Will Kempe – Shakespeare´s clown

When William Shakespeare wrote his plays, he didn´t do it for any random actors, but 800px-Will_Kemp_Elizabethan_Clown_Jigspecifically for his own company – first called The Lord Chamberlain´s Men and after the accession of James I The King´s Men – and most likely with the different actors in mind for specific parts in each plays.

In the company there was also a “clown”, the one to get the particularly comical parts, and the first one of these was William – or Will – Kempe.

It isn´t known for certain where Will Kempe was born, or who his parents were, but there are theories that he may have belonged to the Kempe family of the manor Olantigh in Kent.

Will Kempe started his career as an actor in Leicester´s Men, the company receiving its patronage from the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley, and he is first mentioned performing at Leicester House in May 1585 together with the company and he toured with them in the Netherlands and Denmark.

Already in 1583 Leicester´s Men had begun to be slightly depleted when several of it´s members jumped ship to instead join the newly formed Queen Elizabeth´s Men, which had been created on the direct order of the Queen herself. In 1588 the Earl of Leicester died, and the theatre company, which he had endorsed, ceased to exist all together. In 1593 Will Kempe resurfaced in Lord Strange´s Men which consisted of retainers of the household of Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange. It the very same year the company changed its name to Lord Derby´s Men, as Ferdinando Stanley came into his father´s title.

By this time Will Kempe had started to become known, both to the audience and his fellow actors as a great comical talent, and he stayed with Lord Stange´s/Lord Derby´s Men for only a year, and joined The Lord Chamberlain´s Men in 1594 where just that talent was put to good use in roles such as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, Peter in Romeo and Juliet and, as already mentioned, Falstaff and most likely Lancelot Gobbo in the Merchant of Venice as well as Bottom in A Midsummer Night´s Dream.

He may also have been the original Falstaff, but this is less certain. In the introduction to the 19th century print of Kempe´s own book, “Kemps Nine Daies Wonder Performed in a Daunce from London to Norwich”, which there will be more about later in his post, the Reverend Alexander Dyce also states that he most likely played the parts of Launce in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”, Touchstone in “As you like it”, one of the grave-diggers in “Hamlet”, Justice Shallow in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and he supposedly also had a part in “Every Man in his Humour” by Ben Jonson, written in 1598 and performed by The Lord Chamberlain´s Men.

Will Kempe stayed with Shakespeare and The Lord Chamberlain´s only until 1599, and while the reason for him leaving isn´t documented, scholars have suggested that it was a result that William had had enough of his improvising on stage, and it has been said that Shakespeare made a reference to this conflict in Hamlet, where the following lines can be found in act 3, scene 2;

“And let those that play  your clowns speak no more than is set down for them; for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh  too.”

Others suggest that he left because he had been denied a role in Hamlet.

Kemp's_Men,_Chapelfield_Gardens_-_geograph.org.uk_-_167501After the departure of Will Kempe from the company, Shakespear´s comical roles are said to have changed, and there are indications that Will Kempe had a physical way of acting which may have been hard for his successor to follow.

His ambition was to find another outlet for his comical talent, and one way of doing so was to, in 1599, embark on a Morris dance from London to Norwich, a distance of almost 100 miles which took nine days spread over several weeks (23 days all in all) from start to finish, and resulted in a book penned by Kempe himself; Kempe´s Nine Daies of Wonder.

If searching for information of Kempe´s Morris Dance, it should be noted that the year varies between 1599 and 1600, which allegedly has to do with differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendar, and that notes may have been changed after the fact.

In 1599 Ben Jonson wrote a sequel to his Every Man in his Humour, called “Every Man out of his Humour”. This too was played by The Lord Chamberlain´s Men, the irony being that while Will Kempe was missing from the cast, he was very much present through a line in the play, alluding to his Morris dancing that very same year;

“Would I had one of Kemp’s shoes to throw after you!”

A year later he supposedly left England to tour Europe, returning in 1602, when he joined the acting company Worcester´s Men, but at the same time, he is said to during 1601 have borrowed money from the theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe.

Just as only assumptions can be made when it comes Will Kempe´s background, this is also the case for when and where he died. He is mentioned one last time in Philip Henslow´s diary from 1602, and after that there is “silence”.

Some scholars believe him to have died in the plague in 1603, when one of the biggest outbreaks occurred, but no sources exist to really substantiate this. In parish records for St. Saviour in Southwark, there is a mentioning of “A man, Kempe” which died in late 1603. There is however no way of knowing that this is the right Kempe, but facts remain that he was never heard of again after this year.




William Kempe – Amanda Mabillard, Shakespeare Online, May 31, 2016.



A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964 – F.E. Halliday


The Elizabethan Stage – E.K. Chambers


Shakespeare A to Z – Charles Boyce


The Shakespearan Stage 1574-1642 – Andrew Gurr



Will Kempes Nine Daies of Wonder : Performed in Daunce from London to Norwich – Will Kempe/Camden Society/Gutenberg Project


Wood carving of Will Kempe in Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich – Graham Hardy/Wikimedia Commons

Will Kempe. Nine Daies of Wonder – Wikimedia Commons

Lily´s Grammar

Latin was a fundamental part of the learning in any grammar school in the 16th century, and as the name of the school from the beginning indicate; Latin grammar in particular.

