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 to 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.



NEW! -- listen to my interview with Cassidy Cash on her That Shakespeare Life podcast, where we discuss Mary, Queen of Scots, and my first Shakespeare Solved novel.



Please join over 66,000 people on facebook & Twitter & Instagram following Shakespeare Solved -- the number one Shakespeare blog in the world!


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



Thursday, April 23, 2020

Happy 2020 Shakespeare Birthday!


Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!





I have something very special for this blog today.

Recently I was interviewed by Cassidy Cash for her fantastic podcast—That Shakespeare Life.

It was a pleasure and a real honor to be invited on her podcast. It was also a lot of fun!

We discussed the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in early 1587, since that is probably when Shakespeare began his career in theatre.

I start the first novel in my Shakespeare Solved series right there, in 1587—to show how Mary’s end was Shakespeare’s beginning.





You can hear the podcast HERE.

Cassidy wrote a great article about Shakespeare’s sonnets. She has a fascinating theory that when Shakespeare was writing about the Dark Lady, he was writing about the theatre.

You can read Cassidy’s article HERE.

I had not thought of that. It is a very intriguing deduction. I think she is far more right than wrong.

I love theories like this. They add to the conversation regarding Shakespeare and his works, and bring us closer to understanding who he was, and what his writing really means.

I think that the world needs more people studying and writing about Shakespeare, and the Elizabethan period in general, to solve questions like this.

With that in mind, I would like to share something really special with you today.

I have long debated whether or not to share this here on the blog. I planned to include it in the course of the series of novels I am writing, but it was not going to be until the third or fourth novel.

But I decided to reveal it here today.

It is the single most important touchstone I have found for Shakespeare. It is the tool I use to unlock his plays and poetry.

I want to share it with you—to inspire you to do the kind of Shakespeare sleuthing that Cassidy does, and that I do.

I also think this was perhaps as vital a touchstone to Shakespeare himself during his career.

I don’t own this touchstone. It is not mine.

It has been hiding in plain sight for centuries. But it has been all but ignored.



Prince Arthur and the Fairy Queen. circa 1788
Henry Fuseli
Wikimedia Commons

Edmund Spenser printed the first three books of his epic poem, The Fairie Queene, in 1590

Spenser did something very unusual, and probably unprecedented. 

He included a letter he wrote to Sir Walter Raleigh.

Raleigh probably commissioned Spenser to write the poem.

In this letter, Spenser makes it clear that his entire poem is an “Allegory, or dark conceit.” 

He is advertising the fact that the whole poem, its characters, places and events are “cloudily enwrapped in Allegoricall devises.”

Writing an allegorical story was not unusual. 

The hidden messages, layers of meaning and veiled language of allegorical literature had been around for centuries. It had been the dominant style going back to the 15th century.

However, in his letter, Spenser wrote that most allegorical works are misunderstood, or “doubtfully…construed.”

What was unusual was the fact that Spenser included this letter at all. 

He wanted to make sure that his readers were aware that his poem was filled with mysteries, waiting to be solved—by them.



Edmund Spenser
Wikimedia Commons

He wrote The Fairie Queene “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline.”

Translation: he wanted more people to know how to decipher allegorical writing.

Therefore, The Fairie Queene is not just an epic poem—it is a guide for people who are perplexed by allegory.

Spenser did not give away all of his secrets in this letter. He did not reveal the true identity of each and every character.

But he does unmask Gloriana, the Fairie Queene herself.

She is Queen Elizabeth I.

England was the “Faery land.”

He also created at least one other character, Belphoebe, to represent Queen Elizabeth.



The Red Cross Knight, 1793
John Singleton Copley
Wikimedia Commons

Spenser knew that some people disliked allegory. They preferred stories and characters with no hidden meaning, or deeper layers. They wanted plain language.

Spenser defended himself by writing that he was not an historian, writing a chronicle of history. He explained that he was writing historical poetry.

He did not explain why he represented the Queen like this, in at least two characters. 

He does not explain too much in his letter. 

He invited his readers to draw their own conclusions.

Was The Fairie Queene a political, religious, or moral allegory—or a combination of all three? 

It was up to the reader to decide.

Did Queen Elizabeth punish Spenser for this poem—written for her entertainment, and which included more than one character based on her?

No. She rewarded him. She made Spenser the Poet Laureate of England.



