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Monday, 11 March 2013
Real William Shakespeare Chapter 6
THE TALE OF THE WILL
Michael Wood thinks that 1603 would have been a good year for Shakespeare. Of course he’s no understanding of the real man. In reality 1603 would have been devastating to William. True he had seen a great deal of tragedy in his life already; the effects must have been profound to him. Many of his sisters and brothers had been lost, also childhood friends, yet these where when he was young and so could easily cope with them. As life presented more of its challenges to him getting older, new people and friends helped place these in the back of his mind and love overcomes many things. He had to get on with his life, however then a harsh life for many people was frequently cut short. Danger in the form of diseases and fire were commonplace, even the murder rate was higher in certain parts of England despite a smaller population. Even so when his first wife died, in undoubtedly tragic circumstances, he must have bounced back, with the love of Anne and Elizabeth to help him. The real question is what would it take to change a person’s behaviour and their attitude to life, plus what they do in society as a whole?
In William's case it may have been just too many deaths over his life, or one in particular, or the deaths of persons who are just too important to him. There is beyond a shadow of doubt that Shakespeare was a very different man, in the reign of King James then he was during the
Queen’s. So did the Queen’s death change Will? To him this just was no outpouring of grief like we have seen over Diana’s death. Though there would be an element of this. She was his muse and also a great love of his life. Though did not leave him a penny nor did she mention him in her will, yet left him something. To find out what this is we need to go back to the Passionate Pilgrim.
Trying to date things attached to William Shakespeare can be a minefield. As with his plays other people printed them. They often have very different motives to William, as well as scruples. William Jaggard was not opposed to printing things without permission of the authors; however this is not the only thing he was guilty of! The writer Andrew Gurr came across evidence that Jaggard used dates on plays to make them appear, as they were first editions. The reason for this being the leading company of players “The King’s Men” had got the Lord Chamberlain to pass an order to stop printing any plays before a certain date. Old plays were not affected and could continue to be printed. The Passionate Pilgrim has a date of 1599 on it. We find in verse ten a reference to someone’s death, as in the sonnets no name, just the same cryptic clues to that person - roses and pearls. You should know who that is by now - Elizabeth. Only in 1599 she was still very much alive! It’s reported to be one of Jaggard earliest works. It is more likely to be much later, with an early date attached. This piece and the above evidence put this verse after 1603. Later references by contemporaries of William make comments about Jaggard’s bad practices, but only well after 1603. They were not reprinted till 1609 and William Jaggard, later became printer to the city of London in 1611. Peter Zenner trying to use the same evidence for his views on Marlowe being the writer came to the same conclusion, for all the wrong reasons. However he did get Kate Welch of the Shakespeare Institute Library to check the records of the Stationers of London. She found no entry for the Passionate Pilgrim. Peter correctly concluded (in my opinion) that Jaggard could not backdate the book in the register and to put it in at the real time would have him up before the law. Though I would suggest to Peter that the reason Jaggard was one of the printers of the Works, was because he knew Shakespeare’s name on it would make money, they all did nothing to do with trust! Actually it’s his son Isaac whose name actually appears on the First Folio as one of the printers.
Having sorted out the discrepancy over the date, we can go on with Shakespeare’s reaction to Elizabeth’s death. William is in tears, strangely he doesn’t know why. She’s (as I said) left him nothing, he craved nothing. I get the impression, however that William wanted her forgiveness, as this verse appears to be constructed a bit clumsily, hardly surprising as he was in much grief and trying to put on a brave face as he wrote and something else might have effected him. The sting as in many verses by William comes at the end: “Thy discontent thou didst bequeath to me.”
So William Shakespeare did change after her death! It’s not the only verse in this set that refers to how he felt. If you cast your mind back to the sonnet chapter, there William tried to get her beauty to continue down the generations. In verse 13 he has to admit that it’s been lost ‘In spite of physic, painting, pain and cost.’ The pain, which he went through and others did too.
Wait a minute…I think we’re jumping the gun here. As she seems to be as fit as an Ox most of her life why did she succumb in that year? What did Queen Elizabeth in?
The Queen’s extraordinary diet
Several explanations have been given by historians, including one based on bad teeth. These however are based on the assumption that the Queen had aged badly and that her young looks were false. So myself knowing this not to be the case, question this. When we look at precisely what she was suffering from at the end, all we are left with is severe depression. Well you tend only to die from that if you kill yourself, which is of course impossible with all the staff of the court around you. The lacklustre expression on her face and looking into the distance, all indicate depression, even the sucking of her fingers (a comfort gesture). However she must die of a secondary cause this is also seen, I believe, in another thing at her untimely end. That is the refusal to eat. Severe depression over a long period could cause the loss of appetite; this would depend on how long in the doldrums she was. From what I can gather this was nearly three to four years. The cause seems to have been the Earl of Essex.
Essex’s revolt of 1601, strongly suggests he was a power-mad fool. Yet he was very special to
the Queen, being Robert Dudley’s son. The Queen and Essex’s relationship was very stormy and seems to have been based on a mutual misunderstanding on both sides. From the way she treats him you would have thought he was her son, precisely what (I think) she believes. Deep down she knew he wasn’t, but she imagined that’s what her son would have been like if she and Robin had a child together. Despite the theories put forward by some, he was not her son, exactly what Essex thought and he would scoff at the idea she would see him as her son.
On Elizabeth’s part she would have scoffed at the idea he loved her, so we have the basis of their partnership. Essex did love her, like his father and many men before. Not just because she was Queen. He like the rest could see her as kind, jolly, fun, beautiful, rich and most important powerful. As Essex grew up Elizabeth probably had told him to call her, like he was a properly related to her, maybe Ant, Grandmother, or even Mother! This would last till he was old enough to comprehend she wasn’t any of them, but the Queen. She wasn’t prepared to except him on the terms of being just the Queen. He wasn’t willing to compromise either. In 1601 he made this very clear. Power was what he wanted, this led to his downfall. Nevertheless he did something that sealed the Queen’s fate. He really insulted her with something that he knew wasn’t true, that was merely spoken in anger. I don’t think he would have said it if he knew the damage it would have done and yet he may have said it anyway because he didn’t really know the Queen. All the same his death would have done a lot of damage. To her she was executing her son and Robert’s. ‘Would Robin forgive me when they met in paradise’ would have been going through her mind.
