The Double Life of William Shakespeare

It is now time to tell the real story of the main named William Shakespeare who lodged in London and lived in Stratford upon Avon.  To the people of Stratford, he was a prosperous grain merchant and efficient debt collector.  In London, he was an anonymous playwright from the country who came to sell his Plays to the highest bidder and do other business .

William Shakespeare was attracted to the theatre ever since the Leicester Players performed at the Stratford Guild Hall in 1572 but no Playwright of his day became rich from what they wrote.  William learnt from his Father who had been a famous wool brogger and earned his fortune as a grain merchant.  He certainly went to London and did business there both as a merchant and a playwright but he only stayed as long as was absolutely necessary, then returned to Stratford.  The theatre business was not all year round and there were indeed long seasons when the London Theatres were closed down due to the Plague.  He would not have any reason to spend any length of time in London and in humble lodgings when he had the grandeur of a mansion back in sedate Stratford.

Why should he doubt him to have been a grain merchant? He had, after all, come from farming stock in the nearby village of Snitterfield and when he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of Shottery farmer Richard Hathaway.  It could surely be no coincidence. Grain was a valuable commodity in Elizabethan England and there were many famines which would increase its value.  He certainly had the means and know how on how to orchestrate a significant Grain operation.  In addition, he acquired agricultural land and property in his later years which would provide the yield for his wealth.

Shakespeare’s heart lay in Stratford.  He lived first at his childhood home on Henley Street until 1597 when he fulfilled his dream of owning and living at New Place, the large stone house which stood opposite the Kings Grammar School where he was first educated. It is at New Place where he lived out his remaining years and wrote many of the later Plays, as he sat under the famous Mulberry Tree.  We can be sure that William was in Stratford for the death of his son Hamnet in 1595, his Father in 1601 and in 1606 for the marriage of his Daughter Susannah to Doctor John Hall.  He was in Stratford and not in London at the time of the State opening of Parliament in November 1605.

We can only assume that Shakespeare was a religious conformist during his time in Stratford and attended Sunday morning services because there are no records of him ever being a recusant.  Records of him being a trustee to the purchase of the Blackfriars Gatehouse in 1613 exist.  This does no more than connect him to the property as a probable catholic safehouse and suggest that he was a secret catholic for most of his life.

William Shakespeare died on the eve of his fifty second birthday on 23rd April 1616 while supping ale with friends Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton at a Tavern on the banks of the river Avon.  He was buried in the Chancel of Stratfords Holy Trinity Church and several years later, a bust was erected above his burial chamber commemorating him as a grain merchant. This was actually changed a hundred or so years later, in the interests of tourism,  to portray  a man holding a book and quill and representing a famous writer.  That is the image of the man named William Shakespeare we are asked to remember but it is not the true one.  The image of William Shakespeare the Stratford merchant must also be acknowledged.

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One thought on “The Double Life of William Shakespeare

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