The Birth of Belphoebe and Amoret, 1850s
William Leighton Leitch
Wikimedia Commons

For any poet and playwright at the time, this would have sent an unmistakable message—the Queen enjoyed allegory, and she would reward those who wrote such works.

Even if the Queen objected to some of The Fairie Queene, apparently she admired the effort that Spenser made, and they way he presented his argument.

Why would Shakespeare write A Midsummer Night’s Dream a few years later, with a queen of the fairies, named Titania?

He obviously sought to be rewarded in some way, by the same queen who rewarded Spenser.

Does Titania represent Queen Elizabeth?

Yes, of course.



The Meeting of Oberon and Titania, 1908
Arthur Rackham
Wikimedia Commons

Does this mean that Shakespeare has hidden Queen Elizabeth in his other plays?

Yes, of course.

Why didn’t Shakespeare say so? 

Why didn’t he leave some written document, some letter of his own, explaining his method of concealing Queen Elizabeth, and other people, in his plays and poems?

Why didn’t he tell us what his writing meant?

Why would he?

Spenser had already written all that needed to be said on that matter of allegory, with his letter—in perhaps the most important book written in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

Spenser established the precedent. He set the bar, for every other writer to follow.

That was the touchstone that Shakespeare would refer to over and over again in his career.

He had much to say to the Queen. He found ways of saying it that preserved her majesty, and that also kept her entertained.



Allegorical Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I
unknown artist

Shakespeare probably thought that any letter he himself could write, explaining his own method, was unnecessary after Spenser’s letter.

It is possible that Shakespeare did not believe that he himself would ever be remembered. 

But it would have been hard for him to believe that the Poet Laureate would be forgotten, and brushed aside by history.

Shakespeare probably thought to himself that future historians and poets would know how to unlock the meaning of all of his own plays and poems—using Spenser’s letter as a key.

Little did Shakespeare know that Spenser would not be remembered very well.

Shakespeare probably did not anticipate that he would be remembered more than Spenser.

If he had known, he probably would have written something about the dominant allegorical style by which he wrote.

Apparently, it was C.S. Lewis who revived interest in Spenser, in 1936.

Lewis wrote a masterful book on the history of allegorical literature, The Allegory of Love


Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale's Golden book of famous women (1919) -
Una and The Red Cross Knight
Wikimedia Commons

Lewis wrote that people in his lifetime did not understand allegorical writings. He wrote that people at the time thought that art should mean what it represented. Or they thought that art was meaningless.

Lewis clearly wanted to revive an interest in Spenser’s “vertuous and gentle discipline” of deciphering allegory.

It should not be surprising, considering the allegorically veiled religious meaning in Lewis’ fiction, especially the Narnia books.

I think that we are just as bad today at reading allegory as Lewis found in 1936, and Spenser found in 1590.

We are also reading and studying Shakespeare without knowing how Shakespeare used allegory in his works.

Lewis admitted that he did not know the history of the Tudor times and the Elizabethan period enough to decipher the political allegorical meaning of The Fairie Queene.

That is where I am stepping in to this conversation about Shakespeare. I have spent fifteen years studying the politics, the people, and the history of the time.

That is why I am writing a series of novels, to explain it all, and to make it entertaining.

When I say that I am “solving” Shakespeare, what I really mean is that I am deciphering the allegorical meaning of his works—especially the people.

Spenser’s letter was, and still is, my touchstone.

It still has the power to open my eyes to what Shakespeare’s words really mean.






In the course of my series of Shakespeare Solved novels, I will show what hidden ideas and veiled messages Shakespeare sent in his plays and poems.

It is going to take me more than one novel to explain the path that Shakespeare took to arrive at creating such incredible characters, and timeless stories.

I hope you will join me on this exciting journey.

I invite you to read Spenser’s letter, in order to read between the lines that Shakespeare wrote.

And I invite you to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday today, and raise a toast to him!

Cheers, 

David B. Schajer




Monday, April 13, 2020

That Shakespeare Life with Cassidy Cash Podcast Interview


I had the honor of being interviewed by Cassidy Cash for her fantastic podcast—That Shakespeare Life.





Cassidy and I discussed Mary, Queen of Scots.

In the interview, we discuss the threat that Mary posed to England and to Queen Elizabeth, her treason trial, and the execution, in early 1587.

It is my contention that Mary’s execution played a crucial part in launching Shakespeare’s career.

We also discuss how Shakespeare responded to Mary’s death, and how it influenced many of his plays—from Titus Andronicus, Merchant of Venice, and others.