I’m reminded of the nursery rhyme “Sticks and Stones” and how it might be total false in its conclusion in this case. Did Essex’s name calling leave to Elizabeth’s death in 1603? Once you know that Elizabeth had such a low opinion of herself, then Essex saying her ‘carcass was crooked’ would cut deep into her mind. The Queen’s body wasn’t anyway near as bad as Essex painted her with his words. Nonetheless nobody said anything like that to the Queen, not even her enemies, probably nobody would have dreamed of saying it, even in private.
The effect was dramatic still; she had always been obsessed with her bodies’ image due to low-esteem, after she would be preoccupied with it. She had greatly controlled her diet all her life. Her food intake went down even more. The stress of the execution and her job, the country’s problems getting worse, she was doing like Ghandi did; only she didn’t do it on purpose. In many ways not to dissimilar to women now she had to stop weight from being put on and any fat became a burning issue. Only one problem! She wasn’t exactly… Well, put it this way, the skinny model of today would understand Liz’s mental state in 1601 than any historian would.
Historians of course didn’t, so they put the physical effects of this starvation diet to old age. Yet they are clearly the pure lack of food, with steps taken by her to disguise them, such as the fine cloths in her cheeks to disguise the absence of fat in the tissues. So how did she cover up this extreme diet with the food that was being brought to her, avoiding eating it? The same way that women do today and don’t forget the flushing toilet was installed into her palace by this time by Sir John Harrington. So she could always make herself sick and nobody knew. Harrington noted that in 1600 she was only eating bread and pottage, perfect for bringing up later.
Lastly the doctors were chucked out, the reason being they would have been able to tell that her diet was poor. The beautiful body in the space of three years was transformed, not really by age, but by malnutrition. Ironic to say the least that the richest woman in the country starved to death, just like the poorest would!
It was common knowledge in the writing circle of that time that she had starved herself. And Thomas Heywood in A Woman Killed With Kindness, has the woman of the title die from malnutrition. Though for the most part of the play she is Shakespeare’s wife, only as she wasn’t dead in 1607, when the play went into print, he had to use another death scenario.
What really happened to Shakespeare when Elizabeth died, was he around? Of course we’ll not find him in real records; servants rarely get a mention in them. The death shouldn’t appear in his plays, because they were written before 1590. Yet we know that they continued to be played long after and he rewrites them, though probably not adding much. Near to the end of King Lear for example, Lear seems to repeat his grief of the death of Cordelia. And he dies looking on her again after hearing the death of Edmund. In a previous chapter I said she is Elizabeth and the other cast members think Lear/actor has fainted, which can be implied by the text. This is too strange to be true, albeit it is true, if Shakespeare was playing Lear. It’s possible to construct what happened from this piece. He did faint on both occasions. The first occasion was hearing the real death of the Queen and seeing her body….his reaction-disbelief - “Never, never, never, never, never, look on her lips, look there.” Thinking he can see her lips move, then he faints, while asking someone to undo his tunic button. The second time was on the first performance of the revised work. The actress playing her reminded him just too much of the reality he experienced, so he collapsed again!
Degrees in cobblers
The Bard also already had to endure the death of some of his own children, and one of his friends, who had died in 1593. Christopher Marlowe was of course the same age as Shakespeare, which would have an affect on any person. This affect must have been double, as a victim of a violent crime. Marlowe was stabbed in the eye, whilst arguing over the bill in a tavern. As it turns out, this is not quite correct, fuelling arguments about his authorship. Nor was justice done either, as Marlowe’s killer was pardoned. True we don’t know if Shakespeare reacted to his death, yet we don’t know also that he didn’t. However evidence of his death may put light on the fact that William could have reacted that way.
Researchers trying to establish that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare; found that Christopher was up for trial for atheism at the top court in Tudor England. This was also treasonous, as this meant that he was denying the Queen’s right to reign. He died a few days before that trial, which they see as evidence of a cover up. The fact that the religion content in the Works of Shakespeare is high, means that Marlowe couldn’t
Figure 1 Christopher Marlowe
be a candidate, if he was blaspheming, that together with the evidence showing the Works endorsement of Elizabeth‘s right to reign. Putting all this aside, apart from the obvious instances that drinking establishments tend to often lead to acts of violence, particularly amongst young men, a cover up could still be possible, yet why? My explanation is that if Marlowe had gone to trial, he could have defended himself by disclosing facts! What about, you may wonder? The Queen’s involvement with a married man, sure it is William Shakespeare! Yet Christopher might not have said a word about it. If we are talking cover up, then some people in the Elizabethan Court could not risk that, especially the Queen herself. She is in the end, the one who pardoned the killer! No evidence has been found that she is the one who authorised the death of Marlowe, we wont find it in William’s works either, he would have not let his friend’s death gone un-avenged, we can see this in his plays. Though as they were all written before his death you won’t find it there. So the concealment included William Shakespeare not getting to know the truth! I could defend the Queen, by saying she didn’t know either, because she might have let it slip to William, then again I think you could accuse me of bias, in this respect, so I won’t. If the conspiracy story is too fanciful for you, then Marlowe was often in trouble before that, even when he was supposed to have been in education. He too may have been talent spotted by the Queen. She may have used her influence to get him a scholarship at Corpus Christi College Cambridge in 1580. He was absent a lot! This may have been due to him being a shoemaker’s son from Canterbury, suffering from the snobbery of these places. In any case he was painted alongside William, for the Queen, as she danced, precisely when he should have been at college. Francis Walsingham had to get rumours stopped that he was a Catholic. Christopher’s “good service” may have meant no more than his entertaining the Queen! Marlowe preferred the low-life world of the playhouse to the more noble education of himself. Enter obnoxious privilege to give him the M.A. and B.A. he doesn’t need anyway, courtesy of Walsingham, pressing the governors of the College to ‘further’ his degree. William himself may have been offered the same chance as Christopher, yet turned it down, judging by his lack of enthusiasm for learning. Marlowe after his degree was given him didn’t go on to use his learning in what might be called in a productive way, because he continued in writing plays and poems! I doubt very much if he could have been relied upon to spy for his country when he got into fights, which left one William Bradley dead, or making threats against Constables of Shoreditch! Both his poetry and plays are different to William. Neither is he a suitable candidate for writing the Works. His plays generally start with long speeches, his poetry unrealistic in tone. In The Passionate Shepherd to his Love, why would for instance, musically gifted birds sing Elizabethan songs to waterfalls in shallow rivers? Marlowe on the other hand may have been as comedic as Shakespeare. Since it doesn’t directly attack him the unknown work The Cobbler of Canterbury clearly lampoons his background from the title alone. He probably wrote it. Another play links him with the Bard completely. Timon which has survived in manuscript form appears to have been written by Marlowe and William Shakespeare. The only surviving copy of it is in the Victoria & Albert Museum and has two writers script on it. No name on it, yet the play uses unusual words that only Marlowe used. The Shakespeare connection comes from his own play Timon of Athens. Most of course think he pinched it from this play! We do know that Marlowe worked with Thomas Nashe on Dido Queen of Carthage, so it doesn’t rule out collaborative work.
