Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

Please join over 72,000 people on facebook, Twitter & Google Plus following Shakespeare Solved ® -- the number one Shakespeare blog in the world!

Articles Written For:

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

Most Popular Posts:

1. Shakespeare's Shylock Solved 2. Shakespeare's Othello Finally Identified 3. Shakespeare In Love Sequel Solved 4. The Real Romeo and Juliet 5. Shakespeare's Malvolio Solved 6. Shakespeare's Real Petruchio

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shakespeare's Huge Blunder

Does Shakespeare sometimes seem impossible to understand?

It’s not your fault.

First of all, his plays and poems were written a long time ago.

It is hard to figure out what happened last week, let alone determine what Shakespeare was doing in London 400 years ago.

There is another reason why Shakespeare is hard to understand. He wrote in what is called Early Modern English.

It is very similar to our Modern English, but different enough to make it sometimes sound like gobbledygook.

As far as I know, Early Modern English is not commonly taught in any school. So we can be forgiven for not easily understanding Shakespeare’s words and phrases.

However, even if we did study Early Modern English, we still would find his plays and poems hard to understand. We would still be left scratching our heads.


Because he wrote in a language he thought we would all know.

But Shakespeare was wrong. 

He made a huge blunder.

Yes, even Shakespeare, a brilliant genius, was human enough to make a mistake. And it’s a whopper!

Where did he go wrong?

He expected that all of us today would know the Bible.

Image taken from 'The holi bible'. The Bishops' Bible, 1569
Wikimedia Commons

He also expected us to know Ovid, Plutarch, Aeschylus, Socrates, Aesop, and all the rest.

How could he have made such a huge miscalculation?

Because in his day the audience of his, who could read, were reading the Bible or hearing it recited aloud on a daily basis. They were also steeped in the Classics.

Minerva transforms Nyctimene into an owl
From Ovid's Metamorphoses
Wikimedia Commons

There were many people in his audiences who could not read nor write. But they knew the Bible, and they had heard Aesop’s Fables from the time they were children. 

Also, Shakespeare kept this audience, of those who could not read, entertained by all of the stage antics.

 When we just read the plays instead of seeing them performed, we miss all of the stage action and physical comedy that carries the plays along.

Don’t think that Shakespeare was writing only for the literate in the audience. Why would he? They were in the minority.

No, he wrote for the majority, who were illiterate. He wanted the widest audience possible, and that meant writing primarily for the audience who could not read.

At some point in his career, Shakespeare realized how the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament had been read and studied for thousands of years.

He also realized that the ancient Greek and Roman classics had endured for millennia.

He made an assumption that if those books had lasted so long, then they would continue to last thousands of years into the future.

All he had to do, in the hopes that his plays and poems would endure, was to write with a similar language, with similar character types and with themes similar to those found in the great books from the past.

He predicted that as long as people continued to study what was written in the past, with the Classics and with the Bible, then his plays and poems would have a future and would be understood completely.

He was half right.

Shakespeare’s work has indeed endured. We still read and perform his plays. We scrutinize his poems.

But he got the other half wrong.

It probably never occurred to him that we would ignore the great written works of the past.

It would astonish him to think that we have allowed so much great writing, and such essential history, to be dismissed and disparaged.

Do you want to understand Shakespeare? 

Do you want to solve Shakespeare for yourself?

I invite you to read the Bible and the Classics.

It is all right there.

It has been right there all along — hiding in plain sight.

 Heracles gets the Belt of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
 J. M. Félix Magdalena.
Wikimedia Commons

Once you begin to know these books, and begin to see Shakespeare for yourself, you won’t be blind to him anymore.

You will discover that Shakespeare’s life and works are not shrouded in the dark.

You will begin to understand why, in Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare named one of his characters Hippolyta -- and what that has to do with Amazonian Queen of the same name.

You are probably wondering why no one has come along and solved Shakespeare before.

Why hasn’t someone with a university degree in Theology and/or the Classics ever used the Bible and ancient Greek and Roman writing in order to translate and solve Shakespeare?

