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Please see Be All My Sins Remembered - my web-based book with the latest version of these Hamlet essays.
A Speculative Biography of Shakespeare the Double-Agent
I am about to reveal to you a secret that has been hidden in plain sight for almost four hundred years. Most of the clues are in the most performed, most written-about play in the English language. Other clues, though less obtrusive, can be found in any large library. Clues such as:
1) The English Pope and his fertility well, and Henry VIII and his first queen. 2) A divorce decreed at Blackfriars. 3) An imaginary kick from an imaginary fetus when the Pole Star danced. 4) The day the canon disseminated "seminary".
5) A brass door-knocker shaped like a nose.
6) The mole under William Allen's right eye.
7) Will's birthday and the day before, Henry's birthday and the day after. Kit's birthday and the day after, and the day after that.
8) A 16th-century cannon called a "falcon" (but not Maltese).
9) A bunghole.
10) Domini canis will have his day.
11) Two provincial roses.
12) A Strange baker and his "daughter."
13) Christopher Marlowe was no truant.
14) The name of a forest or Shakespeare's kin, an anonymous play and a hamlet that destroyed itself, and two games of backgammon interrupted by murders.
15) Black Will and George Shakebag.
16) "When a man's verses cannot be understood... it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a small room."
17) A printer named Woodcock.
18) Christopher Marlowe's father's hometown, a messenger's mistress who did Yeoman's service, and a dagger in Christopher Marlowe's eye.
19) The twice-told tale of a St Valentine's Day murder.
20) You, me, us, I am Rick, know ye not that?
21) A painfully inquisitive man named Topcliffe, a place called Marshallsea, and a chilling tale of two shoulder bones.
22) A loose cannon, eight crushed bodies, and a bride-to-be.
23) A cannon salute to "Henry VIII", Global warming, back to Blackfriars.
Warning: Most of what follows is speculation. To distinguish between my speculations and accepted historical facts, I have italicized my speculations.
Shakespeare's secret godfather was William Allen, leader of the English Catholic underground. Young Shakespeare swore an oath to his father and to his godfather to write a series of history plays, which was originally planned to culminate in an incendiary version of Henry VIII. The drafts of the first history plays were enough to secure him a position with Lord Strange's Players and letter to make him a shareholder in a group of players. But Shakespeare did not want to fulfill his oath. He loved the stage too much to subvert it to politics. And he loved his country too much to lead it into bloody civil war. So he wrote history plays that humanized kings and showed the human cost of wars, and he procrastinated on writing the final Henry VIII play.
In 1593, Christopher Marlowe was murdered by double-agents. Shakespeare mistakenly believed that Marlowe had been killed by Catholic agents in order to prevent Marlowe from exposing Shakespeare's Catholic ties. Actually the Catholic agents had tricked the English government into murdering Marlowe because the Catholics were afraid that Marlowe would seduce James VI and prevent him from converting to Catholicism.
Essex and his followers were aware of Shakespeare's oath and used his Richard II to launch their rebellion. As a result, Shakespeare was imprisoned at Marshallsea and tortured by Topcliffe. He negotiated his freedom (and saved his fellow players) by polishing (almost completely rewriting) a play that James VI had written about Hamlet.
It is possible that James VI got his real warning about the Gunpowder Plot (to blow up Parliament) from Shakespeare.
When Shakespeare finally wrote Henry VIII, it was incendiary only in a literal sense. It burned down the Globe. I believe the fire was set deliberately, for financial reasons and also so Shakespeare could symbolically fulfil his oath.
It is possible that Ben Jonson, working either for the English government or for the Catholic underground, forced Shakespeare to poison himself.
Why Will? - The Godfather
Shakespeare, Breakspear, and Broken Pole - The Prophesy
Dangerous Conjectures in Ill-Breeding Minds - The Oath
Be All My Sins Remembered - The Politics of Purgatory
The Strange Baker's Daughter - The Drama Ophelia
Shakebag, Falstaff, and Woodcock - The Springe
How Henry's Divorce Led to Global Warming - The Dog Has His Day
See also: Motifs in Hamlet
--Ray Eston Smith Jr 22:04, 6 March 2007 (UTC)