By Jessica Allen - Tuesday, April 2, 2013 - 0 Comments
Turns out Shakespeare dodged taxes and deliberately tried to make a profit during famines, according to a recent paper published by Aberystwyth University academics.
The study brings to light 15 years worth of court and tax records that show Shakespeare bought grain, malt and barley, stored it, and then tried to resell it at inflated prices during times of famine.
“There was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright — as a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximise profits at others’ expense and exploit the vulnerable — while also writing plays about their plight to entertain them,” Jayne Archer, a researcher in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth University, told the Sunday Times.
One of the plays to which she is referring is Coriolanus–the last installment in Shakespeare’s Roman series–about war, conflict and social unrest where peasants revolt after wealthy merchants and politicians create–and to try make money from–a famine. (The play was not without controversy–it was even banned in France during the 1930s.)
So was Shakespeare, “a successful businessman and major landowner in his native Warwickshire who retired an extremely wealthy man,” as the Telegraph says, trying to cool his conscience by writing Coriolanus in the early 17th century?
The public may have to wait for the inevitable onslaught of Ph.D. theses that will be written in light of this new study for new psyche-related revelations on the man who Laurence Olivier once said was “the nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God.”
In the meantime, there’s this: Archer suggests the playwright cared more about providing for his family than he did his literary legacy: “In 1613, having ensured a . . . sustainable future for himself and his family, Shakespeare stopped writing,” she said.
By Patricia Treble - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 10:07 AM - 0 Comments
Josephine Tey’s 1951 detective novel ignited a fascination for the ‘poisonous bunch-back’d toad’
So it was him after all. It was always likely that the bones of a man unearthed last September from beneath a parking lot in the English Midlands city of Leicester would be those of King Richard III. The most notorious monarch in English history—thanks to Shakespeare’s excoriating portrait of him as the man who murdered his young nephews and seized the throne—died at nearby Bosworth Field in 1485, the last English king to be killed in battle. The man under the concrete was found, more or less, where tradition said he would be. His skull was cleaved by something like an axe and there was a barbed arrowhead between two vertebrae; as well, he had severe scoliosis—just like Shakespeare’s “poisonous bunch-back’d toad.” On Feb. 4, archaeologists announced the promising indicators had been confirmed by DNA comparison with Michael Ibsen, the Canadian-born descendant of Richard’s sister, Anne of York. The bones belonged to Richard III.
By Emma Teitel - Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 11:36 AM - 0 Comments
This week marks a big I-told-you-so for people who’ve long doubted the usefulness of the UN. After all, it was this Monday, April 16th, that the United Nations, excuse me–the wives of the British and German ambassadors to the United Nations —revealed their master plan to topple the Syrian regime. Everything you need to know is in this Youtube video, right here:
By Jessica Allen - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 5:00 PM - 0 Comments
‘It was a bit schizophrenic’
Yesterday, as four other reporters and I sat on plush sofas and stools around a leather coffee table in the mezzanine lounge of the Park Hyatt, Ralph Fiennes walked in—no, glided in—and sat at the head of the table. I was the last one to introduce myself: “I’m Jessica Allen from Maclean’s magazine.” Squinting his blue eyes for a moment, as though he was going through the file folders of information in his mind, he responded in a soft voice, “Ah yes, I know Maclean’s.”
By Jessica Allen - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at 12:55 PM - 4 Comments
Our intrepid reporter chats up Ralph Fiennes, Brian Cox and Jessica Chastain
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 6:23 PM - 56 Comments
“We now know that there were several meetings between Mr. Jaffer and his partner with the parliamentary secretary. We know that Mr. Jaffer had dinner with the minister. We know there were proposals made worth at least $800 million that were not only discussed, but were considered directly by the department and that there were answers from the department for the proposals,” he said.
He held his hands in front of him and brought them close together, as if to put this all in a metaphorical box for presentation to the Prime Minister.
“I have a very simple question for the Prime Minister,” he said. “If all of this does not amount to lobbying and does not amount to special access for those who are friends of and close to the Conservative Party, what exactly would the Prime Minister—”
Alas, he had spent so much time reviewing just one-tenth of this story that his time had run out.
No matter, the Prime Minister was in no mood for gifts anyway. He wanted only to be clear. Absolutely clear. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 2:00 PM - 11 Comments
A Q&A with the orthodox Stratfordian about Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud and other non-believers
James Shapiro is a Shakespearean scholar at Columbia University in New York, an orthodox Stratfordian—meaning he believes that the plays and sonnets commonly ascribed to William Shakespeare were indeed written by him and not by the 17th Earl of Oxford or Christopher Marlowe or any of a good dozen pretenders to the throne. Shapiro’s Contested Will is an eye-opening account of an authorship dispute now 150 years old. He spoke with Senior Writer Brian Bethune:
Q: Looking at the issue historically, does it seem plain to you that the authorship controversy is a theological quarrel?
A: Exactly, and at every level. Academics have veered away from religion in Shakespeare’s time—except for the not very helpful issue of whether he was Protestant or Catholic—because they would have to face the very religious language that runs through Shakespeare studies, and the authorship dispute. Look at Delia Bacon’s religious crisis just as she first launched Francis Bacon’s claims, or the way the contemporary interest in historical Jesus scholarship and the doubts that it raised about Christ, figured in hers and others’ thinking about Shakespeare. “Heresy” is not a word I used myself in the book, but it was the language used by critics then when choosing sides on the true author— “heresy” or “my confession of faith”—or Garrick calling his three-day festival a “Jubilee.” And the early forgeries were clearly relics—when William-Henry Ireland produced the documents, believers would kiss them.
