Hamlet: a play that speaks to pandemics past and present


Mark Brenner

Elizabeth Schafer, Royal Holloway University of London

I went to the theatre for the first time in 15 months to see the Theatre Royal Windsor’s new production of Hamlet. Starring Ian McKellen and directed by Sean Mathias, it really resonates in a time of ongoing pandemic. Mckellen’s very contemporary, teenage Hamlet slouches around in a hoodie and trackie bottoms, grieving, isolated and angry.

The setting, like the original, is the city of Elsinore, Denmark. In this version, COVID funerals are disrupted and truncated. Hamlet, a latterday prince, is a bisexual university student stuck at home with mum and step-dad when he wants to be back at uni in Wittenberg, hanging out with his friends and lovers.

Mental health issues afflict those in mourning, especially royalty. Hamlet muses “to be or not to be” as his lover, Horatio, gives the prince that most precious of things in lockdown, a haircut. Characters are overwhelmed by feelings of loss. Suicidal thoughts lurk. Denmark feels, and looks, like a prison. The government is morally corrupt.

Much of the play, this modern interpretation and Shakespeare’s original, speak to the circumstances and current climate in which we live. There is much in it to relate to and also learn from as our world widens and we learn to “live with the virus”.

Pandemics past

The spectre of plague and pandemic hung over much of Shakespeare’s life. He was born in April 1564, a few months before an outbreak of bubonic plague killed a quarter of the people in his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. Such pandemics would recur during his time in London in 1592, 1603, 1606 and then 1609.

When Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, usually dated around 1599-1601, feelings of grief, mourning and bereavement were probably at the forefront of his mind. His parents were very elderly by contemporary standards. Shakespeare’s father, John, died in September 1601 around 70 years of age. Five years earlier, in August 1596, Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, had died aged 11, possibly of plague.

It is an uncanny coincidence that the name Hamlet is so close in sound to the name of Shakespeare’s son. The play is obsessed with fathers and sons, and how to navigate mourning a father’s death. It is full of speeches about grief and attempts to move on after bereavement. Hamlet is not alone in this as Ophelia and Laertes also suffer from unresolved grief in the play.

What galvanises Hamlet out of his emotional lockdown is theatre. When he hears travelling players are in town he leaps into action. Like so many in the audience he has really missed the theatre.

Despite the modern dress, Sean Mathias’ production eclectically evokes the theatre practices of the troupe in Hamlet. Most obviously, casting ignores age, ethnicity and gender, something which evokes the fact that Shakespeare’s stage had young men playing women. So while Jonathan Hyde is realistically cast as a plausible, efficient Claudius, the teenage Hamlet is played by an 82-year-old, while Francesca Annis who plays his elderly ghost.

Pandemic theatre

Lee Newby’s set design also encourages audiences to think of early modern playing conditions, transforming the Theatre Royal stage into a black metal, faux Globe theatre with two banks of seats on either side of the stage and a gallery at the back.

As a result, the onstage audience are clearly on display, sharing light with the performers. The mandatory face masks offer a constant reminder of COVID, while blanking out the audience’s reactions, but they also offer a reminder that Shakespeare’s playhouse had to navigate its own pandemic and often had to negotiate sudden lockdowns.

When the weekly plague death count reached 30 in Shakespeare’s time, the playhouses closed. Plague transmission was not properly understood, but it was clear that people congregating created a super-spreader event of sorts.

Shakespeare, a player, playwright and, most importantly of all, a shareholder in the Globe, seems to have seized the moment and written prolifically during plague lockdowns. In 1592 he was writing narrative poetry – Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece – as plague raged.

The years 1603 to 1604, 1606, and 1608 to 1609 were also bad for plague, and seem to have given Shakespeare space to write. For example King Lear was performed at Whitehall Palace on Boxing Day 1606 at the end of a year of plague. From 1597 on, Shakespeare could also escape to his sprawling Warwickshire country mansion, New Place, one of the largest houses for miles, with at least 20 rooms.

Illustration of the original Globe Theatre.
Globe Theatre, detail from Hollar’s View of London, 1647.
Wikimedia

By contrast, many players were desperate for any income and facing destitution. So, sometimes playhouses would reopen before the mortality rate fell to the level considered “safe”. The thought of what a “freedom day” was like in the early modern playhouse, with those standing (known as groundlings) pressed closely together in the yard, is perhaps even more daunting than watching people flood back now restrictions are lifted.

Now that so many restrictions have been lifted now in the UK since July 19, I am feeling very ambivalent about the shared experience of live theatre. The Theatre Royal created what feels like a very safe space and, personally, I could get used to having such a generous amount of leg room in front of me. In a COVID-secure theatre, there’s no need to get intimate with complete strangers while trying to squeeze through to your seat.

But after “Freedom Day”, the theatre is only insisting that masks remain mandatory for the audience onstage who are in such close proximity to the actors. The theatre will only “strongly encourage” the rest of the audience to mask up.

During the first decade of the 1600s, pandemic ravaged the country’s population and theatres were closed as often as they were open. This might be the case now too. Already productions have had to close to isolate, including London’s Shakespeare’s Globe, after positive cases among cast and crew. Maybe restrictions indoors could stave off more productions having to close. It took 30 deaths to close the playhouses in the 1600s, but now all it takes to close a theatre is one case of COVID.The Conversation

Elizabeth Schafer, Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies, Royal Holloway University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shakespeare’s rulers and generals are all flawed, but the books on his leadership lessons keep coming


John Bell, pictured here in 2006, is the latest to write a book on Shakespeare and leadership.
Paul Millar/AAP

Robert White, The University of Western Australia

Review: John Bell, Some Achieve Greatness: Lessons on leadership from Shakespeare and one of his greatest admirers. With illustrations by Cathy Wilcox. Pantera Press, 2021.

John Bell’s new book Some Achieve Greatness is but the latest to use Shakespeare’s works to inspire and teach would-be leaders in the modern world.

In 2000 alone, two books appeared aimed at business management students: Power Plays and Shakespeare on Management. In perhaps the best of the genre, Shakespeare the Coach (2004), Australian Olympian, medical graduate, politician and hockey coach Ric Charlesworth applies the dramatist’s words to the sporting arena and people management. Naturally he devotes a chapter to motivational leadership, headed “Purpose and Persuasion”.

