Lead book review

Shakespeare's London: where all the world really was a stage

1606 was not only the year of Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, but of plague, witchcraft and explosive politics, all vividly captured in James Shapiro’s latest tour de force

26 September 2015

8:00 AM

26 September 2015

8:00 AM

1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear James Shapiro

Faber, pp.423, £20, ISBN: 9780571235780

We don’t usually pay all that much attention, as James Shapiro points out, to the Jacobean Shakespeare. We’re in the habit of thinking of him as an Elizabethan playwright: look in most cradle-to-grave biographies for ‘what Shakespeare was doing after James came to the throne in 1603 and there usually aren’t many pages left to read’.

That’s to scant his decade-long engagement with the dawning of the Stuart era. Also to ignore that, as Shapiro argues, only three cultural artefacts created during the first decade of King James’s reign still matter 400 years later: the King James Bible, the mythology of the Gunpowder Plot, and Shakespeare’s late plays.

Shakespeare, as 1606 began, was 41. The new king was just under three years on the throne, and the previous autumn the Gunpowder Plot had been uncovered. Among the subjects that were then occasioning national anxiety were the union of kingdoms (and, in shadow, mutual mistrust and the possibility of civil strife); the assassination of kings (enough of a hot potato that it was illegal even to imagine it); witchcraft and demonic possession (both feigned and real); equivocation (a political and, to an extent, theological panic was underway over the idea of ‘equivocation’ — that Jesuits were training Catholics to lie, or half-lie, under oath); and a cautious nostalgia for the Elizabethan age.

1606 was not just, rhymingly, the year of Lear; it was also the year of Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. And Shapiro shows how all these disparate national anxieties come roaring into the work. 1606, in the tradition of the author’s breakthrough book 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, zeroes in on its particular historical moment to explain, in detail, how this worked. In doing so he illuminates the plays and shows how intensely particular in origin these universal dramas are.

The Shakespeare Shapiro painstakingly and subtly presents here is a virtuoso remix artist, a textual sponge, a magpie, a master-orchestrator of the Zeitgeist. The grand issues of the day ran through his work at the level not only of theme but of language itself. Pre-1603, the words ‘England’ and ‘English’ appeared 224 and 132 times respectively; in his Jacobean work, only 21 and 18 times. ‘British’ never appeared before 1603, and ‘Britain’ only twice; the latter ‘occurs that many times in King Lear alone, and 29 times in all his Jacobean plays’. ‘Equivocation’ —previously only once seen in Shakespeare’s work, in the gravedigger scene in Hamlet —percolates through Macbeth.


It’s well enough known that the names of the demons that haunt ‘Poor Tom’ in Lear are lifted verbatim from Harsnett’s 1603 book on fake demonic possession, A Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures; but Shapiro ingeniously plumbs Harsnett as a source for Macbeth too (‘Is this a dagger…?’). ‘Rarer monsters’, in Macbeth, adapts a phrase attributed to King James himself. The word ‘farmer’ in the porter’s scene in that play alludes to the alias of a notorious Jesuit priest. And so on.

But to say that Shakespeare worked from secondary sources — that he borrowed from Holinshed, or Plutarch, or Jonson’s lavish masque Hymenaei, or the unknown author of King Leir — is not to cast him as being in their thrall: rather, here, it’s to see him master and repurpose them. He knocked King Leir’s happy ending on the head; and he not only ignored Plutarch but hundreds of years of settled tradition to produce an Antony and Cleopatra that gave grandeur and sympathy to the story of a drunken Roman bruiser and his Egyptian floozy.

You learn, too, why Shakespeare’s comedies tend to end not (as is often thought) in weddings but in betrothals; of how the actors’ superstition about the curse of ‘the Scottish play’ is a 19th-century fabrication (break a leg, Max Beerbohm); of why shifts in the political wind caused every ‘zounds’ or ‘sblood’ to be excised from Shakespeare’s back-catalogue for the First Folio; of the reason for his turn to pagan and classical settings; even how carvings intended to ward off demons, on a wooden beam in a suite where King James stayed overnight, can be dated precisely to 1605–6.

Shapiro pays attention to the feel of day-to-day life, too, not just to literary influence and top-level history. When the plague struck in London — as it had a couple of years previously and as it did again in the summer of 1606 — the city became cacophonous with bells, as each funeral occasioned an hour-long death-knell in one of London’s 114 churches. In August 1606 the plague was claiming 161 people a week (when the death toll reached 30 or 40, the theatres had to close). Absent was the barking of dogs: thought to be plague-vectors, they were rounded up and killed.

