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 film versions of the plays.


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Articles Written For:


The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company


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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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Should We Open Shakespeare's Grave?


Should Shakespeare’s grave be opened?

Should we open it for the first time in history, and examine his remains?

Is there any good reason to open it?


Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon


In the days since King Richard III’s re-interring at Leicester Cathedral, there is a renewed request to open Shakespeare’s grave inside Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.

There is one particular academic who has been calling for this investigation for many years.

Professor Francis Thackeray is an anthropologist and director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and he would like to find out how Shakespeare lived and died, what he ate and drank, and if he smoked cannabis.

Did Shakespeare smoke weed? It is possible.

In the last few years, Thackeray has made some rather interesting discoveries about clay pipes which were dug up in the garden of Shakespeare’s house, New Place, that would suggest that the Elizabethans were experimenting with substances like cannabis and coca leaf (cocaine), to achieve health benefits.


Shakespeare's grave


As far as Thackeray’s desire to open the grave, he says “Given the extraordinary success of the study of the skeleton of Richard III, we recognise the potential of undertaking forensic analyses of the Bard.”

He says that the inspection could be done with great care: “We could … do high-resolution non-destructive laser surface scanning for forensic analyses, without moving a single bone.”

He goes on to say “Perhaps we may, one day, be granted the opportunity to study an extremely small sample of tooth enamel or dentine which could be analysed for DNA. Techniques for doing this have been developed, using extremely small samples.”

In a related and older interview, he also says that he would make a reconstruction of the body from the laser scan.

Also, Thackeray would like to examine the remains of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne, and his sister, who are also buried at Holy Trinity.

Perhaps the greatest mystery that such an examination could solve is Shakespeare’s cause of death, which is unknown.

Thackeray says his examination could result in a better understanding of Shakespeare’s health: “Growth increments in the teeth will reveal if he went through periods of stress or illness -- a plague for example, which killed many people in the 1600s.”




This proposal to examine his bones has some supporters it would seem, however reluctant, like Prof. Stanley Wells who was quoted by the Daily Mail “I would be happy if they did open it up because it could put an end to a lot of fruitless speculation."

Prof. Thackeray’s methods for examing Shakespeare’s grave and bones sound very reasonable and sound, even if his motives are peculiar. I too am fascinated by what could be learned from such an examination, but I could care less if Shakespeare smoked pot, or tobacco, or drank too much wine, or chewed his fingernails, etc.

I am sure that anyone who is allowed to disturb Shakespeare’s bones would do so with the greatest of care, and would never imagine doing any harm to his remains.

But if I recall correctly, as I watched the King in the Car Park documentary about the discovery of King Richard III’s skeletal remains, while an archeologist was digging him up she accidentally cracked his skull with her tool!

So you will excuse me if I am not impressed by claims that Shakespeare’s bones will not be affected by any examination.

I also think Thackeray’s comparison of the study of Richard III’s bones to Shakespeare’s bones is dishonest. King Richard’s bones were studied because they were lost, they were sought out and then discovered. Shakespeare’s bones are not lost. We know where they are. 

In my opinion, any examination of Shakespeare’s grave and bones is not archeology.

I am fascinated by the question of Shakespeare’s death. He was only 52 years old when he died. 




I would like to know how he died. But as curious as I am about every last detail of his life, work, and the world in which he lived, I do not need an answer. I think I can survive without knowing the answer. I have enough knowledge, and insight into his life, that I do not need an answer about his death. 

I have a rather good idea of what his last days looked like, and one day, hopefully sooner than later, I will share it with you. I think you will agree with me that mine is the most plausible explanation for his death.

Carved in stone covering Shakespeare’s grave is an epitaph:

Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare
To digg the dust encloased heare
Bleste be the man that spares thes stones
And curst be he that moves my bones.

It would be reasonable to assume that Shakespeare wrote this himself. Why? Because it is written "my bones." I doubt that another person would have used the word "my."

What did Shakespeare mean by this epitaph? It is clear that he doesn't want his grave opened.

I don’t think there is anything unclear about his desire not to have his bones disturbed.

Why did Shakespeare want to be left alone? 

Perhaps he feared that his bones could be stolen, for whatever reason. 

Many historical figures shared that fear. For example, Abraham Lincoln's body was almost stolen and ransomed by Chicago criminals, and was moved and put in a more secure place within his tomb. 

Also, Shakespeare’s lifetime was marked by enormous political and religious upheaval, with the Protestant Reformation, and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Perhaps Shakespeare’s epitaph is a wish to find a permanent resting place in a country and a world that was increasingly impermanent.