The new book from Bell, the actor and renowned theatre director, is both more, and less, than these. More, because it is as much a pithy “business autobiography” as instructional manual, from a man who has devoted his career to bringing Shakespeare to Australian audiences.




Read more:
Guide to the classics: Shakespeare’s sonnets — an honest account of love and a surprising portal to the man himself


Bell in 2013.
AAP

Bell has not only performed most of the major characters, learning their words by heart and internalising the subtleties and plural meanings, he has also directed the plays. He has shown business acumen in administering two successful theatre companies, co-founding Nimrod in 1970 (dedicated to producing Australian plays as well as Shakespeare’s), and of course, the Bell Shakespeare Company.

His name has become almost synonymous with the bard’s in our cultural life through this company and a series of scholarly editions of plays named after him. He also authored a substantial book titled On Shakespeare (2011), full of insights: the fruit of a practised actor-director’s rich and detailed experience.

And, as one of Australia’s Living Treasures, Bell has cemented his reputation by “dying” hundreds of times onstage in Shakespearean roles — like Cleopatra, he “hath such a celerity in dying”.

Reflecting on his multifaceted career, Bell applies his accumulated knowledge to recount his own leadership style as it evolved through experience. Sage advice is offered, enlivened and illustrated with pertinent quotations from speeches, which no doubt Bell can enviably recite from memory.

Bell, centre, as Falstaff during a dress rehearsal of Henry 4 in Canberra in 2013.
Alan Porritt/AAP

The book offers lessons gleaned from a Shakespeare who is seen as a natural “collaborator never a one-man band”. We find chapters on “Courage, or how to be a leader in times of crisis”, “Decisiveness, timing and tough decisions”, “Charisma, confidence and humility”, and other virtues such as integrity and humanity. These are set against dangerous managerial vices like ambition, arrogance and entitlement.

Along the way are sprinkled inspirational quotations about leadership from the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy and Michelle Obama, alongside cautionary reminders of a less savoury, more recent American president .




Read more:
Friday essay: How Shakespeare helped shape Germaine Greer’s feminist masterpiece


No ideal leaders

However, Bell offers less than Charlesworth (my benchmark), in that the latter dwells more on applicable quotations than characters and dramatic context. This allows him to skirt the problem Bell faces: there are, in fact, no unflawed or ideal leaders in Shakespeare.

Although Bell ranges across the complete works, his major examples of good or bad leadership are surprisingly few in number. All are, to some extent flawed. Bell readily concedes this, since their failures are instructive. The figure who recurs in most detail is Henry V. For all his faults as a ruthless, likely war criminal, he seems to come closest to Bell’s ideal leader, at least in his rousing speeches.

Kenneth Branagh as Henry V in the 1989 film: ruthless but with rousing speeches?

Julius Caesar and Brutus emerge as ambiguous and lacking in strategical competence. Antony for all his brilliant oratory is too much the playboy who believes in his own “celebrity”, while King Lear is easy prey for sycophants and flatterers.

Naturally enough, Richard III and Macbeth as leaders are definitely not to be emulated, though there is somehow a touch of unintended humour in the homily-like way Bell warns us against using murder as a career move:

Watching the downfall of the Macbeths we have to ask ourselves: What am I prepared to pay to make it to the top of the pile? Is the reward worth my sanity, my self-respect, my relationship, my reputation, my friendships?

Who would answer yes to such a piously phrased question?

Michael Fassbinder as Macbeth in the 2015 film: not a great role model.
See-Saw Films, DMC Film, Anton

What about the women?

We have to wait for the final chapter before some women make an appearance, exemplifying such admirable qualities as adaptability and negotiating skills (Portia), integrity and plain-speaking honesty (Cordelia), and playfulness (Rosalind), although Bell sees their agency as qualified in a man’s world:

In the Comedies, women find a voice and authority by adopting a false male persona and using their wit, charm and female tenderness to lead the menfolk to an awareness of their follies and a better understanding of successful male/female coexistence and interdependence.

This book is very readable and can probably be devoured in a single sitting, though Bell might prefer us to take our time and savour at leisure the lessons taught. It also features witty and pertinent cartoons by Cathy Wilcox.The Conversation

Robert White, Winthrop Professor of English, The University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guide to the classics: Shakespeare’s sonnets — an honest account of love and a surprising portal to the man himself


Giovanni Cariani, Portrait of Two Young Men. The bulk of the sonnets are addressed to a young man known as the ‘fair youth’.

Dr Jamie Q Roberts, University of Sydney

Most of us are familiar with Shakespeare’s plays. Even if we aren’t Shakespeare geeks, chances are we’ve waded through five or six in school, seen several movie adaptations and been to an “in the park” production.

And then there is the constant background of Shakespearean quotations and references colouring our lives, from recognisable lines like “let slip the dogs of war”, to the oh, I didn’t know Shakespeare wrote that cliches, such as “one fell swoop” or “wear my heart upon my sleeve”.

However, apart from a few hits, Shakespeare’s sonnets are less known.


goodreads

Fortified with a familiarity with the plays, a virgin journey into the sonnets is as good a literary adventure as anyone could hope for. It is both unsettling and beguiling.

The Shakespeare of the plays is god-like: he is everywhere in his creations as a masterful and unifying presence, and yet he is aloof. If I had to take a punt, I’d say he was wise, wry — the kind of person who knew how to do life right.

Thus it is a shock to meet the Shakespeare of the sonnets. This Shakespeare is frail (sonnets 29 and 145), obsessed (28), judgmental (130), fickle (110) and self-pitying (72). And so we are drawn in. We begin to ponder how much of himself Shakespeare reveals in the sonnets, and, if he is in there, how one of the most remarkable humans could be so like the rest of us.

What is a sonnet?

A sonnet is a short poem, traditionally about love. The “English” or “Shakespearean” sonnet has a standard form. There are 14 lines, each with five “beats”.