Any student who ever entered this kind of school would have encountered it; Lily´s Lily´s Grammar1Grammar, written by William Lily, the first headmaster of St. Paul´s school in London.

William Lily was born in or around 1468 in Odiham, Hampshire. No much is known about his childhood, and his parents remains, at least to me, anonymous, but at the age of 18 he entered the university of Oxford, allegedly Magdalen College, for studies of the arts. It has been suggested that he chose this college due to the fact that William Grocyn, scholar and supposedly godfather of William Lily, was the reader of divinity at Magdalen College at the time.

In 1488 Grocyn went to Italy to study Greek and Latin, and it may be that this too was an inspiration to William Lily, because after graduating for Oxford he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and upon his travel back to England ended up in Rome, by way of Rhodos. In Rome he attended lectures by the Renaissance humanists Angelo Sabino, Giovanni Sulpizio da Veroli and the controversial, to say the least Guilio Pomponio Leto. From there he continued to Venice to attend further lectures, given by who is unclear.

Upon returning to England, he became one of the first scholars in Greek, together with William Grocyn and Thomas Linacre who founded the Department for Greek Studies at Oxford.

Among his friends, once back in England, could be found, apart from Grocyn and Linacre, Thomas More, Erasmus and John Colet.

William Lily is thought to have been the first to teach Greek in the city of London, first as a private teacher alongside the teaching of grammar. In 1510 John Colet, who was dean of St. Paul´s, founded St Paul´s School, and started searching for a headmaster of the school. His first choice for the position seems to have been Erasmus, who for some reason was not interested. The second choice was William Lily, who started at the school in 1512 and shaped the school into a model of classical studies.

Lily´s GrammarAt some point between his return to England and his acceptance of the position as the first headmaster of St Paul´s School, it is said that William Lily considered becoming a priest, but whether he decided against it because he met Agnes, or he had already chosen another career path when he met her, but marry Agnes he did, and during the 17 years their marriage lasted, they had 15 children together, of whom only two survived their father. Agnes herself died at the age of 37, probably in 1517.

But it isn´t primarily for his position as a pioneer for Greek learning that William Lily has come to be remembered. It is for his work “A short introduction to Grammar”, a school book in Latin which came to be in use all the way into the 19th century. The book was instigated by Colet and edited by Erasmus. After William Lily´s death parts were added, and the final result didn´t appear until 1540. In 1542 Henry VIII proclaimed it to be the only book on the subject to be used in grammar schools, and over the decades to follow, it was so widely used that it has a part of its own in four of the plays by William Shakespeare; The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, Titus Andronicus and Henry IV Part I. The book was divided into two parts, the second one being “Brevissima Institutio seu ratio grammaces cognoscendae”, which is believed to have given Shakespeare himself maybe his first contact with poetry, as the book partly consist of the poem “Carmen de Moribus.

He also wrote prose in both Latin and Greek.

William Lily died in 1522, around the age of 54 years. The reason for his death is in some sources suggested to have been the plague, which seems to have taken his wife and several of his children, but others suggest that he died from an operation having gone wrong when trying to remove an inflamed boil.

He was buried in the north churchyard of St Paul´s cathedral, destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, and his name is among those of the memorial that can now be seen the cathedral.


Luminarium Encyclopedia Project

 Repertorium Pomponianum

 Dictionary of National Biography – Joseph Hirst Lupton

 Linacre, Thomas – Dictionary of National Biography/Sidney Lee

 Shakespeare and his world/Lily´s Grammar – Prof Jonathan Bate, University of Warwick/Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Evil May Day 1517

As desperate people come to Europe in the hope of a life in peace, intolerant forces brew. Unfortunately the intolerance is nothing new, as the below text will show, even if the “foreigners” in 16th century London were mainly French, German and Dutch, but even during the 16th century there were voices raised against this intolerance, as the excerpt from Shakespeare´s play about Thomas More, that I have chosen to include in the spirit of the anniversary, as well as a sign that there will always be a voice of reason.

On this day in 1517 a riot, which has gone down in history as Evil May Day, broke out in London. Allegedly it was the reaction to an inflammatory speech held on Easter Tuesday by one Dr Bell at St. Paul´s cross where he had called for all Englishmen to “cherish and defend themselves and to “hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal”.

During the weeks following the hateful speech, there were several attacks on foreigners as well as a rumour saying that on May Day, the city would rebel and slay all aliens.

The rumours worried the mayor and aldermen and they announced a curfew on the night of April 30th. This did not help, or stop the riots, during the night towards May 1st around 1 000 men gathered in Cheapside, freeing prisoners already apprehended for having attacked foreigners in the previous weeks.

