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This is a "Wild Mass Guess" entry, where we pull out all the sanity stops on theorizing. The regular entry on this topic is elsewhere. Please see this programme note.
William Shakespeare
aka: Shakespeare
The Antonio in The Merchant of Venice and the Antonio in Twelfth Night are the same character.
Both are rather melancholy and quite possibly gay. After Twelfth Night, he uses his new-found connections in the Illyrian court to retire from the military and set up a lucrative shipping business.
  • He eventually ended up in Verona, married, and had two sons: Petruchio and Proteus.
    • ...And a daughter, who marries into the Montague family and gives birth to a rash young man named Romeo.

Mercutio is in love with Romeo.
He seems to be jealous of Romeo and Juliet's relationship, and he is 'extremely' close to Romeo.
  • There's one hole in your theory, which is that Mercutio never had a clue Romeo and Juliet were even dating. Romeo and Rosalind, Mercutio openly and constantly laughs at.

Hamlet's insanity is real and is the result of a sublimated Oedipal complex.
Oops, it looks like this theory's not so wild after all.

Shakespeare didn't write his own plays.
Shakespeare was an uneducated peasant who couldn't even write his name before moving to London and becoming the most famous playwright in existence. The facts don't quite add up. So, in light of that, who did write them?
  • Not to discount all these theories, but Shakespeare wasn't "uneducated" in the sense you're implying. He never went to University, but his attendance of a Stradford grammar school is well documented, and most agree that he read extensively from Ovid during his grammar school days. So he certainly wasn't illiterate, he's just considered "uneducated" because most of his contemporaries were University graduates (with the exception of the equally lauded Ben Jonson.) Shakespeare also wasn't a peasant - his father was high bailiff of the reasonably large town of Stratford, a very respectable and certainly middle class position.
    • Seriously. Calling Shakespeare an "uneducated peasant" is a huge huge misunderstanding of both his upbringing and the historical era he came from.
    • It is not "well-documented" that William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon attended grammar schoolnote . In fact, there are no records of William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon getting any education at all. The idea that Shakespeare got an education at all is circular reasoning: the author of Shakespeare's plays was clearly well-educated, so because it is assumed William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon wrote the plays, he must have received an extensive education, including, presumably, at the free Stratford grammar school.
      • This assumption that William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon wrote the plays also makes the Stratford grammar school have a much more extensive library than most grammar schools would have had at the time: because Shakespeare the Playwright has to have read from these books in order to have written the plays, therefore the country grammar school had the budget to purchase the huge selection of books read by Shakespeare the Playwright, at a time when books cost as much as new cars do today.
  • There has been a tremendous amount of speculation that William Shakespeare was merely an actor and was used as a front for somebody else who wrote his famous plays. The finger is generally pointed at such notables as Sir Francis Bacon, Queen Elizabeth, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, meaning any or all of them could have written the plays ("all of them" being the "Round Table" Hypothesis). Mark Twain was one of the earliest prominent believers in these theories.
    • Ben Jonson knew a William Shakespeare who was an actor, and according to Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare the actor never wrote anything. Mind you, it could simply be that the Stratfordians are wrong and William Shakespeare was never an actor, since saying William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon was an actor is also Wild Mass Guessing, the explanation of how their Author ended up in London: the undocumented tale of how William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon joined a troupe of actors headed for London (most probably Leicester's Men or the Queen's Men), at some point between 1585 and 1592.
  • Christopher Marlowe, beset by accusations of treason and witchcraft, faked his death in a bar-brawl, got his secret agent friends to orchestrate a massive cover-up, and spent the rest of his life writing literary masterpieces (with coded messages and references sprinkled throughout).
    • Marlowe was good, but all his plays had the same essential story: "guy rises to ultimate power, guy falls back to Earth." Shakespeare was more "everybody hooks up/ dies at the end."
      • Plus Marlowe wrote plays which had the same basic plots and themes of some of Shakespeare's plays, unnecessary duplication if he was also Shakespeare, and also dramatically different ideas about people in the world. Take Marlowe's "The Jew of Malta", his version of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice". Marlowe's Jew, Barabas (a clear reference to the Bible's "Barrabas" who was released in place of Jesus) is a mustache-twirling one-dimensional melodrama villain who delights in violating his own religion, and at one point poisons an entire convent of nuns which includes his own daughter. Shakespeare's Shylock gets one of the more famous sympathy-gathering monologues of all time—"If you prick us, do we not bleed?"—as well as being a devout Jew right up to the point where he is forced to convert or be executed.
  • The thirty or so documents aside from the plays which affirm his existence at all spell his name several different ways. Could it be that people of the day had terrible handwriting? Did the playwright play fast and loose with the spelling of his name? Did the actor who was used as a front not remember how to spell his name? If so, why didn't the conspirators using him as a front teach a specific one to him? Could a different Shakespeare have written the plays than the one we learn other facts about? Could it be that he was only semi-literate and taught other actors their lines from memory? Go forth and speculate.
    • Do not be distracted by the fact that spelling in Elizabethan England was, indeed, rather loose. English was an unregulated peasant tongue for so long that, by the end of the Middle Ages, there were wild variances in dialect. There's a famous story related by William Caxton, the English printer, about a group of sailors coming down the Thames from London, landing in Kent for supplies, which isn't very far away, and barely being able to be understood — the farmwife the sailors talk to thinks they're speaking French. The ability of printing to spread a particular form of English narrowed this linguistic diversity, but spelling still varied wildly. This, of course, was a tale told to conceal that William Caxton was, in fact ... Shakespeare!