Each beat has two syllables, with the second being stressed. This is known as “iambic pentameter”. Try it out with the most famous line from the sonnets: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (18)

The sonnet has three “quatrains” — stanzas with four lines — and a final rhyming couplet — two lines that rhyme. The couplet packs a certain punch that turns the sonnet on its head or provides the key to the sonnet or something similar.




Read more:
Explainer: poetic metre


A brief overview

When we talk about Shakespeare’s sonnets, we are usually referring to the 154 sonnets published in 1609 when Shakespeare was about 45. The sonnets were likely written and revised throughout Shakespeare’s adult life (though there is debate).

Keeping to the tradition, Shakespeare’s sonnets are about love. But they take us into love’s maelstrom. The sonnets speak, often in the most raw fashion, of jealousy (61), fear (48), infidelity (120) and love triangles (41, 42), but also of the simple happiness that love can bring (25). Because of this, according to poet and essayist Anthony Hecht, young lovers make up the most substantial readership of the sonnets.

The bulk of the sonnets (1-126) are addressed to a young man, often referred to as the “fair youth”.

The dedication to the sonnets.
Author provided

The last 28 are mostly addressed to or about a woman: “the dark lady”. The real-life identities of both figures are not known. However, the dedication to the sonnets, which some consider to be a code, may contain the youth’s identity (see this article by amateur Shakespeare scholar, John Rollett).

Within these two broad sets there are smaller groupings. Sonnets 1 to 17 are known as the “procreation sonnets”, while 78 to 86, which reveal that another poet is drawing inspiration from the fair youth, are referred to as the “rival poet” sequence.

And throughout, two and sometimes three sonnets are directly linked as if they were a longer poem (for instance 66, 67 and 68 — look out here for the objection to the silly wigs everyone wore).




Read more:
Friday essay: 50 shades of Shakespeare – how the Bard sexed things up


The fair youth sequence

There are several recurring themes here.

A number of sonnets address the pain of being apart (such as 44 and 45). And in 49 we see the persona’s anxiety about parting permanently when he imagines the time “when thou [the fair youth] shalt strangely pass, / And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye.”

But we also witness the persona drawing on his love for the youth to fortify himself against unhappy memories. The well known 30 begins with:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past, / I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, / And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.

It finishes with the lines, “But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, / All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.”

There are also the themes of time’s destruction of beauty and the horror of death. And hand-in-hand with these, we see the persona searching for ways for the youth to achieve immortality.

In 12, one of the “procreation sonnets”, the youth is encouraged to seek immortality by having children. It finishes with: “And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence, / Save breed, to brave him, when he takes thee hence.”

However, even more poignant are the persona’s many explicit attempts to preserve the youth through his poetry — a quixotic enterprise that, remarkably, has worked. This is best exemplified in 18. We read:

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade, / When in eternal lines to time thou growest. / So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Portrait by John Taylor, thought to be of Shakespeare.
Wikimedia Commons

A common discussion is whether the fair youth sequence reveals that Shakespeare was gay or bisexual. Unless the sonnets are a wild fabrication, Shakespeare certainly wasn’t straight.

However, we should, as scholar Dennis Kay reminds us, be cautious of “applying a modern understanding of, and attitudes toward, homosexuality to early modern culture.” Read 20 and see what you think.

Not all the sonnets in the fair youth sequence are addressed to the youth. An exception is another of the evergreen sonnets: 116. This ode to the eternal nature of love begins with:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments. Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove: / O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark.

Returning to sonnet 66 (my favourite), although the final couplet addresses love, the sonnet stands out because its focus is not love, but the corruptions of the world.

In it, the persona objects to “folly (doctor-like) controlling skill” and “art made tongue-tied by authority.” Here we are reminded of the battles many who are capable and spirited must fight against soulless bureaucracies and the censorious.

The dark lady sequence

The “dark lady” is “dark” because when she is introduced in 127, her complexion and eyes are described as black:

In the old age black was not counted fair, / Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name; / But now is black beauty’s successive heir, / And beauty slander’d with a bastard shame.

And later in the sonnet we read: “my mistress’ eyes are raven black.”

In the dark lady sequence, the persona suffers familiar torments. But there are also several instances of humor — the fair youth sequence is almost humorless.

In sonnet 135 and 136 the persona puns bawdily and relentlessly on the world “will”: “Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious, / Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?”

But the stand-out is 130. Here the persona pointedly declines to use tired comparisons to praise the attributes of his mistress.

We read: “My mistresses’ eyes are nothing like the sun”, and, “And in some perfumes is there more delight / Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.”

Then come the glorious lines: “I grant I never saw a goddess go; / My mistress when she walks, treads on the ground.”

Their reception

The sonnets were not much read for nearly 200 years after their publication, but since then they have only grown in popularity. This was, perhaps, assisted by Wordsworth’s own sonnet: “Scorn Not the Sonnet”. (I know, it’s hard not to laugh.)

Today, lines from the sonnets turn up from time to time in popular culture. Naturally, in “Dead Poets Society” sonnet 18 is recited.

So what do the sonnets mean for us today? Many things. Most commonly, they have come to stand for perfect love, but this is likely because few readers make it past two of them: sonnets 18 and 116.

For those who do read further, the sonnets provide a more honest account of love, while exploring other substantial themes such as fear of death and the search for immortality.

The sonnets can also be enlisted to support social and political causes, from freedom to sexuality. And then there is the possible portal they provide into Shakespeare the man.

Ultimately though, we read on because of Shakespeare’s inimitable commingling of beauty and truth — if the two can be separated. And because each reading reveals that we are still only splashing about in the shallows of an immeasurable ocean.The Conversation

Dr Jamie Q Roberts, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shakespeare and Cervantes: what similarities between the famous writers reveal about mysteries of authorship



Andy Rain/EPA

Alfonso Martín Jiménez, Universidad de Valladolid

William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, two of the most important writers of literature, are surrounded by a halo of mystery related to authorship.

In the case of Shakespeare, the question of whether he is the true author of his plays has circulated for some time. In the case of Cervantes, mysteries about authorship tend to concern who wrote the sequel to the first part of Don Quixote, one of the earliest modern novels.