Hans_Holbein,_the_Younger_-_Sir_Thomas_More_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe mob proceeded to St. Martin Le Grand, an area north of St. Paul´s Cathedral where several foreign families lived. When arriving there they were confronted by the under-sheriff of London, Thomas More who attempted to calm them down and persuade them to return home, but his attempts to defuse the situation came to nothing when the frightened inhabitants of St. martin started throwing stones and hot water from their windows, something which led to an even more heated situation.

The mob started looting the homes of foreigners, but the riot was over by 3am that same day, and 300 men had been arrested. No one had been killed, and most of the rioters would eventually be pardoned, ironically after a plea to the king from Katherine of Aragon who herself was a foreigner.

However, 13 of the rioters were convicted of treason and executed on May 4th, and a few days later the broker John Lincoln – believed to have been the instigator of the hate speech held during Easter, in that he had persuaded Dr. Bell of “the dangers foreigners posed against those born in London – was executed as well.

Many years later, William Shakespeare would let Thomas More give a speech, partly written in Shakespeare´s own hand and as tragically current today as it would have been on that May Day 499 years ago.


Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise

Hath chid down all the majesty of England;

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,

Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,

Plodding tooth ports and costs for transportation,

And that you sit as kings in your desires,

Authority quite silent by your brawl,

And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;

What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught

How insolence and strong hand should prevail,

How order should be quelled; and by this pattern

Not one of you should live an aged man,

For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,

With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,

Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes

Would feed on one another.

……You’ll put down strangers,

Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,

And lead the majesty of law in line,

To slip him like a hound. Say now the king

(As he is clement, if th’ offender mourn)

Should so much come to short of your great trespass

As but to banish you, whether would you go?

What country, by the nature of your error,

Should give you harbor? Go you to France or Flanders,

To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,

Nay, any where that not adheres to England,—

Why, you must needs be strangers. Would you be pleased

To find a nation of such barbarous temper,

That, breaking out in hideous violence,

Would not afford you an abode on earth,

Whet their detested knives against your throats,

Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God

Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants

Were not all appropriate to your comforts,

But chartered unto them, what would you think

To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;

And this your mountanish inhumanity.

Henry VIII – Lucy Wooding


Henry VIII – Jasper Ridley,

The face of William Shakespeare?

There are many things surrounding William Shakespeare which is shrouded in mystery, one is how he may have looked and whether the portraits Cobbe, Chandos and Droeshout may answer that question. Below Steven Wadlow tells of how the painting haning for years in his childhood home turned out to be a possibly contemporary of a man that very well may be the Bard.

When and how did you realise that the portrait in question might be William WadlowShakespeare?

Having just turned 50, I have known the Portrait all of my life. My father (now retired) was an antique dealer and picture frame restorer and he acquired it many years ago. As a child I was rather wary of it, as it followed you around the room, like the portraits in Scooby Doo! It has been hanging on the wall in the corner of the sitting room in a small 200- year old house on the corner of a road called Chapel Street in the Shires. I say this, as it is rather ironic that Shakespeare’s home in Stratford upon Avon was on the corner of Chapel Street and so if it is The Bard, he should have felt at home! Alas, he no longer sits on the wall and is now in safe storage and we hope that it will not be too long before he can be displayed for all to see.
For all of the time he has sat quietly on the wall, we have sometimes wondered whom he may be, but I confess, most of the time he has sat there quietly and anomalously. But, to get to your question, early in December 2013 my parents were watching a Time Team Special about the excavation of Shakespeare’s home ‘New Place’ and during the course of the program an image of Shakespeare (that my parents had not previously seen) was frequently used. The image was The Cobbe portrait (that had only been ‘discovered’ as a probable portrait of the Bard some four years previously). On seeing this image my parents both thought it looked similar to the portrait hanging above their television and called me, saying that they thought our portrait may be Shakespeare and I should have a look on the internet to see what I thought.


Cobbe portrait

I did have a quick look, thought it similar, but to be honest, I thought no more of it. At that time we had no idea what a discovery this would be and what a tenuous area  Shakespeare’s portraits were, indeed I thought they were probably ‘ten a penny’ and I was slightly put off by the Coat of Arms on the portrait bearing no resemblance to the Shakespeare arms. And then there was a remarkable coincidence, after all of these years with little comment, a neighbour visited my parents’ home for Christmas drinks a couple of weeks after the Time Team program and brought with them their mother who had not visited before. When she came into the sitting room she commented that she liked the “copy of Shakespeare on the wall. My father took it off the wall and showed her it was not a copy and I think she had to sit down and have a drink! It turned out that the lady lectures in art and Literature (although not a Shakespeare expert). She pointed out that we should really look into it further, thus the start of my research.

How have you gone about your research?