The black ink faith
Science today gives people an alternative view to that of religion, when people die. We can now say it was a virus that killed someone and so on, not an act of God or God’s punishment, if we so believe. William being religious had no alternative explanation, for all these deaths. Would he have then blamed himself for them? Suppose he did, what would be his actions and behaviour in these circumstances?
There are clues in his pictures and his tomb, as well as his will. Starting with the first of these, his style of clothing dulls down considerable in later portraits. In most of his later ones, he is seen in black, with just a touch of white lace. I think because these pictures were not seen as being Shakespeare, few if any writers have commentated on them. Certainly they could just be the fashion, yet I have always been under the impression that this was the style that Puritans dressed in. Another more cryptic reference can be found to his religion, in Leonard Digges quotation in the 1623 Folio. He speaks of the actor friends, as being ’pious’ which may have been the case, at least in some of them, or a crafty reference to William. The Karel van Mander painting of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, certainly fits with this statement that Ben was pious, as he has the same style as William. Yet can Shakespeare have turned Puritan! How does this relate to his grave, if he had? When first interred in 1616, no name is placed on the gravestone, though some think that part of the stone is lost. No lavish ceremony, is recorded, something which for a famous playwright and poet, actor, doesn’t make sense! Unless he requested these that way, then, coupled with his puritan beliefs, would see these as trimmings and unnecessary ones at that.
We know that Puritan preachers lectured the audiences and actors of the theatres, pointing out that their sins would find them out one day. In such a man as Shakespeare, he knew that he had sinned, the consequences of these sins played on his mind. The deaths of loved ones! This grief had to air somewhere. Plays and acting, plus his fame are the only logical culprits. By adopting the puritan faith, which he must have seen as the only way to save his soul and redeem his sins. Actually he was already inclined to that faith before the Queen died. For she hits out at him in the sonnets with that “New Faith Torn” remark remember! This change might have been due to the Catholic plots to take the Queen’s life. Even though many of his plays, which have references to Puritan people, are negative towards them, this does not mean that William couldn’t take up that faith. Most if not all of the plays attributed to him were written by 1590-93. By 1616 his views could have strongly changed. In any case we can back up this change as his son-in-law held that faith and Shakespeare entertained a Puritan preacher at his house in Stratford in 1614. The town itself was a hotbed of Puritanism. The Corporation had banned plays from its land directly apposing the Alderman, Burgesses, and Bailiff, granting them licences to perform. This was most likely the work of Daniel Baker, a mercer, who controlled the town council for 40 years. People are only human, even with this faith, and Baker got a local woman pregnant, so like Shakespeare, being Puritan did not stop men from having sex!
His will is even more of a mystery to many people. Some people think it should read like a piece of poetry. You find me a tax return by a poet like that! Seriously it makes sense if you look at it with the eyes and belief that William Shakespeare was Puritan! Okay so he didn’t leave a Bible. That’s very easy to explain. He wrote it! Well at least large sections of the King James one. People have seen connections with the plays of Shakespeare. I see them too and some references to some passages with descriptions of people sound like they are talking of Queen Elizabeth! If he did not contribute (secretly) to the Bible, there is another reason the Bible is absent from his house, he didn’t like the available versions of it. Puritans believed most obtainable Bibles to be corrupted in there texts. They argued some were too linked with the Catholic faith, which is why the James Bible came about, but some were disappointed with that as well.
Back to the will, he avoids references to his life on the stage, even when leaving money to the actors Hemings, Burbage and Condell to buy rings. He refers to them as his “fellows” though notably Ben Jonson is left out. Not surprising really when you hear his views on Elizabeth, which he poured out to William Drummond, after making himself ‘at home’ with William’s wine and ale! The Queen’s ‘membrane’ was impenetrable. “For her delight she tried many” said Jonson. He had a go at many people too! Sir Philip Sydney’s face was full of spots! Drummond wasn’t fooled and concluded that Ben was a great lover - of himself! Jealous of others and brags! Shakespeare and Jonson were always combating one another, William generally won, Jonson did like the Bard, yet he hated him at the same time. Shakespeare clearly distrusted him and explains him being absent from the will. However Ben had the last laugh, as we will see later in this chapter. I believe I also have found more evidence for the religion change, which I explain in the next chapter.
The Stratford gent died a rich man if his will is correct. He left £350 in money as well as personal effects and property (buildings). While in London he may have rented or owned 3 houses, though like many tried to avoid paying taxes, which places him in public records, plus leaving baffled historians, wondering if why he moved! He didn’t amass this from being a merchant in malt or any other grain. Stratford on Avon was in recession! One third of the population was by 1601 poor. Tales of the money Will had, were still circulating there in 1660s, when the Vicar, John Ward heard that Shakespeare had been going through money at the rate of £1,000 a year. William in the town would have stood out like a sore thumb! Hence the tale! Most historians think Ward was exaggerating. Well nuts to that! Vicars then, if not now, tend to be trustworthy. After all Burbage left £300 and Alleyn was able to buy the Manor of Dulwich for £10,000! King James was a big spender too, paying £10 for each play’s performance at court. Actor Augustine Phillips in his will singled out the Bard, giving him a 30 shilling gold piece, while the other actors had to split £5 between them. People asked William for £30 loans, which he granted, also he could even afford to give Stratford Council a load of stone. What did Shakespeare do with the rest of the money? He boozed most of it away!
A merry, very merry and not so sweet man
He lived in an alcoholic’s paradise for a start, in both “this merry England” and his home town, ‘Merry’ being a polite word for ‘drunk’. England had 16,000 alehouses and taverns by 1570, TWICE the number per head of population than modern times. Only it grew as well, when Sir Walter Ralegh received sole right of licences for selling of ‘sweet’ wine. As for his home town, the writer, plus author of Robinson Curose, Daniel Defoe recorded that Stratford’s ‘chief trade’ was ’malt in great abundance’. Shakespeare had 18 quarters of barley at his house in 1597, plus sells 20 bushels of malt to Philip Rogers. Standard household stuff there was around 6 barrels - for beer. The Town also had 30 alehouses and 3 inns for a population of around 2,000 people. Plus not all of that number (very young children) could drink alcohol, though it might well have been given them! A latter-day Burton-upon-Trent was Stratford, boasting 50 malt houses. It wasn’t just for other people to consume either. The Town’s Council criticised the alehouses for selling unreasonable strong drink, while it held its annual feast at the Inns of the town! The name of one these Inns gives us a clue to Shakespeare’s drinking habits.
