Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

On this day in 1577 – George Gascoigne died

George Gascoigne was born in 1535 to Sir John Gascoigne of Cardington, Bedforshire. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and later enrolled at Middle Temple before becoming a member of Gray’s Inn in 1555.

Gascoigne translated two plays that were performed in 1566 at Gray’s Inn, which was considered the most aristocratic of London’s Inns of Court. The plays were ‘Supposes’ based on Ariosto’s Suppositi and ‘Jocasta which is believed to have been derived from either Euripides’s Phoenissae or Lodovico Dolce’s Giocasta. Gascoigne’s translation of Ariosto is believed to be the first comedy written in English prose and used by William Shakespeare as a source for ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.

At some point it is believed that he was imprisoned for debt and that his father disowned him, however, Gascoigne himself claims that he was obliged to sell his patrimony to pay the debts that he had contracted whilst at court. Between 1557 and 1559 he was M.P for Bedford but when he presented himself for election at Midhurst in 1572 he was refused on the charges of being ‘a defamed person and noted for manslaughter’, ‘a common Rymer and a deviser of slaunderous Pasquelles’, ‘a notorious rufilanne’, and an atheist.

Gascoigne’s own writings were first published in 1573 under the title ‘A Hundredth Sundry Flowres bound up in one small Posie. Gathered partly in the fine outlandish Gardens of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarch, Ariosto and others; and partly by Invention our of our owne fruitfull Orchardes in Englande, Yelding Sundrie Savours of tragical, comical and moral discourse, bothe leas aunt and profitable, to the well-smelling noses of learned readers.’ It was printed by Richarde Smith and the book appeared to be an anthology of courtly poets edited by Gascoigne and two others that went by the initials H.W and G.T. The book is thought to contain courtly scandal and is hinted at throughout with the use of initials and posies with Latin or English tags denoting authors in place of actual names. It was republished two years later with the shorter title ‘The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire’ with additions and edits made.

George GascoigneGeorge Gascoigne

In 1572 Gascoigne sailed as a soldier of fortune to the Low Countries where his ship was driven by bad weather to Brielle, which had just fallen into the hands of the Dutch. There Gascoigne obtained a captain’s commission and was active in campaigns over the next two years including the Middelburg siege. Gascoigne was taken prisoner following the evacuation of Valkenburg by English troops during the Siege of Leiden and was sent back to England in late 1574. He wrote his adventures in ‘The Fruites of Warres’ and ‘Gascoigne’s Voyage into Hollande’ and dedicated them to Lord Grey de Wilton.

In 1575 Gascoigne had a share in devising the masques as ‘The Princely Pleasures at the Courte at Kenelworth’ which was in regards to the Queen’s visit to Kenilworth and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. In the same year at Woodstock he delivered a prose speech in front of the Queen and was present at a reading of the ‘Pleasant Tale of Hemetes the Hermit’ which Gascoigne then translated into Latin, Italian and French and gifted it to the Queen the following New Year during the annual gift exchange with members of the court.

Gascoigne died on 7th October 1577 at Walcot Hall, Barnack near Stamford where he was the guest of George Whetstone. He was buried in the Whetstone family vault at St John the Baptist’s Church, Barnack.

George Gascoigne tombThe tomb of George Gascoigne

Film review – Bill


Ever wondered what William Shakespeare did during ‘the lost years’, with so many theories floating around the team behind ‘Horrible Histories’ have thrown their tale into the ring. A story of love, treason and a plot to kill Queen Elizabeth writers Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond could have taken it straight from the pages of a Shakespearean tale and who knows maybe Shakespeare did hand out flyers to make ends meet whilst dressed as a tomato.


We meet Bill (Mathew Baynton) as he is kicked out of the Tudor lute band Mortal Coil with another get famous scheme failed his wife, Anne Hathaway (Martha Howe-Douglas) declares it’s time to get a proper job and support the family. Bill has other ideas and sets off for that London with dreams of becoming a writer. Whilst in London he gets drawn into writing a play that will be the focal point of a Catholic plot and a comedy of errors ensues.