I have to admit straight away, that although I have always enjoyed research and History I not a researcher, I also ashamed to admit, that prior to my research beginning I knew very little about Shakespeare’s work or his life. I have since learned a great deal about his life (but I am still very ignorant regarding his works, but that is something I am trying to address). I have found his life absolutely fascinating and I am fascinated by the period in general, so if nothing else, this whole episode will have ignited a passion for learning about him and the period that will I am sure remain with me for life. So far as researching the portrait and Shakespeare’s life, I started (and apologies to my family) from scratch, basically on the internet and then reading any book I could get hold of on portraits of the period and Shakespeare.


Chandos portrait

I was not sure if our portrait was Shakespeare, it did not at first site look to me like the Droeshout or the Chandos, but I could see similarities with the Cobbe. I watched a video called Battle of Wills about the research into the sanders portrait and copied their pattern of research to a degree. I made very crude cut outs (scaled) and did my own version of ‘photo shop’ (which I do not have) and I could see there were in fact many similarities, but I was not sure if I was convincing myself from a biased angle. The first thing I wanted to do was find out about the Coat of Arms and so I corresponded with the College of Arms, where ‘Chester Herald’ Timothy Duke was most helpful and confirmed that the Coat of Arms on our portrait did not exist and was a poorly added addition (a fake). He recommended that we have the portrait x Rayed as original ‘arms’ may be found beneath.
I took the portrait to the top experts and connoisseurs who confirmed the age correct to Shakespeare’s period and whom were all impressed at what a fine portrait it is. We then took it to The Hamilton Kerr Institute at Cambridge University for X Ray and other tests. The X-Ray confirmed that there was indeed something previously beneath where the (fake) Coat of Arms now is and it also revealed that a shield shape was on the other side beneath over paint and this is very likely a coat of arms now hidden. I then contacted a Shakespeare Historian & author, Simon Stirling, who had been researching Shakespeare portraits for his opinion, which was very positive.

We then had some actual photo shop mergers done with the Cobbe, Chandos and Droeshout, all of which were impressive, although amateur. Last summer I took the portrait to Lumiere technology in Paris (in the new lately for their work and discoveries regarding The Mona Lisa), to see if they could discover what was beneath the over paint and this research is ongoing. They did though, from the initial test, believe that the portrait was painted from life and they also made a professional video merger of the Portrait and the Droeshout, which is very impressive. In fact the only area that appears different is the one area that X ray showed had been re painted / changed.

What has the reception been so far?

In a word, ‘Mixed’. I really do believe from all I have learned, discovered and seen that this is a portrait of William Shakespeare. I also believe and understand that to many, this is “Too good to be true”. We are somewhat stuck in so much as we really need a heavy weight academic ‘scholar’ behind us, but this is difficult without a ‘Heavy weight’ Institution behind us, and we cannot get such an institution behind us without the scholar!

As one art historian put it, “I cannot help investigate based on the portrait being Shakespeare, there are too many academic ships wrecks on that shore”! This is of course rather frustrating, as even though I am convinced and other have agreed, the people we need to take this seriously for it to move forward, aren’t, as it is easier to say no, rather than yes and then be proven wrong. It is a shame as we are not actually asking anyone to say THIS IS WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, we are asking for them to take the possibility seriously and help us prove that it is, or indeed is not! It is clear that no portrait of Shakespeare will turn up with a full provenance, none has yet.

Therefore, if we have a portrait that looks as though it could in fact be a life portrait, should we ignore it or try to find out more? One last point on reception so far. At the beginning I naively thought that the owners of the other portraits suspected (as none are proven) as Shakespeare may assist me. Wrong!  Let’s just say that the response from some showed a degree of what I believe was serious concern of a new kid on the block, and their comments rather than put me off, convinced me further that I am correct!


Droeshout portrait

You have speculated around the fact that Shakespeare may have been Catholic, what made you think that might have been the case?

Of course, the possibility of Shakespeare being a ‘secret’ catholic, or at the least a catholic sympathiser is not a new idea. The debate on his religious beliefs has raged for years. It is not really something I had ever thought about or believe would really matter, but as I have said, my research has included the reading of many articles and books about Shakespeare and his life and the catholic angle keeps coming up and seems to be suggested by some historians far more educated in the matter than me. It is something one has to decide for one’s self, but from what I have read, understanding the times, his families links with well-known Catholic families, his families previous beliefs & parts of his works that some think may allude to the faith, I personally believe that it is likely that he was Catholic (I am not, so I have no agenda on this) or at the least it should not be ruled out.

One can understand how that, if so, may have posed a problem during Shakespeare´s own lifetime, only decades after the suppression of the Monastic system, but you suggest that it, if confirmed, could be less than favourably received even today, why?

I do believe that there may be elements of society ‘even today’ that may not favourably receive the news that Shakespeare was Catholic. But I do not want to believe it and hope that I am wrong and indeed would be happy to be wrong.

My thoughts on this and I am no expert and would happily be corrected, is that whilst England (and I say England deliberately rather than the UK) is an extremely tolerant country of race and religion there are (as expect there are in most countries) bound to be undercurrents of distrust, fear or scepticism regarding religions other than ‘your own’, of course these are unfounded and unspoken, but to some they are there. With England, over the last few centuries since the late 16th century, not so now, the ‘enemy’ (for want of a better word) was generally Catholic / or Catholic countries, of course, James 1st tried to court both Catholic and Protestant nations, but generally the anti-catholic feeling was prevalent in the country from then and onwards.