And here, quoted from Thomas Dekker’s The Wonderful Year, is a (somewhat high-coloured) contemporary account of what it was like to be interned in an infected house:

What an unmatchable torment were it for a man to be barred up every night in a vast silent charnel-house, hung (to make it more hideous) with lamps dimly and slowly burning, in hollow and glimmering corners? Where all the pavement should, instead of green rushes, be strewed with blasted rosemary, withered hyacinths, fatal cypress, and yew, thickly mingled with heaps of dead men’s bones. The bare ribs of a father that begat him, lying there: here the chapless hollow skull of a mother that bore him. Round about him a thousand corpses…

We don’t know much at all about Shakespeare’s life — particularly not in 1606, when he’d all but forsaken acting and was keeping a low profile — and the author exercises a scholar’s proper caution. So he describes a pageant written by Matthew Gwinne and staged outside Oxford, in which three Sibyls greeted the king (‘Hail, King of Scotland’), but then writes:

Because Gwinne’s pageant so clearly anticipates the opening of the as yet unwritten Macbeth, some biographers like to place Shakespeare in the crowd that day in Oxford. It’s more likely that Shakespeare heard about this royal entertainment from others…

At another point: ‘It’s tempting to imagine Shakespeare, riding northward, passing this group of prisoners [recusant Catholics] who included townsfolk that he had grown up with. But it’s unlikely…’ He notices that a London neighbour’s infant daughter was given the highly unusual name of Cordelia in November 1605, while Shakespeare was writing King Lear: ‘The tantalising detail only underscores how much is lost of the fabric of Shakespeare’s daily life.’

This is not to make of Shapiro a party-pooper, though. By unpicking the plays, and by attending to the political and literary currents of the time, he discovers a huge amount about what Shakespeare read and saw and how he used it, what plays dared and dared not say or imply, how and where plays could and could not be staged.

In the fine tradition of early modern historicism, Shapiro is at pains to emphasise how intensely literary were the politics of the time. He talks about how the official account of the gunpowder treason — propounded in speech and sermon — was given a ‘plot’, ‘best supporting actor’, ‘leading villain’, and notes that ticket prices for the trial of the plotters in January were ‘far greater than at any sold-out performance at the public playhouses’. He describes how the participants in the political marriage of the young Earl of Essex to Frances Howard, both ‘fully played the roles in which they were cast’.

‘Political theatre’ is a dismissive buzz-phrase nowadays: but for the Jacobean court, politics was theatrical and theatre was political. Interpretation was everything. All the world, as this terrifically interesting book shows, really was a stage.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £17 Tel: 08430 600033

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Show comments
  • Thanks for the review, Sam. Just a hunch, but I suspect your article and the comments section might require *The Spectator* to upgrade its server capacity.

    Soon, after October 6th, I envisage these pages becoming an SAQ battleground. As it was in November 2013 following the publication of Alexander Waugh’s piece; “Shakespeare was a nom de plume — get over it.”

    Unlike Waugh’s narrow and rebutted speculation (http://www.oxfraud.com/100-covell), Shapiro’s book discusses [from reviews and videos seen] works that postdate the death of Edward de Vere, the supposed ‘true’ author of works attributed to Shakespeare.

    It will go like this: First, your critical review will be attacked, featuring anti-stratfordian bloodlust that switches between what some imagine your literal cadaver, to munching on Shapiro.

    No doubt, there will be comment and argument from Shakespeareans to counter objections to your review and of Shapiro’s book. There will also be a fair amount of foul interplay between ‘Strats’ and ‘Oxies’.

    Perhaps 1606: The Year of Lear, is going to be a defining moment in the SAQ. Either Oxfordians ‘prove’ their beliefs once and for all, surely they will never get a better battleground than this? Or, they will be found wanting.

    In closing, I appeal that anticipated ‘evidence’ [from both sides] reflect the definition of the term: The available body of FACTS or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.

    Let the fun commence……

    • Benjamin Hackman

      Let the fun commence.

      But not until the Oxfordians slouch back from their annual coven, reassured that the coming of their lord is imminent. In fact, the Oxfordians have taken to calling it “The Big Fist.” Thus we can, indeed, expect fireworks here, as Mr. Gordon predicts.