I have a theory why Shakespeare wrote this epitaph. He did not want to be celebrated, in London’s Westminster Abbey, for example, in Poets' Corner. He did not want his bones in a tomb, for the public to see.

He had been a famous playwright and actor during his lifetime, and instead of seeking more fame, he wanted privacy.

He wanted to be buried in the place where he was born, where he fell in love with Anne, where he married her, where he built his home, where he raised his family, where he lost his son Hamnet, where he retired to when he was facing his death in 1616.

I have every reason to believe he loved London. I am sure the idea of being buried near Geoffrey Chaucer was very appealing to him.

But Stratford-upon-Avon was his home. That is where he wanted to remain. Forever.




William Shakespeare may have been a mysterious man while lived, and has become a very mysterious figure ever since. He never ceases to fascinate us.

But instead of prying into his grave and stealing a look at his bones to determine what he looked like and what he ate and drank, we should look to his plays, look to the history of his times, and create an image of the man that is fuller, and more meaningful.


Cheers,





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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Shakespeare and Emma Watson

Wouldn’t Emma Watson be great in some Shakespeare?

Absolutely!




She was so very good in the Harry Potter series of films, and she has consistently gotten better as an actress ever since. 

With performances in Ballet Shoes, My Week With Marilyn, and especially Perks of Being a Wallflower, she also really seems to want to challenge herself as an actress. 

She was excellent in Noah, as Russell Crowe’s daughter Ila. While I didn’t agree with all of the creative choices in the film, I thought it was a bold experiment, and she deserves a great deal of credit for making that film work. I thought her role was arguably the most important one, after Noah.

She is currently filming a live action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, where she plays the part of Belle. She is just perfect for that role, and I’m sure the film will be great. 




For Shakespeare, she would be great in any number of roles — Juliet, Ophelia, Helena or Hermia, Portia, Rosalind and so on.

I would love to see her as Cordelia. She has the right combination of intelligence, strength, dignity and innocence to play King Lear’s most favourite daughter. And when she dies at the end, it would be heart-breaking.

It is very rare to see such a young actress who has so much experience on film, and such maturity on screen. And these strengths would serve her well with Shakespeare.




But I would love to see her in my Shakespeare Solved series of films.

These films take us back in time to see Shakespeare’s lifetime, and how he became the greatest writer in history. There are several roles in the films that she would be great for.

But I keep thinking of Emma as a young Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife.

Is it my imagination, or is there a resemblance?




Some scholars think that Anne and Shakespeare did not truly love each other, and that when he went to London to write plays, he had abandoned her, fell out of love, and perhaps had other lovers.

I disagree. I think they loved each other their whole lives.

It is believed that Sonnet 145 was written for and about her. 

In the sonnet, the woman sees how much love has afflicted the man, and instead of rejecting him any longer, she accepts his love and tells him that she loves him too — “I hate not you.”

Shakespeare even made a reference to Anne’s name, Hathaway, when he writes how she threw “hate away” and saved his life — when she said she loved him back.

Those lips that Love's own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said "I hate"
To me that languished for her sake.
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that, ever sweet,
Was used in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
"I hate" she altered with an end
That followed it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away.
  "I hate" from hate away she threw,
  And saved my life, saying "not you."

I think Shakespeare was very serious when he wrote that Anne saved his life. I don’t think it was just a bit of poetry. And a love like that would have been so important to Shakespeare, that he would never have abandoned her, or sought another woman.

Emma Watson would be great as the young woman who “saved” Shakespeare’s life.




What do you think?

If you agree with me that she should do some Shakespeare and / or Shakespeare Solved, please show your support on facebook, Twitter, PinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


Cheers,

David B. Schajer

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Royal Shakespeare Company Love's Labour's Won


I just saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Love's Labour's Won.

It's a great show -- and you shouldn't miss it!

It is being shown around the world, and you can find a showing here:


The RSC paired this play with Love's Labour's Lost, which I saw last week. My review of that is here.




Love's Labour's Won is considered by some to be the alternate title of Much Ado About Nothing, and after seeing Lost and Won back to back, there is a very convincing case to be made that these plays belong together. 

Rosaline and Berowne in Lost could very well be the basis for Beatrice and Benedick in Won. The innocence and playfulness in Lost turns more bitter in Won. The lightness of Lost is now heavy in Won.

Both plays benefit greatly by being put together. 