The Bear and the Swan Inns were pretty large establishments in Shakespeare’s time. The Bear employed 14 servants alone. Sunday drinking at the Swan resulted in a murder; proportionally there were probably more murders in Stratford then, per head of population than in present day London. Many of these murders centre on the Swan itself. When you consider the number of people who carried daggers, knives and swords, it’s hardly surprising. The law did not consider the carrying of such things as dangerous, even after people who had been drinking! Poverty was also high and with high crime drinking was inevitable for the poor of Stratford. Yet drinking is not limited to the poor, numerous tales spread of the rich Shakespeare and his drinking exploits and not just in Stratford. He would go anywhere when he found out that someone was a better drinker than he was. This resulted in him kipping under the local tree after the contest was over!
John Shakespeare, his father, might well have been the cause of this habit. Thomas Plume records in 1657 that he was a ‘merry-cheeked old man’ which may mean that he too liked his drink. However there is much stronger evidence than John was drinking more than he should. It had been his job! As well as being the town’s Mayor and Bailiff, a job that required him to be well dressed and behave himself, which he lost for some unknown reason, he was the Ale Taster for the Leet Court. This job, a sort of inspector of beer, presumably needed him to taste the stuff, as it required the checking that hops and other things had not been added to the ale. The young William must have been around sometimes with his father to the places he inspected, plus there was no under age drinking rules then!
William was certainly knocking them back at 18 plus! Between the years 1580-90 the plays reveal his liking for drink. Falstaff praises the stuff like a wine connoisseur in Henry IV part 2scene III. “A good sherris-sack hath a twofold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and crudy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble, fiery and delectable shapes; which delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit.”
At least we know how he overcame stage fright. Falstaff as I have already explained is William himself and what he says you can bet that William thought. The funny thing is that nature would turn the thin man into the bloated Falstaff!
He continues in his speech, which was direct to the audience and alone. ‘Sherries warm the blood, making the face red, give courage and help learning.’ Alcoholics’ Anonymous would have had a fit, if they were around. That’s the trouble! Nobody could have tell him what he was doing was wrong. There were signs, in his first appearance in this play, Falstaff had sent his urine to a doctor, which must have been discoloured for the doctor (joke aside) said he was diseased. Falstaff/William had seen or knew that the liver changed colour with alcohol. He knew too that you could become addicted to drink. This made no difference and he has Falstaff say “If I had a thousand sons... I would teach them...to addict themselves to sack”
You soon realise that Sherry, Sack, and Wine were William’s favourite drinks. Also you can tell that William has a fondness for drunks! Like Sir Toby Belch, wonder how he got his name, plus the drunken butler in The Tempest. This brings us back to the 1623 Works and Ben Jonson. The introductory verses to that have never been explored in the light of William being an alcoholic. So Ben (praising William) can enable him to get a sneaky reference to his drinking in. The much-quoted “Sweet Swan of Avon” doesn’t refer to William, but the Swan Inn, where if you could find William Shakespeare drinking sweet Sherry! His ’sweet’ nature thus refers to the fact he was an alcoholic. This fact didn’t go amiss on one of Shakespeare’s relatives. As mentioned in a previous chapter, one had a ‘dig’ at William. This chap, his brother, says he was carried on stage on the back of another actor! Plausible if he was drunk, but sounds like sore grapes to me.
A New Place for the old bed’s wife
The part of Shakespeare’s will that has caused more debate than anything else, is the only thing he left to his wife was a slightly worn bed. The house called ’New Place‘, which by the way he bought for £60, considered by some to be cheap, which he had to completely rebuild, because it was a ruin, had a vineyard. This was left to his daughter, and his wife went to live/stay there. Obviously, it is feasible that part of the will has gone missing or that his wife had other money. I personally doubt this to be the case. She could have rejected this lifestyle of riches, in line with puritan doctrines. We do know that William was having affairs with other women. Yet it would be the other way round, with William getting left only the bed. The bed is a common thing to leave to wives in wills, however Shakespeare’s is the only known one where that’s the only thing that is left to her. Sidney Lee in 1897 even got a Q. C. to comment on the dowry of the Blackfriars property, which he claimed barred Anne. So he did not want her to have the money. Why then? Well I think she was still in love him, for she requested that she wanted to be buried with him. She’s not! That stone did not just stop the sexton digging up the grave; it so far has stopped everybody! Even the interment of his wife! Did he want this too? We can never know. One potential explanation for his rejection of his wife or at least spitefulness is that she caused the break with his ’muse’ Queen Elizabeth. Remember the sonnets they end with the rejection of William by the Queen, because of Hathaway! Without her support William could not produce plays and subsequently the production of new plays stopped after at least 1593, if not earlier. She may even have forbidden him to write anything more about her! She had the power to do it after all. They had agreed to not mention the other, so much so that both he and Ben Jonson were criticised for failing to compose a funeral elegy for Elizabeth. We know why Shakespeare couldn’t do it, yet Ben by the sound of it was not fond of the Queen anyway, which explains his reason. William must have had some sort of restriction placed upon him by the Queen, for him to stop writing plays after 1590, till her death in 1603. After that his alcoholism might have naturally restricted his ability to write, nevertheless before 1603 it would not have that greater effect, I don’t believe. The only play I would put after 1603 would be The Two Noble Kinsmen. Only due to a young boy singing “Roses their sharp spines gone”. A direct allusion to the Queen’s death. Undoubtedly alcohol doesn’t stop writers doing their trade, more likely slows them down. The Queen could however! When Liz’s temper was aroused it would have been hell for William. In order for him to continue putting on plays, even to the public in the newly built theatres along the Thames, he needed the Queen’s approval. She was given the perfect excuse to shut them down when plague struck. So she did! This left William in a mess! He was prepared to do anything to get back in the Queen’s good books. There is a story that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, gave Shakespeare 1000
pounds. I do not think he did, instead William gave the Earl the 1000 pounds to try and get back in favour with Elizabeth. It is known that the Earl was a favourite with the Queen, that he liked poetry too, this gave William the excuse he needed, to do what? To get some poetry published! He leaves his name off the front cover though. Will gets fellow Stratfordian Richard Field to print Venus and Adonis in 1593. The story relates Venus (who if you haven’t already guessed it represents the Queen) and Adonis (Shakespeare) and how they fall in love and ends tragic with the death of Adonis. Leaving that aside for the moment, the dedication to the Earl mocks Elizabeth’s style of putting herself down. Southampton would of course object to the comments Shakespeare put, unless he knew the truth behind the ploy to get Shakespeare back in favour. It only partly worked, because he had to get another poem, The Rape of Lucrece, printed with an even stronger dedication to Southampton, the following year. That did the trick, as we have plays printed in Liz’s lifetime, theatrical performances of his plays before her, as well as the accounts of less lordly people going to see William’s plays at the various theatres. NONE of them were brand new! Loves Labours Lost for example states that it is
newly corrected and augmented, when printed in 1598. So he was not allowed to write new plays still! After her death he might have been putting out these at insignificant two plays a year, if our Vicar is right, though the same vicar had not (when he made his notes) seen or read any of the plays, so would not recognise if the where new or revised dramas.