      • You may be disappointed. The budget hasn’t extended much beyond damp squibs recently. And they let them off in private.

        • Sicinius,

          Where’s your squawk at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Roger_Stritmatter

          Seems a shame to waste your sign-up on Wikipedia on your just one previous slam on an ultimately deleted article written about another Oxfordian.

          Wot happened to your death knell on all things not Shakespeare?

          • Well I hope I’ve misunderstood you.

      • Ben,

        That’s so adorable you up-voted Mike G’s comment! I just hope the date goes well for ya… 😉

        • Knit, for the record, Ben and I have never dated.

          • Mike G., I suspected as much… Hoping the two of you would get the joke re Shapiro’s 1606 date vs. what Shakespeare actually did. Enjoy!

    • Sam Leith

      It started on Twitter, with this cheery salute

      Alan Tarica ‏@AlanTarica Sep 24

      @questingvole Interpretation is still everything.This only highlights outrageous ignorance. Shapiro is a fool & has made one of you as well.

      • …and so it begins, Sam.

        I hope Alan Tarica explains his comment in more detail, beyond the limitations of Twitter. Otherwise, [paraphrasing] outrageously ignorant fools might never understand their folly. Or, perhaps Mr Tarica will be content with his ejaculation and be satisfied with the twitching remnants of his prowess?

        • Sam Leith
          • Ah, Prince Tudor theory. Mr Tarica has fellow travellers….
            http://www.oxfraud.com/100-Fdesert

          • Thanks for the heads up, Sam. Of course one reason for the present calm is that, along with his motley crew of Oxfordian fundamentalists, Alexander Waugh of this parish is currently out of the office in Oregon. We believe he is assisting at an event that is due to bring about the ‘total catastrophic collapse of the orthodox Shakespearean paradigm’. According to one of the high priests, anyway.

            Nothing at all is showing on our seismometers but if we’re still waiting, perhaps you could have a word when you next see him loitering glumly in the corridors at The Spectator.

    • Dr. Heath

      The Strats, I’ve long believed, rely on the public’s willingness to go along with the consensus view, however old, under-scrutinised or glaringly faulty its premises are, and to pay no attention to anyone else. Their opponents would like to convince more people of the rightness of the “Oxies’” case but in a controversy few people find interesting, this is unlikely to happen. One can’t be part of the jury without having heard both the prosecution and the defence make their closing speeches, though this axiom of course rarely dissuades the armchair scholars on the orthodox front from having a go at people they’ve been brought up to regard as nutters.

      An acquaintance, now deceased, was badgered into reading Charlton Ogburn’s book stating the case for the Oxfordians. “What do you think?” I asked. This chap was really angry. Though he [and his son, an officer in the Met who also read the book] both accepted that Ogburn was right, it was Ogburn’s harsh, almost triumphalist treatment of the stalwarts of the orthodox consensus that upset him. He felt that our great Shakespearean scholars were owed a measure of respect regardless of the quality or logic of their arguments and evidence. Why he felt Stratfordians were due such deference I was never able to comprehend.

      • A common misconception. There are not two sides to every case.

        There are, in fact, no ‘Strats’ relying on anything in relation to this issue.

        There is scholarship, the historical record and every English Faculty on planet behind a prima facie case for Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays attributed to him. This cohort is absolutely massive and no part of it is troubled by authorship issues or worried in the slightest by evidence-manufacturing charlatans like Ogburn.

        Away from serious study of Shakespeare, there exists a relatively small number of people willing to argue with an equally small number of contrarian, anti-educational, conspiracist, anti-Stratfordians who occasionally seem to queue up to embarrass themselves with their portmanteaux of unvaryingly irrational ideas, unbesmirched by the stains of evidence or logic.

        But no one minds them outside their own Looking Glass Worlds. There is certainly no trace of an academic debate.

        They are lamps that can barely illuminate themselves.

  • Thanks for an excellent preview, Sam. I’m looking forward to Shapiro’s latest adventure in Shakespearean storytelling. The friend who gave me “1599” for Christmas apologized for his choice with the confession that, “For the first time, Shakespeare seems *real* to me.” It didn’t quite work for me, but I’m willing to try him again.