I have enjoyed Lost by itself. But now that I consider what might happen to the characters after the play ends, and think of how eventually everything will work as it should, and the lovers will be united, the journey to that happy resolution is now longer and more complicated.




I always enjoy Much Ado About Nothing, but now that I have a greater understanding of who and what Beatrice and Benedick were before that story begins, I feel like I know them even better, and appreciate them more than ever before.

One of the most important creative decisions by the RSC for these plays, besides pairing them together, is the idea to set them on either side of World War I -- with Lost set in 1914 and Won in 1918. So, at the end of Lost, Berowne and the other Lords march off to war, and at the beginning of Won, Benedick returns from war.

It is a very good idea, and it helps make the plays more meaningful in many ways, it makes the emotions much more moving. As I watched Lost, I could anticipate the horrors of war that Berowne and the other Lords would suffer, and the play becomes more bittersweet.

As I watched Won, I could appreciate how Benedick could be so hard-hearted and cold to Beatrice, and to love in general. 


Sam Alexander as Don John


Perhaps more importantly, the villainous Don John has returned from war with physical wounds. His disability made me sympathise for him at first. But then as he conspires to destroy Claudio's marriage to Hero, it became harder for me to entirely dislike him. In any event, his disability due to the war created a more complex character.

In previous productions I have seen, when Beatrice asks Benedick to fight and kill Claudio, for having broken Hero's heart at the altar, the moment is more funny than anything else. In this production, she is asking a man who has seen terrible things in war to murder his close friend. The moment here is not funny, and the implications are more compelling. When Benedick finally agrees to her request, to murder Claudio, it is a more profound decision for him.

Christopher Luscombe, the director, has done an outstanding job of creating two unforgettable plays and by combining them, elevating both at the same time. I can't wait to see them again, and these are productions well worth watching more than once.

The cast is top notch, and each actor shines, but as an ensemble they are better than their individual performances.


Michelle Terry as Beatrice


Michelle Terry is brilliant as Beatrice. She has such a command of the character, and even more amazingly is the fact that she makes sense of both Rosaline and Beatrice as almost the same character. The sweet but strong Rosaline has become a Beatrice who starts off as almost too strong, and too cold, almost unlikeable. But as the play progresses she begins to thaw and watching her melt and become sweet again is just marvellous! It breaks your heart, and I could see most of the audience break into tears of joy.


Edward Bennett as Benedick


Edward Bennett is fantastic. He makes the transition from Berowne to Benedick seem easy. I love how he finds as many opportunities to clown around on stage as possible. The many gags involving the christmas tree are priceless! As his cold heart melts and he falls in love with Beatrice, it is both hilarious and very moving. 




I hope you discover this Love's Labour's Lost and Love's Labour's Won for yourself. Together they create something of an instant classic, since they unlike any other production you have seen.

Cheers,




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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Shakespeare and Russell Crowe


Happy Birthday Russell Crowe!




He has had a very busy career in the last few years, and for the first time in his career, he has directed a feature length film, The Water Diviner, coming out later this year.

But what about Shakespeare?

You would think that a man as talented as he would have made some Shakespeare by now.

I think I have an idea why he has not done any Shakespeare, on stage or on screen.

I have written before about the fact that he was offered the role of William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love. Yes, he was could have been Shakespeare opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in that film.

As much as he loved the opportunity, and the script, he turned it down!

He didn’t think it depicted the real Shakespeare. He didn’t like the idea of Shakespeare as some romantic heart-throb ‘prissy pretty boy.’

He didn’t want a fantasy about Shakespeare. He wanted the true flesh-and-blood Shakespeare. 

He also said that he "wanted to create a body of work that would last century after century" meaning that he wanted to make Shakespeare In Love, and other films that were not just popular films and a financial successes but would have enduring appeal.

He wanted something more and something deeper from Shakespeare In Love. I am sure that he is very pleased with the success of that film, but it is not a true story of Shakespeare's life and work.





Russell Crowe is the kind of man who wants to put his mark on the world. 

Why else would he want to play Jor-El and help re-define the Superman myth? 

Why else would he want to re-imagine the story of Noah?

It would be safe to say that Russell Crowe does NOT want to make the same old Shakespeare. He wants to re-define and re-imagine Shakespeare, and make it last for a very long time. 

This may be why he has not done any Shakespeare.

If that's the case, then this is why he should do some Shakespeare Solved.

It is not the same old Shakespeare. It is not a romanticized version of Shakespeare’s life and work. It is as real a story of the events of Shakespeare’s life as we may ever know — and it presents versions of the plays that decipher and unlock the meaning of the plays for the first time. 

