Just when you thought all the possible “real” Shakespeares had been discovered, another appears. And this one is not a nice person.
Jayne Archer, a researcher in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth University, said in the Sunday Times: “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.
“Shakespeare is remembered as a playwright, but there was no copyright then and no sense that his plays could generate future income.
“That drove him to dodge taxes, illegally hoard [food] and act as a money-lender.
“He had two surviving daughters and would have seen himself as providing for them, but he was acting illegally and undermining the government’s attempts to feed people.”
Coriolanus depicts a famine created and exploited by rich merchants and politicians to maximise the price of food and includes the lines: ‘They ne’er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain.’
It has now emerged that as Shakespeare wrote the play at the height of the 1607 food riots, he was himself hoarding grain.
Bastardo! (That’s Italian. I won’t translate, out of consideration for the sensitive and easily shocked.)
What’s truly appalling is that, should this backstory gain any academic traction, we’ll be forced to endure a generation of Shakespeare scholarship that seeks to reinterpret every play in light of the Bard’s criminal business ethics. Keep an eye out for the Public Theater’s Occupy-themed Merchant of Venice and Timon of Athens. (Although, why do I have a feeling that’s been done already…)