    Two quotes from your review point to where his story will become most fascinating to follow, with starred phrases indicating the problem Shapiro faces:

    “Because Gwinne’s pageant so clearly anticipates the opening of the *as yet unwritten* Macbeth, some biographers like to place Shakespeare in the crowd that day in Oxford.”

    and

    “He notices that a London neighbour’s infant daughter was given the highly unusual name of Cordelia in November 1605, *while Shakespeare was writing* King Lear…”

    As you note, and I agree, Shapiro is a careful scholar, so I’m surprised that he can say with assurance what Shakespeare was writing in November of 1605. We have no diaries, or correspondence, or theater records, from Shakespeare himself or from his friends or colleagues, to support this claim. Could Shapiro be relying on inferences painted in vivid colors to flesh out his scenarios? We shall see!

    Same with the “as yet unwritten” Macbeth. We cannot know whether or not Shakespeare worked and reworked plays for years before releasing them to the theater. Once in the theater, chances are that he tinkered with them some more, adding or subtracting rhymes, topical allusions or whatever he thought would make it a tighter dramatic vehicle. Productions of the plays after his death might have spurred further additions, with actors or playwrights adding new lines or speeches and topical allusions relevant to events current at that time. As much as scholars would dearly love to assert with finality, ‘This is when Shakespeare was busy writing such and such”, what they are truly offering is best guesses, not facts.

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    • Sam Leith

      There’s a good clear note on the dating of the plays as an appendix

      • Nat Whilk

        Shapiro o’erleaps his evidence? Strange circumspection from Ms. Merkel, who believes that Ben Jonson “knowingly forged” The Tempest, “to maintain the brand name of William Shakespeare … and direct attention away from Edward Oxenford.”

        http://tinyurl.com/p3ezp4g

        http://www.edwardoxenford.org/about_eo/the-subtlest-maze-of-all/

        Mad in all quarters of the compass…

        • As much as I appreciate your continued interest in my Jonson theory, Ms. Whilk, this is the place to discuss Shapiro’s new book and Sam Leith’s review of it. Since I don’t have the book as yet, I don’t know whether or not Shapiro “o’erleaps his evidence”. If he does, would there be much risk to him? Not likely, if he sticks to the reigning orthodoxy of his times.

          My apologies for neglecting your comments elsewhere, on May 11, 2015. I haven’t yet had the leisure to read the scholars whose works you suggested (Marina Tarlinskaja, and Bruster & Smith) but am grateful to you for pointing them out. I’ve always had a soft spot for Marina’s “enclitic” findings.

          • Nat Whilk

            Your position on the authorship of Shakespeare’s works is relevant. If you hold that the poetry and plays (except for the odd masterpiece forged by Ben Jonson, pretending to be Shakespeare, pretending not to be Oxford) were written by the Earl of Oxford, a man who died in 1604–well yes, that will profoundly colour your perspective on a book about Mr. William Shakespeare’s 1606.

            It shows in your rhetoric, in wording like “if he sticks to”—as if consensus were a taradiddle—”the reigning orthodoxy of his times.” You might as well talk about the “round earth orthodoxy.” The conflict
            here is not between tyranny and revolution, but sense and nonsense.

            “…am grateful to you for pointing them out.”

            You’re welcome. I hope you will read and engage with them.

          • Once again, Nat, we have solid points of agreement: One’s perspective on any new book about Mr. William Shakespeare is bound to be profoundly coloured by one’s position on the authorship of the plays. Yours as well as mine.

            And James Shapiro’s as well. His public comments put him squarely in the same rabidly anti-Oxford camp as your Oxfraud colleagues. Dispassionate, non-partisan scholarship may not be exactly what his admirers will be expecting from his new work.

            “The Taradiddle of Consensus”: excellent title for a journal article on the pleasures and perils of going against the tide!
            As it happens, my use of “reigning orthodoxy” was inspired by Laurie Johnson’s “The Tain of Hamlet”, the first chapters of which I’d just read this week. If you’re familiar with the book, you’ll know he’s not an authorship skeptic. As an unredeemed “Old Historicist”, I found much to cheer in his direct challenge of certain “Presentist” orthodoxies.

            Shapiro himself attempted to usher in a new set of anti-biographical Shakespearean ground rules, in his epilogue to “Contested Will”. I seem to remember him pleading guilty with an abashed smile to having done exactly what he was censuring in “1599”.