Now we can understand who the real Hamlet was, why Richard III was the play that made Shakespeare’s career, and why Shylock is not the villain but in fact the hero of Merchant of Venice




With my forthcoming version of Othello, now we can finally understand why Shakespeare wrote the play, what it really means, and where Shakespeare got the name Othello in the first place.

Who would Russell Crowe play in these Shakespeare Solved versions?

What about arguably the most important man in Shakespeare’s life — Will Kemp?

Will Kemp was the greatest performer on the London stage in the 1590’s. For almost a decade he was the funniest, most crowd-pleasing and talented larger-than-life actor there was. 

I think Shakespeare had two fathers — his biological father John, and Will Kemp. 

John Shakespeare inspired Shakespeare and helped light the spark of creativity in the young boy’s mind. But his father’s reversal of fortune would have been a source of shame for Shakespeare his whole life.

Kemp taught Shakespeare everything else. I think it was Kemp who taught him how to entertain a crowd, which was Shakespeare’s reason for being. But Kemp and Shakespeare may have had a falling out around 1599, and Kemp left the playing company. He disappeared from history. 




It is an indication of the importance of John Shakespeare and Will Kemp that arguably Shakespeare’s most important character (at least in the 1590’s, before Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, and Othello) was John Falstaff.

Kemp was the first actor in history to play him. It was customer-tailored to Kemp. Audiences, including the Queen herself, adored Falstaff. He made them laugh, and cry. Falstaff is the very best and worst kind of man. Falstaff was once noble, and is now less than noble.

So, it should not come as a surprise that Falstaff is based on Shakespeare’s father, John, who brought financial ruin upon his family.

What does it mean that John Shake-speare becomes John Fal-staff?

This is the kind of complex and fascinating person in Shakespeare’s life that we don’t know enough about. The story of Shakespeare and Will Kemp, not to mention the story of Shakespeare and his father John, is a story whose time has come, and should be told.

Shakespeare Solved is four versions of Shakespeare’s plays written for the screen that thoroughly re-define and re-imagine Shakespeare. 

If Russell Crowe wants to create a body of work that lasts for centuries, and change our understanding and history of Shakespeare, then this is what he is looking for.




What do you think?


If you agree with me that he should do some Shakespeare, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.


Your support will really make a difference!



And your comments are always welcome!


Cheers,

David B. Schajer


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Monday, April 6, 2015

Shakespeare and Freedom


We don’t fully understand Shakespeare today because most of us live in a free world. Shakespeare doesn't really matter to us.

I think one of the greatest difficulties we have when we read Shakespeare’s plays is not that they are 400 years old, or the archaic words he uses.

No, the fundamental difficulty we have is that we don’t understand that the language in his plays and poems was written in something of a code.

Yes, poetic language is very difficult to interpret, but Shakespeare’s language goes even further. It is a secret language, written at a time when there was very little artistic freedom and human liberty.




Shakespeare was writing what can considered dissident theatre, and his plays were artistic resistance against the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.

And in that Elizabethan/Jacobean world in which he lived, his plays really mattered. They were thrillingly and explosively subversive and politically courageous at a time when such theatre could put you in prison, or worse. 

In that world without TV, Internet and the news, Shakespeare was shouting at the top of his lungs for freedom and human dignity. We have lost touch with that understanding, are blind to what he was saying. To his audiences, every word of his mattered.




When I read this article about the present lack of freedom in the country of Belarus, and its underground theatre, it is eerily similar to Shakespeare’s England in the 1590’s and early 1600’s.

In Belarus, much of the country’s TV, film and music is “subject to harsh censorship.” Shakespeare never seems to have had too much difficulty with the Master of the Revels, Edmund Tylney — the royal censor. But other playwrights of the time did.

The fact that Shakespeare may not have been punished himself does not mean that his plays were written with any more freedom. Rather, it means that Shakespeare was better at writing poetry and plays that fooled the censors. 

Shakespeare also had the benefit of royal patrons, like the Earls of Essex and Southampton, who not only provided him with money for his work, but more importantly, provided him with political cover, and protected him from the queen.




The Belarus Free Theatre is following in the tradition of Shakespeare’s fellow actors, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which later turned into the King’s Men.

But whereas Shakespeare’s plays were tolerated for a time by Queen Elizabeth and King James, and performed openly in theatres like the Globe and the Curtain, it is illegal to sell tickets to see plays by the Belarus Free Theatre, and it has to perform underground.