Cervantes published the first part of Don Quixote in 1605. In 1614, an unofficial sequel by the pseudonymous Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda was published. In response, a year later, Cervantes published his sequel to Don Quixote, denouncing Avellaneda’s version in the prologue. Since then, Avellaneda’s identity has become the greatest mystery in Spanish literature.

Cervantes, Shakespeare and education

Both Cervantes and Shakespeare lived and died at around the same time. Shakespeare was born into a wealthy, rural family and Cervantes had humbler origins, yet both had a passion for the theatre and wrote plays.

In both cases, we hardly know anything about their childhoods and education (although it is known that neither went to university).

Person’s finger on magnified page of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, reading:
Shakespeare’s works have been attributed to 80 different authors.
Andy Rain /EPA

Great authors lend themselves to speculation. Shakespeare’s lack of education is one of the main arguments against the idea that he wrote his works, which have been attributed to 80 different authors. While Cervantes’ authorship tends not to be under the same scrutiny, questions about who exactly Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda was, remain.

Cervantes’ own educational background, however, suggests that it is possible to write to a high standard without academic training. If this could be true for the Spanish writer, why not for Shakespeare too?

A very large number of authors have also been proposed as candidates for the authorship of Avellaneda’s sequel to Don Quixote.

Social and cultural prejudices have been important in both cases. Shakespeare’s works show a detailed knowledge of the highest social classes, which is why it is thought that they should have been composed by some illustrious person of the time, such as Sir Francis Bacon.

However, Cervantes also had knowledge of the higher social classes and did not belong to them. Some researchers have even proposed that Avellaneda could have been Lope de Vega, the most prominent Spanish playwright at the time, since it is more attractive to imagine Cervantes confronted with a great author than with a mediocre person.

In both cases, figures who died well before both Shakespeare and Cervantes have been proposed as authors: Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as the author of Shakespeare’s plays, and the Spanish writer Pedro Liñán de Riaza as Avellaneda, the unconvincing argument being that their works were left incomplete and were finished by other writers.

That said, it’s important to look at other plausible explanations. At the time of the publication of the first part of Don Quixote, there were no copyright laws protecting writers from continuations or plagiarism of works, which explains how Avellaneda’s version came to be.

Similar confusion has been caused in Shakespeare’s case. The Taming of the Shrew had an earlier anonymous version titled: The Taming of a Shrew, seemingly supporting theories that Shakespeare’s version was co-authored, or written by someone else entirely.

These days, however, following a theory put forward by Shakespearean scholar Peter Alexander in 1926, it is generally accepted that The Taming of A Shrew was simply an attempt to record the live production version of the play from memory.

In the case of Cervantes, I think I have cleared the mystery: we already know what Cervantes thought about Avellaneda’s identity, which should put an end to absurd speculation.

Cervantes and issues of authorship

As one popular theory goes, Avellaneda’s sequel to Don Quixote should be read as an embittered response to Cervantes’ parody of two real people: Lope de Vega and Jerónimo de Pasamonte. Pasamonte was a soldier from the region of Aragon who took part – as did Cervantes – in the battle of Lepanto (1571). Cervantes is said to have behaved heroically in the battle since, despite being ill, he insisted on fighting and was wounded several times.

Red hard-bound editions of Miguel de Cervante’s Don Quixote books in a row on a shelf
Cervantes’ parody of the apocryphal Don Quixote hints at Avellaneda’s true identity.
Amani A/Shutterstock

Shortly afterwards, in 1574, Pasamonte was taken prisoner and spent 18 years in captivity. Upon his release, he returned to Spain and finished his autobiography, Life and Works.

When writing about the capture in 1573 of La Goleta (where there was in fact no actual battle), Pasamonte claimed to have acted as heroically as Cervantes at the battle of Lepanto.

After seeing how Pasamonte had usurped his heroic deeds in his autobiography, Cervantes satirised it in the first part of Don Quixote. Cervantes turned Jerónimo de Pasamonte into Ginés de Pasamonte, a galley slave, who is presented as a liar, a cheat, a coward and a thief, and is gravely insulted by characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

The revenge of Pasamonte

The hypothesis that Pasamonte was Avellaneda, proposed by Martín de Riquer, an academic at the Royal Spanish Academy of the Language, is increasingly accepted.

As I have probed in my book, “The two second parts of Don Quixote”, Pasamonte sought to take revenge on Cervantes, writing a sequel to Don Quixote with the intention of robbing Cervantes of his earnings from the second part. In order not to be linked to Cervantes’ galley slave, he then signed it under a pseudonym.

To get revenge on Avellaneda, Cervantes imitated his imitator and created a masterly scene, making the literary representation of Avellaneda (personified in a character known as Jerónimo) recognise his Don Quixote as the true one.

As attractive as speculation about Shakespeare and Cervantes’ authorship may be, looking closer at their lives shows just how irrelevant class, education and conspiracy theories are in terms of explaining their genius.The Conversation

Alfonso Martín Jiménez, Catedrático de Teoría de la Literatura y Literatura Comparada, Universidad de Valladolid

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shakespeare’s ‘Timon of Athens,’ penned in plague-time, shows money corrupts but can also heal



Shakespeare did an excellent job of depicting the real nature of money, Karl Marx believed. A £2 coin issued in 2016 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
(Shutterstock)

Paul Yachnin, McGill University

In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,
Karl Marx used Shakespeare’s work to examine money and its impact. The text was Timon of Athens, a tragedy written by Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton.

“Shakespeare,” Marx said, “excellently depicts the real nature of money.” Marx thought Timon of Athens shows perfectly how money both funds the miraculous fulfilment of all our wishes — and also robs us of friendship, love and our very humanity.

As philosopher Margherita Pascucci as well as the editors of the Arden Shakespeare third edition of Timon of Athens argue, Marx gets a great deal right about money in the play. I think that the play’s case against money is even more sinister than Marx does, but also, that the play shows how money can be used for the public good.

Spreading the wealth

Super-rich Timon loves to spread his wealth around. His supposed friends give him gifts in expectation of returns on investment. “If I want gold,” says one senator, “steal but a beggar’s dog / And give it Timon, why, the dog coins gold.”

Timon thinks money is simply the thing he and his “friends” use to celebrate their friendship. “O,” Timon tells his greedy guests, “what a precious comfort ‘tis to have so many like brothers commanding one another’s fortunes.”