            Yet the trend of today, seemingly backed by the Shakespeare Institute, is to feed the market, which remains as hungry as ever for news of the man, rather than exegesis of his works. I’ve just begun “Shakespeare and the Countess”. Will it fill that unsatisfied yearning that sends people looking elsewhere for the true Bard? Will Shapiro’s “1606”?

          • Nat Whilk

            Brave words. But there really aren’t two sides to this. It isn’t fair; but fact isn’t. There is no rational case for Oxford-as-Shakespeare, only a grand Ptolemaic construct with ever-more elaborated epicycles. Huge energies and ingenuity are spent merely to explain away the evidence for Mr. William Shakespeare. What you call an “exegesis of his works” is really only a hunt for Oxford’s shadow in them. It’s a cult of personality dressed up in bafflegab.

            The telltale here is “that unsatisfied yearning that sends people looking elsewhere for the true Bard.” History is under no obligation to scratch your itch. The man from Stratford may not be your idea of the Bard, but he’s what we’ve got.

            Hey, didn’t Shapiro write a book about that “looking elsewhere”?

          • In speaking of “exegesis of his works” I most certainly didn’t have Oxfordian interpretations in mind. Not sure how or why you read that between the lines. Willful misconstruction? I think better of you than that.

            Here it is again, in case you want to reply to what I actually wrote:

            “Yet the trend of today, seemingly backed by the Shakespeare Institute, is to feed the market, which remains as hungry as ever for news of the man, rather than exegesis of his works.”

            The scholarly work that Shapiro was urging his colleagues to pursue – rather than the biographical – is what I hoped to convey by “exegesis of the works”. Outside the academy, the general public’s desire for news about the man himself is one of the Stratfordian’s most vulnerable points. As you say, it may not be fair; but fact isn’t.

            All this has nothing to do with my itch, or my yearnings, it’s just the way things are. Not sure why you want to make it personal. I’d love to hear your take on how “Shakespeare and the Countess” measures up to Shapiro’s ideas about starving out the public desire for biographical Shakespeare. Or your thoughts on Laurie Johnson’s book and orthodox approaches to Hamlet.

          • Nat Whilk

            Marie Merkel writes: “Outside the academy, the general public’s desire for news about the man
            himself is one of the Stratfordian’s most vulnerable points.”

            So? Outside the academy, the general public’s desire for stories of Adam and Eve is one of the scientist’s most vulnerable points. Does that change fact?

          • headlight

            I’m sending my kids to rabidly anti-Oxford camp next summer. They sing songs, canoe, swim and go to craft shop, and learn to foam at the mouth when the Earl of Oxford is mentioned.

          • Jingleballix

            Huzzah!!

          • Tom Reedy

            “rabidly anti-Oxford”? We spend the great majority of our time laughing. And not at Oxford, at Oxfordians.

          • Rabid: Not really the wrong word, but it does sound as if whatever’s being described as ‘rabid’ really distresses the person who uses it.

            I don’t much care about Oxfraudian rabidity (synonyms: passionate, zealous, diehard, fervent, uncompromising). Your critique of Oxfordian positions – minus the bias, the baiting and taunting and other colorful invective – is often intelligent and well-researched. The attention you lavish on the Oxfordian cause is quite a compliment. I’ll be a little sad when you all give it up and get on with life.

      • I look forward to reading it, when the book arrives. Returning to your review, I was intrigued by these numbers:

        “Pre-1603, the words ‘England’ and ‘English’ appeared 224 and 132 times respectively; in his Jacobean work, only 21 and 18 times. ‘British’ never appeared before 1603, and ‘Britain’ only twice; the latter ‘occurs that many times in King Lear alone, and 29 times in all his Jacobean plays’.”

        With regards to the use found in “King Lear”, this looks to be a rather problematic dating marker, so I don’t imagine that Shapiro will have relied too much on a word that would beg for correction in all works published after the ascension of James. I note in the Variorum ed. (p. 379) that “the Folio has ‘English’ in IV, vi, 249, despite the fact that the Quartos changed it to ‘British’, not only here, but in Edgar’s ‘Fee, fa, fum.’

        Was it actually “changed” in the Quartos? It seems to me that the three uses of “British” in the play are authorial, and hint of some queasiness towards the regime change of 1603: “The British powers are marching hitherward” is *not* welcome news in the context of the play.

