It’s TIME! It’s HERE! We’re BAAAAACK! After a strange couple of weekends that resulted in the unfortunate and complete lack of Shakespeare Saturday (apologies) we are pleased to return our attention to Ol’ Willy and the fascinating myth that surrounds his name and life’s work.
Today I’d like to share with you an article I stumbled upon pertaining to the little-known (and much agonized-over) life of William Shakespeare. Though there are countless Shakespeare “biographies” on the shelves of bookstores worldwide what is actually known about our beloved Bard is, in fact, very little. The legitimate documentation that exists proving Shakespeare’s existence is pretty standard for the time period, but as a result a lot of what we know about him has to be taken with a few grains of salt. Maybe more than that. A lot more actually. Anyway, to make a long story y’know… less long: first-hand/credible information about Shakespeare’s life is pretty hard to come by. So when scholars find his name on legitimate documents after years of searching things can get pretty shaken up. Get it? Got it? Good. So let’s get to the good stuff.
It was in 1931 that scholar extraordinaire, Leslie Hotson, made a rather juicy discovery while digging through the British National Archives. He found Shakespeare’s name. On a document. After sifting through tons of random, uncatalogued public records from Elizabethan England. It was a big deal, ok? So on to what he found… William Shakespeare was named in a legal document called a “surety of the peace” in which he was accused by a man named William Wayte of making death threats. “Death threats? Not dear, sensitive Willy!” I hear you crying… Oh, it gets better.
Since the document was discovered it has plausibly led to the suggestion that Mr. William Shakespeare was heavily involved in organized crime. Honestly this makes perfect sense because during Shakespeare’s time the theatrical world was far from respectable; often a breeding ground and meeting place for thieves, con-men, pickpockets, pimps, whores… you name it. As a matter of fact the south bank of the Thames (where all the theatres and brothels were located) was completely out of the City of London’s jurisdiction so they could carry on “safe from the forces of law and order”. So Hotson’s document fits the picture and he seems to have (to quote the best sentence in the article)”uncovered a squalid tale of gangland rivalries in the theatrical underworld of Queen Elizabeth’s day”.
The man whom Shakespeare is supposed to have made threats against was, in fact, a henchman for one of the most powerful, corrupt, and almost certainly dangerous magistrates of the time, William Gardiner. Gardiner was a leather merchant (though most of his wealth came from criminal activity) and he was in open conflict with Shakespeare’s then-boss, Francis Langley. Langley was the owner of The Swan Theater, a staunch opponent of William Wayte (Shakespeare’s accuser and henchman to the big boss), and a purveyor of vice. As Shakespeare is named as a principal in the “surety of peace” it is easy to draw the conclusion that he was involved in the illegal rackets of his boss and fellows.
So you thought you knew everything about that old softy Shakespeare, eh? Well, it looks like you may have to think again. Evidence shows that Shakespeare dodged from rented rooms and taxes among other things and he was no doubt involved with a boatload of shysters.
So go on and read the article if you want the more detailed, scholarly version, but just promise me that your takeaway will be “holy shit William Shakespeare was a BAMF”.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s journey through the sordid underbelly of Shakespeare!
See you next week!