But Marx, like Shakespeare and unlike Timon, finds that money makes us powerful and lovable precisely by alienating us from ourselves. Marx builds his case against money on Timon’s diatribe against gold, which comes pouring out of him when all his “brothers” deny him money when he is most in need.

For Timon, gold is revealed as a “visible god” with the power to make the ugly beautiful, the evil good and able to conjure what passes for love between people.
Timon comes to understand how money replaces human relations with monetary ones.

Written in plague-time

In 1605-6, when the play was likely written, Middleton was coming off a string of brilliant satires about money-grubbing and seeking status. Shakespeare had, over the previous few years, written his great tragedies, including Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. In these early years of the reign of King James, the royal court was a hotbed of self-display by courtiers on the make and self-promoting gift-giving.

The plague had also swept through England in 1603, when about 25 per cent of the population of London died. Plague struck again in 1606, which is why the play seems never to have been performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime.

The London playhouses were ordered closed. The churches, however, stayed open; congregants could hear about how plague came from God as a punishment for their sins.

Money as disease

Against this background of courtly profligacy and plague, it should come as no surprise that money in Timon of Athens isn’t merely an instrument of both empowerment and alienation. Money is a disease whose serpent-like winding from person to person swells into a pandemic large enough to annihilate humankind.

When Timon storms out of Athens, he curses the city:

“Breath, infect breath

at their society, as their friendship, may

Be merely poison!”

Alone in the woods, he digs for roots, but finds instead a fortune in gold. He gives gold to the soldier Alcibiades to bankroll an attack on Athens. Alcibiades had been banished from the city by the arrogant, unjust senators. Timon encourages him to slaughter everyone, down to the babies with “dimpled smiles”:

Put up thy gold: go on — here’s gold — go on;.

Be as a planetary plague, when Jove

Will o’er some high-viced city hang his poison

In the sick air …”

Sharing money

A man turns away from two women and a solidier.
Timon, on the left, giving gold to Phrynia and Timandra; scene from ‘Timon of Athens’ (Act 4, Scene 3). Cropped detail from mounted etching and engraving.
(1299363001/The Trustees of the British Museum), CC BY-NC-SA

We moderns are informed by scientists, but we would do well to think with these Renaissance playwrights about about how the desire for money, and the power and pre-eminence money can buy, has led us to exploit the natural world and create gross global disparities in wealth.

Might money itself might have helpful or healing properties in the face of both the inequities that have become apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic and the planetary climate crisis?

The play suggests two ways money can save us. Near the play’s end, Timon’s steward Flavius and his former servants gather to say farewell. Flavius makes the other men take a share of the money he has saved through his employment. “Nay, put out all your hands,” he says, “not one word more.”

What we see is a group of people whose hunger and desire for shelter are addressed by the simple sharing of money — as Marx wrote (or at least popularized), to each according to his needs.

Surely today, less hoarding of wealth and fairer systemic distribution of resources could help mitigate some of the worst impacts of the virus on communities that have been hardest hit. Similarly so when we look at the disproportionate impacts of climate change on the Global South.

Money upholding law

The play also shows us how money might help to uphold the law and undo corruption.

With Timon’s gold, Alcibiades is able to bring an army to the gates of Athens. Instead of putting the city to the sword, he uses the threat of the sword to enforce the good laws of Athens and to purge the corruption of the Athenian senators, who “with all licentious measure,” make their “wills / The scope of justice.” Alcibiades honours “the stream / Of regular justice … and public laws.”

We can put aside the spectre of righteous armies at the gates of our cities. Violence cannot create a just world. But money could serve to give the law teeth. Money could fund a lawful path toward a just world.

Imagine how we might scale up from Alcibiades’ honouring of “the stream of regular justice.” Money could fund a transnational movement able to transform into law in every nation a document like the Paris climate agreement, a pact which even the signatory governments now can simply nod at and ignore.

Groups championing a better Earth show us some ways it can be done. To make the Paris agreement into law across all nations would be to turn the world and the “visible god” of money toward what really matters and to give humankind a fighting chance of survival.

As Shakespeare understood, our fate depends on our ability to foster the humility and fellow feeling that will dethrone our god of money and transform it into a thing we use to advance our good and the good of others.The Conversation

Paul Yachnin, Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hamlet is Shakespeare’s greatest villain



Hamlet and Ophelia by Agnes Pringle.
Chiswick Town Hall, CC BY-NC-SA

Catherine Butler, Cardiff University

Who is Shakespeare’s greatest villain? Richard III? Iago? Macbeth? They all have a claim to the title; however, the correct answer is Hamlet.

Hamlet not only behaves villainously throughout his eponymous play, but has somehow persuaded generations of audiences and critics that he is actually its hero. That is what takes his villainy to the next level.

Look at the roll call of Hamlet’s crimes.

First he kills Polonius – chief counsellor to the King and the father of Laertes and Ophelia. Hamlet skewers him when he discovers him eavesdropping from behind a tapestry. Polonius may be an “intruding fool,” as Hamlet dismissively calls him on discovering his body; but Hamlet is in no position to feel superior, having “intruded” on Claudius’s private meditations in just the previous scene. Double standards are, however, a hallmark of this play.




Read more:
The lure of Hamlet – why this is the test of a lifetime for Benedict Cumberbatch


To make his treatment of Polonius worse, once dead, Hamlet drags his corpse through the court, hiding it from his loved ones and leaving it to decay and rot without proper burial.

Such disrespect of Polonius in death, however, is no different from how the prince treated him in life. Using his rank, Hamlet continuously insults Polonious, ridiculing him for his age, calling him names and refusing to talk to him directly at times. Hamlet does so knowing Polonius can not answer back. Punching down is Hamlet’s usual style with social inferiors: Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Osric all experience similar treatment.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know?

Painting of Ophelia floating after she drowned in a river.
John Everett Millais’s Ophelia.
Tate, CC BY-ND

The most egregious crime is the death of Ophelia, whom Hamlet drives to madness and suicide with a campaign of misogyny, gaslighting and open sexual harassment, one moment condemning her for the crime of being female, the next degrading her in public with obscene puns.