Throughout the film we meet King Philip II of Spain, Queen Elizabeth I and Christopher Marlowe, these historical figures along with Bill are brought to life on screen by the fantastic troupe of actors that have earned the title of heirs apparent to Monty Python. Helen McCrory is particularly captivating as the Virgin Queen. Baynton’s Bill and Jim Howick’s Christopher Marlowe have a great on screen relationship especially in their first meeting where Bill tries to teach Marlowe ‘your mum’ jokes. Simon Farnaby was outstanding as the Earl of Crawley….oh um sorry I mean Croydon! He reminded me of Colin Firth’s Lord Wessex from Shakespeare in Love but just slightly more hapless.

The jokes come thick and fast and there is something for children and adults alike as do the references to Shakespeare’s work, there is a great game in there to see how many you can spot! Normally with films set in historical times the accuracy and attention to detail goes out of the window however, this is not the case with Bill everything looks like it belongs in the era and the characters were spot on. It will also be educational for children who are beginning to learn about other eras.

I don’t think that I can fault Bill in the slightest the locations and costumes were stunning, the cast were hilarious and the plot provided plenty of laughs. There is something for everybody within the film and although the comedy is there in buckets there is still a lesson to be taken away at the end of the film.

I for one will watch it time and again and look forward to spotting even more references that I surely missed. I can’t wait to see what the cast and writers do next as I think Bill is the start of something great.

First_promotional_photo_for_''Bill''_(2015_film_release)L-R: Laurence Rickard, Simon Farnaby, Mathew Baynton, Martha Howe-Douglas, Ben Willbond and Jim Howick

On this day in 1592 – The playwright Robert Greene died

Robert Greene was baptised on 11th July 1558 at St George’s, Tombland, Norwich and attended Cambridge where he received a BA in 1580 and an M.A. in 1583 before he moved to London. There are no records of Greene ever participating in any dramatic productions during his education.

Not much is known about Greene’s youth but it is believed his works contained autobiographical remarks included a reputed journey to Italy and France. However, after a modern computer analysis of vocabulary of The Repentance it was suggested that The Repentance of Robert Greene was not actually written by Robert Greene.

According to Newcomb about Greene works he wrote;

Greene’s work evince an inexhaustible linguistic facility, grounded in wide reading in the classics, and extra-curricular reading in the modern continental languages.”

Greene wrote between 1583 and 1592 during which time he published 25 pieces of work in prose. His literary career began with the publication of a romance called, Mamillia. Greene’s romance pieces included short poems and songs. Some of his later work told stories of gentlemen and citizens being duped out of their money by rascals. The stories were told from the point of view of the rascal who has since repented.

Some of Greene’s work was unpublished during his life including ‘The Scottish History of James IV’ and ‘Alphonsus’

Greene is probably most remembered for his pamphlet ‘Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit’ in which he takes a swipe at William Shakespeare by writing;

…for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.”

Greene implied that Shakespeare stole other people’s ideas and that he complains about an actor who believed that he could write as well as if not better than those that had received an education at university. The term ‘Shakes-scene’ had never been used before this pamphlet and it gave a thinly disguised reference as to who he was talking about. However, Jay Hoster put forward the argument that Greene was in fact talking about Edward Alleyn, an actor who married Philip Henslowe’s step daughter and entered into a partnership with Henslowe.

Greene died on 3rd September 1592 his death and burial were announced by Gabriel Harvey in a letter to Christopher Bird on 5th September, it was first published as a butterfly pamphlet and then three days later it was expanded as Four Letters and Certain Sonnets before it entered the Stationers’ Register on 4th December. It is claimed that Greene was buried in a new churchyard near Bedlam on 4th September although no record of this exists.

Greene's Groat-worth of witThe title page of Greene’s Groats-worth of wit

On this day in 1594 – Thomas Kyd was buried

On 15th August 1594 Thomas Kyd was buried. Kyd was baptised on 6th November 1558 at St Mary Woolnoth Church, Lombard Street, London. The baptism record reads ‘Thomas, son of Francis Kydd, Citizen and Writer of the Courte Letter of London.’

In October 1565 Kyd was enrolled at Merchant Taylors’ School where he learnt Latin and Greek alongside music. After he left school there is little evidence of what he did next until the 1580’s when Kyd began working as a playwright.

