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

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch's Shakespeare Year

Happy Birthday Benedict Cumberbatch!

He has many reasons to celebrate, not the least of which is the very important year he has ahead of him, in which he will star in two Shakespeare productions!

He has been cast as Richard III in the forthcoming Hollow Crown series, and he will playing Hamlet at the Barbican, directed by Lyndsey Turner:

For some time on this blog, I have been talking about how Benedict Cumberbatch should do some Shakespeare, and now he is doing two productions! 

Will his Hamlet look something like this?

I was concerned that he might not pursue Shakespeare projects. Before the announcements of Richard III and Hamlet, there was a distinct possibility that he would pursue feature film and TV projects instead. He has become insanely in demand in the last two years.

There is no reason why he has to do any Shakespeare. He could no doubt work for the rest of his life without ever acting in the Bard’s plays. There are quite a few UK actors (many whom I admire) who don’t, and I was sincerely worried that he would become one of them.

So, it is thrilling to know that he values and understands the importance of Shakespeare.

As much as he will become famous for Sherlock, and for his role as Khan in the Star Trek films, I predict he will become arguably more famous for his work in Shakespeare, whether it is on stage or screen.

He is such a versatile actor that he could do any number of productions, for his entire life. He would be great as Benedick, Macbeth, as Iago, as Henry V, etc. But I also think he would be great in other less popular plays, like Antony and Cleopatra, or Timon of Athens. He would be hilarious as Petruchio, and I think his Prospero would be incredible. It would be fantastic if he did that on stage.

It’s many years away before he does it, but I think he would be amazing as King Lear.

Also, I predict that he will might turn his talents to directing as well as acting in a Shakespeare play or two, perhaps even for the screen. Ralph Fiennes has done it. Kenneth Branagh has done it. Why shouldn’t he do it, too?

So, I hope you join me in wishing him a Happy Birthday today, and say a prayer of thanks that he has declared his intention to make Shakespeare an important, and with any luck permanent, part of his life and career.

If you agree that he should continue to do Shakespeare, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Simon Russell Beale as King Lear

I just saw Simon Russell Beale as King Lear in Sam Mendes’ production for the National Theatre, through a National Theatre Live cinema broadcast.

I wish I could say that the production was good, but I can not.

I recommend that you see it for yourself, and make up your own mind. Here is a link for tickets and showtimes:

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would like to share my thoughts with you.

I will be happy to see any future productions by Sam Mendes, and any performances by Mr. Beale, but this King Lear was misconceived.

Perhaps the greatest error in this production is the concept of making Lear a dictator like Joseph Stalin.

I have no problem with putting Shakespeare in different periods, but having Lear as a 1930’s-era tyrant is a very bad idea.

Shakespeare's King Lear character is supposed to be a great king. He is supposed to be loved and admired by the best people in his kingdom, like Cordelia (his good daughter) and loyal servants like Kent, who is a good man.

The tragedy of King Lear is that he becomes a tyrant, he goes mad, and he destroys what was good about his kingdom.

Simply put, there is no tragedy if Lear is a Stalinesque dictator. 

Dictators like Stalin, or Nicolae Ceaușescu, or Muammar Qaddafi are by definition tyrants, are mad, and have already ruined their countries by their very existence.

The tragedy is watching a great man crumble under the weight of his greatness.

If Lear is a tyrant, then it turns the entire play upside down and turns it inside out. It makes Lear a bad guy, and everyone who was bad is now good.

In this version, Lear divides his country very dramatically in what looks like a Stalin show trial, complete with microphones that make everyone sound robotic and inhuman.

When Cordelia says “Nothing” to her father, we are supposed to feel her pain, and confusion. She truly loves her father, but she can not be like her evil sisters, whose proclamations of love to Lear are empty and deceitful words.

But if Lear is bad (as this production would have us think) then Cordelia is bad for loving him. If Lear is bad, then Goneril and Regan are right to hate him, and lie to him.

