History in the News

The Bard’s po­lit­i­cal be­liefs and writ­ings may have been in­flu­enced by crim­i­nal ac­cu­sa­tions against his fa­ther

History Revealed - - CONTENTS -

Mil­lions of arte­facts lost in Brazil

Events that may have in­spired a young Wil­liam Shake­speare have been uncovered in doc­u­ments re­lat­ing to the play­wright’s fa­ther. Hid­den in the Na­tional Archives for years, the 21 records – dis­cov­ered by Prof Glyn Parry from the Univer­sity of Roe­hamp­ton – high­light the le­gal and fi­nan­cial trou­ble suf­fered by the Bard’s fa­ther, John Shake­speare. John, a glover and wool dealer, was a prom­i­nent mem­ber of so­ci­ety in 16th-cen­tury Strat­fordupon-Avon who held sev­eral mu­nic­i­pal roles, in­clud­ing that of mayor. We know he was ac­cused of il­le­gal wool deal­ing and mon­eylend­ing, but it was as­sumed that these al­le­ga­tions were set­tled out of court while his fa­mous son was still young. That ap­pears not to be the case.

The records show that John’s trou­bles lasted un­til Wil­liam was at least 19 – much later than pre­vi­ously thought – and were brought about by in­form­ers, who were widely con­sid­ered to be cor­rupt and only in­ter­ested in fill­ing the Queen’s cof­fers. One of his debts to the Crown is recorded at £132, or £20,000 in to­day’s money, and his prop­erty was placed at risk of seizure.

Wil­liam’s writ­ing of­ten be­trays a need for jus­tice, as well as a crit­i­cal view of those in power. Could his fa­ther’s ex­pe­ri­ences have some­thing to do with it? Prof Parry thinks so: “Very lit­tle is known of Wil­liam Shake­speare’s early life and the in­flu­ences on his writ­ing. These doc­u­ments now con­firm that le­gal ac­tion taken against his fa­ther by the Crown in­flu­enced his at­ti­tude to power politics.”

The al­le­ga­tions caused trou­ble for Shake­speare’s fa­ther un­til 1583, when the Bard would have been at least 19

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