Then there’s his casual proxy murder of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whose only crime is to obey the king’s order to find out what is troubling their friend and then to escort him to England. Although Hamlet has no evidence that his friends know the fatal contents of the letter they carry, commanding the prince’s execution, he goes out of his way to ensure that they are not only killed but damned for eternity by being denied confession. By his own account, he never gives them another thought.




Read more:
Patriarchy’s ghosts in the light bulbs: Hamlet at The Royal Exchange


‘Never Hamlet’

Set design feature four of Hamlet's characters in a round lit by spotlights with crosses hanging above.
Set design for shakespeare’s Hamlet by Georgian artist Dimitri Tavadze.
Dimitri Tavadze/Wikimedia, CC BY-NC-SA

Laertes, like Hamlet, has a murdered father, as well as a sister driven to suicide. When he takes a few lines to mourn at her graveside, Hamlet (whose self-absorbed soliloquies have already filled many pages) is outraged that the focus of attention should be on anyone else even for eight lines (“What is he whose grief/ Bears such an emphasis?”) and declares, on the basis of no evidence that we have seen, that he loved Ophelia 40,000 times more than her brother. Despite this hyperbolic protestation, he never again mentions or alludes to Ophelia from that moment on, let alone expressing regret at her death.

The usual excuse made for Hamlet is that many of these deeds are committed when he is of unsound mind. Indeed, this is his explanation to Laertes for the death of Polonius (“Was’t Hamlet wrong’d Laertes? Never Hamlet”). That excuse would carry more weight had Hamlet not persuasively told his mother the opposite within moments of the killing:

My pulse, as yours, doth temperately keep time,

And makes as healthful music: it is not madness

That I have utter’d: bring me to the test,

And I the matter will re-word; which madness

Would gambol from.

By the end of the play, Hamlet has not only ruined his own life and those of his family and friends, but freely given away his country to a foreign power – the very thing his admired father had struggled so hard to prevent.

In short, Hamlet is a self-centred, entitled, manipulative, callous bully. However, he is also intensely charismatic, so much so that he has persuaded the world to share his Hamlet-centric view.

That is what makes him a villain of genius.The Conversation

Catherine Butler, Reader in English Literature, Cardiff University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shakespeare on Zoom: how a theatre group in isolation conjured up a Tempest



Madeleine MacMahon as ‘Sebastianne’ in a live production of The Tempest by Creation Theatre from 2019.
Creation Theatre/ Big Telly Theatre Company

Laura Jayne Wright, University of Oxford

While theatres remain closed, the way we watch Shakespeare is changing. When I picture the audiences Shakespeare would have written for, I think of the groundlings in Shakespeare in Love(1998). They stand, arms on the edges of the stage, staring upwards, eyes filled with tears – laughing, clapping, gasping. They are part of the show – and they show that they’re there. In the bright afternoon sun, the actors can see and hear every reaction.

Right now, of course, it’s not possible to take a trip to the playhouse. Still, with the National Theatre, the Globe, and the Really Useful Group moving quickly to put past performances online, the theatre can come to us via YouTube. We can see and hear the actors (and, having watched Hamlet, Jane Eyre and The Phantom of the Opera, I’ve been very grateful for it). But even though we can tweet our reactions, the actors can’t see or hear us.

The possibility of live performances during lockdown might change that. Over the Easter weekend, I watched an Oxford-based theatre company, Creation Theatre, and their co-producers at Big Telly Theatre Company from Portstewart in Northern Ireland, put on a production of The Tempest via video conferencing platform Zoom.

It seemed a tricky challenge under lockdown, with each cast member performing (and rehearsing) from home. Indeed, as chief executive and creative producer Lucy Askew warned before the play began, the night’s events were at the mercy of the technological gods.

But, when the play began and Ariel conjured a storm, suddenly it became clear that – despite our isolation – we too were part of the action. The audience’s microphones (muted while the actors spoke) were suddenly raised and we were asked to click our fingers to make it rain. The screen was full of audience members – and their pets, and their glasses of wine, and their pyjamas – and the storm was, even if I say so myself, convincing.

Within the space of an hour, the audience asked Antonio for answers via the chat function as he boasted of his usurpation of Prospero, we blew wind into the path of his ship and – in lieu of a banquet – all held up an offering of snacks (chocolate biscuits, from me). Each time other audience members appeared on screen, there was a rush of excitement as we got to see one another.

Listening to the island.

Shakespeare knew the importance of his audience’s reaction. At the end of The Tempest, Prospero relinquishes his magic and asks for something in return:

But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails.

It’s a moment when we are asked to make some noise – to clap with our “good hands”, to cheer (or whistle, or shout) with our “gentle breath”. Prospero’s redemption, if we allow him that possibility, comes from finally turning outwards, it comes from him seeing the necessity of his connection to others – to his daughter, to his once-forgotten subjects in Milan, and, perhaps, to us.

Yet, for all of the noise we made, this new medium exposed the myriad kinds of loneliness in The Tempest. Prospero sat in front of a backdrop of television screens, reminding us that we were all at one remove from one another. When Caliban described the noises of the island, the “Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not”, it was painfully apparent that he was alone and that there was nothing real to hear. When Ferdinand proposed to Miranda and reached from his screen to hers in an impressive feat of Zoom technology, that brief moment of “contact” was bittersweet.

After all, the despair of being alone is a fear which Prospero seeks to create. As ordered, Ariel deliberately scatters the shipwrecked courtiers across the island. Yet, as John Donne, a contemporary of Shakespeare, wrote:

No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

The dispersed groups come back together – Prospero leaves his island exile, and returns home. It’s not a perfect resolution, and it’s not a happy ending, but it is, nonetheless, a reunion.

Somewhere new?

As site-specific, conference call plays go, The Tempest lends itself to such a production. It’s a play about isolation and exile, about characters moving around a small island without ever meeting one another. Creation’s performance did nothing to disguise its new medium. In fact, the most powerful part of the performance came as Prospero spoke the famous epilogue which begins: “Now my charms are all o’erthrown”.