Between 1587 and 1593 Kyd was in the service of a unknown nobleman and in 1591 was joined by Christopher Marlowe, the two men would share lodgings together. On 11th May 1593 Kyd was imprisoned after the Privy Council ordered the arrest of the authors of ‘divers lewd and mutinous libels’. His lodgings were searched and instead of finding libels they found heretic material that denied Jesus. It is believed that Kyd was tortured to learn more about this material and was told that he had received the material from C. Marlowe.

Kyd was eventually released but did not return to his previous work for the nobleman as he was suspected of atheism.

Kyd wrote many plays including The Spanish Tragedie, which was written in the late 1580’s. This play catapulted Kyd into being mentioned alongside the likes of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Other works by Kyd includes his translations of Padre di Familglia and Cornelia. He also had plays attributed to him either in part of in whole including King Leir, Edward III and Arden of Feversham. Another play has also been credited to Kyd, ‘Ur-Hamlet’, a precursor to Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

Thomas Kyd died in 1594, aged 35, and was buried on the 15th August in London.

Thomas KydPlaywright Thomas Kyd

On this day in 1564 – the plague arrived in Stratford upon Avon

On 11th July 1564 the plague arrived in Stratford upon Avon, over 200 were buried by the end of the year which equated to around 1/5th of the town’s population.

Accusations were made against the town clerk, Richard Symonds for spreading the disease across the town by allowing his servant to run errands whilst sick, although this was never proven.

In the town records for baptisms and burials alongside the record Oliver Gunne are the words ‘hic incepit pestis’ translated to ‘Here begins the plague’. The telltale signs of the plague were noted on Gunne’s body including the black and purplish spots that were associated with the disease. Few families survived the plague intact but one family that did was the Shakespeare’s which was surprising in itself as John and Mary Shakespeare had a newborn son in the home who escaped the plague untouched, the baby would go on to be William Shakespeare.

The Shakespeare’s lived in the centre of Stratford upon Avon in Henley Street and just a few houses away their neighbours would lose four of their children to the plague. Many tried to protect their homes in order to ward of the disease by keeping their windows and doors sealed, burning dried Rosemary in a chafing dish and scattering peeled onions on the floor.

The cause of the plague is often attributed to the fleas that were carried on rodents and could strike without warning. The first sign of the plague was a swelling in the groin or armpit before spreading across the body where black and purple spots would break out before attacking the rest of the body before the victim succumbed to the disease after a few days.

As Tudor medicine was not as advanced as today’s modern medicine there was no known cure for the plague and many towns had to simply wait for the disease to pass at the toll of many deaths.

144The Parish records in Stratford upon Avon documenting the begining of the plague in 1564

On this day in 1575 – Queen Elizabeth I began a 19 day stay at Kenilworth Castle

The 9th July 1575 saw a royal visit like no other when Queen Elizabeth I arrived at Kenilworth Castle, home of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and the Queen’s favourite. Elizabeth would stay here for the next 19 days, the longest she stayed anywhere during her progresses. The relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley went back to their childhood and remained throughout.

With the visit of the Queen ahead of him Robert Dudley spared no expense in renovating his home in order to impress the Queen, some rumours at the time also claimed that it was Dudley’s last chance to try and win Elizabeth’s hand in marriage.

Elizabeth arrived with four hundred staff, 31 barons and on a daily basis at least 20 horseman arrived and left delivering messages to the court.

Leicesters buildingLeicester’s Building – a series of state rooms specifically built for Elizabeth’s visit

According to records at the time Dudley did the following to his home;

  • A new tower block called Leicester’s Building that was built that would provide state accommodation to the Queen and her staff, it was originally built for Elizabeth’s visit in 1572 but Dudley improved it further for the 1575 visit.
  • A grand entrance to the castle was created in 1572 called Leicester’s Gatehouse
  • The castle’s landscape was vastly improved with new flowers and trees planted as well a bridge that was built to connect the gatehouse with the chase
  • A privy garden was created for the Queen’s personal use

Robert Langham, a member of Dudley’s staff wrote about the privy garden he said;

“a garden so appointed to feel the pleasant whisking wind above, or delectable coolness of the fountain-spring beneath; to taste of delicious strawberries, cherries and other fruits, even from their stalks, to smell such fragrancy of sweet odours, breathing from the plants, herbs and flowers; to hear such natural melodious music and tunes of birds.”