If Lear is bad, then Kent is bad for serving him so loyally. In fact, why should Kent serve such a bad man like Lear with such loyalty? Perhaps Kent is in truth a very bad man.

If Lear is bad, then the Fool is even more foolish for serving him.

If Lear is bad, then we should root for his destruction and eventual death.

So, this basic fundamental flaw undermines the entire show, and made it a chore to watch.

Simon Russell Beale is a great actor. But I do not think there is any way to act Lear as a tyrant and make him a compelling tragic character. I don’t fault him for his performance, when the entire foundation of the Lear character has been taken away.

During a brief documentary clip showing us behind the scenes of the play, Mr. Beale described how he studied Lewy Body dementia, and how Lear presents many symptoms of this disorder.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to this study, too often Mr. Beale’s performance of Lear was a collection of affectations and tics, rather than a full flesh and blood character. While I can not argue against a possible diagnosis of Lear as having Lewy Body, it should have been one of many attributes, rather than the foundation for the character.

Adrian Scarborough and Stanley Townsend

However, there were some very good moments here and there throughout the play, and some very fine performances, including Stanley Townsend’s very charismatic Kent, Adrian Scarborough’s slippery and sly Fool and Sam Troughton’s humorously diabolical Edmund.

I thought the use of the stage was innovative and interesting, especially as Kent tries to get Lear into the hovel, and Edgar as Tom o’Bedlam appears.

I was very disappointed in the storm sequence. Lear and the Fool are lifted over the stage on a ramp as the storm blows and thunders, but as soon as they are at the top, they have no choice but to stand as still as possible — since they might fall off!

I would have much preferred to see Lear move on stage and react and inter-act with the storm. Having such a fine actor as Mr. Beale stand still during such a pivotal scene is an odd choice which stifled his dynamic talent.

By the conclusion, as characters are killed off and dying, it is very hard to feel any emotion. There were some in the audience with me who laughed as characters died. 

I couldn’t blame them, after all, in this Lear universe, there is no one to care for.


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Monday, July 14, 2014

Did Shakespeare Meet Queen Elizabeth in 1575?

Did William Shakespeare meet Queen Elizabeth in 1575?

Last week I posted a blog article about how Shakespeare, when he was 11 years old, may have had just glimpsed Queen Elizabeth when she visited Kenilworth Castle in 1575.

She visited the castle for a 19-day celebration, at the invitation of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, that included bear-baiting, plays, and other entertainments, including a fireworks display.

Over the last few days I have had a lively discussion on Twitter about whether or not Shakespeare was even there, and if he did go, what exactly would he have been able to see.

There is no proof that Shakespeare was there. There is no proof that he was not there. It is impossible to know, based on the evidence that we possess today. Perhaps we may eventually discover documents or letters that put Shakespeare at Kenilworth, or not, and until that time we can not know one way or the other.

I am not a scholar. I am a writer. As I write my versions of Shakespeare’s plays, and the events in his life that inspired the plays, I am always confronted with the matter of objective provable truth versus artistic licence. 

I try very hard to stick to whatever facts are available, but more often than not I have to interpret facts, fill in blanks, and create a story where there is nothing to support it. 

While some people might find fault with my interpretation of Shakespeare’s life, I often remind them that William Shakespeare did not fight on Bosworth Field, and he did not see Richard III yell “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Another way to put it is that Shakespeare never let a lack of evidence get in the way of a good story.

One of the ways to find what may have happened in Shakespeare’s life is by a process of deduction.

In this case, let’s look at what we do know.

We know that his father, John Shakespeare, had been serving the Stratford community in many offices since 1558, including constable, and most notably as bailiff, the mayor of Stratford. He must have been a prosperous and well-liked man to have held this high office. 

In 1575, he was chief alderman, which was not as prestigious as being mayor, but it was not insignificant. He was a glove-maker, and his 11 year old son, would probably have worked with him, making and selling gloves. 

But he also had a habit of getting into trouble. He was involved in wool brogging, the illegal dealing in wool. He was taken to court twice in 1570 for lending money for profit, which was illegal.

