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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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



Friday, January 19, 2018

My Big Shakespeare Blunder


I have a big confession to make.

For most of my life I did not understand one of Shakespeare’s most important and most famous quotes.

When I was a teenager, I read Hamlet, and I loved Polonius’ advice to his son: “This above all: to thine ownself be true, / And it must follow, as the night the day, / Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

I loved the quote so much, I put it in my High School yearbook page.

A stain glass window representation of Polonius.
Wikimedia Commons

At the time, I thought it meant that in being true to myself, I would be a more honest person and a better person in society.

I also thought it meant that I should not let other people keep me from becoming the person I wanted to become.

I thought it was an optimistic eternal truth, like the ancient Greek adage “Know Thyself.”

I thought it meant that I should not deceive myself, and therefore I would not be a false person.

I thought that if I lived by those words, I would be a good person, a genuine person.

I thought it would help to build my confidence.

I thought it was the very best wisdom written by the very best of writers, Shakespeare.

Wow. Was I ever wrong.

It has taken many years for me to see the truth of how very wrong I was — and how much I had misinterpreted the quote.

It is now very evident to me that the last advice you should accept is that, above all, you should be true to yourself.

Why is this such bad advice?

Shakespeare did not put those words in the mouth of Hamlet, or Horatio or Ophelia — who are all truly good and decent people within the play.

No, Shakespeare put the advice in the mouth of Polonius — who is a hypocritical, selfish, conniving, deceitful, manipulative, cold-hearted bureaucratic toady.

 Hamlet devant le corps de Polonius Eugène Delcroix au Musée des Beaux-Arts de Reims.
Wikimedia Commons

When you think of Polonius, you would never describe him as genuine, or good, or selfless.

Therefore, why would we take the advice of such a bad man — a man who puts his own self interest above the interests of other people?

Polonius plots to “loose” his daughter on Hamlet — so he can spy on what Hamlet says. 

The word “loose” has a sexual connotation, as in “loose women”. 

So, is Polonius her father or is he instead her pander, her pimp?

No wonder Ophelia goes mad and commits suicide. She has a father who would use her to gain Hamlet’s confidence by seduction.

Hamlet may have been wrong to murder Polonius — but then Polonius should not have been in the Queen’s bedchamber, spying on them both.

Polonius’ son Laertes returns to take his revenge on Hamlet. 

But is Hamlet really to blame? Did he make Ophelia go crazy and drown her? No. She was driven mad by the madness at the royal court, and by the intense pressure to spy on Hamlet. 

Benjamin West, Ofelia e Laerte, 1792
Wikimedia Commons

Did Hamlet have good cause, or at least a plausible excuse for killing Polonius? Yes, he thought he was stabbing Claudius — who murdered Hamlet’s father.

So why does Laertes seek to punish or kill Hamlet — when he should try to determine the truth of their deaths?

Instead of patiently seeking justice, Laertes seeks quick revenge.

Well, with Polonius as his father and his teacher, Laertes can’t tell right from wrong, and wrong from right.

Polonius has taught his son to be rashly and blindly violent.

Polonius’ advice “to thine ownself be true” takes on a much darker meaning.

To Laertes, it means that he shouldn’t care what anyone else says. He shouldn’t listen to what Hamlet has to say in his defense. To Laertes, his father’s advice means that he should rush to judgement.

Laertes sees Hamlet as a false man — when Hamlet is the one true noble person in the entire tragedy.

Polonius’ advice has terrible consequences for everyone — including himself. He and his children all die.

Why did Shakespeare have Polonius offer this advice?

Because Shakespeare wanted to put lofty words in the mouth of the basest of men, and the lowliest of villains.

If there was a lesson that Shakespeare wanted teach, with this quote, it was to beware of hypocritical people.

Shakespeare did not want us to blindly accept what a man like Polonius says — or to live by the words of any mortal man.

Shakespeare did not want us to put our faith and our trust in men — in our leaders, in our social, economic or political superiors.

He wanted us to put our faith in God and God alone. He wanted us to live by the Word of God.

Shakespeare’s audience, in London circa 1600, was filled with God-fearing and church-going Christians.

As soon as they heard Polonius say “This above all: to thine ownself be true” they immediately understand what Polonius was really saying. 

