A Detour into the Byways of Shakespeare’s World       

One of the joys of writing Not Wisely but Too Well was doing the historical and literary research. I spent weeks in our state library happily diving down rabbit holes and exploring byways. Some of those byways led to fascinating stories that I could use to flesh out my narrative, others led to discoveries that were of interest in their own right.

With little in the way of documentation, in order to find out what Shakespeare was up to during his ‘Lost Years’, I began by examining the best evidence we have, his early plays, their quartos and their so-called ‘Bad Quartos’. Through them I could catch a glimpse into what Shakespeare was writing, who he was associating with and the playing companies he was working with during that time.

Of the plays included in the First Folio, half had previously been published in individual editions, known as quartos, which vary in different degrees from the final Folio version. Some quartos are so different from the Folio that they’ve been dubbed ‘Bad Quartos’. Shakespearean scholars put great store by the theory that these Bad Quartos are pirated editions of Shakespeare’s plays, acquired through nefarious means. But what if they’re wrong? In Bad Quartos and the Myth of the Memorial Reconstruction, I consider whether their theories are plausible and whether the Bad Quartos are by Shakespeare at all.

Another great source of information about the Elizabethan theatre is Henslowe’s Diary. Philip Henslowe built and owned the Rose playhouse which became the home of the Lord Admiral’s Men, led by his son-in-law, Edward Alleyn. Through this meticulously handwritten record of the Rose’s daily activities, Henslowe has become known as one of London’s premier theatrical impresarios, which is how he has been portrayed in recent films such as Anonymous and Shakespeare in Love. However, as I demonstrate in The Mystery of ‘Titus & Vespacia’: The Secret of Henslowe’s Diary, a close reading of Henslowe’s Diary can give us a completely different picture of the man and the role he played.

Shakespeare arrived in London at a time when young and exciting playwrights were taking London by storm. First among these was Christopher Marlowe, but he was only one of a group of playwrights who, like him, were university educated and among the first professional writers. I introduce you to the members of this group in Shakespeare’s Contemporaries: The University Wits.

As professional writers, and therefore chronically poor, the University Wits were in no position to turn down a commission, even when they were recruited into a nasty propaganda war for which they wrote scathing pamphlets and indecent plays defending the established Church of England from its Puritan critics, which I describe in The Theatre of a Propaganda War: The Playhouse in the Marprelate Controversy. This little-known religious controversy caught the attention of Francis Bacon, and it may have had unrecognised repercussions to this very day.

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