In 1577, John Shakespeare had a terrible reversal of fortune. He so ruined the family’s finances that they could not afford to send Shakespeare to university, probably Oxford, a day’s ride away.

So, those are the facts.

As a writer, I look at these facts and I immediately see a very compelling human drama to be told.

As a writer, I try to not make too many assumptions, but rather deduce from the facts and the likely behaviour (and more often than not, the misbehaviour) of the people involved to come to a story that is hopefully both satisfying as entertainment, but also as a piece of history.

Queen Elizabeth I, as she would have looked in 1575

What if John Shakespeare heard that Queen Elizabeth was coming to Kenilworth Castle?

He was a glove-maker. He might have thought to make her some gloves, as a gift. 

I encourage you to Google the words "elizabethan gloves" and look at the pictures. It's a great way to spend a few hours!

John Shakespeare probably thought that if he made her a wonderful gift of gloves, it might just be the thing to turn things around financially. She might reward him with a gift, or at least he might improve his image with his community, an image that was on the decline. 

In 1575, he had not brought his family to financial ruin yet, but it wasn’t too far off. He was probably the kind of man who succumbed too easily to get-rich-quick schemes, and had dreams beyond his station in life.

He wouldn’t be the first man in history to behave this way, and while his personal dreams never worked out, his son certainly inherited no lack of ambition.

So, let’s assume he wants to make a pair of gloves for Queen Elizabeth.

Would she receive John Shakespeare?

Well, John Shakespeare arguably would have met the Earl of Leicester in the years from 1558 to 1575. Leicester was a wealthy and powerful local Earl, and while I don’t imagine he would sit down to supper with Shakespeare, I find it hard to believe he did not know who Shakespeare was.

So, perhaps John Shakespeare may have realized that in order to give a pair of gloves to Queen Elizabeth, he had better make another pair for Leicester, too.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Leicester, after all, was inviting Queen Elizabeth to Kenilworth, in order to woo her and get her to marry him. He too had dreams beyond his station, dreams that ruined him financially. He spent so much money on this 19 day celebration that it bankrupted him.

So, John Shakespeare probably thought that if he made Leicester a fine pair of gloves, Leicester would receive him at Kenilworth, at which time Shakespeare could give Queen Elizabeth a pair too.

Would Queen Elizabeth have accepted a pair of gloves from John Shakespeare?

To me, it’s like asking if women need another pair of shoes.

From what I have read about Queen Elizabeth, she really liked fashion. I have read that she had over 6000 dresses when she died in 1603.

Queen Elizabeth, with gloves, standing on top of the world

She was known to accept gloves as gifts while she traveled outside London. 

Here is a picture of the gloves she received from Oxford University in 1566:

So, it is very possible that Queen Elizabeth would have accepted such a gift from a local office-holder and businessman like John Shakespeare.

John Shakespeare was not known to make very expensive gloves, like the ones from Oxford University, with gold embroidery.

But if he was really trying to make an impression, and perhaps win favors from Leicester and the Queen, he might have spared no expense. 

If he was a bad manager of his finances, he might have invested too much time and money in these gloves. It fits his character.

I can easily imagine his having arguments with his wife, Mary, about the exorbitant cost of these gloves. Or, she might have approved of the idea, and helped him.

So, did John Shakespeare, with his son William, make very expensive gloves for Queen Elizabeth and Leicester?

It is very likely, given the circumstances, and given his character.

He might have also made other, less expensive gloves, to sell while he was at Kenilworth. It is hard to imagine that local businesses did not take advantage of the Queen’s visit by bringing food, and other goods to sell and make a profit.

Therefore, it is very possible that he took his son to Kenilworth, for at least a day, in order to be received by the Queen and Leicester, give the gifts, and maybe make some money outside the castle selling other gloves.

Queen Elizabeth and Leicester

So, did an 11-year-old William Shakespeare enter Kenilworth Castle, in the very best clothes he had, probably more than a little nervous, and watch his father give these gloves to Queen Elizabeth?

