What High Schools Don’t Teach About Shakespeare’s Life

by Mark Oliver , Listverse

There are only a few tidbits of evidence about Shakespeare’s life, but people certainly look through everything they can to find them. Scholars are so desperate for a glimpse into his life that they have even gone through his cesspit just to find out what he ate for dinner.

What we do have paints a portrait of a man who did a lot more than just write a few plays. We’ve been able to piece together some parts of Shakespeare’s life pretty clearly, and the real Shakespeare might not be the man you expect.

10He Stole A Theater


Photo credit: Wenceslas Hollar

Shakespeare’s landlord got fed up with cleaning up after actors and decided it was time to shut down his theater and start renting to decent, reasonable people. It’s the sort of situation that still happens today—a group of creative bohemians losing their platform for a more productive and profitable future. Most deal with it by spreading leaflets, writing to their member of parliament, or moving on to a new space.

Shakespeare gathered up an armed gang and stormed the place.

He and his men, not ready to be defeated, broke into the theater with swords and axes. Then, in the words of court documents, they “in a very riotous and outrageous manner did attempt to pull down and carry away the said theatre.”

That “carried away” is literal—Shakespeare ripped the theater piece by piece out of the ground and carried it off. Shakespeare set up the new theater somewhere else and gave it a name you might have heard before: The Globe.

That’s right. Shakespeare’s famous “Globe Theatre” was ripped out of the ground by armed hoodlums and dragged halfway across town.

9Elizabethans Kidnapped Children For Erotic Plays


Photo credit: Arnoldus Buchelius

You’ve probably heard that young boys, in Shakespeare’s time, would play the roles of girls. What you might not know is how the theaters got them.

According to research by Oxford University, Elizabethan theater bosses would regularly kidnap children, beat them, and force them to perform on stage. Usually, these performances were done in dimly lit clubs full of men, and the boys performed sexually explicit plays.

This wasn’t just a group of rogue pedophiles snatching up kids—this was a royally approved act. With Queen Elizabeth’s sanction, theater bosses boasted the right to steal the son of any nobleman without consequence.

Shakespeare himself didn’t use these boys and specifically works a scene into Hamlet criticizing the practice. His contemporaries, however, did. Another writer from his time, Thomas Middleton, described a children’s troupe as “a nest of boys able to ravish a man,” and Henry VIII wrote letters to have a boy he was “desirous to have” sent to him. And even Christopher Marlowe—the man some people believe secretly wrote Shakespeare’s plays—wrote plays about sex for groups of kidnapped young boys, meant to be performed in a dark room full of men.

8He Couldn’t Spell His Own Name


Shakespeare famously coined 3,000 words. He had a vocabulary that extended far beyond the grasp of almost any man and a way with words that was completely unmatched. He was, it seems, a complete master of the English language.

Except for spelling his own name.

There are six known copies of Shakespeare’s signature, and no two of them are spelled the same way. Although all of his plays and ads have his name the way we write it today, he could never quite pull it off when he wrote it on his own.

Sometimes he would spell it “Wm Shakspea,” as though he almost made it to the end but couldn’t be bothered to get the last word down. Other times, he would write “Shakspear,” very nearly getting the whole thing right, but there is no recorded instance of him ever spelling his name correctly—or even the same way twice.

7He Was Considered Low-Brow


Photo credit: John Taylor

Today, Shakespeare is considered high literature. He’s popularly considered one of the greatest writers of all time, and professors write about him extensively—scholars have even consistently published a magazine called Hamlet Studies since 1979 that does nothing but analyze his plays.

The first ever reference to Shakespeare as a writer comes from a man named Robert Greene, who called Shakespeare “an upstart crow beautified with our feather” who “supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you.”

Greene was apparently furious that Shakespeare, who didn’t come from a noble family, dared to think he could write as well as nobles could. He ripped Shakespeare up, calling him an “ape” who imitated other poets “past excellence” and warning other writers to stay away from him.

Although Shakespeare became very popular, the suggestion that he was a hack seem to have bothered him throughout his career. One of his sonnets, published 17 years after Greene’s attack, has him asking, “Why is my verse so barren of new pride? So far from variation or quick change?”

6Much Ado About Nothing Is Obscene


Photo credit: Alfred W. Elmore

Much Ado About Nothing sounds like a cute title, but it’s actually quite crude. In Elizabethan time, “nothing” was a euphemism. Men were considered to have “something” between their legs, while women had “nothing.” And so, Shakespeare’s tale of love and romance between men and women had a slightly cruder title for an Elizabethan audience. That’s right. Putting it a bit bluntly, the title really means, “Much Ado About Vaginas.” It’s a pun you’ll see in his other works, too.

Shakespeare sold tickets to a lot of different crowds. He had rich, educated people in the back, but there was a throng of people who’d paid a penny to get in at the front, and he needed to keep them happy by giving them what they came for: sex jokes.

