Montag, 1. Oktober 2018

The Murderous Playwrights of Elizabethan England / Benet Brandreth In: CrimeReads September 24, 2018

One version of William Shakespeare’s story begins with a murder.  The year is 1587, William is 23, a glover’s son in an unremarkable town in the middle of England, unhappily married, three small children mewling and puking around him.  He longs to escape but the means of doing so evade him.  Then opportunity strikes:  The Queen’s Men, a company of players, arrive in Stratford short of an actor and William joins them, traveling to London and from there into history.  And why are the Queen’s Men shy of a full company in 1587?  Because on 15 June that year, one of their number, William Knel, attacked another of the company, John Towne.  The short fight ended when Towne struck Knel in the neck with a sword of iron costing, we are told, five shillings.
Unfortunately for this version of Shakespeare’s story there is no evidence of the Queen’s Men being in or near Stratford Upon Avon in 1587, but then there is little that is certain about Shakespeare’s life.  Nothing is known about his life between the baptism of his twin children in February 1585 and his first appearance on the London theatre scene in 1592.  Yet it seems likely that whatever happened in those seven lost years involved adventure and more than a little danger.  At least, it seems likely judging by Shakespeare’s contemporaries.
Take Robert Greene, the author of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay among other plays, and the man whose place in history is assured by having been the first to mention Shakespeare as a playwright.  Greene insults Shakespeare’s lack of learning when compared to the University Wits like Greene, Marlowe and Nashe.  In his Groats-Worth of Wit, Greene called Shakespeare “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers.”  A mild insult by Greene’s standards for, as well as plays, Greene was a writer of scandalous books of scurrilous gossip and boasted of his own vile behavior.  He had abandoned his wife and child to take up with a notorious bawd and brothel keeper.  Greene was not worried about the vengeance of those he insulted.  He employed as a bodyguard his mistress’s brother, a notorious criminal who would later be hanged for murder and who reveled in the nickname, “Cutting Ball.”  History does not relate what deed earned him this title. 
Greene may well have needed a bodyguard.  These were violent times.  The murder rate in Elizabethan England was about 1 in 10,000; by comparison it is now 1 in 100,000.  More significantly, murder today is often by someone known to the victim: assault by strangers was far more prevalent then.  People went armed and did not fear to use their weapons, actors and playwrights among them.  We think of the theatre in modern times as filled with delicate flowers but it was not always so.  In Elizabethan times they were at the margins of society, vagabonds, rogues, dangerous men.  Indeed, it is rare to learn of a playwright in Elizabethan times that has not killed a man. ... [mehr]

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