Alongside the renovations to the castle Dudley put on a wide range of entertainment including;

  • A magnificent firework display
  • Many plays one of which included Triton riding on an 18 foot mermaid in a lake alongside the Lady of the Lake and her nymphs. This play was said to inspire a scene in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • Dudley ensured his grounds were well stocked for daily hunts
  • A masque was written but cancelled due to bad weather that was called ‘Zabeta’.

Robert Langham also wrote;

In the centre, as it were, of this goodly garden, was there placed a very fair fountain, cast into an eight-square, reared four feet high; from the midst whereof, a column upright, in the shape of two Athlants, joined together a back half; the one looking east, the other west, with their hands upholding a fair-formed boll of three feet over; from whence sun-dry fine pipes did lively distil continual streams into the reservoir of the fountain, maintained still two feet deep by the same fresh falling water; wherein pleasantly playing to and fro, and round about, carp, tench, bream, and for variety, pearch and eel, fish fair-liking all, and large: In the top, the ragged staff; which, with the bowl, the pillar, and eight sides beneath, were all hewn out of rich and hard white marble. One one side, Neptune with his tridental fuskin triumphing in his throne, trailed into the deep by his marine horses. On another, Thetis in her chariot drawn by her dolphins. Then Triton by his fishes. Here Proteus herding his sea-bulls. There Doris and her daughters solacing on sea and sands. The waves surging with froth and foam, intermingled in place, with whales, whirlpools, sturgeons, tunneys, conches, and wealks, all engraven by exquisite device and skill, so as I may think this not much inferior unti Phoebus’ gates, which Ovid says, and per-adventure a pattern to this, that Vulcan himself did cut: whereof such was the excellency of art, that the work in value surmounted the stuff, and yet were the gates all of clean massy silver.”

Elizabethan gardenThe current Elizabethan Garden

During her time at Kenilworth Castle the Queen also continued to work and knighted five men, including Thomas Cecil and she also received nine people who were ill so she could touch them as it was believed that one touch from the monarch could cure any illness.

Elizabeth’s stay cost Dudley a rumoured £1000 a day, which he suffered the effects of for the rest of his life.

How Kenilworth would have looked in 1575How Kenilworth Castle looked in 1575

On this day in 1613 – Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was burned to the ground

The Globe Theatre was built in 1599 and was the home of William Shakespeare’s work; however, it was built of timber and a thatched roof. Within the theatre there were three tiers of wooden balconies and benches for the audience to sit on.

The Globe was home to many props that were used day to day within each play and this included a canon that was installed near to the thatched roof in the ‘Gods’. The cannon was loaded with gunpowder and wadding and used to create dramatic effect or in battle.

On 29th June 1613 the cannon was used during a performance of Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII to singal Henry’s arrival at a Masquerade ball at Cardinal Wolsey’s home. Sparks from the cannon fire landed on the roof and a fire quickly broke out and spread across the theatre, at first the audience ignored it believing it to be a part of the performance but eventually they all evacuated from the theatre leaving through two sets of doors, the main entrance and also an exit door.

There were no reported deaths or serious injuries but it was noted that one man’s breeches caught on fire and had to be put out with a bottle of ale.

There were two eyewitnesses to the Globe fire. First Sir Henry Wotton wrote in a letter dated 2nd July 1613 wrote;

“… I will entertain you at the present with what happened this week at the Banks side. The King’s players had a new play called All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth, which set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty even to the matting of the stage; the knights of the order with their Georges and Garter; the guards with their embroidered coats, and the like: sufficient in truth within awhile to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now King Henry making a Masque at the Cardinal Wolsey’s house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where being thought at first but idle smoak, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the ground. This was the fatal period of that virtuous fabric, wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks; only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with a bottle of ale.”