I hope you enjoy the podcast--and I hope you check out Cassidy's blog, and listen to her other great interviews with such luminaries as Jonathan Bate, David and Ben Crystal, and Dr. Lois Potter.

Please listen to the interview here -- just click on the image:






Cheers,

David B. Schajer.






Thursday, March 19, 2020

Shakespeare, Plague & Fear


In the last few days, with the threat and fear of the Coronavirus, I have seen articles about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague.

But the story of Shakespeare and plagues is much bigger than that.

The story is much more miraculous than that.






Shakespeare knew about plagues.

He was no stranger to them.

They were sadly a common experience in his life.

Did you know that he was not the firstborn child?

His parents, Mary and John, had two daughters before William.

Their first child was named Joan. She sadly died in infancy.

We don’t know why she died. It is doubtful that it was the plague. But it might have been tuberculosis, smallpox, or any number of other diseases that were common at the time.

It would seem that Mary and John needed some time to grieve the loss of their daughter. They waited for a few years before they tried again.

In December of 1562, they had a daughter, Margaret.

They only had a few weeks with her. Margaret was dead by April, 1563.

It is very possible that she may have died from a plague that spread across England starting in 1562. 

Incredibly, after Margaret’s death, Mary and John did not wait very long to have another child.

Shakespeare was conceived somewhere around the summer of 1563, while the plague and fear of plague was only growing.

As far as Mary and John knew, the plague could have spread even more and become as bad as the Black Death of the 14th century.

During the week ending October 1st, 1563, there was a peak number of deaths in London—1828 people died in a single week.

It was the worst plague in the entire 16th century. It would go on to kill 20,000 people in London—which was about 30% of the city’s population.

80,000 people across England died in total.

Can you imagine what it was like for Mary to carry a child while plague brought sickness, sorrow and death to her friends and neighbors?

No matter how joyous an occasion it was, to bring young William Shakespeare into the world, Mary and John must have been terrified that he would not survive for long.

They were christening William while other families were burying their dead.

Now try imagining what it was like when the plague struck again, in July 1564—when the baby William was only about 10 weeks old.

The plague lasted six months in Stratford. More than 200 people died, which was about a sixth of the town’s population. 

Almost two out of every three babies born that year were dead before the end of the year.

There must have been a constant and incessant sadness over the whole of Stratford.

That was the world that William Shakespeare entered into.

If we want to understand why Shakespeare was such an unusually successful playwright and extraordinary man, we need to give a great deal of credit to his parents.

He could not have accomplished anything without their love of life, and their physical, moral and spiritual strength.

Sadly, their sorrows did not end in 1564.

Mary and John had another child, Gilbert, in 1566.

Then they had a daughter, Anne, in 1572.

Then they had Richard in 1574.

When Anne was only 6 years old, she died of plague.

Her sickness and death must have been a horror for the entire family—who were most likely stuck together in their small house, under quarantine.






It must have scarred Shakespeare, who was only about 15 years old.

That pain was probably like an open wound for him, for the rest of his life.

Death was not a distant or abstract idea for Shakespeare.

He saw death very close, face to face.

Years later, Shakespeare went to London. He quickly established himself as a very successful playwright.






Then plague struck London, in August 1592. It claimed around 2,000 lives, in a city of about 150,000 people.

The plague lasted until the end of 1593, and by then it had claimed about 20,000 lives in total.

It is during this time that Shakespeare wrote Venus and Adonis. It is likely that he worked on other projects—including Richard III, and Rape of Lucrece.

Shakespeare did not let the plague stop him from working, and from challenging himself to write at the highest level he could.

His Richard III play might even be considered his first true “masterpiece”—since his depiction of King Richard III is such a remarkable feat of characterization.

It is a miracle that Shakespeare survived that 1592-3 plague at all. 

But 1593 was not without its share of tragedy for him.

Christopher Marlowe died that year.

If there was one man who could fully appreciate Shakespeare as as man and as an artist, it was Marlowe.

His death must have been a very difficult loss for Shakespeare.

It must have been very hard for Shakespeare to work and live in London, so far away from his beloved wife, Anne, and their three children—Susanna, Judith and Hamlet.



Shakespeare reading Hamlet to his family
with his son Hamlet standing, Susanna and Judith on either side
and his wife Anne seated opposite
engraving by unknown artist, 1890



It must have been an especially painful blow for him, when Hamlet died three years later, in 1596. He was only 11 years old.