Did Queen Elizabeth thank John Shakespeare and like the gloves?

Did she perhaps even thank William, and say young William’s name aloud?

It is such a delightful moment that very well might have occurred.

It might have been the greatest moment in William Shakespeare’s early life, and one he cherished until the day he died.

There are so many moments in my early life that inspired me to become a writer, that I look for these moments in the lives of other artists.

Was this the single greatest moment in William Shakespeare’s early life that inspired him to become the greatest writer of all?

Watching his father give these gloves, gloves they had made with such care and love, gloves they could not afford to make but they made them anyway, might have been the greatest moment of all for the young William Shakespeare.

It might have allowed him to dream even greater dreams than his father had ever dreamt, pursue this dream all the way to London, to perform for the crowds, but more importantly perhaps in order to stand before Queen Elizabeth again, and perhaps re-capture the joy he had as an 11-year-old boy in Kenilworth, in July 1575.

Perhaps the gloves looked like this

While I cannot prove that Shakespeare was ever there or any of this ever happened, I like to believe it anyway.

Thank you Stephanie and Nick for your Twitter discussion, because without it I might not have thought of this.


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shakespeare's Coat of Arms

I just read that the original draft of Shakespeare's coat-of-arms is on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library, in Washington, D.C.:

A representation of what the coat of arms looked like in Shakespeare's lifetime

But what makes the coat of arms even more interesting is the context of Shakespeare's life in which it was purchased.

His father, John Shakespeare had originally applied for a coat of arms many years before, but never followed through. He probably could not afford the process, and what with his financial reversal of fortune starting in 1577, he just dropped the matter.

On October 1596, William Shakespeare renewed the application, and paid the 15 pounds for it -- which roughly translates to £8700 today, or $15,000.

The application

What was happening in 1596, to inspire Shakespeare to get the coat of arms, and spend so much money?

Shakespeare had been working in London since around 1587. By 1593, after Christopher Marlowe died, Shakespeare had no real competition in the theatres, and quickly became the one and only real great playwright of the age.

He had fame, he was making good money, and his prospects looked very good.

Even better, he now had the Earls of Essex and Southampton as his artistic patrons. They were very well connected and very influential.

Essex in particular was Queen Elizabeth's "favourite." 1596, in fact, was the peak period of rumors that the Queen was having an affair with Essex!

Essex in armor

So, for Shakespeare, as a playwright, it was the best time of his life.

But things got better, in June and July of 1596, when English forces captured the Spanish city of Cádiz. Essex commanded the fleet, with Southampton by his side, and was a hero!

There is no record that I know of to describe how Queen Elizabeth must have celebrated with Essex, Southampton, Walter Raleigh and others upon their return from this great victory. It must have been a spectacular party. 

It is reasonable to assume that Shakespeare would have been there, and he and his fellow actors might have even performed for Essex and the Queen.

Things got even better. Shakespeare's fellow actor, Henry Condell got engaged to be married. Condell, who was probably born to a fishmonger near Norwich, and who was, as an actor, considered low-class, was marrying Elizabeth Smart, the daughter of a gentleman.

If the daughter of a gentleman could marry a man who was considered no better than a vagabond and a criminal, then times were indeed changing for the better.

Sadly, things got worse. Shakespeare's primary patron, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, died, and his son George inherited Shakespeare's company. 

Little is known about the relationship between Carey and Shakespeare, but it would have been a hard blow. Carey was probably one of the most important figures in Shakespeare's early years.

Shakespeare with his family, including his son Hamnet, standing

Then things got unbearably worse. In August, Shakespeare's only son Hamnet died. He was only 11 years old.

There was a comet seen in the sky for two weeks at the time of his death. Shakespeare must have been consumed with grief as he mourned his son who lived too short a life, as he watched this bright comet pass too briefly in the sky above.