How is it possible that all it took to decipher Shakespeare was to use these great books as a cipher key?

There is a rather simple reason.

It has only been in the last 100 years or so that Shakespeare has been performed and studied with any real frequency.

Before that, many of his plays were performed infrequently, if at all. 

King Lear, for example, was rarely performed. It was even rewritten -- the tragic ending was replaced with a happy one!

Here is a picture of the cover page of the Lear with "Alterations":

The History of King Lear (an adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy by Nahum Tate) from 1681.
Wikimedia Commons

Before Shakespeare became popular with the general public, the scholarly elite did not like him, or they ignored him.

As early as the 1660s — only a few decades after his death — Shakespeare’s plays were considered “ungrammatical” and “coarse.”

Even today, there are British theatre critics who hate how vulgar the plays can be, and abhor efforts to make the plays more entertaining and funny.

In my forthcoming novel, I will introduce you to a new Shakespeare.

He is a Shakespeare you have never met before. He has been hidden from you, for far too long.

This first novel weaves together Shakespeare’s biography with his plays.

It is my hope that you will finally understand who Shakespeare really was, and what his writing really means, in this sweeping and historically accurate narrative of his life.


David B. Schajer

Friday, November 10, 2017

Shakespeare's Grasshopper Solved

A grasshopper has just recently been discovered stuck in a painting Vincent Van Gogh made 128 years ago!

I love stories like this, when something is discovered, or revealed, something that was always right under our noses, something that was always hiding in plain sight!

Van Gogh's Olive Trees
picture: AP

I love the idea that something as well known as a Van Gogh painting had been admired for so long, but never really examined.

It reminds me of Ron Piccirillo, a graphic artist who recently discovered images hidden in Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa that had not been seen in 500 years!

How did he find the hidden images of a lion, an ape and a buffalo in the Mona Lisa?

He turned the painting on its side!

I think both of these stories serve as a lesson for us, teaching us not to take what we see for granted. We should look closer, and pay more attention to great works of art, and study history with more curiosity than we have.

I think both of these stories serve to prove that even the greatest experts in the world make mistakes and have blinders on — they don’t see and understand everything.

It is especially true of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare has lots of “grasshoppers” hidden in his plays and poetry that have been ignored for over 400 years.

If we were to spend more time studying who Shakespeare was, in his original historical context, we might discover more than we have seen before.

Did Shakespeare ever use the word “grasshopper?” 

Yes, he used the word once, in the King Edward III play.

An illuminated manuscript miniature,c.1430-40, of Edward III of England (1327-1377).
Wikimedia Commons

Some people argue that Shakespeare did not write that play. Those people are wrong. He did write it, and I have a great deal of evidence to prove it.

But for now, let me focus on the word “grasshopper” and show you how his use of this word in this play actually bolsters my argument that Shakespeare was the author of the play.

The word is used in act 3, scene 2. Several characters, Frenchmen and Citizens, discuss how the English have invaded France. They debate whether they should flee their land, and escape the English, or whether they should stay, in the hope that English will never penetrate too deeply into their nation.

The First Frenchman character argues that the English are so far away, and that they will face such heavy losses in battle against the French army, that there is no reason for these citizens to abandon their property.

 The First Citizen character disagrees, and says: “Ay, so the grasshopper doth spend the time In mirthful jollity till winter come, And then too late he would redeem his time, When frozen cold hath nipped his careless head.”

The First Citizen is saying that it is to be better safe than sorry. He even says: “’tis good to fear the worst.”

King Edward III
Wikimedia Commons

This is subtle but persuasive evidence that Shakespeare wrote this scene, and it therefore supports the idea that he wrote the entire play.

Shakespeare is alluding to Aesop’s Fable The Ant and the Grasshopper — in which the short-sighted grasshopper spent the summer having fun, while the far-sighted ant spent the same time storing up food to prepare for winter. Of course, when winter comes, the grasshopper pays dearly for his idleness.