We don’t know if it was plague, but it is very possible.

It is remarkable that the death of his only son did not force Shakespeare to stop writing.

We could have forgiven him if his grief broke him, and made him put down his pen forever.

He did not stop writing. He also did not allow his grief to overwhelm his art. He did not solely write tragedies after his tragic personal loss.

After Hamlet’s death, he wrote some of his most joyful plays, like Much Ado About Nothing, and As You Like It.

When he turned to writing Hamlet in 1601, it would become the greatest play in the history of the world precisely because he wrote it in honor of his deceased son.

How did he turn such terrible pain into such transcendent art?

He tells us in the play: “To be or not to be.”

He is telling us that we can choose fear and death, or we can choose love and life. 

Time and again, in the crucible of his pain, he chose to go on living, and to love his friends and family. 

But the plague threat did not end there.

Queen Elizabeth died, in 1603. King James was proclaimed her successor to the English throne.

Almost immediately, plague struck London again.

It would last, off and on, for about seven years.

Over the years, the plague came and went. The theatres were closed and then opened and closed and opened.

It was one of Shakespeare’s most productive periods.

He wrote several plays, many of which are his most enduring masterpieces.

All while he was surrounded by death and disease and unending grief, he wrote Othello, Measure For Measure, King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Timon of Athens, Pericles, Winter’s Tale, and likely The Tempest.

He had some sort of incredible and bottomless power to turn the worst kinds fear and doubt into some of the greatest works of art the world has ever seen.

Shakespeare died in 1616. 

He probably did not die of plague, but it might have been typhus. There was a serious outbreak of it in Stratford at the time.

For his entire life, and career, every day he knew that he might not see the next day. 

Each and every time he sat down to write a play, he knew that it could be his last.

Every time he went to the theatre, to perform a play, or to watch a play, he knew that he might get infected with plague, or some other fatal disease.

Every day he lived in London, he must have been concerned about it.

With every word he wrote, he had to fight back fear.

Fear that it would be the last day he was alive.

Fear that he might never know another hour of his life.

Fear that the word he scribbled on paper might be the very last word he would ever write.

Also, as if the fear from disease was not bad enough, there was the threat of war.

When he arrived in London, around 1587, Spain and England were at wars.

Spain was the only superpower in the world at the time. England was a rather poor and weak country by comparison.

Spain would send the Armada to conquer England in 1588. It failed, but that did not stop them from sending even more armadas.

Over the next decade, Spain continued to threaten England.

Everyone, including Shakespeare would have been quite aware of the fact that England could be invaded, and that London could fall.

With the benefit of hindsight, we might look back and think that Spain was never going to conquer England, and that any attempt was bound to fail.

It is doubtful that anyone living at that time dismissed such fears of mighty Spain.

So, for most of Shakespeare’s life, and for his entire career, he had to fear Spain every bit as much as the plague. 

Everywhere Shakespeare turned, in Stratford and in London, with plague and with the threat of invasion, he had to confront his fears.

There were many people who lived and died in that period.

Shakespeare was not the only man who lost loved ones from plague and diseases.

He was not the only one who was afraid.

But William Shakespeare was the only one who looked that fear in the face, picked up a weapon to fight it, and engaged in mortal combat with fear.

He was the tip of the spear, in that fight.

He wrote his powerful words to show us that we don’t have anything to fear—and that the greatest antidote to fear is love.

Even in his darkest and most gruesomely violent plays there is a heart that is beating, to remind us to love life and to consider every day precious. 

In his darkest moments, his love of his family, his friends, and his faith gave him the strength to carry on.

In this day and age, as the Coronavirus causes so much fear and death, we would do well to look to the past for guidance, for inspiration.

I can’t think of many greater sources of inspiration than the life and work of William Shakespeare.

He is a well that never seems to run dry, and he never fails to satisfy our thirst for life and hope and love.

We all have fears. We all dwell too much on what might happen to us, and what terrible thing might harm us, or even kill us.

We are human. It is our nature.

We are all afraid of being together with our loved ones, and touching our beloved friends and relatives.

But that does not mean that we need to let fear rule our hearts.

We can still see each other, with Facetime, Skype, etc.

We can still touch each other’s hearts—with text messages, with emails, but best of all, with spoken words.

To anyone who is sick right now, for any reason, please accept my warmest wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

To anyone who recently lost a loved one, please accept my sincerest condolences.