This did not lessen as late as Victorian times, which, let’s face it were really only just over a hundred years ago! This may seem like a long time ago, but this is brought into perspective, when you realise our current queen is 90 this week! The Victorian era was one where there was much ‘ant-catholic’ sentiment, through news articles, pamphlets and even in a type of propaganda through fictional books. This ‘anti-Catholic’ atmosphere was far less prevalent after the second world war, but even if we look to the last half century, the ‘troubles’ in Ireland did not help with Catholic / Protestant relations and again thankfully things now are much better as they should be.

But the point is this, the English for the last few hundred years have had this ‘drummed’ into them through History lessons, books and media, not obviously lately, but nevertheless there. It is very difficult for a Catholic to be Prime Minister, there are restrictions on the royal family (although this has been improved lately). And so I think it is very likely that there are likely to be elements of the English establishment event today, which would be less than enthusiastic about England’s greatest cultural export turning out to have been Catholic. I am sure though, that overtime, this will become less and less of a problem.

Do you at the moment see a point where your “suspicions” that the painting is indeed a previously unknown painting of William Shakespeare will be confirmed?

Bearing in mind that (although I believe they are) The Chandos & now the Cobbe are not 100% proven to be Shakespeare and I believe, now, never can be & even the much researched ‘Sanders’ meets objections from many scholars (I am not sure about that one), my answer is a definite YES.
Our portrait has a certain mystery to it and all that have seen it, (including technical research) agree that whoever the sitter is, at some point there has been a deliberate attempt to disguise the identity. Which has of course worked, and would explain why no one realised it was Shakespeare (if it is) many years ago.
We are confident that beneath overpaint is inscription and a coat of arms or crest of some type. If we are unlucky, these have been completely scratched off and then, no we will never know, but if they were completely scratched off, we would not (I believe) be able to see the shield shape in the X Ray) and so I am confident that we will be lucky and find what is beneath. This will then prove that tis portrait is William Shakespeare, or that it is not! The real question is when?  We are nervous and reluctant to have the overpaint physically removed to find what is beneath, as careful as restorers are, it is not 100% safe and any ‘accident’ could then result in any evidence beneath being wiped away for ever.

This is why we are publicising our predicament in the hope that at some point an institution may come forward with technology that can see what is beneath for us, without physically interfering with the portrait. We have taken it to such a place in Paris, but they are a commercial enterprise and thus can only assist us to a point. That said, they are so interested, that their research is ongoing for us, but commercial work has to come first and their work on the Mona Lisa took over ten years! Thus we are keen to have other different technical analysis carried out alongside that research. If at all possible.

Theories of identity – the alleged Shakespeare mystery

Some subjects, in history or in our time, can be a bit like a hornets nest. It shouldn´t be touched or poked, because the risk is that you will be severely stung. But probably against better judgement, I will try to approach the theories existing around the identity of William Shakespeare.

I will yet again stress that I personally hold the very firm belief that William Shakespeare was the man born in Stratford to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, but some people don´t, and I´m curious enough to take a peak at what they actually believe, and why.

Let´s start out with the ones that has been lifted as potential candidates. Some years ago, the film Anonymous came and went, and at the bottom of the plot was the Oxfordian theory which holds as a fact that the real Shakespeare was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Edward-de-Vere-1575This is seemingly the most popular theory and contains a fair amount of conspiracy theory, namely that records has been falsified to protect the identity of the real author. It was first presented in the 1920 by Thomas Looney, an English writer to whom it was inconceivable that a person further down the social ladder than a nobleman could possibly create the work that William Shakespeare, the son of a glover, did.

There are no links to connect de Vere to the actual work of Shakespeare, and in absence of evidence, that absence has come to in itself be evidence for the Oxfordian following, a so called argument from silence.

The proof for the true identity of Shakespeare, according to Oxfordian theorists, are similarities between the life of Edward de Vere and Shakespeare´s plays, longer poems and sonnets. This would of course mean that a large number of his work would in fact be biographical. One also point out similarities in language, idioms and thought in Shakespeare´s work and surviving letters and poems actually written by de Vere.

In this case, one could on the other hand argue that no man is an island, and that it isn´t that rare to find similarities between two contemporary men without coming to the conclusion that they are one and the same.

That no plays exist under de Vere´s own name is taking as further evidence, as one is of the opinion that he may have been one of several writers suppressed during the 16th and 17th century, one of the “anonymous”. Edward de Vere died in 1604, at which point the world had another 12 plays penned by Shakespeare to look forward to.

This is by Oxfordian’s explained by stating that a dedication to the Sonnets implies that the author was dead previous to the publication, and that the plays written after 1604 are the work of collaborators of de Vere.

In one of the many branches of the Oxford theory one also find a love child of de Vere´s and Elizabeth I who, as an homage to his father’s nom de plume, adopted the stage name William Shakespeare.