"The Ant and the Grasshopper", from Aesop's Fables
Wikimedia Commons

Why would Shakespeare include this allusion to Aesop’s Fable?

Shakespeare had heard such public debates about wars, and the threat of invasion. 

The Spanish Armada threat in 1588, which included plans to actually invade and conquer England with the so-called "Invincible Armada" fleet, was just one of many such threats during Shakespeare’s life. He would have heard the constables, the mayors and other public officials debate plans for war, and how best to prepare.

Shakespeare’s own father, John Shakespeare, was occasionally in charge of mustering soldiers and collecting money to pay for war efforts, and national defence.

We know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that the Spanish never did invade and conquer England. But to people in communities like Stratford-Upon-Avon, they had very real fears of such attack at the time.

It is helpful to remember that Spain was the one and only superpower nation in the 16th Century. England would not be an empire until many years later.

Invincible Armada
Wikimedia Commons

So, with this otherwise simple scene, Shakespeare was reflecting the real fears, and the real debate that was being had across all of England. 

It could even be said that, with this scene, Shakespeare was inviting the public to engage in more open debate about the fate of England. It was their England, too. Perhaps Shakespeare was making a point that the nation did not only belong to the elites and the nobility.

This is not the kind of scene that an aristocrat like the Earl of Oxford, or elitist playwrights like Christopher Marlowe, would even bother to include.

Also, Shakespeare used the fable as a simple and efficient tool to communicate his point to his audience. By using one of Aesop’s Fables, he was referring to something that almost everyone had read or had heard about. 

In other words, he was making it easy for his audience to know what was being said.

Christopher Marlowe was the opposite. In Doctor Faustus, for example, he uses so many Latin phrases, which would have been unintelligible to an audience that did not have the benefit of a school education. Marlowe was showing off, not for the common man, but rather for the elites and the noble Lords and Ladies.

This demonstrates how Shakespeare was reaching out to his audience, rather than speaking above their heads.  He did not write just for the elites. He wrote for everyone, especially for the lower and unschooled classes. 

C. Walter Hodges' imagined reconstruction of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, act 1, scene 3, being performed in an Elizabethan theatre. Drawn for The Globe Restored, published by Ernest Benn, 1953. Folger Shakespeare Library
Wikimedia Commons

It should come as no surprise then that the Citizen is the wisest character in the scene!

Shakespeare has a Citizen make a better argument, for being abundantly cautious, than the foolish Frenchman.

Why would Shakespeare call the characters First Frenchman and First Citizen? He could have just made them all Citizens, or Frenchmen.

It appears that Shakespeare is making a contrast between the characters based on class — the Frenchman is a nobleman, and the Citizen is a commoner.

Therefore, in writing this apparently simple scene, Shakespeare is making many points.

He is speaking directly to the audience that can’t afford seats, and has to stand for 2 to 3 hours. 

He is speaking in a language that they recognize.

He is giving them a voice, putting words in the mouth of a commoner, who has more wisdom than his so-called superiors.

That sounds precisely like the Shakespeare I know.

Shakespeare knew that the wisdom of the common man was greater and better because they could not afford to live their lives in “mirthful jollity” like their so-called superiors. Shakespeare lived in the real world, where you had to store food for the winter, a cold season that always comes.

This is only one scene, in one play, that has been overlooked.

It makes you wonder how many more unseen “grasshoppers” are hiding in his words.


David B. Schajer

Friday, November 3, 2017

Shakespeare Derangement Syndrome

Some people have doubts about Shakespeare, about whether the man from Stratford was the real author of the plays and poems.

Brittanica Shakespeare Death-Mask
Wikimedia Commons

I have no problem with that. Doubt is good, healthy even.

But some people are so convinced that Shakespeare was not Shakespeare, that they go to great lengths to prove that the man from Stratford was a fake.

This is beginning to look a lot like some sort of Shakespeare Derangement Syndrome.

I just read about how Alexander Waugh now claims that he has deciphered some kind of secret code, of “funny dots” inside the 1609 edition of the Sonnets.