They knew that Polonius was teaching his son to put himself before God. 

To Elizabethans audiences, only God is “above all”.

Shakespeare’s audience would have instantly understood that Polonius is a villain. They would have expected bad things to happen to him. They would have counted the minutes, eagerly anticipating his comeuppance.

When Polonius is finally killed, they would have probably cheered to see a godless man sent to Hell.

Regardless of how we feel today about religion and God, Shakespeare — as a 16th Century Christian who had to attend Church by law, who was living through the very tumultuous Protestant Reformation — had very strong feelings and very grave concerns about religion in England at the time.

Some people might say that Shakespeare was not religious, or that he was more concerned with secular matters than spiritual ones. They are wrong.

Why else would Shakespeare create a character like Polonius, who lacks a proper respect for God, if Shakespeare was not himself reverent?

Look at the whole of Polonius’ advice — he was advising his son on secular worldly matters, without regard to eternal spiritual matters.

He tells his son not to speak out of turn, not to misbehave, not to be too friendly but cherish good friends, not to start fights, not to borrow or lend money, etcetera.

These are all trivial and relatively inconsequential matters.

Nowhere in his advice to his son does Polonius say anything about how Laertes should be a good and obedient Christian.

In fact, Polonius blesses his son, as if Polonius has the power to bestow holy blessings. As if Polonius has taken the place of God in the lives of his son and daughter.

If Polonius had taught his son to be a faithful young man, then none of the other advice would be necessary. 

Laertes would not do anything bad, if he truly feared God’s punishment for doing wrong.

Polonius and Hamlet
Eugene Delacroix
Wikimedia Commons

Also, Polonius also advises his son: to “Beware / Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, / Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.”

Rough translation: Beware of getting into fights, but if you find yourself in one, make your opponent fear you.

Isn’t that ironic, considering how Laertes rushes into a fight with Hamlet?

So, not only is Polonius’ advice without moral value, it did not have the power to teach Laertes how to behave.

The point that Shakespeare makes is that Laertes did not heed this advice because it was worthless advice from a faithless father.

There is a deeper level to the advice that Shakespeare wrote for Polonius to say. Shakespeare is attacking the secular humanism and the moral relativism that was poisoning England at the time.

He was attacking men who presumed to put themselves before God — he was fighting against the teachers, lawyers, judges, nobility, bureaucrats, and many aristocratic members of the royal court.

Shakespeare was saying that Denmark was not rotten because of men like Hamlet — it was rotten because of men like Polonius.

For over 400 years we have been taught that Polonius’ advice to his son is good sound solid wise advice. 

That is not the point Shakespeare wanted to make. The Polonius he created was a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a man who seemed good, but was in fact bad.

Shakespeare did not want an England where men and women were raised to isolate and imprison themselves in their “ownself”.

He did not want young women to grow up with such moral and spiritual weakness that they could be crushed by anyone, even by their own parents.

He did not want Juliet to die, even if it was for love. He did not want Desdemona to be murdered by the man she loved. He did not want Anne to be seduced by King Richard III — the man who killed her husband and the King!

He did not want young women to grow up to become evil like Lady Macbeth or Goneril or Regan or Volumnia.

Shakespeare wants young women to grow up better than that.


Henry Lejeune - Ophelia
Wikimedia Commons

He didn’t want young men to grow up to be self-righteous hot-tempered thugs, who can be deceived into violence, even by their own parents.

He did not want Romeo to throw away his life. He did not want Othello to be deceived and commit murder. He did not want King Lear to go mad and destroy his kingdom. He did not want Prince Hal to banish Falstaff, who was a better father than Hal’s own father, the King!

He did not want young men to grow up to become evil like Iago or Macbeth or King Richard III.

Shakespeare wants young men to grow up better than that.

Look at Hamlet. The ghost of his father tells him to take revenge.

Hamlet can’t wait to do it: “I, with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge.”

But he doesn’t swiftly take revenge.

It is excruciating to watch Hamlet struggle with his decision whether or not to take revenge. But  Shakespeare is showing that it is better to be patient and examine the matter, than to rush to revenge a death — even if the revenge is justified.