The other point of Venus and Adonis was the Adonis gets killed! This being Shakespeare does not mean he was killed or even necessarily thinking about committing suicide. All it means is that he is very sorry for lying to her and as ‘killed’ the bad part of ’himself’ that did so off.
That takes us forward to 1603 when she died. He was free to write then; sadly if he did he knew that the truth would destroy the memory of the Queen. Yet as I said, the problem of his drinking was getting worse. By 1610 he gave up correcting plays and then after the performance at the Globe of the revised Henry VIII in 1613 he gave up acting. We know this because he comes on at the start and says so. The first folio editor made certain that was placed in, for most of the prologues for the other plays are not included. However the story is that at the first performance a cannon was fired off, setting fire to the roof of the Globe, which resulted in its destruction. The Globe we know did burn down on the 29 June. However this was most likely not the plays first performance, as that would have had the King and Queen, if not members of the Royal family there. The evidence maybe is that James and Anne had watched the plays performed at court. Though they did enjoy them, because the fact is they knew they were repeats! Added to that, should be that the fire is not mentioned by anyone in the connection of putting the Royal Family in danger. Obviously the royals would not have gone to all the performances of each play. Rather like our Queen not going to see a movie again after its Royal Command Performance. Perhaps too Shakespeare never repeated the first performance of Henry VIII in 1613.
The evidence is there in this play that very little of the original play was altered, for the 1613 audiences, only perhaps a few of Archbishop’s Cranmer lines at the very end, which deal with male heirs and the Queen’s death. The rest of this play gives a slightly distorted view of the end of Queen Katherine’s marriage to the King and praises Elizabeth to the sky; it even uses the Sonnets, in references to Liz.
The reason William only wrote small corrections and the like was his hand could hardly hold the quill pen. The only known writing by William dates from 1612 onwards. When H.T.F. Rhodes analysed the gross deterioration of his handwriting, which many had speculated was of a physical nature, he ruled that out completely. His conclusion was that ill health or senility where not the cause, but alcoholism!
Retiring to Stratford may have reduced the stress from acting; this did not make him give up the drink. His mind may have been quite irrational from drinking as well; maybe this explains why there are no books or manuscripts in his will. Pressed with puritanical thoughts as to the sins that he had committed, perhaps he destroyed the books and the rest. We know for example that both Roger Bacon and John Dee burned theirs. Another reason to destroy them occurred in 1609 when Thomas Thorpe printed the Sonnets. The dedication by Thorpe (T.T.) has confused historians for ages. The original copy of William and Liz’s sonnets must have been sent to someone by Shakespeare for perhaps safekeeping. The W.H. could be any one of numerous people, though Barbara Everett believes it is William’s brother-in-law William Hathaway. Someone however got hold of them and sent them to Thorpe. They were printed without Shakespeare’s permission and were probably not numbered, yet printed in nearly the right order, perhaps due to whatever they were written on or kept like. One possibility is a bound notebook. The printed recognised two styles of handwriting in the Sonnets, only any other indication of the Queen’s name had been eliminated by William, presumably before he sent them to the mystery ‘begetter’. This explains the hyphen on ‘Shakespeare’ which is well known in those days as being a symbol for two writers. Also how Thomas knew, without being let in on some complicated conspiracy theory those opponents of Shakespeare use.
The printing of the Sonnets might just well have pushed the man over the edge! Burning all the plays and manuscripts that he had! Shakespeare realised the danger of holding on to the material he had - the danger that it would damage Elizabeth’s reputation, perhaps also his. I found evidence of this in the poem Phoenix and the Turtle. Though if this poem was written before that event how did it survive? The answer must be that he couldn’t stop writing and this ceremonial event (for him) inspired him to write it. If it did he put the ashes of his (and her) works in an urn according to the last bit of the poem.
The other thing that struck me, though I knew the Queen knew about Anne, did she know what Elizabeth meant to William? Before his death in 1616 -NO was the conclusion I came to! Although it’s possible that Anne destroyed the manuscripts for the same reason, I think because she requested to be interred with him this rules out this likelihood. I believe it cancels out that she even found out about his relationships with all the other women he had. There is a good example of a woman of that period, finding out about her husband’s relationship with a servant, after the will is read, in the Countess of Shrewsbury, best known as ‘Bess of Hardwick’. For she is buried in Derby Cathedral and her husband in Sheffield Cathedral!