A second eye witness, Mr. John Chamberaine, wrote in a letter to Sir Ralph Winwood on 8th July 1613;

The burning of the Globe or playhouse on the Bankside on St. Peter’s day cannot escape you; which fell out by a peal of chambers, (that I know not upon what occasion were to be used in the play,) the tampin or stopple of one of them lighting in the thatch that covered the house, burn’d it down to the ground in less than two hours, with a dwelling-house adjoining; and it was a great marvaile and a fair grace of God that the people had so little harm, having but two narrow doors to get out.”


The eye witnesses disagree on how long it took the theatre to burn to the ground but it is clear that within two hours of the roof catching on fire the Globe was no longer standing.


Is this Shakespeare or a case of false identity?

On 19th May 2015 at the Rose Theatre, London, it was announced by botanist and historian Mark Griffiths that he had discovered a new likeness of William Shakespeare that had been hidden in plain sight on the pages of John Gerard’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes for over 400 years.

Shakespeare country lifeA new image of William Shakespeare as discovered by Mark Griffiths

The image Griffiths believes is now the only portrait that exists of Shakespeare that was made whilst he was still alive and he ages Shakespeare at approximately 33 years old. It all seems quite straightforward so far, the next part of the story feels like it has come straight out of ‘The Da Vinci Code’, Griffiths discovered who the portrait was of only after cracking a Tudor cipher!

Griffiths has shared his story exclusively with Country Life. He explains just how he came to the conclusion that the unidentified man on the page is Shakespeare and how he deciphered the hidden code. It was a midsummer’s night when the lightbulb or should I say candle sparked for Griffiths!

Botiny bookJohn Gerard’s The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Firstly, Griffiths identifies the other three men on the page as John Gerard, the author, Rembert Dodoens and Lord Burghley, Gerard’s patron.

Cipher Country LifeFrom the cipher Griffiths worked out that the 4 at the top of the cipher can be translated as the Latin ‘quarter’ but if you add the E that is positioned next to it that makes quatere, which is Latin ‘to shake’. If you add the diagonal line into the equation to link the 4 and E together it creates a spear so all together Griffiths claims that this clearly means ‘Shakespeare’. However, it doesn’t end there Griffiths states that at the bottom of the cipher is a W which clearly stands for William. Finally, in the centre is OR, which is the heraldic word for the colour Gold, the colour of John Shakespeare’s coat of arms. With all these added together Griffiths claims that the man stood on the fourth plinth is without a doubt William Shakespeare.

The most obvious objection to all this is that the man in the image is wearing Roman attire, why would William Shakespeare be wearing a Roman toga, holding an ear of corn and wearing a laurel wreath around his head? Well, Griffiths claims that it is homage to Apollo.

Why do all four men from different backgrounds appear on the front page of a botany book? Well according to Griffiths Lord Burghley was not only the patron of John Gerard but also William Shakespeare. He claims that it was Burghley who commissioned Shakespeare’s early poems, such as Venus and Adonis and not the Earl of Southampton. This is purely down to the fact that Burghley was Southampton’s guardian and controlled his finances until Southampton turned 21 in 1594. Therefore Burghley paid Shakespeare to write these poems and dedicate them to his ward urging him to marry, preferably his granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere. By claiming that Burghley was Shakespeare’s patron it disproves any theories that the Earl of Oxford was in fact the play writer as Burghley and his son in law Oxford openly disliked each other.

With revelation after revelation being divulged in this issue of Country Life there is still time for one more that armed with all this new information about Shakespeare Griffiths has been able to identify a new play that he now credits Shakespeare as the author of.

Not everybody has backed these new claims. Professor Michael Dobson, director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham said;

“I haven’t seen the detailed arguments but Country Life is certainly not the first publication to make this sort of claim. One has seen so many claims on Shakespeare based on somebody claiming to crack a code. And nobody else has apparently been able to decipher this for 400 years. There’s no evidence that anybody thought that this was Shakespeare at the time.”

So if it is not William Shakespeare on the page then just who could it be? Firstly, it could be an entirely fictional character made up by the artist who designed the page. It could even be Dioscorides, a Greek physician and herbalist who served the Roman Legions. His book of herbal knowledge dated 1500 years prior to Gerard’s work.