After many years of persecution by the Belarusian government, many of the actors have fled the country, and reside in London.

While they still continue to put on plays in Belarus, the actors in exile have performed around the world, including New York, and even Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2012.

What play did they perform at the Globe?

They chose King Lear, Shakespeare’s greatest indictment of kings, and of King James personally, for whom Shakespeare wrote it in the first place in around 1606.




Nina Khrushcheva, the great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, is quoted in this article. What she has to say is very instructive to help us understand what Shakespeare meant to his contemporary audiences.

She said that art today, in the free world, is created with the market in mind. Artists try to sell as much as they can. But art that came out of Russia and the former Soviet Union "was created precisely because it was always under threat of the government.”

She also said that in that part of the world, in countries without artistic freedom, “everything is forbidden so everything matters.” In free countries “everything is allowed and nothing matters."

We should not assume that Shakespeare was just a jobbing playwright, who only wrote plays to make money and please the crowds. If we assume that, then we will never fully understand Shakespeare’s plays.

His plays are very political. They expressed a basic human desire for freedom and for justice. 

He wanted to see good triumph over evil, and the honest defeat the corrupt, at a time when the monarch’s power was absolute, and the royal court was crooked.

He wrote of lovers who should be able to choose whom to marry for love, and not for duty or obligation, at a time when the queen meddled and even imprisoned young women and men who fell in love -- like Elizabeth Vernon and the Earl of Southampton, for whom Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet

Why does Falstaff steal the show in the Henry IV plays, and not the king himself?  Because Shakespeare made a political choice to celebrate what was common, and denigrate what was royal. He put common men and women on stage with kings and queens to make the political point that we are all human, which means that monarchs are not divine.

Every word he wrote was a matter of life or death. If there was one word or line out of place, or too agressively political, he could have been imprisoned, or worse. 

Shakespeare wrote his plays with the fear that plague would close the theatres, or that he might write a play was too political, and would shut the theatres. The play The Isle of Dogs, by Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe almost closed the theatres in 1597. If the theatres closed, there was no promise that they would re-open, ever.


all pictures from King Lear at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

For those of us who live in a free society, we should be very grateful. While it is difficult to appreciate what it is like to live under tyranny, we should try to approach Shakespeare's writings as the words of a man who longed for and worked for freedom while he had almost none.


Cheers,


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Friday, April 3, 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard III


Like so many people around the world, I have been fascinated by the burial ceremonies for King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral.

I was very excited that Benedict Cumberbatch was involved, and even read a poem.

The poem "Richard" was written by the Poet Laureat, Carol Ann Duffy.




I had no idea that Benedict is distantly related to Richard -- he is a third cousin, 16 times removed from the king.




Perhaps that is one more reason why Benedict was so eager to play Shakespeare's Richard III for the Hollow Crown series, which he has been filming recently. Here are some pictures from that production:








In case you haven't seen the reading of the poem, here is a video:





In case you haven't read it, here is the poem:

Richard

My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; you own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name.
These relics, bless. Imagine you re-tie
a broken string and on it thread a cross,
the symbol severed from me when I died.
The end of time – an unknown, unfelt loss –
unless the Resurrection of the Dead …
or I once dreamed of this, your future breath
in prayer for me, lost long, forever found;
or sensed you from the backstage of my death,
as kings glimpse shadows on a battleground.


There are not many moments in history when the past, the present and the future all seem to align as perfectly as they seem to do now. King Richard's bones were lost for centuries, then recently found, reinterred and his life and reign memorialised by his descendent, Benedict Cumberbatch, who will interpret King Richard for us in film.

We should be consider ourselves very fortunate to witness such history.

Finally, we should thank Philippa Langley, who was the unlikeliest person in the world perhaps to discover the exact location of Richard III's bones in that Leicester car park. 



Philippa Langley with the reconstruction of King Richard's head

But she was the one who discovered it. Like that wonderful line in The Imitation Game: "Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."

I remember watching the documentary The King in the Car Park, and the archaeologists from Leicester University all treated her as if she was a lunatic. They were very dismissive of her. For example, when they found bones in the exact spot where she told them to dig, they didn't believe it could be King Richard's bones! They started digging in other spots!

It was only later that they paid closer attention to the bones in the first spot and realized what they had found. Amazing.

Philippa Langley was the woman who told them where to dig, and without her, Richard may have been lost for much longer.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer

Related Article:

Benedict Cumberbatch as William Shakespeare

Looking for Richard - The Richard III Society


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