He argues that this code — of “hidden geometries” and “grid patterns” — proves that Shakespeare’s remains are actually buried in Westminster Abbey (not in Stratford’s Trinity Church) and that the real Shakespeare is actually Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Mr. Waugh presented his evidence at the Globe in London. He was accompanied by the eminent actors Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, both long-time supporters of the theory that Oxford is the true Shakespeare.

Stratford’s Trinity Church and Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust have taken issue with these claims, which they find to be a “fantasy.”

With all due respect to Waugh, Jacobi and Rylance — such theories are deranged.

They are doing great harm to the name and legacy of Shakespeare.

I beg them to stop.

If they have any love for the words in the poems and the plays, the characters and the plots, the high drama and the low comedy, they should just stop. They should spend more time reading and learning about who the real Shakespeare was.

To present alternative theories as somehow factual, or to lend their names to legitimize claims like this, is to undermine the entire foundation that is Shakespeare.

They are diminishing the importance and significance of his work.

They are killing Shakespeare.

I don’t usually bother writing about Edward de Vere, and the theory that he is the true Shakespeare. 

I am not sure I can persuade people that the true Shakespeare was Shakespeare. I have even considered writing a series of blog posts, or even a book to prove it. But some people are going to believe what they want to believe, no matter what, and no matter how deranged it is. 

I don’t think that such blog posts and/or books would be persuasive enough. 

Also, I don’t consider myself a scholar, but more of a storyteller. I don’t want to spend my time criticizing other peoples’ theories about Shakespeare. Instead of criticizing, I chose to learn and to create.

First, I chose to spend my time researching everything I could about Shakespeare himself, and the period in general — all in order to tell his story of the true Shakespeare, the man from Stratford.

I didn’t just want an overview of the period. I wanted a granular understanding of the people and the ideas of the Elizabethan era.

There is so much I have learned, and so much that I have discovered, hiding in plain sight on the internet, and in books.

I did not study about just Shakespeare. I read about his contemporaries, like the Earl of Leicester, the Earl of Essex, King Philip of Spain, and many others.

Why was King Philip of Spain significant to Shakespeare?
Wikimedia Commons

Over the years, during my research, I even came to appreciate the Earl of Oxford. I think he is a very misunderstood man. I am actually quite sympathetic to the man that Oxford was.

But the scant evidence that Oxford is the real Shakespeare pales in comparison to the overwhelming direct and circumstantial evidence that the real Shakespeare was the man from Stratford.

The mistake that many people make, in studying Shakespeare, is not paying enough attention to the other people and events in his life. Another huge mistake is that people don’t read the books Shakespeare was reading, like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid, and so many more.

Why was Ovid so important to Shakespeare?
Wikimedia Commons

Over the last 400 years, there are so many false assumptions we have made about Shakespeare. There is also some scholarship that is wrong or misleading.

But the worst thing that has happened to Shakespeare is this pernicious authorship question. 

Whoever thinks that Shakespeare is not Shakespeare, and that the true author was Southampton, or Oxford, is being fooled and misled. 

They are being deceived by what should be considered Shakespearean “fake news.”

I have a theory about people who believe in Oxford as the real Shakespeare. I think they just don’t know Shakespeare well enough. 

They make convoluted theories and try to decipher dots on a page of the Sonnets.

They cut up Shakespeare into pieces, and reassemble something that is not really Shakespeare. It’s like verbal photo-shopping, done with the intention of ultimately erasing the real Shakespeare from the picture.

They take quotes from the plays and poems out of context. They  twist and contort their meaning.

They want to tell you who Shakespeare is, based on their limited knowledge and personal bias against him, in order to falsely represent him.

In this way, they are using whatever lack of knowledge you have of Shakespeare against you. They consider themselves the elite, and think that their elitist views are somehow superior to whatever you might think about Shakespeare.

This is like judging a man guilty on hearsay evidence, gossip, rumors, libel, or slander — after he is dead and can’t take the stand to defend himself!