Other circumstances considered evidence by the Oxfordian’s are de Vere´s connections to the theatre as he was a known patron, family connections as the dedications of Shakespeare´s plays are to actual or proposed husbands of de Vere´s daughters (the earls of Southampton, Montgomery and Pembroke). On the other hand, there wouldn´t have existed many other authors at the time if a few Oxfordian’s are to be believed as there are those who think de Vere was also Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, Philp Sidney, John Lyly, George Peele, George Gascoigne, Raphael Holinshed, Robert Greene, Thomas Phaer, and Arthur Golding. The author and motivational speaker Paul Streitz has even suggested that de Vere is the real man behind King James Bible.

Common for Oxfordian’s is that they disregard evidence found by historians

The theories of another author than the man from Stratford-upon-Avon started in theFrancis_Bacon,_Viscount_St_Alban_from_NPG_(2) 19th century, and the first candidate was Sir Francis Bacon, philosopher, essayist and scientist, in the Baconian theory and his reason for writing under a pseudonym should have been that being a playwright would presumably have been that this dubious occupation would have hindered him from achieving success within his other areas.

Here, as in the Oxfordian theory, William Shakespeare himself is mostly a poster boy.

This theory was introduced by Delia Bacon, American writer of plays and short stories who eventually thought she herself was a descendant of Sir Francis (which she wasn´t). The Baconian Theory seems to be a mish-mash of misunderstandings, including the 18th century pamphlet The Learned Pig which has no references to Francis Bacon at all (here I really have to bite my, if not tongue, so the fingers I write with) and research, exposed as fraudulent, conducted by the English clergyman James Wilmot.

During the 19th century it was claimed by some that Bacon through ciphers in the text of the original plays (by Shakespeare) revealed his true identity, and while de Vere was suggested as the father of Elizabeth I´s alleged son, it was now suggested that Francis Bacon himself. The father in this version would be the favourite courtier Robert Dudley, and Robert Devereux was supposedly the younger brother.

All in all, the Baconian theory is about hidden messages, secret codes and a profound contempt for the idea that someone of a humble origin could have a profound talent, and it has rightfully been dismissed by all serious academics.

marlowe-corpuschristiThere is also the Marlovian theory, where someone I find incredibly fascinating in his own right is dragged in to the attempts to prove Shakespeare wasn´t Shakespeare; the playwright Christopher Marlowe.

This theory is based on the assumption that Marlowe was not at all murdered in Deptford in 1593, but change identity and continued writing under the assumed name of William Shakespeare. The assumptions are based on alleged anomalies surrounding Marlowe´s death and the fact Shakespeare´s name was connected with any literary work for the first time two weeks after Marlowe´s death.

The death of Christopher Marlowe was however acknowledged as genuine by 16 jurors at the time, and as he was far from unknown at the time of his passing, it´s highly unlikely that he would have lived on as another person without ever having been exposed. There *are* things surrounding both his life and his death that raise questions, but the possibility that he would have been Shakespeare is not one of them.

The funny thing about this theory, which was initiated in the 1890´s by T.W. White is that it was preceded in the 1820´s by another theory presented by an anonymous writer in The Monthly Review; that Christopher Marlowe might at one point have been a pseudonym used by William Shakespeare.

Finally, the probably least known theory, and also the one to have the least life in it; the6thEarlOfDerby Derbyite theory. In this it is suggested that the “real” Shakespeare was William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby.

Introduced in the late 19th century, by the archivist James H. Greenstreet, this is a theory that has been favoured by French writers. It is based on the discovery of letters stating that Derby was “penning plays for common players”.

Greenstreet pointed out similarities in Love´s Labour´s Lost and a pageant only held at Derby´s home. Greenstreet however died at the age of 45 before he had the chance to elaborate any further on his theory.


Seven Pillories of Wisdom – David R. Hall

 Historical evidence and argument – David P. Henige

 Shakespeare´s Fingerprints – Michael Brame, Galina Popova

 The Genius of Shakespeare – Jonathan Bate

 Hollywood Dishonours the Bard – James Shapiro, New York Times

 Forgery on forgery – James Shapiro, Times Literary Supplement

 England’s Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy – Michael Dobson & Nicola J. Watson

 The Monthly Review, Or, Literary Journal – Ralph Griffiths, G. E. Griffiths



The language of William Shakespeare

There is a scene in Black Adder where Rowan Atkinson punch William Shakespeare inShakespeare the shape of Colin Firth for the suffering he has caused endless school boys and school girls for the past 400 years, as they without result tried to find a joke in Midsummer Night´s Dream.

But while it is a recurring joke about the torment suffered primarily by English students as they were forced to read Shakespeare in school, one shouldn´t underestimate his impact on the language we all speak when we speak English, regardless if it´s as mother tongue or an acquired language later on. Surely we have all at one point stated that something or someone – maybe ourselves even – has “seen better days”? Maybe we have “come full circle” or stated that we´ve ended up with “strange bedfellows”. All of a sudden, we have without realising it, most likely, quoted William Shakespeare. It has been estimated that Shakespeare used 17 677 words in his work, plays, poems, sonnets included, and that 1 700 of those words were used for the very first time the moment Shakespeare wrote them down.