To face these current fears, I offer this story of Shakespeare’s life.

I hope that you might find some solace in his story. I hope that his strength inspires you to be strong.

I encourage you to read one or more of his plays or poems. You should also read some of it aloud, and hear the words spoken. They have a soothing and palliative power when you speak them.

I encourage you to watch one or more of his plays. Many of his plays are online, at the Globe Player, for example.

The Globe productions of Henry IV, parts 1 and 2 and Henry V—with Roger Allam as Falstaff and Jamie Parker as Hal—might be the best ever filmed. These productions are brimming with life-affirming energy. 

Here are some pictures:









I encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions of Shakespeare’s work with your friends and relatives. 

All of us right now want to talk about something, anything, other than disease and fear.

Shakespeare makes for an excellent topic of conversation.

With much love,

David B. Schajer



Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The King Netflix Review



Netflix’s The King is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

It is absolutely the worst of all the movies I have ever seen that have anything to do with Shakespeare and his plays.

This movie pretends to be based on Shakespeare, and it pretends to be historically accurate. It is neither.

Don’t fall for it. This movie is one big lie.

I do not like to write negative reviews of plays and movies. If I have nothing good to say, I usually don’t write a review. But, I have to make an exception for this truly horrible movie.

This movie is not an “adaptation” of Shakespeare’s plays. This is not a “re-working” of Shakespeare.  

This movie is an obscene attack on Shakespeare, and these filmmakers should be ashamed of themselves.

This movie vandalizes one of the greatest stories, and some of the greatest characters, ever written.

In Shakespeare’s plays, Prince Hal and Falstaff are all-too-human. They are heroic and fallible. 

These filmmakers have chosen to transform them into despicable villains.

In a recent interview, the film’s director, David Michod, said: “Our version of ‘Henry V’ becomes like a kind of making-of-a-tyrant story. There was something really exciting to me about the idea of taking [actor Timothée Chalamet] and turning him into a tyrant.”

Prince Hal — a tyrant?



King Henry V of England
Wikimedia Commons

In this film, Falstaff goes to France and designs the battle plan for the Battle of Agincourt. This is a huge deviation from Shakespeare. 

According to the movie’s director, since King Henry V is a tyrant, anyone who serves him is serving a tyrant — which therefore makes Falstaff a villain.

That is truly outrageous, and so utterly despicable.

Shakespeare’s Falstaff is one of the greatest characters ever written. He is larger than life, incredibly funny, and so wonderfully life-affirming.

This obsessively dreary and depressing movie turns Falstaff into a humorless and boring character.

The filmmakers clearly hate Shakespeare and his characters. They clearly hate history — they are not satisfied with a heroic King Henry V, so they make him a tyrant.

So, why then did they make the movie?

They have a political agenda. They are using it to deliver their anti-war message.

That is not Shakespeare’s message. His plays are neither pro-war nor anti-war. He wants you to make up your own mind. He wants you to draw your own conclusions. 

Shakespeare respects your intelligence.

Was Hal a good or bad guy? Was he right to go to war in France? Was he a great English king, or a brutish warmonger? Shakespeare lets you decide.

This movie decides for you. It draws only the conclusions the filmmakers have chosen -- that King Henry was a tyrant, and that he was tricked into fighting against the French. 

That is a complete betrayal of Shakespeare’s plays. 



The Battle of Agincourt
Wikimedia Commons


This movie is primarily targeted at teenagers. That is one reason why it casts such a young-looking actor, Timothée Chalamet, to play Prince Hal/King Henry V.

If you are a teenager, these filmmakers assume that you don’t know Shakespeare’s plays very well, and they assume that you do not know history.

They think you are too stupid to form your own opinions, and draw your own conclusions. They don’t respect your intelligence. 

If you want an anti-war movie — watch The Deer Hunter instead. Or The Thin Red Line. Or Full Metal Jacket

All of those movies respect your intelligence.

If you want to see what Shakespeare wrote, I highly recommend The Globe productions of Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V — starring Jamie Parker and Roger Allam.

You can watch them online here — https://globeplayer.tv/videos/henry-iv-part-1

They are funny, they are incredibly well acted, and they are the most faithful versions to Shakespeare that I have found.

If you want to know the history of King Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt, you can start with the Wikipedia entries:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_V_of_England

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Agincourt


I encourage you to learn about Shakespeare’s plays and the history behind them. I hope you will think for yourselves.



Cheers,

David B. Schajer