They want you to lose your faith in Shakespeare. They want to discredit him, disgrace him, and taint him in your eyes.

Shakespeare loved plays with scenes with courtroom climaxes. Here is one from Merchant of Venice:

Court scene from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice"
by Aleksander Gierymski
Wikimedia Commons

At the end of this courtroom scene, Shylock's suit is dismissed on an artificial technicality introduced by someone pretending to be a lawyer.

By the end of the play, Shylock is a ruined man, and has almost nothing but his name.

What the Oxfordians and others are doing is dismissing Shakespeare, by pretending to be authorities on his work, and introducing evidence they have manufactured.

They would have Shakespeare ruined, without even allowing him the benefit of his own name.

This makes me upset, since I know that Shakespeare was not only a good and decent man, but he was a great man, and a man of unusual courage and uncommon talent.

I feel like the Shakespeare I know is accused of being a cowardly and ungifted thief.

Those who claim that Shakespeare has stolen Oxford’s legacy are bearing false witness, and perverting justice.

So, in order to prove that they are wrong, I will soon release my first novel. I have planned many more, to create whole series of novels.

This first novel is about how a young man from Stratford, the son of a glove-maker, came to London and began his career — all set against the looming Spanish Armada, and the power politics in the Queen’s royal court.

You won’t just have to take my word for it, that I solved Shakespeare.

You will see it with your own eyes, as you walk in the world that Shakespeare knew. 

I will not cut up Shakespeare into pieces, and tell his story out of context. My novels put you in his shoes, and in his original historical context.

I will not photo-shop him out of the picture. I put him back, front and center.

I don’t want you to judge him by the words or gossip that other people say. I want you to see him for yourself. I want you to hear what he has to say, in his own words.

I want him to take the stand, and testify for himself.

I don’t want to re-present him. I want to present him to you as honestly and as comprehensively as possible.

That is almost entirely possible to do as a scholar, with a book of scholarship. But with a novel, it is much easier for you to travel inside Shakespeare’s mind, and transport yourself back to his world.

I am taking a page from Shakespeare’s book. He did not write works of scholarship, or create chronicles about history. He wrote lines of dialogue and created characters, sometimes about real historical figures, for our minds to interpret and behold for ourselves.

You might say my forthcoming novels are Shakespearean stories about Shakespeare himself.

I can prove that Shakespeare was the real Shakespeare. I have the more than enough evidence to prove him as the real author.

But it will take time for me to write and publish my novels, and lay out my case, for you to judge for yourselves.

Within a chapter or two, I am confident that you will be agree that the Shakespeare I am presenting is the real one.

I have every confidence that no such series of novels could ever be created for the sake of the Earl of Oxford, or anyone else for that matter.

I hope you will join me on this journey. I know that it will not only show you the real Shakespeare, but it will prove that he was not some fraud, and that he was not just lucky.

I hope to restore your faith in Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was and always will be Shakespeare


David B. Schajer

Friday, October 27, 2017

Shakespeare & Martin Luther's 500th Reformation Anniversary

500 years ago, on 31 October 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses — and lit the fuse that started the Protestant Reformation.

I have an intriguing question.

Was Shakespeare a Lutheran?

Maybe. It is entirely possible — although it is probably impossible to prove.

Was Shakespeare inspired by the life and works of Martin Luther?


Martin Luther
 by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, painted in 1528
Wikimedia Commons

To support my theory, I would like to share some of the persuasive evidence I have found.

Even if Shakespeare did not consider himself a disciple of Luther, he must have drawn great inspiration from Luther’s life story.

Luther was born to upwardly mobile parents, who were Catholics. His father was a businessman who was also involved in the local civic council.

Shakespeare was born to upwardly mobile parents. Despite the fact that his mother’s family were Protestants, the household in which he was raised was arguably quite Catholic. 

Shakespeare was probably raised more as a Catholic in secret, than as a Protestant, as was expected by English law at the time. I contend that the religion in the house was Catholic, because that is what his father would have wanted. 

