John and William Shakespeare The Sources and Acquisition of their Wealth
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
The Thesis is forming the basis of both a book and television documentary series. A five year embargo has been approved.
This thesis explores the proposition that to comprehend William Shakespeare better in his social and creative contexts one has to understand both his and his family’s money - where it came from and where it went. The Shakespearian mythos posits that John Shakespeare came penniless to Stratford where he did well in business before losing his wealth. Thereafter, his son William went to London, wrote plays which made him rich and then made a number of investments in Stratford. Among the various errors in this statement there is one that stands out - the “rich” part. It is not simply the fact that he made the investments - his house New Place, land, tithes etc. are well documented - it is when he made them that is of significance. The bulk of the Shakespeare family investments were made before William became part owner of the Globe or Blackfriars theatres. This evaluation has focused on the tangible data from the period, chiefly legal and financial records. Its conclusions challenge many pre-existing notions of how money flowed into the Early Modern Theatre and into William Shakespeare’s pockets. The fable is that young Will Shakespeare, like the pantomime Dick Whittington, left his poverty-stricken family, walked to London and won his fortune. In neither case was this true. The Early Modern theatre in London was brutally commercial and the aim was the acquisition of wealth more than the pursuit of art. For William Shakespeare, Pope put it neatly Shakespeare (whom you and every playhouse bill Style the divine! the matchless! what you will), For gain, not glory, wing’d his roving flight, And grew immortal in his own despite. This thesis provides the evidence to dismiss many of the fantasies that surround William and John Shakespeare’s by replacing these with a clear financial picture of the sources and acquisition of their wealth.
PhD in Drama