He is also considered to have borrowed freely from classical literature and languages other than English, something actually done by the entire nation during the period; it´s estimated that between 1500 and 1659, no less than 30 000 new words were added to the English language through nouns, verbs and modifiers of Latin, Greek and modern Romance languages.

quotesIn Shakespeare´s time, as well as -of course – prior to his time, English was not standardised, but as his plays became popular, it contributed to shaping a more uniform language.

Shakespeare has of course inspired other playwrights and authors, Charles Dickens and Herman Melville have been mentioned, but also more recent cultural expressions, such as lines in songs, titles of albums and films.

A few examples are given by Hepzibah Andersson in her article for BBC Culture; singer Nick Lowe, Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock borrowed from Hamlet while Iron Maiden got a quote from Richard III and Mumford and Sons found a title for an album in Much Ado About Nothing.

Whether that was done unwittingly or done intentionally, I dare not say, but I can promise you that you at some point will quote Shakespeare without thinking about it. Maybe you are visited by the “green-eyed monster of jealousy”, or you simply refer to something as “gossip”, and there he is, smiling just in the corner of your eye.



How Shakespeare influences the way we speak now – Hepzibah Andersson, BBC Culture

Words Shakespeare invented – Shakespeare Online

Shakespeare coined words now common currency – Jennifer Vernon, National Geographic News



April: Shakespeare Month

We have entered the month which sees the anniversary of the death of the Bard,702px-Shakespeare William Shakespeare. On April 23rd it will be 400 years since the greatest playwright of all times passed away in 1616, opening the door to all kinds of speculation about him, and even about who he was.

Personally I will hold on to the opinion that the man who wrote the plays was who he said he was, a man born in Stratford upon Avon, son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, husband of Anne Hathaway until I´m beyond even the slightest shadow of a doubt convinced otherwise.

I will how ever take the opportunity to explore the different theories of those who believe otherwise.

My ambition for this month, which will for the already mentioned reason, see more posts than normally about Shakespeare, is to be able to present both regular posts/articles as well as interviews with people who in different ways has dedicated parts or all of their lives to William Shakespeare, his work and legacy.

In the meantime, please check out these links for activities in related to the anniversary:



Shakespeare´s England

Shakespeare´s Globe

Shakespeare Lives


World-Wide Shakespeare

The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare

Shakespeare 400 Chicago


(where they also commemorate the 400 year annivarsary of the death of Cervantes)

Cervantes and Shakespeare

And last but not least, a European compilation

European Shakespeare Festivals Network

Grief fills the room up of my absent child – Hamnet Shakespeare

At this time 419 years ago, there is reason to think that William Shakespeare was at MTE1ODA0OTcxNzgzMzkwNzMzhome with his family in Stratford-upon-Avon. It seems he had been on tour in Kent at the time, but there is no reason to think that he may not have returned home when hearing that his son was sick.

That was an occurrence that wasn´t that common, the playwright spent most of his time in London where he had his theatre, or on the road, travelling with his company, The Lord Chamberlain´s Men, but on this day, a young boy was brought to his final resting place; Hamnet Shakespeare, the 11 year old son of William and his wife Anne Hathaway.

1024px-Shakespeare's_family_circleHe was not the only child in the family, he had an older sister, Susannah, born only six months after the marriage between William and the older Anne, but he also had a twin sister, Judith, both of the most likely named after Shakespeare´s friend and neighbour Hamnet Sandler and his wife Judith. Some scholars have suggested that the play Hamlet had lent his name from the son who passed far too early.

It has been pointed out that while for example Ben Johnson wrote heartfelt about the loss of his own son, Shakespeare himself did never really openly introduce the character of his lost child in any of his plays, and it has been suggested that since Shakespeare in reality “abandoned” his family when the twins still were just infants to pursue his career as an actor and playwright in London, only to visit on occasion, his grief may have just been brief, not least since a one out three of children at the time died before the age of 10. The explanation should have been that parents could not really “afford” to invest too much emotion into a child they may never see grown up anyway

But we all grieve differently and in an article from 2004 Stephen Greenblatt pointsHamnetDeath out that while Shakespeare during the four years that followed Hamnet´s death, wrote some of the most light-hearted plays of his production, such as The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like it, he also just the year after Hamnet´s death introduces a grief stricken mother in his play King John which includes a line that could break the heart of anyone with children in their lives; “Grief fills the room up of my absent child”.

One can of course argue that Shakespeare had hardly seen the boy since he was an infant, but as we are collectively so willing to state how little we know of Shakespeare the man, we of course know nothing of his feelings faced with the fact that he was no longer the father of a son.