So when Hamlet sits down with Ophelia for a touching moment with his lady love, we get this exchange:

HAMLET: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
OPHELIA: No, my lord.
HAMLET: I mean, my head upon your lap.
OPHELIA: Ay, my lord.
HAMLET: Do you think I meant country matters?
OPHELIA: I think nothing, my lord.
HAMLET: That’s a fair thought to lie between maid’s legs.
OPHELIA: What is, my lord?
HAMLET: Nothing.

When you learned this in school, your teacher probably glossed over it a bit, but this is definitely a scene meant to get the drunk men in the audience laughing. You’ll understand what he means by “country matters” if you say the first syllable out loud.

5He Was Chased Out Of Town


Photo via Wikimedia

According to one popular story, Shakespeare left his original home of Stratford to escape legal trouble. Oxford clergyman Richard Davies wrote in 1688 that Shakespeare was a habitual thief before becoming a successful playwright. The story also appears in Nicholas Rowe’s 1704 biography, which was based on oral traditions from actors who had known Shakespeare’s friends.

“Shakespeare was much given to all unluckiness in stealing venison and rabbits,” wrote Davies, and Shakespeare picked on one man in particular named Thomas Lucy. Often, Shakespeare didn’t get away with it and got himself whipped or thrown in jail. Eventually, Lucy left Shakespeare with no choice but to flee town to London.

In a way, Shakespeare owes his success to being run out of town, but that doesn’t mean he got over it. Shakespeare seems to have held on to an animosity against Lucy and took his revenge the only way a poet knows how—by writing a scathing poem that makes fun of his name. A short poem, allegedly written by Shakespeare, has him writing, “If Lucy is lousy, as some folk miscall it/Sing lousy Lucy, whatever befall it.”

4He Had A Shotgun Wedding


Photo credit: Nathaniel Curzon

Shakespeare got married when he was 18 years old to a woman named Anne Hathaway, and he was in a hurry to do it.

Nobody knows for sure what the mood was like in that church, but the evidence we have paints a pretty vivid picture. Hathaway was three months pregnant when she walked down the aisle—not a huge scandal today, but in Shakespeare’s time, definitely a circumstance that would get you pushed into a marriage.

We also know that the reciting of vows was rushed. Traditionally, a priest was supposed to announce the wedding three times, giving people three chances to object to their character. The Shakespeares, however, only announced it once. They got married as quickly and quietly as they could.

Sure, it’s possible that they loved each other regardless, but there’s some evidence that they didn’t. The two lived in different towns. Shakespeare only left her his “second-best bed.” And . . .

3He Might Have Had An Illegitimate Child


Photo credit: Henry Herringman

Shakespeare liked to stay at a tavern in Oxford while he traveled and seems to have left something of himself there: a son.

William Davenant, Shakespeare’s godson who was raised by a tavern owner, claimed to have had Shakespeare as his father. Apparently, when Davenant got drunk enough, he would pass around a story his mother had told him—that his real father was an actor. Strangely, Davenant doesn’t seem to have been upset about his biological father abandoning him and instead boasted that, when he did drop by, he was really nice to him.

As the story went, Shakespeare wandered into the tavern nine months before his birth and knocked up, in Davenant’s own words, some “whore”—“whore” referring to the woman who loved, fed, and cared for Davenant his entire life.

Davenant seems to have inherited some of his father’s gift as well. Shakespeare’s secret love child went on to be a poet in his own right, and while we don’t have a definite enough picture of Shakespeare to find a visual resemblance, a lot of people have pointed to a stylistic resemblance between Shakespeare and his alleged son.

2Shakespeare Had Groupies


Photo credit: William Blake

Shakespeare was a celebrity in his time, and, just like celebrities today, he and his troupe had groupies. And according to a rumor that spread during his lifetime, Shakespeare wasn’t afraid to indulge.

A lawyer wrote this in his diary in 1602:

Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III, there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play, she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained, and at his game ere Burbage came. The message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.

We don’t know for sure what he meant when he wrote that Shakespeare “was entertained and at his game,” but the popular interpretation is exactly what you’re thinking—Shakespeare impersonated his friend so that he could sleep with one of his fans.

Rumors like this one can’t be proven true, but with Shakespeare, rumors are most of what we had. One thing this story tells us for sure, though, is that Shakespeare was the type of person you’d spread a rumor like that about. Whether the story’s true or not, in his own time, no one had any trouble believing it.

1He Wrote 126 Sonnets To A Boy


Photo credit: Nicholas Hilliard

If you’ve ever tried to woo a girl by comparing her to a summer’s day, you’re in for a surprise.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are famous for being his most romantic and beautiful poems, and so it might come as a surprise that 126 of them are dedicated to a young man. That’s almost all of them, since there are only 154 in total.