Despite his grief, or perhaps in order to manage his grief, Shakespeare wrote his most problematic bawdy farce, The Merchant of Venice. We have no way of knowing how successful the play was, but the fact that it has endured all these years is probably due in large part to its good reception in 1596.

Also, at some point during this time, Shakespeare wrote Henry IV, Part 1. The fact that he created the character of Falstaff, one of the most beloved characters in all history, is a remarkable testament to Shakespeare's talent and his ability to create under great distress.

Simon Russell Beale and Tom Hiddleston as Falstaff and Hal

Just as Shakespeare is facing the worst existential crisis in his life, the fact that his only son, his only male heir, has died and that his name may very well die out, he creates arguably his most life-affirming character, Falstaff.

Perhaps in an effort to continue to affirm himself and preserve his name, he turns to the long overdue matter of his family's coat of arms.

In October, he renews the process his father had abandoned twenty years before, and pays for the coat of arms.

Four days later, Shakespeare would have attended the wedding of Henry Condell and Elizabeth Smart. It was probably a very lovely, and expensive event.

On 10 November, Shakespeare probably joined Essex for his birthday.

The year was almost over. It had been one of the best years in his life, and definitely the worst year in his life.

He never really needed the coat of arms to preserve his name. He would preserve himself in history forever with his plays. But like any human, he could not see the future clearly.

And that is perhaps a good thing, because while he would enjoy even greater success in the years to come, he would also face even greater tragedy.


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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jon Stewart, Today's Shakespeare?

I read a humor article, from Salon, that compares Shakespearean insults to the political jabs of Jon Stewart:

I have been thinking for several years that there is really no one in the world today who represents what Shakespeare represented in his Elizabethan and Jacobean lifetime.

But the more I think of this subject, and despite the fact that I do not watch Jon Stewart regularly, the more I think that Jon Stewart might just be the closest thing we have to a Shakespeare today.

I have to admit that I am no expert when it comes to politics today. I am much more fascinated by the politics of 400 years ago. The irony is that they can be very similar.

What do Shakespeare and Stewart have in common?

Both Shakespeare and Stewart are masters at writing satire.

Twelfth Night is arguably his greatest political satire, and the caricature of Olivia skewers Queen Elizabeth like no other role in Shakespeare's canon. My favorite play, The Merchant of Venice, is a very bawdy farce, and which makes a mockery of the court life of Elizabeth, who is caricatured in the role of Portia, whose name really means "pig."

While in Jon Stewart's one-on-one interviews he rarely skewers the person across his desk, the segments (with him, or John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, etc.) on his show are rooted in the same kind of character assassination that Shakespeare would probably appreciate.

Both Shakespeare and Stewart are quite brave in their political targets.

Shakespeare made fun of Queen Elizabeth, who probably had a very good sense of humor, and a thick skin.

But he also targeted men like William Cecil and his son Robert, who were two of the most powerful men during her reign. 

The character Polonius, as a doddering but dangerous old fool, is a caricature of William. 

The character Richard III, a hunchbacked power-hungry madman, is a caricature of Robert Cecil, who was hunchbacked and did accumulate a very disproportionate amount of power. 

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, it was Robert Cecil more than anyone else who put King James on the throne.

Jon Stewart has been known land some hard-hitting punches, even on his own guests. I recall the grilling he gave Kathleen Sebelius over the Obamacare roll-out. Ouch. 

I remember reading somewhere that Stewart, as a comedian who does the news, is better at real newsworthy interviews than journalists themselves.

Shakespeare was masterful at speaking truth to power, and it is probably in this sense that Stewart is the closest in spirit to the Bard. 

What don't they have in common?

I can not think of any play of Shakespeare's that promoted power, the might of the monarchy, and were at all very flattering to the royal courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James. Probably the closest is the Henriad, with the evolution of the character of Prince Hal, later King Henry V.

Prince Hal was a rowdy, bawdy, hard-drinking, hard-partying prince who cleaned up and became King Henry V, and led his country in battle and to a great victory.