The cast slowly and methodically packed up their bedsheet green screens and wiped off their makeup. They changed their onscreen identities from their character’s names back to their own. By the time we were invited to stay on Zoom for a moment or two, to catch up with friends, thank the actors, and wave goodbye, the spell was broken.

But the magic may not be entirely over, not least as the popularity of their performances have led to Creation extending its run. Moreover, The Tempest is not the only play offered in this new genre of “Zoom Shakespeare”. Another group of actors recently collaborated to create A Midsummer Night’s Stream, which they advertise not simply as a reading but a live performance, “adapted for our stage”. And there is no reason to think that “Zoom Theatre” will stick to Shakespeare.

While we will (to entirely misuse one of Prospero’s lines) return to a time when we “have no screen between this part he play’d/And him he play’d it for”, Zoom Theatre may not be a temporary measure. Perhaps new plays will be written with the possibilities of Zoom and YouTube in mind. For many, watching theatre from home will allow for greater access and comfort. And, for now, speaking back, making noise, and waving at strangers, could inject a bit of silliness into our own isolated worlds.The Conversation

Laura Jayne Wright, Stipendiary Lecturer in English, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After the plague, Shakespeare imagined a world saved from poison, slander and the evil eye



Engraving from ‘The Fearefull Summer,’ a treatise published after the plague of 1625 and reprinted again in 1636, by John Taylor.
(McGill Library/Paul Yachnin), Author provided

Paul Yachnin, McGill University

Shakespeare lived his life in plague-time. He was born in April 1564, a few months before an outbreak of bubonic plague swept across England and killed a quarter of the people in his hometown.

Death by plague was excruciating to suffer and ghastly to see. Ignorance about how disease spread could make plague seem like a punishment from an angry God or like the shattering of the whole world.

Plague laid waste to England and especially to the capital repeatedly during Shakespeare’s professional life — in 1592, again in 1603, and in 1606 and 1609.

Whenever deaths from the disease exceeded thirty per week, the London authorities closed the playhouses. Through the first decade of the new century, the playhouses must have been closed as often as they were open.

Epidemic disease was a feature of Shakespeare’s life. The plays he created often grew from an awareness about how precarious life can be in the face of contagion and social breakdown.

Juliet’s messenger quarantined

Except for Romeo and Juliet, plague is not in the action of Shakespeare’s plays, but it is everywhere in the language and in the ways the plays think about life. Olivia in Twelfth Night feels the burgeoning of love as if it were the onset of disease. “Even so quickly may one catch the plague,” she says.

Juliet’s letter about her plan to pretend to have died does not reach Romeo because the messenger is forced into quarantine.
(Shutterstock)

In Romeo and Juliet, the letter about Juliet’s plan to pretend to have died does not reach Romeo because the messenger is forced into quarantine before he can complete his mission.

It is a fatal plot twist: Romeo kills himself in the tomb where his beloved lies seemingly dead. When Juliet wakes and finds Romeo dead, she kills herself too.

The darkest of the tragedies, King Lear, represents a sick world at the end of its days. “Thou art a boil,” Lear says to his daughter, Goneril, “A plague sore … In my corrupted blood.”

Those few characters left alive at the end, standing bereft in the midst of a shattered world, seem not unlike how many of us feel now in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s good to know that we — I mean all of us across time — might find ourselves sometimes in “deep mire, where there is no standing,” in “deep waters, where the floods overflow me,” in the words of the biblical psalmist.

Poisonous looks

But Shakespeare can also show us a better way. Following the 1609 plague, Shakespeare gave his audience a strange, beautiful restorative tragicomedy called Cymbeline. The international Cymbeline Anthropocene Project, led by Randall Martin at the University of New Brunswick, and including theatre companies from Australia to Kazakhstan, envisions the play as a way to consider how to restore a liveable world today.

Cymbeline took Shakespeare’s playgoers into a world without plague, but one filled with the dangers of infection nonetheless. The play’s evil queen experiments with poisons on cats and dogs. She even sets out to poison her stepdaughter, the princess Imogen.

In ‘Cymbeline,’ Shakespeare suggests that even being seen by someone with antagonistic thoughts can be toxic.
(Shutterstock)

Infection also takes the form of slander, which passes virus-like from mouth to mouth. The principal target again is Imogen, framed by wicked lies against her virtue by a man named Giacomo that her banished husband, Posthumus, hears. From Italy, Posthumus sends orders to his man in Britain to assassinate his wife.

The world of the play is also defiled by evil-eye magic, where seeing something abominable can sicken people. The good doctor Cornelius counsels the queen that experimenting with poisons will “make hard your heart.”

“… Seeing these effects will be

Both noisome and infectious.”

Even being seen by antagonistic people can be toxic. When Imogen is saying farewell to her husband, she is mindful of the threat of other people’s evil looking, saying:

“You must be gone,

And I shall here abide the hourly shot

Of angry eyes.”

Pilgrims and good doctors

Shakespeare leads us from this courtly wasteland toward the renewal of a healthy world. It is an arduous pilgrimage. Imogen flees the court and finds her way into the mountains of ancient Wales. King Arthur, the mythical founder of Britain, was believed to be Welsh, so Imogen is going back to nature and also to where her family bloodline and the nation itself began.

Indeed her brothers, stolen from court in early childhood, have been raised in the wilds of Wales. She reunites with them, though neither she nor they know yet that they are the lost British princes.

The play seems to be gathering toward a resolution at this juncture, but there is still a long journey. Imogen must first survive, so to speak, her own death and the death of her husband.

She swallows what she thinks is medicine, not knowing it’s poison from the queen. Her brothers find her lifeless body and lay her beside the headless corpse of the villain Cloten.

Thanks to the good doctor, who substituted a sleeping potion for the queen’s poison, Imogen doesn’t die. She wakes from a death-like sleep to find herself beside what she thinks is the body of her husband.

‘Imogen Found in the Cave of Belarius,’ by George Dawe (1781–1829), showing the scene from ‘Cymbeline,’ where Imogen was seemingly dead and discovered by her brothers.
(Wikimedia Commons), CC BY

Embracing bare life

Yet, with nothing to live for, Imogen still goes on living. Her embrace of bare life itself is the ground of wisdom and the step she must take to reach toward her own and others’ happiness.