Shakespeare’s father had a glove business, and held many civic offices, from ale-taster to constable. He was even the mayor of Stratford. 

Hans Luther wanted his eldest son Martin to go to university and become a lawyer. 

John Shakespeare probably wanted the same thing for his eldest son William. He may have planned to send him to the University of Oxford, which was only about a day’s travel from Stratford.

Martin Luther went to a law university, as his father had planned. 

William Shakespeare did not go to Oxford, for a variety of reasons. There were probably financial problems, which may have stemmed from crippling fines against John Shakespeare had to pay, as punishment for practicing his Catholic faith. 

Also, at Oxford, William would have had to swear a new religious oath, to conform to the Protestant Church of England. Raised a Catholic, he would not have been able to swear such an oath. 

There is a deeper question here: was Shakespeare a Catholic or a Protestant? I don’t know the answer. I don’t think he even knew the answer to that question. From what I can tell, he spent his life in search of an answer. I think he had far more questions than answers.

But regardless of whether or not he was a Catholic or Protestant, there is one answer of which I am certain. He was a Christian. He believed. Shakespeare had a firm faith in God.

How do I know that?

Because Martin Luther and William Shakespeare were both given a sign, which they both knew to have been sent from Heaven. Their faith told them the sign was sent from God.

One day, on his way back to law school, Luther was scared to death by a thunderstorm. He was almost hit by a lightning bolt!

Because of this near-death experience, he made a life-altering and history-making decision. He abandoned his studies as a lawyer. He chose to devote his life to God, and become a monk.

I have found an event in Shakespeare’s life which resembles this.

In early November 1572, the whole world became witness to a very bright light in the sky — a “new star” never before seen. Even Queen Elizabeth had the event studied, to determine its meaning.

What the whole world saw was a supernova — an exploding star going through a fatal and cataclysmic eruption of light and energy. 

Supernova 1572
photo: NASA

It was the first supernova the world had seen in over 500 years!

There have only been about 8 ever witnessed in recorded history. There has only been one seen since then, visible to the naked eye, without telescopes. 

It has been over 400 years since the last one. (It makes you think that we are due for one any day now!)

At the time, in 1572, the entire world did not know what the “new star” meant. They had to figure out its meaning without the science and technology we have today. 

What would that supernova mean to William Shakespeare, who was 8 years old at the time?

For most people living in a community like Stratford in the 16th century, such a celestial event would have not been confusing at all. There would be only one answer — it was from God.

I don’t think young William Shakespeare thought that he had to immediately devote his life to God, like Luther had with the lightning bolt.

But since the light of the supernova lasted for over a year, it must have given him a lot of time to consider what he could do in order to serve God.

I like to think that it inspired him to be a better student at school, where he had just begun his education.

I like to think that the “new star” gave him a voracious and insatiable appetite for language and literature — all of which was invaluable to him as a playwright and poet.

As he went to school, and grew up, he would have learned about the birth of the Protestant Reformation, and Martin Luther of course.

It is inconceivable to me that Shakespeare would not have seen himself in Luther, and Luther in him. The stories of their early years were so similar. 

Shakespeare’s dreams and hopes of going to Oxford were dashed, but he probably didn’t mind too much. He probably thought that if Luther could do without law school, then so could he. 

In the years before Shakespeare went to London to start his career as a playwright and poet, he must have been searching for a way forward, a path to follow. These were his so-called “lost years.”

I think the memory of that supernova would have been all the light he needed to follow. I don’t think he felt lost at all. I think he was practicing his faith, which was intimately connected to his creative writing, and to his future career as the greatest playwright in London.

He probably spent time reading and studying — anything and everything he could get his hands on, like Homer, Virgil, Hesiod, and so many others. But most of all, he read the Bible, over and over again. 

The supernova was his lightning bolt. It was the heavenly light that made Shakespeare decide to devote his gift with words to God. 