Greenblatt also suggest that the grief of Ophelia´s brother in Hamlet, the play with the name so closely resembling that of the lost son, is Shakespear´s grief, that when Laertes lament the lack of ceremony at her grave, it is the Bard himself that laments the same at his son´s grave?

Only a few years after Hamnet´s death his grandfather, John Shakespeare, died, a man who is said to have had Catholics leanings in a world that had over the last decades turned more and more protestant, and one suggestion is that the play is his eulogy over both his son and his father


The death of Hamnet and making of Hamlet – Stephen Greenblatt, The New York Review of Books

Shakespeare´s Last Will and Testament

William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life – Samuel Schoenbaum

Images: Wikipedia

Baptism of The Bard

Shakespeare's_birthplace,There´s been a lot about Shakespeare of this blog the past week, and I promise that tis will be the last post about him for a while. But it was on this day he was baptized. While there has been celebrations of his birthday on the same day as he died, on April 23, fact is that no one know for a fact when he was born.

The notion that he was born and died on the same day, which also happens to be St. George´s Day didn´t become popular until after his death in 1616.
But we do know that he was brought to Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon on this day. As that by the necessity of the time – high infant mortality and a preoccupation of making the best arrangements possible for the afterlife, he was most likely baptized just a few days after his birth.

So if not on the actual St. George´s Day, the Great Bard was born sometime around the 26th of April.



Essential Shakespeare Handbook – Alan Riding


Curiousities of Shakespeare

The lives we lead are more influenced by the Bard than we probably know. And this doesn´t just entail people who are702px-Shakespeare born with English as the first language, but anyone who during his or her life span learn English, which at least in the western hemisphere include the absolute majority of us.

William Shakespeare invented 1 700 English words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.

Among the words you can thank Will for, you´ll find “birthplace” (Coriolanus, act IV), “jaded” (King Henry VI, act IV), “outbreak” (Hamlet, act II ) and many, many more. Do you even remember how often on an average week you hear the word addiction? Shakespeare used it first, and he did it in the play Henry V, act I.

Shakespeare's_family_circleWilliam Shakespeare had three children with his slightly anonymous wife Anne Hathaway, Susanna, born in 1583 (that fatal year in English history) and the twins Judith and Hamnet, born in 1585. Hamnet died at the age of 11 in 1596, and it´s maybe inevitable that some people have drawn a connection between Hamnet and the play written three years later by the presumably grieving father, Hamlet. Some Shakesperean scholars have also claimed to have found traces of the lost son in the plays King John, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar.

And why not?

When and how do you, regardless if you´re a playwright or a peasant, let go of and forget a child who died before you. If you´re a parent, and maybe even if you aren´t you know that the loss of his son stayed with William Shakespeare for the rest of his days.

Very little is known about young Hamnet, other than he and his sister are believed to have gotten their names from friends of their parents, the baker Hamlette and his wife Judith Sadler.

It is believed that Shakespeare some time in the summer of 1596 would have been reached by the disturbing news that his son was ill. It is now known if Shakespeare was in London or on tour when the news reached him, or if he was able to return to say good bye to the son he had basically left in the boy´s infancy as Shakespeare did not return to spend too much time with his family after having his breakthrough in London. Shakespeare is sometime elusive. Some will even claim that this elusiveness even include his very existence and that we don´t really know who he was. I have already stated my standpoint on this particular subject, but the elusiveness can be found in relation to the loss of his son as well. While, as I mentioned above, some scholars claim to find traces of Hamnet in a number of plays, it is also in the four years following the death of his boy that Shakespeare writes some of his most cheerful plays; The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and apparently some have chosen to interpret that as the playwrights grief to be brief at best, but as Stephen Greenblatt points out in the article to which there is a link at the bottom of this post, there are moments of the deepest loss even in these seemingly carefree plays.

As for the plays, it is commonly perceived that the absolute triumph of an actor is to be allowed to play the part of OthelloHamlet. Whether that has something to do with the number of lines anyone blessed with this part has to learn by heart, I cannot say, but fact is that this is the one character of Shakespeare with the most to say. Hamlet has 1 500 lines to memorise, while, for example, Othello has only 887 lines which, in the terms of lines itself, makes it a smaller role than Iago in the same play, who beat Othello with the amount of 1 098 lines. The largest female part in any of the bard´s plays has Cleopatra with 668 lines.

While there is a huge number of actors who have lent themselves to the characters to the plays of William Shakespeare, far too many to be listed here, there are some that absolutely should be mentioned: Sir John Gielgud who has been called the most distinguished Shakespeare actor of the 20th century and who played Hamlet at the age of 26, Sir Laurence Olivier, who fittingly made his debut in Stratford-upon-Avon. Kenneth Branagh who in his role as a director/actor brought Shakespeare to maybe a younger audience and Sir Ian McKellen who did a marvellous portrayal of Richard III in modern setting.



http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2004/oct/21/the-death-of-hamnet-and-the-making-of-hamlet/ (Stephen Greenblatt, New York Review of Books)

The Guardian/Essential Shakespeare Handbook – Alan Riding