However one suggestion is that the cipher is in fact the ‘sign of four’, a mark that was used by various merchants in the Elizabethan era and in this case by the printer. The sign of four is clearly seen at the top of the cipher but it is what’s below that relates to who it belongs to. In this case it could be William and John Norton. This is further backed up by Joseph Ames in Typographical Antiquities, 1749;

“This curious folio has the mark of William and John Norton together in a cypher”

What about the two images of William Shakespeare thaShakespeare first foliot we know for certain are of the man himself? The engraving that accompanies the first folio and the effigy of Shakespeare that overlooks his grave in Stratford upon Avon were both commissioned by friends and family after his death. So they must be a true likeness otherwise they surely would not have allowed them into the public domain to accompany not only his work but his final resting place. The121refore you must assume that if it was Shakespeare on the page of Gerard’s book then someone somewhere would have documented this and as Professor Dobson said why has no one else deciphered the code in 400 years!

Above – Shakespeare’s image in the first folio

Right – Shakespeare’s effigy, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford upon Avon

What about the play that Griffiths is claiming is Shakespeare’s work? It is not so much a play but a piece of Elizabethan political propaganda. Queen Elizabeth I visited Lord Burghley at his home Theobalds, Herfordshire on 10th May 1591. It was widely believed that Burghley, now aged 70, would be retiring from his duties as Lord Treasurer and chief minister. Burghley put on a spectacular display, which Elizabeth was a part of. First she was told that Burghley would not permit her entrance unless she handed over a decree that would allow Burghley to continue in his work. This was all via an unnamed actor who was hired for his role in the entertainment.

TheobaldsLord Burghley’s home, Theobalds

During the ten day visit the actor and a colleague appeared to perform in front of the Queen. This according to Griffiths was not only written by but also performed by Shakespeare. The performance consisted of an argument between a mole catcher and a gardener and the possession of a jewelled box. They were both to put their case in front of the Queen over the ownership of the box.

Griffiths believes that this short play was designed around promoting Burghley’s son, Robert Cecil and his suitability to be Sir Francis Walsingham’s replacement as Principal Secretary. The play uses the gardener as a metaphor for Cecil and the garden as England. The mole catcher is a representation of both Burghley and Cecil and the darker side of their roles in terms of espionage. Therefore the play is telling Elizabeth that her country is safe in the hands of the Cecils.

Whether William Shakespeare actually wrote this is unknown, certainly some aspects crop up in later work but as this took place during Shakespeare’s ‘lost years’ we will never know for certain unless some concrete proof is unearthed and not all based around a 400 year old cipher.

On this day in 1564 and 1616 – William Shakespeare was born and died.

William Shakespeare was believed to have been born on 23rd April 1564 in Stratford upon Avon to John Shakespeare and his wife Mary. His exact birth date is unknown but as he was baptised at Holy Trinity Church three days later on the 26th it is assumed he was born just days before. William grew up on Henley Street in a house where his father, a Glover, also traded from. Shakespeare was an incredibly lucky child as he escaped the plague which claimed the lives of many children in the 1560’s.

Baptism recordWilliam Shakespeare’s baptism record on view at Holy Trinity Church

John Shakespeare had alongside his glove trade he was also involved in the local council starting as an ale taster and working his way up to alderman and high bailiff. In an account book of the Stratford Corporation it is noted that John had made payments to the Queens players and John would have most likely attended these performances taking his family along as well for the show, giving William Shakespeare his first taste of theatre.

BirthplaceShakespeare’s birthplace

As John Shakespeare was also an alderman within the Stratford council William was able to attend the King’s New School where he learnt Latin and the tales of Ovid, which would influence his later writings. John Shakespeare fell on hard times by taking financial risks and he soon fell into debt. In 1576 John Shakespeare resigned from the town council in disgrace and William had to leave his education behind.

King's schoolPart of the King’s School where Shakespeare attended

William Shakespeare after leaving his education incomplete most likely had to help within the family business in order to keep the family home. At the age of 18 William was married to the 26 year old Anne Hathaway. William was one of only three men under the age of 21 who married in his time. It was a hasty marriage though as Anne was already three months pregnant. The Chancellor of the Worcester Diocese allowed the marriage banns to be read only once instead of the usual three.

