that they completed their journey safely.

Before General Othello can confront his enemies — a storm destroys the Turkish fleet.

Shakespeare seems to be saying that ships and sailors are in God’s hands. He even seems to be saying that God saves Christians, and protects them from Turks who do not believe in Him.

So, even though Saint Mark does not appear in either play, his power is felt throughout them.

This may not be enough evidence to prove that Shakespeare was born on Saint Mark’s Day — but it is definitely enough evidence to prove that Saint Mark has an uncredited role in those plays.

So, on which day was Shakespeare born?

We may never know. Each day, and each feast day, seems to have some significance in his writing.

I still think that that he was born on April 23.

But, based on this brief exploration of these feast days, Saint Anselm seemed to have the greatest influence on Shakespeare’s life.

Shakespeare may not have thought that it was likely that he was going to literally fight a dragon — let alone slay one!

But he could easily have envisioned a future as a teacher, as a bishop, and as a writer of “luminous and penetrating” religious and scholarly tomes.

Even if we don’t figure out on which day he was born, it is clear that he was influenced by all of these saints — and there are probably far more saints who inspired him in different ways.

Why would he write about any saint at all? I believe that he wanted to share his love of saints like these, in order for us to find the saints that mean something to us.

Shakespeare wrote plays to entertain us, but also to inspire us to make our own history, and become even greater people than we are today.

I hope you join me today in wishing Shakespeare a very Happy Birthday!

Cheers,

David B. Schajer