So, while Shakespeare wants you to root for Hal and later King Henry, he also shows you how callous he becomes, especially when he "throws" his best friend, and Shakespeare's greatest clown, Falstaff "under the bus."

What does this say about Shakespeare?

Probably the simplest way I can put it is that Shakespeare was very aware of the fact that, as Lord Acton observed: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Shakespeare showed kings and queen at their worst, and hardly ever at their best. His characters, high- and low-born, were always mortals, with human faults and sins.

What little I know about Jon Stewart, he believes in government to a degree that Shakespeare never did.

Stewart is perhaps an idealist, and still believes that there are great men today. Shakespeare may have been idealistic, but it appears that his idealism -- about love, boys and girls, men and women -- never extended to politics.

Shakespeare saw how court politics worked from the inside. For example, Queen Elizabeth's "favourite" courtier, the Earl of Essex, was Shakespeare's artistic patron. Later, King James made Shakespeare the official royal court playwright.

If Shakespeare had any illusions about how power works, they were definitely dispelled by the time he entered the court.

As far as I know, Stewart has never held office, and has not worked in politics. If he spent his days working inside a real White House, as an official presidential performer perhaps, it would probably dispel any illusions he has.

As funny as his barbs may be, Stewart could learn a thing or two from Shakespeare. It would be worth his time to follow in Shakespeare's footsteps, especially since there doesn't seem to be anyone else right now who is even trying.

What do you think?


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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Did Shakespeare Write Hamlet Four Times?

Is the Hamlet play actually many different Hamlet plays?

Laurence Olivier

The earliest date for the Hamlet is 1589.

But there is evidence for another Hamlet in 1594, and again in 1596.

And finally, there is evidence of a Hamlet in the period from 1599 to 1602. This is the only version known to have been published, in 1603 and 1604 in Quarto version, and in 1623 in the First Folio -- which have many differences between them.

So, there is a great deal of controversy over which is the real Hamlet.

Ian McKellen

In 1589, Thomas Nashe wrote of a Hamlet play, the text of which has not survived:

"English Seneca read by candle-light yields many good sentences, as Blood is a begger, and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls of tragical speeches."

It is interesting that he mentions the many "tragical speeches" which would indicate that this version of Hamlet was as much a tragedy as the Hamlet we know today.

The famous theatre impresario Philip Henslowe wrote in his diary of a Hamlet in 1594.

Playwright Thomas Lodge wrote of another Hamlet in 1596: "the ghost which cried so miserably at the theatre, like an oyster-wife, Hamlet, revenge!"

It is interesting here that Lodge seems to make fun of this performance. Is it just professional jealousy, or could his mockery indicate that the play was not well-received by the audiences in 1596?

Ralph Fiennes

There is a great deal of debate over the Hamlet play in the 1599 to 1602 period. No one knows exactly when this Hamlet was written and performed.

Some scholars think that Shakespeare may have been writing different versions of the same play, while others completely disagree.

I am surprised that these scholars would dismiss what seems to be the most reasonable solution to this mystery.

Let's look at it from another direction, Shakespeare is believed to have first gone to London around 1587-8.

So, it is possible that he could have written a Hamlet play in this time, and staged it in London.

If he did write this 1589 version, it means that it was one of the very first, perhaps the very first play he ever wrote.

If it was the very first play he wrote, then that would suggest that the story was personally important to him. Or, it was just a story he liked.

Why would the story appeal to him personally?

Well, in 1585, his wife Anne gave birth to twins, Judith and Hamnet Shakespeare. Shakespeare had already had an earlier child, Susanna, born in 1583, but Hamnet was his first son.

In a culture like Shakespeare's, a son was all important, especially as far as keeping the Shakespeare name alive. Hamnet would inherit his father's name, wealth, and property, and this son would beget sons who would carry William Shakespeare's legacy into the future.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Why would Shakespeare choose the name Hamnet for his first-born son?

The story of Amleth, the Vita Amlethi or "Life of Amleth" was very popular in Shakespeare's time. It was a story of heroic young prince. 