When the cats in the playhouse
The only thing, I can add, to clarify why Anne Shakespeare was left only the bed, concerns adultery, though not William’s. Back in a previous chapter I told you that I thought A Woman Killed with Kindness was about William Shakespeare’s early life and marriage. John Frankford in this drama is William and his wife is Anne Frankford. At the marriage in both the play and in real life are his friends. Shakespeare’s most obvious friend in 1582 would have been Christopher Marlowe. The friend to Frankford is a man called Wendoll, though no first name is given. The trouble is, although I can’t prove it, I really believe that Marlowe and Wendoll are the same man. If this is the case then it opens up the Shakespeare story even wider, but solves the bed in the will. Why do I think they are? Easy, poetry flows out of Wendoll’s mouth; therefore if he’s not the Bard he must be Marlowe! This poetry is used on the other hand, to seduce Anne Frankford, with a declaration of love. If the play follows true to life, then Christopher did declare his love to William’s wife and she succumbed. However the play reveals that a servant, who told William, saw them. He (after disbelief passes) resolves to say nothing, which also fits in with some of the plays in the Works. He returns home one day to find Marlowe and Anne “close in each other’s arms and fast asleep.” Though he chases Marlowe with his sword he does not kill him. As for Anne, he resolves not to treat her badly (hence the title) but send her to another property he has. Nevertheless she is not to speak to him or have any association. In the drama, Anne does not eat and goes into decline (health wise) which she does not recover from. It does bring her husband back to her and reconciliation, before she expires. This may have happened to Anne Shakespeare, only she did not die. It does explain the bed though, in the will. For that is where William caught them. It’s William’s idea of a joke, though clearly it’s a sick one! The question however that remains unsolved, for a brief moment, was Marlowe the man having it off with William’s wife? Let’s get Christopher to admit the truth. This he does in his own poetry All Ovid’s Elegies. Verse 4 starts with “Thy husband to a banquet goes with me.” So there you have it! He then makes it clear that William drinks a lot, that we already have gathered, and he did have sex with her! To continue with this extremely passionate affair he tells her, ‘the Moon’ sleeps with her husband every day and he thinks Anne is as beautiful as the moon, which was the Queen of course. Needless to say Shakespeare never had sex with Elizabeth, though Anne must have doubted her husband was loyal to her, as far as the Queen was concerned. If William’s muse is the Queen, then in turn Christopher’s was Anne Shakespeare. So I was wrong Anne did know about the way William felt to Elizabeth.
The Queen’s official flattery
Many people have a problem with Marlowe having it off with the Bard’s wife for an entirely different reason to that of the sin of adultery. It’s the gay lobby again! Sorry lads, you’re wrong about Marlowe being gay too. Thanks to our ‘nasty’ friend Robert Greene we can work out that Marlowe himself played Gaveston in his own play Edward The Second and Edward Alleyn
played King Edward, (clever use of the actor’s own name!). The gay and anti-gay lobby quickly picked up on the close relationship between the two characters, jumping to all the wrong conclusions. What seems to have happened is that Marlowe acting in somebody’s play was seen as the ultimate sycophant! He became typecast and used it fully. With Elizabeth feeling the way she did about creeps like that, maybe it was her that sparked it all off. So he did it to flatter her even more and so the problem got worse. Greene couldn’t stand any of them. So he called Marlowe (and Alleyn) a “prat in the King’s chamber”.
Of course there is a remark of Marlowe about liking ‘boys’. However this was probably the dislike of the female actress’s in the Queen’s players and that Shakespeare was cheating on his wife with them. The ‘boys’ were the acting members used by some of the companies. Again Shakespeare probably did not like using them for female roles. Since nobody latched on to the use of female actors, this is only a modern mistake; still what is it about this gay latching thing and Elizabethan acting?
Returning to Christopher Marlowe’s death in 1592 you may think that this would be welcome by the Bard, after what he has done. It would correct the idea he was his friend, which I mentioned earlier in this chapter. I believe it doesn’t, as friendship can survive even this. Therefore I don’t think for one moment his death was anyway connected to William ordering it, it could have been due to someone who saw his act of adultery as a rotten thing to do to the Bard, though of course the Bard had no need to talk. After all when the cat’s away the mice will play, which is even quoted in the play. For William did leave his wife in Stratford on her own. The play never resolves what happens to Wendoll, it does show the immense toleration, even to Marlowe, Shakespeare has and his wife’s self-punishment, which reflects after William’s death, I think. Although like his wife, the Bard may have made Christopher pay in his Works. In Much Ado About Nothing the Bard clearly got him to play the nasty Don John part. This comedy dates to 1586, so fits in nicely. And now you know why his wife stops having children with him! Historians point out that it’s unusual for a married couple to have so few children then, he had three with her by 1585 then they stop. So it must have been 1585/6 when he caught her!
Then suddenly I was struck by the thought that just maybe I was viewing the bard with a rose-tinted view! Supposing other playwrights didn’t like Shakespeare, we know the Green didn’t and he appealed to others to take him on! What if they did? Then maybe they hit him where it hurt most, by telling about his private life. They knew it alright, Shakespeare bragged too much. So loads of other writers milked Shakespeare’s life, for instance Beaumont and Fletcher in The Maid’s Tragedy have a character frightened of being exposed as being cuckold. It makes you think that all these writers did was observing one another and writing it down! Anyway in the same play the chap who’s been cuckold has a sword fence with the culprit. If this is Marlowe and Shakespeare brawling it probably happened in 1586 or the following year, because Marlowe brings out some plays of his own that year and because he is Walsingham’s man he gets them recorded! Maybe he was politically silenced after all!
Then again! I think maybe Marlowe was actually the cause of this split in the first place. All the play writers go on about cuckolding incident, they were happy working with one another then Marlowe messes things up, so in the end reported to the Queen that Shakespeare had a wife. And you can guess the rest. Maybe that’s why the picture of Shakespeare holding the Queen’s hand is painted in 1588, to get back in her good books? The other thing that bugs me was that knowing Marlowe acted in the works, why is he not in the list of actors in the 1623 volume? Then I understood. He was more hated than Greene! If Shakespeare wept for his friend nobody else did. Most of the actors were pretty rough types, Ben Jonson a sarcastic hero worshipper of The Bard, called him ‘gentle’ well as I said he beat up the schoolmaster and there are incidents in public records of violence towards others. Marlowe in court could have put an end to many of actors/writers living for good, closing the theatres down. Marlowe might have been as popular as the King of Spain!
I do not except the view that it took his Shakespeare’s fellows seven years to prepare the Works for publication. A single printing press maybe could turn out 250 sheets an hour. A small number of copies could take a few months to be ready to sell in shops. Even now biographies of dead people are out within months of their death, this includes writing time! So why wait? I think Anne would have prevented them from carrying out anything to make any kind of monument to her late husband, in accordance with his wishes. His daughters did not however feel the same way. After Anne died of old age, perhaps after a long illness, or and also being in such a way that she no longer had the power to make decisions or even speak during the sickness. William’s remaining family took the decision to consent to the publication of the Works. However they were not, I don’t believe, in a position to provide the plays, as they had been destroyed, as above. So the plays in the 1623 works were found in the theatres store rooms, printed up from them. That explains why they are all revised plays, with none purely from the earlier period of 1580-1590. But then again if, like historians, you don’t know what you are looking at, you will never see Shakespeare having a go at Catholics in some of the plays. The truth is that this book is a sanitised version of the real works. It’s like a modern film, badly edited to pass censorship requirements. Or indeed a political work again censored to make a government look good. And indeed in this case it was probably done to make the King look good.