She comes at last to a gathering of all the characters. Giacomo confesses how he lied about her. A parade of truth-telling cleanses the world of slander. Posthumus, who believes that Imogen has been killed on his order, confesses and begs for death. She, in disguise, runs to embrace him, but in his despair he strikes her down. It is as if she must die again. When she recovers consciousness, and it’s clear she will survive, and they are reunited, Imogen says:

“Why did you throw your wedded lady from you?

Think that you are upon a rock, and now

Throw me again.”

Posthumus replies:

“Hang there like fruit, my soul,

Till the tree die.”

A world cured

Imogen and Posthumus have learned that we come together in love only when the roots of our being grow deep into the natural world and only when we gain a full awareness that, in the course of time, we will die.

With that knowledge and in a world cured of poison, slander and the evil eye, the characters are free to look at each other eye to eye. The king himself directs out attention to how Imogen sees and is seen, saying:

“See,

Posthumus anchors upon Imogen,

And she, like harmless lightning, throws her eye

On him, her brothers, me, her master, hitting

Each object with a joy.”

We will continue to need good doctors now to protect us from harm. But we can also follow Imogen through how the experience of total loss can purge our fears, and learn with her how to start the journey back toward a healthy world.The Conversation

Paul Yachnin, Tomlinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

William Shakespeare: archaeology is revealing new clues about the Bard’s life (and death)



Waxwork of Shakespeare by Madame Tussauds in Berlin.
Anton Ivanov via Shutterstock

William Mitchell, Staffordshire University

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time and one of the most important and influential people who has ever lived. His written works (plays, sonnets and poems) have been translated into more than 100 languages and these are performed around the world.

There is also an enduring desire to learn more about the man himself. Countless books and articles have been written about Shakespeare’s life. These have been based primarily on the scholarly analysis of his works and the official record associated with him and his family. Shakespeare’s popularity and legacy endures, despite uncertainties in his life story and debate surrounding his authorship and identity.

The life and times of William Shakespeare and his family have also recently been informed by cutting-edge archaeological methods and interdisciplinary technologies at both New Place (his long-since demolished family home) and his burial place at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. The evidence gathered from these investigations by the Centre of Archaeology at Staffordshire University provides new insights into his interests, attitudes and motivations – and those of his family – and shows how archaeology can provide further tangible evidence. These complement traditional Shakespearean research methods that have been limited to sparse documentary evidence and the study of his works.

Archaeology has the ability to provide a direct connection to an individual through the places and objects associated with them. Past excavations of the Shakespearean-era theatres in London have provided evidence of the places he worked and spent much of his time.

Attributing objects to Shakespeare is difficult, we have his written work of course, his portrait(s) and memorial bust – but all of his known possessions, like those mentioned in his will, no longer exist. A single gold signet ring, inscribed with the initials W S, is thought by some to be the most significant object owned and used by the poet, despite its questionable provenance.

Shakespeare’s house

Shakespeare’s greatest and most expensive possession was his house, New Place. Evidence, obtained through recent archaeological investigations of its foundations, give us quantifiable insights into Shakespeare’s thought processes, personal life and business success.

The building itself was lost in the 18th century, but the site and its remains were preserved beneath a garden. Erected in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon more than a century prior to Shakespeare’s purchase in 1597, from its inception, it was architecturally striking. One of the largest domestic residences in Stratford, it was the only courtyard-style, open-hall house within the town.

This type of house typified the merchant and elite classes and in purchasing and renovating it to his own vision, Shakespeare inherited the traditions of his ancestors while embracing the latest fashions. The building materials used, its primary structure and later redevelopment can all be used as evidence of the deliberate and carefully considered choices made by him and his family.

Shakespeare focused on the outward appearance of the house, installing a long gallery and other fashionable architectural embellishments as was expected of a well-to-do, aspiring gentleman of the time. Many other medieval features were retained and the hall was likely retained as the showpiece of his home, a place to announce his prosperity, and his rise in status.

It provided a place for him and his immediate and extended family to live, work and entertain. But it was also a place which held local significance and symbolic associations. Intriguingly, its appearance also resembled the courtyard inn theatres of London and elsewhere with which Shakespeare was so familiar, presenting the opportunity to host private performances.

In search of the Bard

Extensive evidence of the personal possessions, diet and the leisure activities of Shakespeare, his family and the inhabitants of New Place were recovered during the archaeological investigations, revolutionising what we understand about his day-to-day life.

An online exhibition, due to be made available in early May 2020, presents 3D-scanned artefacts recovered at the site of New Place. These objects, some of which may have belonged to Shakespeare, have been chosen to characterise the chronological development and activities undertaken at the site.

Open access to these virtual objects will enable the dissemination of these important results and the potential for others to continue the research.

Here lies …

Archaeological evidence recovered from non-invasive investigations at Shakespeare’s burial place has also been used to provide further evidence of his personal and family belief. Multi-frequency Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) was used to investigate the Shakespeare family graves below the chancel of Holy Trinity Church.

A number of legends surrounded Shakespeare’s burial place. Among these were doubts over the presence of a grave, its contents, tales of grave robbing and suggestions of a large family crypt. The work confirmed that individual shallow graves exist beneath the tombstones and that the various members of Shakespeare’s family were not buried in coffins, but in simple shrouds. Analysis concluded that Shakespeare’s grave had been disturbed in the past and that it was likely that his skull had been removed, confirming recorded stories.

These family graves occupy a significant (and expensive) location in Holy Trinity Church. Despite this, the simple nature of Shakespeare’s grave, with no elite trappings or finery and no large family crypt, coupled with his belief that he should not be disturbed, confirm a simple regional practice based on pious religious observance and an affinity with his hometown.




Read more:
How to read Shakespeare for pleasure


There is still so much we don’t know about Shakespeare’s life, so it’s a safe bet that researchers will continue to investigate what evidence there is. Archaeological techniques can provide quantifiable information that isn’t available through traditional Shakespearean research. But just like other disciplines, interpretation – based on the evidence – will be key to unlocking the mysteries surrounding the life (and death) of the English language’s greatest writer.The Conversation

William Mitchell, Lecturer in Archaeology, Staffordshire University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.