After all, poetry has its origins in religion. The great epic poets, Homer and Virgil both considered themselves inspired by the gods — for they believed that the gods breathed into them the divine spirit and gave them the gift of poetry.

I am often surprised to find so little attention paid to Shakespeare’s faith, and firm belief in God. More time is spent looking at him as a playwright, in theaters and taverns, drinking and carousing. More time should be spent considering his time spent at Church, and on his knees in prayer -- at Old St. Paul's Cathedral for example:

Old St Paul's Cathedral in London
from Early Christian Architecture by Francis Bond (1913)

How could anyone write so many plays and poems, that captured the hearts and minds of so many of his contemporaries, without a faith in God?

Homer and Virgil had audiences in the thousands — and have been read by millions more in the centuries since. They did not accomplish that because they had no faith. Rather, it was precisely because their faith was so strong.

Shakespeare did not have audiences in the thousands, and millions since then, because he was without faith. Quite the contrary.

Why would Shakespeare make Hamlet, his greatest hero, be a student at the University of Wittenberg — where Martin Luther had been a professor of theology?

I think Shakespeare’s 36 or so plays should be considered his version of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses.

Just as Martin Luther was posing questions, and stating theories, with his Theses, Shakespeare was also asking questions.

The character Hamlet, who has more questions than answers, is a great examination of who and what was Shakespeare as a person. I think the character embodies much of what Shakespeare faced in the last years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, when there was so much doubt and fear.

The question is not whether or not Shakespeare read the Bible. The real question is which Bible he preferred the most.

According to Naseeb Shaheen, an American scholar who was the world’s authority on Shakespeare’s use of biblical allusions, Shakespeare used at least 7 different Bibles — from the Geneva Bible to the Coverdale Bible to the Bishops’ Bible to the King James Version, and others.

He also found that Shakespeare frequently used language from 5 translations of the New Testament — from the Tyndale version to the Rheims version, and others.

That’s not counting Shakespeare’s allusions from the Prayer Book, or from the Book of Homilies, and from all of the other religious writings he could get his hands on.

Shakespeare’s comprehensive knowledge and use of so many religious works strongly suggests a man who was on an epic journey of faith.

Also, I have already written about how the Hamlet character is directly based on Shakespeare’s closest friend and artistic patron, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex
after Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
Wikimedia Commons

   Essex was executed in early 1601. In the weeks and months after his death, I think Shakespeare wrote his Hamlet play based on Essex, and for Essex.

The likeliest date for the very first performance — the world premiere — of the Hamlet play was on Essex’s birthday — 10 November 1601.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Martin Luther has the same birthday, 10 November.

Was the premiere of Hamlet that day — on a cold November in London, at the Globe Theatre — as much a celebration of Essex’s life, as it was a celebration of Martin Luther’s?

In conclusion, I think that Shakespeare sought to have an influence on the world, as consequential as Luther’s. 

Shakespeare must have been thrilled to think that he could change the world with words -- just like Luther had.

Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses, by Ferdinand Pauwels
Wikimedia Commons

Instead of hoping to have a good life, Shakespeare wanted to have an important life, not just for his own pleasure, but for the benefit of the world.

Shakespeare did not become playwright by accident. No, he had a patient and determined faith in himself, based on his faith in God.

Shakespeare clearly succeeded in his goal. His global impact is incalculable.

There have been efforts to understand the impact that Luther has had. Wikipedia has an entry about the legacy and the consequences of the Reformation. Here are just a few of the good things that Luther gave us:

— Higher literacy rates.
— Lower gender gap in school enrollment and literacy rates.
— Higher primary school enrollment.
— Higher public spending on schooling and better educational performance of military conscripts.
— Higher capability in reading, numeracy, essay writing, and history.

There are also some negative consequences. But the good developments greatly outweigh the bad.

I like to think that Shakespeare had a similar positive impact, especially as far as reading and history in school are concerned.

So, was Shakespeare a Lutheran?


Were both Shakespeare and Luther inspired by God to learn for themselves, in order to teach others, and therefore the world?



David B. Schajer