Q: Once Shakespeare was deified people began to feel the man from Stratford wasn’t large enough—not sufficiently high-born, well-travelled or educated—for the scale of his achievement. Devotees started mining his works, which is all they had, for hints. And not just the heretics?
A: The orthodox are sinners too, if I can keep up the language. What I really wanted to do was point out how dangerous, if seductive, it is to deduce facts from Shakespeare’s imagination. The assumptions of Stratfordians are so close to what the doubters say—that we can find the life in the works—that Shakespeare professors should ask themselves some hard questions. We all draw inferences from Shakespeare’s imagination, and turn them into articles of faith, when it’s just the power of his imagination. We now know a lot about him, but still not what we want to know: what was in his heart. That’s the problem.
Q: You neatly show how the dispute is a dialogue of the deaf with the response to one of the newest pieces of evidence.
A: You mean the margin note in Camden’s Britannica? Yes, here’s a brief description of Stratford, printed in 1590, that mentions two distinguished citizens [a bishop and a judge] and an early 17th-century local vicar made a margin note, adding Shakespeare as a third eminent son. To me this is proof of Shakespeare’s early fame; to the man who discovered it, a committed Oxfordian, it just shows how early the plot to disguise Oxford’s authorship had taken root!! It’s pointless to try to discuss this, given the radically different assumptions about it.
Q: The anti-Stratfordian cause has attracted a lot of prominent authors and thinkers. What did you make of their arguments?
A: Mark Twain is the only one I came out of this with diminished respect for. Here’s a guy who re-invented himself down to his own name, who hired a—I made up this term, which I hope works—a stunt-writer to go to the South African gold fields for him and gather “experience.” Though as it turned out, Twain couldn’t use it, because the stunt guy died on the way home of blood poisoning after stabbing himself in the mouth with a fork—you can’t make this stuff up. But after doing all that himself, Twain simply dismissed Shakespeare’s imagination, saying no glove-maker’s son could write these plays about royalty and aristocracy. Of course, Twain also came to think Queen Elizabeth was a man.
Q: What about Freud?
A: I adored Freud. Still do, but on his Oxford belief …. Freud hinged his whole Oedipus Complex theory on Hamlet, and the accepted notion that John Shakespeare [William’s father] had died just before it was written, so that the entire unconscious Oedipal longing came pouring out of William. When doubt was cast on whether John died before or after Hamlet, Freud’s response essentially was “Well, show me somebody whose father died before.”
Q: As the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death—with all its attendant hoopla—approaches in 2016, how is the marathon faring? Who is the leading contender for Hamlet’s creator?
A: Putting Shakespeare himself aside for a moment, Oxford still leads the field, though Christopher Marlowe—a former contender who faded—is catching up. Go to Westminster Abbey and look at Marlowe’s grave. In 2002, his death date of 1593—and he needs to be alive long after that to be Shakespeare—suddenly spouted a question mark. If the administrators of Poets’ Corner could be convinced of that, which is utterly denied by the surviving original document of the Elizabethan inquest that examined his death, who knows what could follow. Next year comes Anonymous, directed by Roland Emmerich, of all people, which will plug the Oxford cause. In the rock-paper-scissors world of pop culture, movie beats book, and this film may well be a Emmerich disaster movie for Shakespeare teachers.
Q: In Contested Will, you make an overwhelming case that William Shakespeare was exactly who his contemporaries thought he was, the imaginative genius who wrote the plays bearing his name. What else can you and other Stratfordians do?
A: My next book will be on Shakespeare in 1606. We too often accommodate what the doubters stress—and which has become the popular concept—of Shakespeare as an Elizabethan only. He was a Jacobean too, who wrote many of his greatest plays in King James’s reign, long after Marlowe and Oxford died. I will show the Jacobean influence in taste, style and performance place. We as a profession don’t teach Shakespeare enough in a historically conscious way. That’s what we need to do.
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 10:50 AM - 3 Comments
The Booker winner and a GG nominee take very different approaches to historical fiction
The English and those who trace their lineage, or at least their language, to Shakespeare’s sceptred isle, have always loved the Tudor era. It’s short and tidy (just three generations of rulers), full of sex and blood (Henry VIII and all those wives), exciting moments of glory (Francis Drake) and high art (Shakespeare). Hundreds of popular novels—not to mention hit TV series—have been set in the period, many of them, author Hilary Mantel waspishly notes, excuses to write about “sex and violence and the war between men and women—a lot of cheap romantic fiction.” All that goes a long way to explaining why Wolf Hall, Mantel’s massive novel of Thomas Cromwell, the royal official who masterminded Henry VIII’s first divorce and break with Rome, was always the favourite to take the Booker prize—bookies set their odds by bettors’ wagers, not by their literary opinions. It does not, however, explain why the novel actually won the Booker.
The vexing question of genre fiction—mystery, horror, romance, science fiction, fantasy and historical, to name the most prominent—doesn’t so much divide readers, critics and prize juries as confuse them. The barriers between genres are porous—romance-mysteries are common—and the line between the genres and literary fiction, which is what is supposed to be celebrated by the prestigious prizes, is in the eye of the beholder. Perceptions can turn on a writer’s reputation. Someone who made her name in historical fiction wouldn’t stand a chance, however good her work, of a Booker nomination. Mantel, though, is a well-regarded author whose seven previous novels have settings as diverse as present-day Saudi Arabia and Paris during the Terror. In short, a literary writer who sometimes mines the past. It helps even more to be Margaret Atwood. Her Oryx and Crake is beautifully written, scathingly intelligent—and pure science fiction. But that didn’t stop the Giller jury from shortlisting it in 2003. Continue…