Shakespeare wanted us to get out of our own heads, lower our defenses, and to stop looking down and dwelling on the hardship of our human condition in this sometimes cruel world.

He wanted us to come together, in a theatre perhaps, to see that this life is merely a test for eternity.

He wanted us to look up and contemplate the glory of our lives in a heavenly afterworld.

His Hamlet play is a cry for people to seek truth and justice not in ourselves, or in others — but only in God.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet play is a call to action, to know ourselves through God, and to know nothing unless He blesses us to know it.


Cheers,

David B. Schajer   



Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Shakespeare & Meryl Streep


I make an effort not to pick fights with anyone, as far as Shakespeare is concerned.

But Meryl Streep is picking a fight with Shakespeare, and I feel as if I must stand up for him.

Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and she were interviewed by Buzzfeed about their upcoming movie.

In light of the recent allegations of sexual assault and rape against Harvey Weinstein — and other accusations against actors like Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman and others — Streep and Hanks were asked “the question of what to do with art once an artist's reputation has been compromised.” 

Apparently, Meryl Streep did not acknowledge the work she has done with Hoffman, Spacey, and Weinstein — and she did not speak to their alleged sexual crimes.

Instead, she decided to answer the question by accusing Shakespeare of being a terrible man, in order to defend and protect Weinstein and others:

“We still revere Shakespeare,” Streep said. “We haven't thrown it out, and there is no question that [The Merchant of Venice] is anti-Semitic. There is no question that The Taming of the Shrew is misogynist [sic]. Everybody has their blank spots, but the genius that understands so much else about the human experiment is worth safeguarding, and shouldn't be touched.”

She continued to say: “People who are terrible also have terribly clear insights on other subjects, so I don't think you throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

There is so much about her answer here that is offensive and wrong. 

What is most abhorrent about her answer is that she is trying to normalize deviant and criminal behavior, and she is suggesting that men like Weinstein should not be punished — they should be safeguarded, and they should not be thrown out.

Sexual assault and rape should not be watered down and excused as merely “terrible” misdeeds of “genius” men who have “blank spots.”

In the process, she is tearing down William Shakespeare, who is not here to defend himself.

She also says that there is “no question” that the Merchant of Venice play is anti-Semitic.

Is she saying that Shakespeare was an anti-Semite — that he hated Jews?

She also says that The Taming of the Shrew play is “misogynist” — which is a noun, not an adjective.

Did she mean to say the play was misogynistic? Or was she trying to say that Shakespeare himself was a misogynist?

In other words, was she saying that Shakespeare wrote a misogynistic play, and therefore was only partially misogynistic — or was she saying that he was wholly a misogynist, and perhaps all of his plays should be judged as woman-hating?

Is she saying that Shakespeare hated women?

She also says that there is “no question” about the misogyny in the play.

She speaks as if it is common knowledge, as if there is not any debate on the matter, and as if everyone agrees on the anti-Semitism and misogyny.

That is incredibly offensive, and it betrays her utter lack of understanding of these plays, and of Shakespeare himself.

I have discredited the charge of anti-Semitism in Merchanthere and here.

I have also discredited the charge of misogyny in Shrewhere.

You may not agree with my conclusions, or my interpretation of the plays. But I do not think you can agree that there is “no question” as she would have you believe.

Her attack on Taming of the Shrew also reveals her to be a hypocrite. 

After all, she did play Katherine, with Raul Julia as Petruchio, in a Shakespeare in the Park production, in 1978 (which was later filmed).

So, if the play is misogynistic, why did she play Kate?

If Shakespeare was a misogynist, why did she even do any Shakespeare at all?

Why would she perpetuate a woman-hating play written by a woman-hating man — by playing Kate, the lead role?

It seems to me that Meryl Streep has not figured out what to say about her friends like Mr. Weinstein, so she has resorted to insulting the memory of Shakespeare.

When she won an Oscar, for The Iron Lady, produced by Weinstein — she thanked him on stage and called him “God.”

Roman Polanski has multiple accusations of multiple sexual crimes, including the allegation that he raped a 10-year-old girl.

When Polanski was awarded his Oscar in 2003, many people in Hollywood applauded at the Academy Awards ceremony, and gave him a standing ovation — despite the fact that he was not there to collect it, since he has been a fugitive from U.S. justice since 1978.

