William Shakespeare Was a Grain-Hoarding, Tax-Evading Businessman, New Study Finds
Anyone out there thinking William Shakespeare’s sole source of income was his celebrated career in theater might be shocked to learn the Bard was also a miser not unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, and a bit of a scofflaw to boot. Researchers at Aberystwyth University in Wales have discovered that Shakespeare “was a ruthless businessman who grew wealthy dealing in grain during a time of famine,” Jill Lawless of The Huffington Post reports.
The research team—comprised of Jayne Archer, Howard Thomas and Richard Marggraf Turley—dug through historical archives to find this tidbit of information. It isn’t clear if they were specifically looking for details on the author’s shady business practices, though according to Lawless "the charge sheet against Shakespeare was not entirely unknown” prior to the team’s findings.
So what did ole Willie Shakes do to piss off off the law? Lawless has the answer:
‘Over a 15-year period he purchased and stored grain, malt and barley for resale at inflated prices to his neighbors and local tradesmen,' they wrote, adding that Shakespeare ‘pursued those who could not (or would not) pay him in full for these staples and used the profits to further his own money-lending activities.
He was pursued by the authorities for tax evasion, and in 1598 was prosecuted for hoarding grain during a time of shortage.
Archer, a literature professor at Aberystwyth, believes we should examine Shakespeare’s behavior with historical context in mind, rather than judge him outright. He did, in all fairness, live during the “Little Ice Age,” a period of unusually harsh winters and exorbitant rain that yielded poor harvests and widespread famine. Hoarding was simply a means of ensuring his family and neighbors wouldn’t starve should a harvest go south. She says:
Remembering Shakespeare as a man of hunger makes him much more human, much more understandable, much more complex... He would not have thought of himself first and foremost as a writer. Possibly as an actor – but first and foremost as a good father, a good husband and a good citizen to the people of Stratford.
So what do you think: is Shakespeare now a badman whose work we can no longer enjoy, or is this bit of history merely a footnote to the life and body of work we know and love?
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