Six months later Anne gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, who was baptised on 26th May 1583 and two years later Anne gave birth to twins Hamnet and Judith who were baptised on 2nd February 1585.

After the birth of the twins in 1585 there are no records of Shakespeare until he appears in London in 1592 with the one exception where his name appeared in a complaints bill of a law case in the Queen’s Bench. There are many theories as to what Shakespeare did during these seven years including that he travelled north where he was employed as a tutor, he travelled to Italy either on a pilgrimage or as a spy, there is also the possibility that William joined an acting company as they passed through Stratford upon Avon. We will never really know what Shakespeare did in this time as many of the tales came after his death.

In 1592 William Shakespeare appears in London as an established actor where he is referenced in ‘Groats-Worth of Wit’ by the playwright Robert Greene who wrote

there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country’

It appears that Greene was critising William for his writing saying that he was acting above his station as an actor and trying to match the achievements of other writers such as himself and Christopher Marlowe. An apology was issued three months after Greene’s death by Henry Chettle, Greene’s editor.

At the time Shakespeare was already gaining popularity with plays such as Henry VI, Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors. These plays were normally performed by Pembroke’s Men. This early success halted when the plague caused the playhouses to close their doors. Many acting companies took to the road however; Shakespeare it appears stayed behind in London and wrote poetry, in particular, the highly successful Venus and Adonis. It was during this time that William caught the eye of the Earl of Southampton who was just about to turn 21 and he soon became Shakespeare’s patron.

In 1594 the London playhouses reopened and Shakespeare returned and joined Richard Burbage and William Kempe at the Lord Chamberlain’s Men formally Lord Strange’s Men. The company although under the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain was owned by the actors who all became shareholders. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed for Queen Elizabeth I on many occasions. Shakespeare wrote all his plays during this time exclusively for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men including Richard II, Love’s Labour’s Lost and Romeo and Juliet.

In October 1596 William Shakespeare spurred on perhaps by his father’s fall from grace when he was a child reapplied for a coat of arms on behalf of John Shakespeare it was granted to the Shakespeare’s. Three years later another application was made to combine the Shakespeare coat of arms with the Arden coat of arms.

Coat of armsShakespeare’s coat of arms above the door at the birthplace

In August 1596 William’s only son, Hamnet, died aged 11. The cause is unknown. It is unknown as well whether Shakespeare returned to Stratford for his funeral but the following year Shakespeare bought New Place, the second largest house in Stratford. Shakespeare paid just £60 for the house, which was considered cheap for the day. In 1598 Stratford Council ordered an investigation into the hoarding of grain. A bad harvest had caused the price of grain to increase as well as an increase in illegal trading. New Place was surveyed and it was recorded that the house contained ten quarters of malt. Around the same as other households in the area including the schoolmaster and vicar.

New PlaceNew Place once the second largest home in Stratford, now demolished

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed in The Theatre, Shoreditch. They briefly moved to Curtain Theatre in 1597. On 29th December 1598 following ongoing disputes with The Theatre’s landlord, Giles Allen, who owned the land in which The Theatre stood. Burbage and his brother Cuthbert along with the acting company and workmen dismantled The Theatre and transported it across the river to Southwark where it was rebuilt as The Globe Theatre. Five members of the acting company including William Shakespeare were offered the chance to become shareholders for the cost of £10. As well as performing Shakespeare’s plays The Globe Theatre also played work by Ben Johnson and Christopher Marlowe.

Globe TheatreThe modern day Globe Theatre situated yards away from the original plot

William Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became embroiled in the Essex Rebellion of 1601 when they were commissioned by some of Essex’s supporters to put on Richard II in the hope that the scenes of Richard being overthrown would inspire the audience to overthrow Elizabeth. The company were investigated and learnt that they had been offered 40 shillings to put on the play, which was more than their normal fee and so they agreed. The company went unpunished as it was clear that they had no further involvement in the plot and they even performed for Elizabeth at Whitehall the day before Essex was executed.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men and fell under the patronage of King James I.