With the death of Anne in 1623 and the need to dig around Shakespeare’s grave, the family and fellows finally got the monument to the man put in place. Leonard Diggs also knew the stone with the curse, that Shakespeare had composed himself, which he calls “that stone” in the first folio, would not last, nor would the “Stratford Moniment”. This ‘Monument’ was erected to coincide with the printing of the Works. At a pound a copy they were not cheap, so they must have been made to order from the shop they were sold at, though one is not mentioned. The monument when first erected was not quite the one we see today. The figure is nearly the same; and yet by 1746 the fame of Shakespeare was sufficient to have people going to see and take bits away with them, plus the natural decay factor! So Joseph Greene had it restored and “beautified”. Later on it was ‘whitewashed’, before being restored again! The figure was originally carved by a Dutch man who was living in Southwark at the time; some people think it’s a crude depiction of William. However it could have cost as much as 100 pounds and was therefore a very classy showpiece, when you consider that the most expensive ‘family’ monument of the period was just £600.
Still why did he die at only the age of 53? Back to the drink again, I’m afraid, in the end it killed him!
Verdict on Bard’s death
You now know that he did have a drink problem and so when we see a record of Shakespeare having a ‘merry-meeting’ with his friends we can be certain that it will be true. Then when you
know that this is from the same vicar John Ward, admittedly in a late reference in 1662, then you know it’s true. “Merry” is by the way the polite way of saying, and excuse the language, but it makes the most impact to those who doubt, “PISSED”.
We learn that those involved, also were Ben Jonson, another who liked his drink, and Michael Drayton, who later became the ’Poet Laureate’. Ward says that William drank too hard and developed a fever and died of it.
This ’fever’ was alcoholic poisoning and that his liver could not take it anymore and packed in. He would have looked yellow while ill and in agony. On the 25 April he was buried - as legend has it 17 feet down. This was of course unlikely to be true and is another testimony to his
drinking ability! Stratford Church is on the banks of the River Avon, if you dug down 17 feet you would hit the water table of the river, meaning his body would have been washed away, according to those who don’t get the comic story! The joke being he could sup a river dry!! It all fits with the perfect joker that William Shakespeare was.
Incidentally over in a German museum, there’s a death mask reputedly belonging to Shakespeare. Is it him? Well if it is dated to that time and everything seems to suggest it is, then it does look as if it is our man. It looks like portraits; it strongly resembles the Stratford Church memorial and why go to all that trouble of faking it!
By 2006 extensive research had been done on the Mask, which did prove it was a genuine face mask… A team also linked it with Shakespeare… And showed how it related to the memorial… They also found things wrong (health wise) with the man in the mask.
I was going to end this chapter just before the mask details coming to light, however in the course of doing more research I came across James Graham’s The Secret History of Alcoholism. His book hit me like a large brick on the head!
The alcoholic symptoms seen in James’ book match Shakespeare’s precisely. James Graham believes that people who become writers don’t just get drunk, because of what they do or have developed into. They start out as alcoholic to begin with and then turn famous or writers or both! This is done to satisfy egomania, usually a selfish desire and can be destructive, as Thomas Nashe describes it “Lion drunk” where the drunk breaks pots and glass in windows, calls the landlady names and picks quarrels with strangers. Conceit and telling lies are way up on Shakespeare’s - ‘I did that list.’ Both are symptoms and were recognised at the time, by others as well as Nashe (who calls it ‘sheep drunk’) much like Robert Green in his much quoted attack on the Bard. Though as it turns out Green was also an alcoholic, thus suffering from the same problem. They are not too dissimilar to journalists or politicians that are drinking nowadays, when they spread lies about other people. All of them have ego-boosting roles, like the playwrights of Elizabethan times. It’s also worth mentioning that Thomas Nash was also a drinker and is seen as one of the founders of newspaper journalism. He didn’t get on with his associates calling them ‘base ink-droppers’ or ‘scurvie peddling poets’. Fortunately for them he didn’t live past 33.
James Graham’s other symptoms fit William (and his writer pals) tooth and nail. They are listed as: craftiness, grandiose behaviour, door-matting, rejection of friends, aggressive sexual, unreasonable resentments, charm, careful grooming, association with social inferiors, rejection of religion and extraordinary consumption. Although it’s not possible to confirm all the other effects of his drinking, in Graham’s lists, while others only relate to modern times, it is easy to spot the others. Many of the indicators can be seen elsewhere in this chapter and book, however others need elaboration. His spending money, as mentioned fits the ‘grand’ behaviour pattern. We can add Anchovies and Capons at around 2 shillings each item, to the luxury list. The cost for these can be got from King Henry IV part 1. Along with TWO gallons of sack to make up the extraordinary consumption, costing 5 shillings and 8 pence! A computer check of all the works for the word ‘sack’ reveals it is used in 12 of the plays and 45 times, having said that 7 are the other forms of the word. That’s only a quarter of them still, not really alcoholic levels, till you see that wine is mentioned in 3 quarters of the dramas.
The sexual adventures of William are legendary; two wives, ladies in waiting at the court, and wives of the rich and powerful, as well as prostitutes. He must have had charm to do this. Only one tale has survived however. One woman after seeing a play about one of the King Richards is reported as wanting to see the actor who played him. However Shakespeare intercepted this female, telling her that: “William the Conqueror came before King Richard.” We have more references, relating to sex, than Jesus, because of censorship stopping “Jesus” on religious grounds. The word ‘will’ has sexual overtones, as indeed the whole of the bard’s name does. For instance in the marriage entry for his second wife, his surname is ‘Shagspere’. William being a comedian said that to the vicar you can bet! Indeed his shortened Christian name is used in the Sonnets in a sexy way. The Revels office, which did the censorship, didn’t mind sex much, only politics was censored! Talking of Richard and politics, you can’t get more resentful than the line “Now is the winter of our discontent” and that has gone done in history as the resentment of trade unions in 1979 ‘winter of discontent’. Again social issues where around in his day and the middle class Stratford man hung around with the London low life.
Spending more money on clothes to look good, dressing up market, was what William did, till another symptom of his drinking changed his religion and clothes!