Meryl Streep was one of those who stood up and applauded him.

When the news broke about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Meryl Streep issued a statement, which began: “The disgraceful news about Harvey Weinstein has appalled those of us whose work he championed, and those whose good and worthy causes he supported.”

She did not condemn the man.  

More recently, she said that the kinds of things Weinstein was accused of doing were “the most gargantuan example of disrespect.”

Again she did not condemn the man, and again she excused his alleged criminal behavior as nothing more than “disrespect” towards women.

I do not mean this blog post to be an attack on her personally. But she seems to represent a privileged attitude, especially in Hollywood, where what is illegal for the rest of humanity is excusable for “genius” artists.

She seems to want to defend Harvey Weinstein, who it should be noted, is perhaps most famous for producing the film, Shakespeare In Love.

I think it is more than a coincidence that one of the most notorious alleged sexual criminals in Hollywood is the same man who made a film in which Shakespeare was unfaithful to his wife.

Clearly, Weinstein needed to dishonor Shakespeare and blacken his reputation, in order to normalize and excuse his own alleged sexual deviancy. 

Tom Hanks was there for the same Buzzfeed interview, and apparently did not say anything to challenge Streep’s attack on Shakespeare.

Hanks is a patron of the Shakespeare Center for Los Angeles, and could have defended Shakespeare.

He chose not to. However, he did mention how “Picasso was a womanizer” — which is another attempt to normalize criminal behavior.

Steven Spielberg was there too, but is not reported to have defended the Bard.

Sadly, it looks as if too many people in the world, and in Hollywood, do not understand and do not appreciate Shakespeare.

Even worse, it seems that they need to pull down Shakespeare to their level, rather than try to lift themselves up to his.

If they continue to say things like this, and continue to diminish Shakespeare, there might come a day when Shakespeare will be thrown out, with the bathwater. With guards like Streep and Hanks to keep Shakespeare safe, who needs enemies?

I hope you will join me, and become a voice to defend Shakespeare, and rescue him from anyone who abuses his memory.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer



Saturday, December 9, 2017

Shakespeare & Falstaff Strong


Do you ever feel like Shakespeare is a waste of time?

Do you sometimes feel that Shakespeare is too hard to understand, or is too boring, too old-fashioned -- or just isn’t important to your life?

Shakespeare had an answer for you, to allay your fears, and overcome your objections.

His answer is Falstaff.

Falstaff, by Eduard von Grützner
Wikimedia Commons

Falstaff — the fat, drunken, scheming, and lovably dishonorable knight — is Shakespeare’s greatest character.

And Shakespeare wrote him for you — for anyone who would rather take a good nap than read his plays and poems, anyone who thinks that his plays were only written for college professors, anyone who would rather pour hot water over their head than read or watch a play of his, etcetera.

Shakespeare probably knew that he had to create a great character who would catch the eye, get the attention of his audience, and force them to pay attention to what he was writing.

Maybe that’s why Falstaff is so big and fat. 

Watching one of his plays, you wouldn’t miss him. With a dozen actors on stage, you can’t mistake Falstaff for anyone else. And he is too big to overlook.

Falstaff with big wine jar and cup
by Grützner
Wikimedia Commons

You might say Hamlet was the greatest character, or King Lear. Both Romeo and Juliet are truly great characters.

But the more you read Shakespeare and watch his plays, there is no more important character in all of his works than Falstaff.

Why? 

Because Falstaff was so flawed.

All of Shakespeare’s characters have fatal flaws.

Hamlet’s indecision stopped him from stopping the violence and the scheming that was destroying the royal court of Denmark. Had he taken action, real decisive action, he might have saved many lives, including his own.

King Lear’s blindness caused him to see two truly evil women as loving daughters, and caused him to see his one true and loving daughter as his enemy. The whole kingdom suffers for his blindness, and many people die.

Romeo and Juliet both believe in true love, an understandable and noble but flawed belief that they can love each other without consequences. However, the real world doesn’t work like that, and many people die because of their innocent and naive belief in true love.

Each and every major character in Shakespeare’s plays is terribly flawed — each with at least one flaw that can be a source of great constructive and positive power, but can also be a source of destructive and negative power.