Shakespeare was not the only one to name their son after this story. His neighbour Hamnet Sadler was named for the same heroic prince.

Hamnet Sadler's name was also spelled Hamlet. So, there is every reason to believe that Shakespeare's son Hamnet could also be called Hamlet.

So, now it becomes clearer. Shakespeare may have written his very first play about a heroic young prince named Hamlet, a name that he gave to his first-born son.

If that is true, then this is arguably the most important story Shakespeare would ever write. He wrote it for his young son.

Let us assume that he did write this 1589 version of the story for his son. We might also assume that this production was not very successful, otherwise there might have been more written about it at the time. Or, it could have been wildly successful, and there is no record that has survived.

Kenneth Branagh

Now let us assume that he also wrote another version of the same story, he dusted it off again and played it in 1594.

Why would he perform it again in 1594?

Well, by 1594 Shakespeare had just become friends with the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Southampton. They also became his artistic patrons.

If they liked Shakespeare, and recognized him as the remarkably talented playwright that he was, they may have wanted to see the most important play he had ever written. They asked him to perform Hamlet.

Would it be the exact same text? Would Shakespeare add a few lines here and there?

Essex, at the time, had ambitions to succeed Queen Elizabeth, who considered him her "favourite."

Would it be surprising then if Essex asked Shakespeare to write lines or scenes that helped him in his effort to become the next King of England? 

It was only one year later that Shakespeare was writing Richard II, which was very political, and clearly propaganda for Essex.

We might assume that this production in 1594 was also not very successful. But we don't know for sure.

Jude Law

Let us assume that Shakespeare next performed Hamlet in 1596. Why 1596?

Well, that is the year that his son Hamnet died. He was 11 years old.

If Shakespeare did indeed write the play for his son in 1589, he may have written a newer, and arguably bleaker and more tragic version in 1596.

It is entirely reasonable to believe that Shakespeare may have wanted to write a new version in order to deal with the tremendous pain of losing his only son.

We might assume that this production was not successful. Thomas Lodge's comment about crying "so miserably, like an oyster-wife" might indicate that audiences did not enjoy a third production of the same play. Was it too melodramatic perhaps?

For the next production of Hamlet, as I mentioned, there are theories that date the play anywhere between 1599 to 1602.

But, let's look at February 1601.

Essex, who had a terrible reversal of fortune, and had lost all of the love of Queen Elizabeth, led a rebellion against her, with the Earl of Southampton. Essex failed, was tried, and executed.

Shakespeare's friend and artistic patron is a traitor and is killed. This is one of the greatest tragedies in Shakespeare's life.

But later that year, Shakespeare's father John dies.

It is hard to imagine how frightened and sad Shakespeare was in that year.

It is one of the most difficult moments in his career. He has lost political protection and favor, now that Essex is dead, and his other patron, Southampton, is locked in the Tower.

David Tennant

He might have asked himself if he should continue with his career, whether he should stop writing and retire to Stratford, or keep writing.

But if he writes anything, what should it be?

What if he writes a new version, a fourth version of Hamlet?

The first was for his son, the second for Essex, the third for his son after his death, and now a fourth after the death of Essex. It makes a certain sense.

This fourth version was probably the one that we know best. It probably represented all of the earlier scenes and lines, to maximize the tragedy that was the Essex Rebellion. Essex was very popular in England, and seeing the play would have been something of a funeral mass.

So, is this Hamlet play we have today, which we read and study and is performed over and over again, some combination of all four versions of the same story?

Hamlet is the longest play of his. Perhaps the length supports this theory that it is a combination of four versions.

Benedict Cumberbatch will play Hamlet later this year

Why Hamlet is his greatest play? There is so much I could write about that.

But what if the answer is very simple. What if it is his greatest play because he wrote it for and about two of the most important people in his life?

Shakespeare with his family, and son Hamnet, standing

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

For the heroic prince he imagined his son would become, but whose life was cut way too short, and the heroic young prince whose mad ambition got him killed.

What do you think?


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