Nevertheless statistically William has a high chance of being an alcoholic anyway, with his profession of being an actor and writer. For death from liver disease, related to drinking, is second commonest in writers. Indeed the only ones who suffer more than writers are those who work in drinking establishments. As for actors you only have to look at the show-business publications to see how many finish up in rehab clinics, get caught on drink-driving offences or ruin there careers through it, many of them Shakespearean actors too. It seems they have more in common, with the Bard, through drinking, than acting!
Another effect of the drink may have been to make sure his parents were social outcasts, though his religion and contact with the Queen did that as well. Sadly (to our eyes anyway) John and Mary Shakespeare finish up with no friends and needing poverty relief. While their son is getting on in the world, not to unlike some famous people today is he?
Lastly the physical effects of drinking can be seen in the way he appears in known pictures of him. He seems to have grown fat as he aged and lost his youthful good looks. William got to look like a chipmunk in later portraits, though his high forehead may have been hereditary. He has long thick hair, which turns out to be one of the few benefits of his drinking. We also have yet another explanation of his speculated bad treatment of his wife, there’s little to be said that is nice of what a drinkers home life can be like. So I’ll let one of Shakespeare’s women give us a clue “Very vilely in the morning when he is sober; and most vilely in the afternoon when he is drunk. When he is best, he is a little worse than a man, and when he is worst, he is little better than a beast. An the worst fall that ever fell.”
Dead drunk or just dead?
Nevertheless, if you take out all the material relating to alcohol related problems and even pour scorn on the only document relating to the Bard’s death, by John Ward, you can make news headlines by saying Shakespeare died of a rare disease. A Professor Hertl in 1998 made a diagnosis of Mikulicz Syndrome just by looking at the portraits of Shakespeare and this was eventually added to in the book The True Face of William Shakespeare. Mikulicz syndrome is very rare (even today), it affects the tear glands of the eyes and it was also noticed on the death Mask. In fact numerous portraits and busts were all compared in this volume. Various other doctors gave medical opinions that seem to be connected with their fields of expertise, such as Professor Metz, who is a dermatologist. He for example, thus finds a skin condition that would kill William. This needless to say would have seen the man having a lot of pain. There’s no evidence for this, so a sonnet number 110 is used to back this argument up in the book. Unfortunately it was an Elizabeth one! They also have him in considerable pain in the 1590’s, but most have him writing and performing during this period. The book also concludes Ward’s story was invention and that Shakespeare detested drunkenness from the usage in his plays! If you know anything about alcoholics they might well detest drunks, most people do, it’s just that they are ‘never’ like that!
It’s not clear if any of the symptoms found by these experts could also be applied to anyone who suffered from alcohol related illnesses. Nor if these people would change their minds if they were made aware of this, then again did they already know that Shakespeare might have been an alcoholic? One of them did find ‘yellow spots’ (a liver problem?) and yet I do know that the cancer references in their reports could be linked with demon drink. Drinkers are also well known for having blood shot eyes. Perhaps if an expert in alcohol related problems looked at the evidence? Then again can we find an expert to lead us into a merry dance, as with Mad George and his field of experts on his sickness or Mary Stuart and hers? More importantly I just can’t understand why Ward’s comments are dismissed and those of John Aubrey accepted. I am not saying that Aubrey’s comments on Shakespeare are not nearer the truth or indeed truthful. Yet if Ward is right there may be evidence to back this up. Thus to pick and choose between ‘documentary data’ is to my way of thinking possibly bad practice. However I can’t say I’m not guilty of this either. Perhaps historians and indeed we humans are all guilty of this? To be fare to those doctors they did believe he was suffering from a chronic illness. Ironically the proof of Ward’s accuracy could possibly be in the same book on page 101.
Dead Yellow man in bed
The merry meeting that Shakespeare had with his friends that Ward describes includes Ben Jonson and on that very page we find Jonson’s deathbed scene, having said that the frame says Shakespeare. Once again the details are explained for this picture being Jonson and not
Shakespeare. Yet they are simply based on the portraits of Ben and a date of 1637. This date is of course the date of Jonson’s death and not William’s in 1616, the rest of the material confirms that it is genuinely of that date - pretty convincing stuff, well yes and no. So why did Shakespeare’s name appear in the first place? This is off course not discussed. So what happens if both name and date are not errors and were both placed on the picture at the time period 1616-1637?
Now we can return to Ward, if Ben was there he would have hung around to see what happened to William. He wouldn’t have to wait long and he would have seen him go yellow, before he died. Back to the picture, if the colour illustration, in the book is correct our corpse in bed is pale yellow. Many people have also seen a resemblance to Shakespeare in the dead man and this is mentioned and dismissed in the same book. Yet back to square one with the date…No, Jonson makes it clear in the first edition of the works that he idolises Shakespeare. We also know that he likes painting people as well. So is it so great a leap of imagination that Jonson painted the dead Shakespeare, because he worshiped his dead friend? And the date, well Jonson would keep this picture of Shakespeare secret; quite possibly because it was just too personal to him and as I have explained Shakespeare also rejected the fame side of his life. Jonson might want to abide by this rule, yet more likely wouldn’t want to discus that his idol died drinking. So the painting is found in Jonson things when he died and 1637 is added to it at that stage. Problem solved, Ben Jonson’s painting of William Shakespeare after his death in 1616 of liver failure! If Ben was there he would/could have told us what happened. If only he kept a diary, or some other written work! Well these writers are all the same the take real events and make plays about them. We just have to fit the pieces together. The Devil is an Ass is believed to have hit the stage in October/November 1616, a good few months after the Bard’s death. Katherine Duncan-Jones in 2001, who doesn’t pour scorn on the vicar’s news of the death of the Bard, saw the link with Jonson’s play. Unfortunately she had no idea of the connections of alcohol, Anne’s adultery, or Jonson’s sarcastic comments about the Bard. Well we do now and the death-bed scene in Ben’s play is a full description of the Shakespeare’s death. Jonson calls him Fabian Fitzdottrell and as liver failure would lead to poisons entering the brain and fever, we find him mad and laughing. Anne Shakespeare is there and she is getting a torrent of abuse from William, according to the play. He is foaming at the mouth and calling her a ‘whore’ and swearing at both her and the lawyer who wrote out his will, also apparently present. But Ben gives out his best clue to the fact it’s Shakespeare’s death he is casting light on, when the dying character starts giving out bits of bad Greek, Spanish, French and different forms of English. And we all know what Ben said about the Bard over his Latin and Greek.
What about the eye disease? Well he might well have, but could he notice it when he spent a great deal of time blind –drunk that is!