        • Marie,

          Thanks for pointing out “Pre-1603, the words ‘England’ and ‘English’ appeared 224 and 132 times respectively; in his Jacobean work, only 21 and 18 times. ‘British’ never appeared before 1603, and ‘Britain’ only twice; the latter ‘occurs that many times in King Lear alone, and 29 times in all his Jacobean plays’.”

          According to Penny McCarthy’s article “Cymbeline: ‘The first Essay of a new Brytish Poet’?” *Critical Survey* Vol. 21, No. 2, Questioning Shakespeare (2009), pp. 43-59: “Holinshed’s *Chronicles* published from, 1577 purporting to relate the histories of England, Scotland, and Ireland, already envisages these isles as one; and the preface by William Harrison included in some editions of the 1577 *Chronicles* is headed ‘An Historicall Description of the Islande of Britayne’. Elizabeth was addressed in 1586 by Janus Dousa as Queen of Britain, France, and Ireland. Camden’s history was entitled ‘Britannia’, and had first been published in 1586.” (p.48)

          Not much of a need for Shakespeare to wait until James became James I to use the term ‘Britain’.

          • Thanks for once again directing me to Penny’s article on Cymbeline, Knit! Will attempt to read it sometime soon.

            It seems likely that there are many pre-1603 uses of “Britain” lurking out there. But maybe Shapiro acknowledges this in his book? In any case, his argument will warrant close scrutiny, given how easy it is already proving to quote as evidence of “Jacobean Shakespeare”.

            From the small sample provided in the review, it isn’t clear if Shapiro is going by pre-1603 *publication*, or pre-1603 conjectured *date of composition*. If the latter, then agreement with his findings will depend on agreement with his dating scheme.

    • Dear Marie, the notion that Shakespeare was influenced by Gwinne is indeed speculative, as Shapiro (according to Sam’s review) states. Your’e right to say we should wait for the book before jumping the gun, but you couldn’t resist, could you?

      You commented on the “as yet unwritten” Macbeth. adding your view ‘We cannot know whether or not Shakespeare worked and reworked plays for years before releasing them to the theater.’

      And you wrote…. “As much as scholars would dearly love to assert with finality, ‘This is when Shakespeare was busy writing such and such’, what they are truly offering is best guesses, not facts.”

      What’s you best guess about the dating of Macbeth and reasons why you think it might have been withheld. Might you also comment on when, why and by whom it was released?

    • Nat Whilk

      Marie Merkel writes: “We cannot know whether or not Shakespeare worked and reworked plays for years before releasing them to the theater.”

      We cannot know whether or not there’s a pink teapot orbiting a moon of Jupiter. However, we can look at the likelihood.

      Your claim isn’t quite astronomically improbable, but–given what we know about Shakespeare’s theatre and about stylometry–it’s extraordinarily unlikely.

      Shakespeare’s plays are written for performance: for the moment, for company and space[s] that he had to hand, for the audience of now, whenever =now= was: 1599, 1606, 1610. They transcend that particular =now= because they play so amazingly well: they work on the stage.

      The sort of fussed-over closet drama that you’re thinking of never translates to the stage. Your word “releasing” says it all. Shakespeare did not at long last, reluctantly, vouchsafe the rabble a glimpse of his precioussss. He wrote plays for them.

      Over the course of Shakespeare’s career, iambic pentameter–the very heartbeat of poetry–evolved, becoming freer, quirkier, more offbeat, in very measurable ways. The beat changed. Reworking an Elizabethan play as Macbeth would mean more than just patching in a few allusions: the writer would have to change the very fabric of the play.

      • Nat Whilk

        Using Martin Wiggins’s magisterial British Drama, 1533-1642 (currently at vol. V, 1603-1608), one can trace a sequence of “nows.” 1606 (Volpone, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Macbeth) has its own quality, as distinctive as 1939 or 1968 in film.

        As Wiggins writes in his Shakespeare and the Drama of His Time (107): The Malcontent (1603) was “followed by a prodigious run of dark comedies using its central plot devices of disguised dukes, political displacement, and averted murder; these included Middleton’s The Phoenix, John Day’s Law-Tricks (1604), and of course Measure for Measure.”

        Independent stylometric studies tend agree quite well with these contextual datings.

  • Wot happened to all the previous comments??

  • Toy Pupanbai

    Shakespeare retires to be just a money lender and leaves no works or library?
    Come on, has to be De Vere!

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