Most of these are about the speaker’s love for the boy. In one, Shakespeare specifically complains that, being a boy, he was “prick’d . . . out for women’s pleasure” instead of his own. Some have taken this as proof that Shakespeare was gay. That’s not necessarily true, but it still changes the meaning of a lot of poems.

So, next time you read a sonnet, be aware—when Shakespeare wrote “thou are more lovely” than a summer’s day, he wasn’t talking to his wife.

Mark Oliver is a writer and an English Teacher. He can be visited online here.

Scientists Claim New Data Storage Can Last 13.8 Billion Years

by Andrew LaSane, Mental Floss

A few years ago, scientists at the University of Southampton announced the development of so-called 5D “Superman memory” crystals: small nanostructured glass discs that, through laser-writing, could hold a lot more data for a lot longer than other storage media. The team has continued to improve on that technology, and now report that they can record a whopping 360 terabytes of data on the discs—all of which will basically be immortal.

More precisely, if kept at room temperature, the discs will reportedly last for 13.8 billion years. (As a reminder, the universe is about 13.8 billion years old.) The team is presenting the technology at the International Society for Optical Engineering Conference in San Francisco this week. According to the abstract on the conference website, the data written on the discs can remain stable up to 1000°C (1832°F), and so far, a copy of the King James Bible and the Magna Carta have been successfully stored. The authors write: “Even at elevated temperatures of 160°C, the extrapolated decay time of nanogratings is comparable with the age of the Universe—13.8 billion years.”

The full study has not yet been published, so there is currently no explanation regarding that incredibly long timetable, but the development is notable news in a world that’s increasingly reliant on digital data storage.

In a press release, Professor Peter Kazansky from the University of Southampton’s Optoelectronics Research Centre said: “It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information and store it in space for future generations.This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilization: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

[h/t Hypebeast]

Depressing Screenshots of Despair

The Tumblr blog Screenshots of Despair is devoted to collecting the most demoralizing images on the Internet. [via smosh]

  1. Cry room is what church as have for fussy babies. Its not nearly as bad as it sounds. Most have toys and such for children to play with and a few chairs for nursing mothers. Despite the name they are pretty nice.

    1. AKrob says:

Why Are Teens So Moody?

Any parent who has dealt with the teen years will tell you it’s maddening at times. They can change from goofy to infuriating to sweet to comatose in a matter of seconds. It doesn’t make sense until you see what’s going on inside. Even after their bodies mature, the brain structure and chemistry continue to change. That makes teenagers unique among age groups. Maybe a little understanding can lead to greater patience in the struggle between not-quite-adults and their parents. Also, the comments under this video are hilarious.

“Teens are very phisycally healthy” Me, a 15 year old female: reaches for another bag of doritos

8 moody teens have already disliked this

I’m a teenager, and this video isn’t accurate at all. You suck, I hate everyone. Grr.

Why are teens so moody? Because we’re put under incredible stress every single day and forced to make impossible choices that will affect the rest of our lives. Also, hormones.

Astronaut ice cream is a lie

If you’ve ever gone to a science museum as a kid, you’ve most likely seen so called astronaut ice cream available for purchase at the gift shop. Besides for the cool factor, nearly everyone can agree that the stuff is chalky and nasty.

But the reality is, it’s all a lie, explains Vox. There never was astronaut ice cream.

The 19th Century Version of Cards Against Humanity

by Shaunacy Ferro, Mental Floss

In the late 1800s, partygoers had their own version of the “party game for horrible people,”Cards Against Humanity. It was called Peter Coddle’s Trip to New York.

Using a pile of cards displaying nouns, players of the popular 19th century card game would fill in the blanks of a Mad Libs-style story. The tale followed a simple country man named Peter who got himself into trouble while traveling in the Big Apple (or in subsequent versions,Chicago).

During the game, one player would read the story while others picked nouns from the pile. When it was their turn to draw, each player would use the slip of paper—which might say things like “a Dutch farmer,” “a glass eye,” or “a sea of turtle soup”—to complete the story.

shellEProductions via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Max Temkin, one of the co-creators of Cards of Humanity, owns an antique copy of Peter Coddle’s Trip and shared his thoughts on the game with Atlas Obscura. In his opinion, the spirit of the paper slips closely resembles the irreverent nature of Cards Against Humanity‘s phrases. “There’s a lot of double entendres,” he points out.

Another similarity: Players picked their slips randomly, resulting in complete anarchy where the story’s narrative was concerned. For instance, the game pictured above might generate sentences like, “He also saw a fireboat tied up at the Battery; it had [a runaway pussy cat], [an old handcart], [a roast ox], and other appliances for extinguishing fire.”

If you’re looking for an ice-breaker game for your next Victorian-themed party, you can find vintage copies of the game online for less than $50.