In 1604 Shakespeare was living close to St Paul’s Cathedral as a tenant of Christopher Mountjoy. Mountjoy was a wig maker and his apprentice Stephen Bellott wanted to marry Mountjoy’s daughter. Shakespeare acted as a negotiator when details of the dowry were being sorted out. The couple married but eight years later Bellott attempted to sue his father in law for failing to pay the dowry in full. William Shakespeare was called to testify in court but records show that he said that he remembered little of the events.

Back in Stratford in 1605 Shakespeare purchased shares in the tithe leases for £440 which gave him and his family an income from grain, hay, wool, lamb and many other items. In 1607 Shakespeare went on to purchase farmland of 107 acres for £320. Shakespeare was becoming a prominent businessman within Stratford and it appears he invested his money in order to support his family.

In 1609 the London theatres were once again closed as the plague again spread throughout the city. It is believed that Shakespeare had decided to retire to Stratford around this time. He still made frequent visits to London for business including the above court case regarding his former landlord. After 1610 Shakespeare wrote less only completing The Tempest, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Henry VIII and the lost play of Cardenio. Three of these plays were collaborations with John Fletcher who would succeed Shakespeare as the playwright for the King’s Men.

In March 1613 Shakespeare finally purchased a London home, after living in rented accommodation throughout his time in the city. Shakespeare bought an apartment in a gatehouse that was part of the former Blackfriars priory. Although Shakespeare was living back in Stratford at this time he leased the apartment out to John Robinson.

William Shakespeare signed his will on 25th March 1616; he left most of his estate to his eldest daughter Susanna who had married the local doctor, John Hall. His other daughter Judith married a local winemaker, Thomas Quiney. The day after Shakespeare had signed his will Quiney had been found guilty of fathering an illegitimate son and was ordered to do public penance. This incident led to Shakespeare altering his will to ensure that Judith’s portion of his will was protected. Shakespeare also left his second best bed to his wife Anne. It is believed that the second best bed is in fact the marital bed and the best bed was kept for guests. Therefore the sentimental value was more significant.

William Shakespeare died on 23rd April 1616, aged 52. The cause was unknown as it was said that he was in perfect health. However, years later it was rumoured that Shakespeare caught a fever after drinking with Ben Johnson and Drayton. Another theory was that Shakespeare died after a cerebral haemorrhage which would suggest either a blow or fall to the head or an ongoing illness.

William Shakespeare was buried two days later at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford with his epitaph carved into a stone slab warning of anyone who thought of disturbing his bones. It reads;

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,

To dig the dvst encloased heare.

Bleste be man spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he moves my bones’

GraveThe curse protecting the bones of William Shakespeare


A monument was placed years later with an effigy of Shakespeare writing. It is believed that the monument was installed before the publication of the first folio in 1623.

MonumentWilliam Shakespeare’s monument overlooking his grave.

On this day in 1580 – William Herbert was born

William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, was born on 8th April 1580 to Henry Herbert and his third wife Mary Sidney.

Herbert had a very lively relationship history in his teens he was betrothed to Bridget de Vere, granddaughter of William Cecil. The annuity could not be agreed and so the couple never married. He moved on to Mary Fitton and got her pregnant. Herbert refused to marry Mary and as a result was sent to the Fleet prison. The child was still born and Herbert petitioned Sir Robert Cecil to be released. Herbert was freed but barred from the court. Herbert eventually married Lady Mary Talbot in 1604.

Herbert became the Chancellor of the University of Oxford and went on to found the Pembroke College at Oxford. Although barred from court for a short time he became the constable of St Briavels n 1608 and then in 1615 served as Lord Chamberlain to the Queen.

Herbert’s most lasting memory comes from William Shakespeare. Herbert was a patron of Shakespeare and is considered to be one of the candidates for Shakespeare’s ‘Fair Youth’ that Shakespeare urged to marry. Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets to Mr W.H. Many argue that this is Herbert although another candidate for the dedications was Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. When Shakespeare’s first folio was published in 1623 it came with the dedication to the “incomparable pair of brethren” of William Herbert and his brother Philip.

Herbert was a keen supporter of the arts and along with Shakespeare he was also patron for the likes of Ben Johnson, John Donne and George Herbert.

Herbert died on 10th April 1630 and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.

William Herbert