Macbeth is a great example. His ambition drives him to achieve greatness, and he distinguishes himself with his monarch, King Duncan. But then that same ambition drives him insane, to the point of murdering King Duncan, and others.

Henry IV part 2 act II scene 4
by Henry Fuseli
Wikimedia Commons

Falstaff is unlike all of the other characters Shakespeare ever wrote — he is a whole heaping stew of flaws, a whole laundry list of dirty and smelly bad habits and weaknesses.

There is not one thing that is bad about Falstaff — there are too many to count!

Why did Shakespeare create this character, who stumbles in and out of trouble, who cheats and steals, and lies, who has a heart of gold, and is drunk almost all of the time?

Because Shakespeare knew that Falstaff’s unrivaled multitude of weaknesses makes him great, despite all of his flaws — and because of his flaws.

But perhaps most importantly, because Falstaff was not blind to his faults. He embraced his human weakness, and did not try to act like anyone other than himself. He wants more than he has, and he wants to be more than he is, but don’t we all?

We relate to him more than any other character because we want to see ourselves through him and his faults. Since he has so many faults, he attracts more of us to him.

Falstaff was so great that he even educated the future King Henry IV of England.

Henry IV part 1 act II scene 4
by Robert Smirke
Wikimedia Commons

How many men do you think young Prince Hal trusted about anything? Not many. For all his many faults, Falstaff educated the Prince about how the world works, how it really works.

Put another way, without Falstaff’s education, Prince Hal might never have become King Henry IV.

Shakespeare wants you to know that it is not your weaknesses that define you — it is your spirit, your will, your hopes and your dreams that makes you who you are.

But Falstaff also teaches us that we must learn how to operate in the real world, in order not only to survive but even to thrive!

You might not become the King of England, but you might become the kind of person a king most trusts, and from whom the king most learns.

Falstaff and Hal at the Boar's Tavern
unknown artist
Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare also asks a very shrewd question with Falstaff — if Falstaff was Hal’s greatest teacher and mentor, then who is the real King of England?

Is it possible that Falstaff is even wiser, and is even worthier to be king, than the man who became the King?

Was Shakespeare also suggesting that Falstaff was actually more worthy of being the king — since he was so much more worldly-wise, and confident in himself, in spite of flaws which he knew he had?

When Prince Hal is crowned King Henry IV, he infamously rejects Falstaff, and banishes him from his courtly universe, as if Falstaff is beneath him and below his consideration.

In that moment, you have to ask yourself — is Hal/Henry a good man?

In that moment, it is difficult to wonder who is the better man — King Henry or Falstaff?

Put another way, would you rather have a king who acts high and mighty and holier-than-thou, or a king who is all-too-human and down-to-earth?

Pistol announcing to Falstaff the death of the King
by John Cawse
Wikimedia Commons

What does all of this mean for you? What was Shakespeare’s message to you?

That your weakness can be strength.

And perhaps the more weaknesses you possess, the stronger you can become.

Shakespeare wanted to invite you to watch his plays and study his works by creating the character Falstaff.

Shakespeare didn’t hate people for our ignorance, our weakness, our wickedness, our sin, our faults — he welcomed us all, he loved us all.

He invited people into the theatre, which was inviting them into his home, for a celebration of life.

He wanted to celebrate with us — he wanted us to glory in the fact that we are human beings, and if we acknowledge what makes us great, and what makes us human, what makes us laugh and cry, what makes us pity and fear — then our revels can be a revelation of how we can be even greater.

Roger Allam as Falstaff
Shakespeare Globe Theatre

Shakespeare could never hate you, because he loved Falstaff.

So, the next time someone says that Shakespeare is stuffy or boring or just a dead white male or snooty or not worth reading or watching — I encourage you to respond with one word — Falstaff.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


P.S. I highly recommend the Shakespeare’s Globe productions of Henry IV part 1 and part 2, starring Roger Allam as Falstaff, and Jamie Parker as Hal/Henry. It is a lot of fun to watch. 

I highly DO NOT recommend the Hollow Crown version — Tom Hiddleston makes a great Hal/Henry, but the depiction of Falstaff is too serious and not light-hearted enough.



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.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer