Shakespeare Solved® versions of these plays solve the mysteries surrounding them by taking us back in time to see the plays as they were performed for the first time in history.

This blog explains these new versions, and explores the life and times of Shakespeare, in order to build support for my new TV series versions of the plays.

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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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Will on TNT Shakespeare TV Series

I just watched the first episode of the new television show Will on TNT, about the young William Shakespeare.

I want to share some of my thoughts about it with you.

This is not a full and detailed review, since I would not have very nice things to say about the show — and my mother taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything.

This show looked very exciting to watch, since the full story of William Shakespeare — how he came to London and how he conquered the stages there — has not been told on TV or in films.

The creator of the show is Craig Pearce, who collaborated with Baz Luhrmann to make Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby, and my personal favorite, Strictly Ballroom — which my father watched and re-watched probably more than any other film he ever saw.

I have always had a great affection for those films, and I even got to meet Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin several times. They are some of the nicest and most generous people in the world.

So I was very excited to see this show. The cast looked great, young and energetic — and they are indeed very talented.

I don’t mind that the show has a contemporary rock soundtrack — I love The Clash’s London Calling. 

I don’t even mind the groundling audience members dressed up like they were at a concert, in the 1980s, for Flock of Seagulls, Boy George, or Adam Ant — with their spiked hair and colorful make-up.

I would have preferred far less nudity, and violence. I think it was gratuitous, unnecessary, and a complete distraction from the story of Shakespeare himself.

I wish I could recommend this TV show, and tell you that you should watch it. Sadly, I can’t. 

The biggest problem with this show, is that it assumes that since we know so little about Shakespeare, then it is free to invent history.

Instead of attempting to develop or discover some truth about Shakespeare, this show just makes stuff up.

If you don’t know anything about Shakespeare, you will not learn anything from this show. 

If you are familiar with Shakespeare’s life, or if you know a lot about him, you will probably be as frustrated as I am at how many liberties this show takes with Shakespeare’s life and work.

I encourage you instead to find a good biography of Shakespeare — James Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, or Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography, or Jonathan Bate’s Soul of the Age.

You could also read or re-read his plays and poems. Or you could stream, or watch a DVD of, an adaptation of one of his plays. Or watch a production from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, or a production from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Any of those will give you more entertainment and insight into Shakespeare than this show does.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

Today is the 453rd anniversary of his birth.

I want to celebrate today with a new discovery I’ve made.

The Chandos Portrait of Shakespeare
National Portrait Gallery

Did you ever wonder why Shakespeare chose the names Viola and Olivia for his characters in Twelfth Night?

Did you ever notice how the name Viola is an almost perfect rearrangement of the name Olivia?

Is it possible that these names refer to actual people, who lived in Shakespeare’s day?

Let’s look at the characters.

Olivia is a Countess, who is in mourning because her brother died.

Viola is a young woman who is ship is wrecked, and believes her brother may be dead from the same catastrophe.

Instantly we can see that Shakespeare has created characters that mirror each other.

Malvolio with Olivia and Maria
Malvolio and the Countess
engraving by R. Staines based on the
original work by Daniel Mclise

Who is Olivia?

In the context of the play, Olivia is a Countess, and has a court filled with characters, like Maria and Malvolio.

Maria is Olivia’s servant. Shakespeare’s audience, at the Globe theatre circa 1602, would have instantly recognized Maria as the equivalent of a Lady-In-Waiting to Queen Elizabeth.

Malvolio is Olivia’s steward. Shakespeare’s audience would have recognized Malvolio as the highest officer of state, which in Tudor governments was the Lord High Steward.

Therefore, as Shakespeare’s audience watched this play, it would been an almost inescapable conclusion for them to deduce that Olivia was a depiction of Queen Elizabeth I.

There is one more very telling topical allusion in the play, that supports the idea that Olivia is the Queen.

Olivia has recently lost a beloved brother.

The first performance of Twelfth Night on record was 2 February 1602.

This is almost one year after the Queen’s beloved Favourite, the Earl of Essex, had died.

The Queen loved Essex like a son. There were reports of how these last days and months of the Queen’s life (she would die almost a year later in March 1603) were the most somber and most sad of her entire glorious reign.

Did Shakespeare write this play to reflect the events of his time, and to discuss what was going on inside the court of Queen Elizabeth?

It is almost impossible to believe that his purpose was anything other than that.

If Shakespeare was not trying to reflect the events of the time, and was not trying to depict the royal court of Elizabeth, then he did a terrible job of it. 

While this may not seem like definitive proof, this evidence is well beyond a reasonable doubt.

So, if we proceed with the understanding that Olivia represents Queen Elizabeth, who does Viola represent?

Is it possible that Viola represents another real historical figure from the Elizabethan age?

There is in fact a real historical person who was lost, on a voyage to another distant land.

Her name is Virginia Dare.

Baptism of Virginia Dare
by William A. Crafts 1876

Virginia Dare was born in the New World, in 1587, not long after she arrived there by ship.

Her parents had just traveled there to establish a new English settlement.

Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the New World colony of Virginia.

This Virginia Colony was named after Queen Elizabeth, the so-called “Virgin Queen”.

So, in effect, Virginia Dare is also named for the Queen.

The fate of Virginia Dare is not known. In 1590, a ship was sent to resupply the settlers, but they had disappeared. Why they vanished remains unknown.

While the baby Virginia Dare and the other settlers were not technically ship-wrecked, it would not be too much to say that their disappearance was comparable to a voyage lost.

Shakespeare featured shipwrecks in several of his plays, perhaps most famously in The Tempest.

It is well known that one of Shakespeare’s influences in writing The Tempest was a real 1609 shipwreck in the Bermudas, in the New World.

With this play, about the shipwrecked Viola, I think it is entirely possible that Shakespeare was alluding to the loss of Virginia Dare and the other settlers from 1587.

Finally, the name Vi-rginia is eerily similar to Vi-ola.

Therefore, was Shakespeare drawing a connection between Olivia and Queen Elizabeth and Viola and Virginia?

If he was not, if he had no intention of creating these associations, then he did a very poor job.

I think that Shakespeare was far too good a writer, and far too shrewd a chronicler of his times, to make such associations by accident.

What does this mean? What if anything was Shakespeare saying with Viola and Olivia and Virginia? What was the point he was making to Queen Elizabeth?

I will answer these questions, and explore all of this, in my forthcoming series of novels, which tells the story of Shakespeare’s entire life, and all of his works.

I hope you stay tuned, and come back to this blog for more news and developments about these novels.

Finally, I hope you take a moment today to celebrate the life and work of William Shakespeare!


David B. Schajer

Monday, April 3, 2017

Baltimore Shakespeare Factory Antony and Cleopatra

I just saw a production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory — and I highly recommend it!

What made this production so special is that it was performed in OP (Original Pronunciation) — all of the actors spoke with the original accent that Shakespeare and his fellow actors would have spoken.

Here is a link to buy your tickets:

This is the first time in 400 years that this play has been performed in the accent that Shakespeare spoke!

That should be enough for you to drop everything, and go see this production right away.

If you love Shakespeare, you must see this production.

Even if you have seen Antony and Cleopatra 100 times before, you have never seen a production like this.

The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is becoming the world’s pre-eminent company as far as OP is concerned. They started with Merchant of Venice in OP two years ago, and they did The Winter’s Tale in OP last year. And they are just getting started, and plan to do at least one play in OP each year.

What is so special about OP? I would say that it brings the words to life like nothing I have ever seen/heard before, with Shakespeare. And even the least poetic of his lines have a charm and warmth to them that otherwise is lost when spoken with another accent.

I will admit that Shakespeare in OP is sometimes a little more of a challenge for me to hear, and understand what is being said. But that is also what is so fascinating, when you watch/hear an OP Shakespeare play, you really begin to focus on the language in a different way. It exercises different muscles, as it were, in your brain.

The OP is also something of a challenge for the actors. Not all of them are as well-practiced as others, and there are varying degrees of skill with this dialogue in OP. But even if you don’t understand every last word of every last line, you still get the gist of what is said, and I was never lost in the play.

The main roles are performed by the most experienced OP actors — this is Valerie Dowdle’s third OP performance. She is as remarkable as Cleopatra as she was as Portia two years ago, and as Hermione last year.

Valerie Dowdle as Cleopatra
(photographs by Will Kirk)

She clearly loves OP and has a lot of fun with the role of Cleopatra. She really gets the different facets of the character — her campiness, her silliness, her histrionics. And by the end of the play, her death is all the more moving. 

Chris Cotterman as Antony

 Chris Cotterman is a great Antony. He is another veteran OP performer — I saw him last year as Leontes, and as Bassanio two years ago. He is a solid leading man, and does an excellent job as Antony, one of the most powerful men in history, who is undone for his love of Cleopatra.

I especially liked how he showed a truly emotional side to Antony, which otherwise could be lost in less capable hands.

The founding Artistic Director of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, and the director of this production is Tom Delise. He deserves so much credit for staking a claim as the one and only company in the world to consistently explore and re-discover Shakespeare through OP.

Antony and Cleopatra is one of Shakespeare’s most challenging plays, even without OP. I applaud Mr. Delise and his brave company for taking this challenge head on.

If you are anywhere Baltimore, I hope you make time to see this incredible production.


David B. Schajer

Friday, March 31, 2017

Shakespeare Solved 5th Anniversary!

Thank you for a wonderful 5 YEARS!

Thanks to all of you, this blog is now 5 years old.

Without you, and without your interest in this blog, I might have stopped writing this a long time ago.

I am thrilled to say that I have many more years worth of material to share with you — with newer and even bigger discoveries!

When I first started this blog, I thought it would only appeal to a small number of people.

But very quickly this became the #1 Shakespeare blog in the world!

This blog has more Internet traffic, more page views, and a larger social media community than any other blog about Shakespeare.

This is the #1 Shakespeare blog in the world — and it’s because of you!

Shakespeare Solved is also getting more popular than ever — more and more people are joining this community each and every day, and traffic to this blog is growing.

I have some VERY EXCITING NEWS to share with you.

After more research, I have discovered new solutions to Shakespeare’s life and plays.

So, I have decided to publish a SERIES OF NOVELS!

These novels will take us back in time — to walk in Shakespeare’s shoes, and see Shakespeare’s world through his eyes.

This series of novels won’t just be the story about a few weeks of his life, or months or years.

No, these novels will tell the whole story of his whole life!

Yes, you will be able to read about how Shakespeare came to London, how he met the most famous and powerful women and men of the age, and how he wrote the greatest plays in history.

Also, you will be able to learn the full truth about his relationships with Queen Elizabeth I and King James.

This series of novels goes through his entire career, with new and exciting insights into each and every play. 

For the first time in history, you will be able to learn why he wrote the plays and what they really mean.

I will be writing more about this very soon. I hope you keep following Shakespeare Solved for more updates about these new novels.

Thank You!


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Monday, November 21, 2016

Faction of Fools Merchant of Venice

I just saw The Merchant of Venice production at Gallaudet University by Faction of Fools — a Commedia dell’Arte theatre company in Washington, D.C.

If you are anywhere near Washington, you can not miss this extraordinary production — it’s hilarious!

The show runs through 11 December — so please order your tickets soon!

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would love to share some of my thoughts with you about this wonderful show.

Two years ago, I saw Titus Andronicus by Faction of Fools (my review). After having seen Merchant yesterday, I think Faction of Fools makes a very convincing case that Commedia dell’Arte just might be the best and only way to perform Shakespeare.

The Merchant of Venice is my favourite Shakespeare play. It is the funniest play he ever wrote, and the most politically incorrect — in a good way.

Most of what makes the play so side-splittingly funny has been lost over time. Today it is too often performed without any real understanding of what the play is, and what the play should be.

So, it is so exciting to see this production that really understands how absurd the play really is. The Commedia dell’Arte performance style perfectly suits this farcical and screwball comedy.

There are many screwballs in this play, and Faction of Fools really truly understands how to throw them. The audience yesterday with me laughed loud and laughed often.

I have just never seen such a funny Merchant of Venice

Here is a quick video that captures some of the madcap comedy:

Director Paul Reisman has done something truly extraordinary. He has taken Shakespeare’s most problematic “problem play” and made it fun to watch.

Mr. Reisman and his stellar cast have created a truly entertaining play, that never slows down and makes you laugh all the way through.

The cast deserves so much praise. They throw themselves into their roles with so much energy and love of the play and the language that it really immerses you — I couldn’t believe how quickly 2 hours flew by, especially when you consider the fact that almost the entire text of the play is retained.

Each and every member of the cast deserves great credit. They all double up and triple up (and sometimes quadruple up) the roles. 

The fact that they could change costumes in a split-second and come back on as another character is remarkable. If there was an Olympic athletics event for actors, I think they would win the Gold.

They do something that is quite extraordinary. They let loose with each of their characters with so much abandon, with so much love of the play, that the whole play is lifted and elevated. I truly think this is the closest this play has come to its original staging. This is what it may have looked like circa 1596.

The other extraordinary thing about this great cast of actors is that they each steal the show and upstage each other constantly. It is not uncommon to be looking at one actor when the other actors are meant to be front and center. 

If ever there was a company of actors that made you want to see the same show twice (or even three times) it is this one!

Natalie Cutcher is phenomenal as Portia. 

She has that rarest of talents, when it comes to performing Shakespeare. To “suit the action to the word, the word to the action” sounds easy. But it is up to every single actor to find and create the body language that suits Shakespeare’s written dialogue.

Ms. Cutcher found that body language for Portia, and therefore translated Shakespeare’s language more effectively than I thought possible.

Did I mention that she's funny? Her contortions during Bassanio’s casket test is priceless. Portia as Balthasar is a laugh riot. I loved her exaggerated “manly stride”.

Matthew Pauli is the most extraordinary Shylock I have ever seen.

It is almost inconceivable to me that any actor could deliver such a powerful performance — especially considering that he was in a mask the whole time!

He breathes so much life into this misunderstood character, the most enigmatic character in Shakespeare’s entire canon. There is so much complexity to Shylock, and Mr. Pauli is terrific at exploring all of the nuance.

And this is by far the funniest Shylock I have ever seen. Shylock is far too often played as gloomy and grave, when in fact he is one of the most lively and three-dimensional characters he ever created. Mr. Pauli understands this very well.

Vince Eisenson as Bassanio with Matthew Pauli as Shylock

There is so much I could say about each and every single one of the other actors, they are all so unusually good. And as good as every one of them is, together they are even more fantastic as an ensemble.

Vince Eisenson is a terrific Bassanio. I especially love the casket scene, which will make your head spin with laughter. He also perfectly underplays Tubal. I didn’t think Tubal could make you laugh, but I was wrong.

Daniel Flint is the most foolish Gratiano I can remember, and the best Morocco I’ve seen. It is hard to believe that Gratiano, the most unlikeable character in the play, could be funny, but Mr. Flint makes him funny.

Ben Lauer plays Lorenzo, Aragon and the Duke. It is his heartfelt and sincere Lorenzo that I liked the most, and his chemistry with Alexseyia McBride as Jessica was superb. 

Ms. McBride, who is deaf, signs her dialogue. I think it improves the play. Her performance was far more eloquent without spoken lines. I especially liked her in the “in such a night” scene.

Teresa Spencer plays Salanio and Old Gobbo. But it is her Nerissa that is so wonderful. It is so playful and funny, and the chemistry between her and Ms. Cutcher as Portia is fantastic. I especially love her as in the trial scene, as she plays a man. Great moustache!

Ryan Tumulty is easily the best Antonio I’ve ever seen. But it is his Launcelot Gobbo that is so remarkable. It is one of the most underappreciated roles in Shakespeare’s canon, but in this version he is a star. The fiend/conscience is a critical moment in the play, and he just nails it.

I wholeheartedly recommend this play, for anyone who loves Shakespeare, and for anyone who doesn’t. You won’t be sorry.

Merchant is a very special play for me. It is the play that made Shakespeare take over my life, and sent me on my continuing adventure to solve his life and plays. 

I avoid seeing it anymore. I just don’t enjoy watching the play much any longer, since it is so misunderstood. I couldn’t even sit through the recent Shakespeare’s Globe production because they so mutilated the play.

But Faction of Fools restored a great deal of the joy that I have when I think about this play. 

No, they did not solve the play as I have. They do not understand the sexuality in the play, including the fact that Bassanio and Antonio are more than just dear friends. 

Yes, Ms. Cutcher plays Portia as a hot mess, but I do wish she made this princess the racist swine she really is. The name “Portia” means “pig” for a reason.

They do not understand how Shylock is not the villain, but rather the hero of the play. The unfortunate effect of this is the problem of anti-Semitism in the play is not satisfactorily resolved in this particular production.

The play is not anti-Semitic, nor was Shakespeare. Shakespeare loved the Shylock so much he named character after himself. Yes, “Shylock” means “Shakespeare”.

But the depiction of Shylock in this production is so funny, and human, that it makes up for much of their misunderstanding.

And I even got to play a small part as the County Palatine suitor to Portia. I always love it when the audience gets in on the act!

The trial scene

Whatever shortcomings in the production are more than made up for in the jubilant and thrillingly funny performances by these spectacular actors.

I do hope that you go see this play, and like me, you should make an effort to see every Faction of Fools production in the future.


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Friday, August 12, 2016

Ralph Fiennes as Richard III

I just saw Richard III starring Ralph Fiennes last night.

It’s an incredible production, and you should go see it.

This production, which just completed its run at the Almeida Theatre in London, is being distributed around the world in cinemas.

You can find showtimes and tickets here:

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I want to share with you some of my thoughts about this great production.

I have never seen a more complete and balanced production of Richard III. The acting is superb, there is not a weak link in the acting ensemble, and they explored the characters more fully than the productions I have seen before.

I must give particular credit to the actresses - to Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret, Susan Engel as Richard’s mother the Duchess of York, Aislín McGuckin as Elizabeth Woodville, and Joanna Vanderham as Anne Neville.

I have never seen a production that gave as much emphasis to these characters, and the actresses all rose to the occasion. Each of them had moments that just about stopped the show, and stole the scene away from every other actor, even Mr. Fiennes. As a result, they provided a much-needed emotional counterbalance to all of the evil that these men do. 

Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret
Susan Engel, on the left, as Duchess of York
Aislín McGuckin as Elizabeth Woodville
Joanna Vanderham as Anne Woodville
But of course, the play belongs to King Richard III, and Ralph Fiennes did not disappoint at all. He was marvelous.

There are precious few actors who understand how to make you believe that they are evil.

Mr. Fiennes really specializes in this, what with his roles in Schindler’s List, as Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies, and even as Hades in the Clash/Wrath of the Titans movies.

But I have never seen him more evil before. He was truly scary.

I think this is his greatest performance by far. He wasn’t just camping it up as some sort of preening villain, twirling his mustache.

He was charismatic, and funny, very funny in fact, and that made the evil within the character come out even more.

The Richard III character is one of the most fully dimensional characters in world literature/theatre. He has so many sides, it is hard to grasp him. He is so slippery, like an eel (or a toad) that you can’t catch him.

Ralph Fiennes clearly understands this very thoroughly. He embraces the character so fully, without any reservation. Most actors pull punches when performing the crookback King Richard. Not Mr. Fiennes — he throws his punches fast and hard.

As great as his performance is — truly a historic accomplishment for him, for theatre, and especially for the greater history of Shakespeare in general — it cannot be accomplished alone. He must have great actors to play onstage with him.

And in that respect, Rupert Goold found and directed an all-star team of actors.

James Garnon, on the left, as Hastings
James Garnon was the most moving and compelling Hastings I have ever seen. Mr. Garnon has made a real name for himself, especially at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I saw him as Caliban in their production of The Tempest, and he really redefined the role.

Finbar Lynch as Buckingham

Finbar Lynch is a wonderful Buckingham. He was equally good (meaning despicable) as one of Richard’s most willing co-conspirators, as he was when he finds himself somehow growing a conscience. 

Scott Handy as Clarence

Scott Handy is one of the best Clarences I have seen. He is suitably pathetic. Clarence’s murder is meant to shock our conscience, and the murder in this production is the most frightening I can recall.

I do think it is a mistake to cut out what I think is Clarence’s most important line. When his murderers come to kill him, he insults them by saying that he is royal and they are not. Shakespeare’s original lines are meant to make us, the audience, dislike him. As odd as it may seem, we are supposed to want him to die, and enjoy watching his murder.

This gets to the heart of the play. We are supposed to sympathise with Richard III and enjoy watching him kill off his enemies, and the obstacles in his path to the throne.

For an otherwise very balanced and faithful production of the play, Mr. Goold put his thumb on the scale too heavily with this one edit.

The tone of the play was excellent, and while at times it was dark and gloomy, it was also funny more than I expected.

I have written quite a lot about how Richard III should be classified as a comedy rather than a tragedy. It is a very funny play, and it has never been performed with as much humour as it should.

Mr. Fiennes brought out much of the humour, and he could have gone much further with it. But what he did do, in exchange for more comedy, was to add a level of malevolence that is extraordinary. This production is not for anyone who needs safe spaces, and whose emotions are too easily triggered.

I don’t want to give anything away, but this Richard preys as much on the women as he does on the men.

It is always a pleasure when the actors in modern productions of Shakespeare break the fourth wall, and speak to the audience, and involve the audience. It is all too rare, especially when you consider that all of Shakespeare’s plays, especially when he wrote soliloquies, are really conversations with the audience.

I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but there is a fantastic moment where Mr. Fiennes engages the audience. The choice of moment is brilliant.

I strongly recommend this production. If you can find it at a cinema near you, you should not miss it. I doubt you will see a better version, or a more nightmare-inducing King Richard.


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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Shakespeare's Crimes

Did Shakespeare ever go to jail?

Did he ever do hard time?

The eminent Shakespeare scholar, Jonathan Bate once wrote that “Unlike nearly all his contemporaries, Shakespeare never wrote plays that put him on the wrong side of the law.”

I have read this claim quite often as I read books about Shakespeare.

It begs the question: did the Bard ever go to the big house?

I think it is quite possible that he did. In fact, I think it was almost inevitable for a playwright to face some kind of incarceration, or at least be detained in prison, during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Ben Jonson was the most famous repeat offender of them all. I think he prided himself on being a scofflaw and jailbird.

Ben Jonson
The Most Wanted playwright/criminal 

He was put in prison for his controversial Isle of Dogs play in 1597. Two of the actors were put in prison, too. Thomas Nashe, who co-wrote the play, skipped town. 

But Nashe was no stranger to jail, having been sent to Newgate prison in 1593 for an offensive pamphlet he wrote.

The next year, Jonson killed an actor in a duel, and was thrown back in prison.

Ben Jonson's duel

During the reign of King James, Jonson’s play Sejanus landed him in jail again.

Only days before the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, he had party with some of the conspirators!

There is no record of his being imprisoned again, but I think it is highly likely that he was put in jail, or at least detained for questioning.

It is important to understand that Jonson’s plays were often performed by Shakespeare and his fellow actors. 

Shakespeare and the King’s Men performed the controversial Sejanus play, for example. So, it is hard to believe that only Jonson would be punished. Shakespeare and the actors were all complicit in the act of performing the play.

In other words, if Shakespeare was so famously cautious, if he was so good at behaving and never offending the authorities, why would he perform Sejanus? He must have known that the play would provoke a reaction.

Other playwrights had spells in prison, especially Christopher Marlowe. In 1593, he was interrogated and died soon after.

Christopher Marlowe
playwright / spy / repeat offender

His flatmate, Thomas Kyd, was imprisoned and tortured during the same period. He died a year later, probably due to his injuries.

Thomas Dekker was in prison twice. The second time, he was there for seven years!

So, it is entirely likely that Shakespeare could have been thrown in jail, for owing money, or for having offended someone in his plays.

There are some specific moments in Shakespeare’s biography where he could have been imprisoned.

In the 1590’s, Shakespeare created a farcical character named Sir John Oldcastle. 

William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham, was very offended by this character because that was the name of his very real ancestor.

Cobham was a member of the Queen’s Privy Council, and with his kind of power, Shakespeare could have faced severe punishment.

Shakespeare changed the name of the character to Falstaff.

Falstaff could have landed Shakespeare in jail

Shakespeare’s 1595 Richard II play was censored. 

The scene in which King Richard II is deposed had been cut out of the printed quarto versions. It was not until 1608 that the deposition scene appeared in print. We don’t know if the deposition scene was performed on stage.

If there was ever a moment when Shakespeare could have been put in The Tower, or Newgate prison, or Marshalsea, it was this one scene in this Richard II play. 

It might be considered the most controversial scene in any one of his plays. Even if he did not face prison, he would have been watched very closely by the authorities and the censors.

During the reign of King James, it is quite likely that Shakespeare could have been punished with jail time after the controversial play, The Tragedie of Gowrie.

The play was based on the real-life events of King James, who was kidnapped, and who was rescued in a big brawl. It had been a big scandal in Scotland, and the 1604 play was even more scandalous.

King James rescued from his kidnappers

The play was banned after only a couple of performances, and the play has been lost to history. It is very possible that it was destroyed.

We don’t know who wrote the play, but it is very improbable that anyone other than Shakespeare would have even dared to write a play about King James.

So, here are three very good examples of how Shakespeare could have faced prison time.

But let’s look at it another way.

Knowing that he wrote controversial plays, and was a known associate and colloborator with controversial playwrights like Jonson, let us assume that he never went to jail.

If that is true, that he was never punished for his plays, then that leads to other questions, questions that are never explored.

 How is it conceivable that he did not get punished?

I think the only answer to that question is that he had some very powerful artistic patrons. These patrons blocked him from any and all threats by the monarch, or by disgruntled and offended men like Lord Cobham.

Lord Strange
Shakespeare's first patron

Shakespeare had many patrons in his life, including Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange and Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton.

I have written about these men quite often in this blog. The one point I want to make here is that if Shakespeare was never punished for his plays it was because he was protected by men who had real power.

Most Shakespeare scholars are reluctant and or unwilling to connect Shakespeare to men like these, and do not understand how intimately connected Shakespeare was to the royal courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James.

Shakespeare was not some jobbing playwright who sat around in taverns and cheated on his wife with pretty women, even if they were as alluring as Gwyneth Paltrow.

He was as much a part of the royal court as the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Steward, and Lord Admiral.  

So, did Shakespeare go to prison?

I think he did.

But if he didn’t, then it was because his power was greater than we have been taught.


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