    • Marlowe himself spelt his name a whole bunch of ways; Marlin, Marley, etc. All the cool kids were doing it back then.
    • Remember, back in the day, THERE WAS NO DICTIONARY. There was NO standard spelling. The most educated person in the world would spell their name a dozen different ways, as well as common words. Early modern English was barely out of the womb.
  • This was all settled in the sixth Star Trek historical documentary, when the Klingon chancellor tells the Enterprise crew, "You have never experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon."
  • As everyone should be aware, occultist Edward Kelley wrote Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare was too busy writing Francis Bacon's works. Bacon couldn't write them himself because he was already writing Rosicrucian pamphlets for some Italian guy, who couldn't write his own Rosicrucian pamphlets because he was busy writing Don Quixote.
    • Which leaves the question that: If Bacon did write Shakespeare, would Shakespeare ever write him back?
  • It wasn't William Shakespeare who wrote Shakespeare's plays, but rather a completely different person with the same name.
    • A "mimick ape" or "poet ape" was a career back then, a person who agreed to front for an author who didn't want it known that he was a writer. Often used to protect a noble's desire to not be seen as doing any real work, or to attempt to avoid being prosecuted for embarrassing or seditious prose (Richard II, anyone?).
  • Shakespeare was a Time Lord. Duh.
  • No-one questioned the authorship until about 150 years later when some crazy woman claimed her ancestor wrote them. Shakespeare was not a peasant; his father was the wealthiest man in Stratford and was mayor for a time.
    • Delia Bacon had no relation to Sir Francis Bacon at all, but she did kick off the Baconian Movement, which gave us things like cipher wheels (god help me, I wish I were making this up.) And she did have frequent bouts of insanity, especially later in life, eventually dying in an asylum. Whether or not she was insane when she spent days in Stratford staring at Shakespeare's tomb and asking for permission to open the tomb is up to speculation.
    • Its also not true that the authorship wasn't questioned well before that 150 year mark. There were Shakespearean contemporaries who questioned the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. Ben Jonson himself appears to have known both an author named William Shakespeare (whom Jonson liked), and an actor named William Shakespeare (whom Jonson hated). According to Stratfordians, William Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon was definitely an actor; according to Ben Jonson, during "The Time Of Shakespeare", William Shakespeare the actor never wrote anything.
    • As for Shakespeare being wealthy and the son of the wealthiest man in Stratford, being successful at business in Shakespeare's day did not require an education in anything other than basic business math. Yes, he was a successful merchant at something ("grain merchant" is often mentioned but this, like most Shakespeare "history", is also Wild Mass Guessing) which allowed him to buy a lot of land in Stratford, and not a peasant, but this is not evidence that he ever received an education.
      • One of the things we are certain about William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon is that he seems to have been very good at business math, due to existing records showing him earning a kingly 60 pounds a year off estates purchased in Stratford, after he had already purchased the biggest house in Stratford. One of the things we are certain about William Shakespeare the Playwright is that he was very bad at business math, one of the very few areas in which William Shakespeare the Playwright was not a genius.
  • Mr. Norman Voles of Gravesend wrote the plays and his wife helped with the sonnets.
  • Back then there wasn't any copyright law, and plays were technically illegal, and so authorship questions weren't pressing. Some plays got attributed to Shakespeare simply because they were signed "W.S." and were too brilliant to be written by anyone else. The scene was mostly quite friendly; quite often, one playwright would help another without feeling the need to be credited. (People are pretty sure Shakespeare wrote parts of "Sir Thomas More," for example.) That said, it seems unlikely that Ben Jonson (Shakespeare's friendly rival and closest friend) or Robert Greene (Shakespeare's most bitter enemy) would have both been so deceived. Plus, Shakespeare wasn't that well regarded until late in his career (he literally threw his plays in the garbage after the performance). And the world wasn't very populated, understood, or connected back then; the need for a conspiracy theory surrounding the guy who wrote Romeo and Juliet wouldn't have been evident in Elizabethan London.
    • Performing play was not illegal until years after Shakespeare's death, when the Puritans took over England, under Oliver Cromwell. In fact, Shakespeare's troop was called the King's Men, because of royal patronage of King James.
      • Well, half true — performing plays without a license (granted, in Elizabeth's England, by the Master of the Revels) was illegal and anyone associated could be jailed if they were caught.

Shakespeare wrote all of his own plays.
Wouldn't that be a twist?
  • Thank you! I WANT TO BELIEVE
  • Actually, it would -- depending on how one defines "all" and "his own." There are several plays (and poems) almost universally considered to be Shakespeare apocrypha, some that are disputed, and some (including "Henry VI Part One", "Pericles," and "Henry VIII") believed to have been co-written by Shakespeare.
  • One of the few types of records that exist about William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon indicate that he was very good at business math, having made so much money off of something other than playsnote  that he was able to revive his family business, buy the largest house in Stratford, and buy enough property in Stratford to earn himself a kingly 60 pounds a year in landlord income.
    • An argument against William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon being William Shakespeare the Playwright is that Shakespeare the Playwright is spectacularly bad at math, especially business math.
    • A counter-argument in favor of him being the Playwright anyway is that since William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a letter home from London, yet somehow managed to become a successful businessman in Stratford, is that his wife Anne Hathaway may have been the real business genius in the family, doing business in his name back in Stratford. This would allow him to be awful at business math and still be the Playwright, while appearing in official documents to be a successful businessman.
      • This is also justified in that William Shakespeare of London was constantly running afoul of the London tax collectors, who were unable to locate him in London despite several attempts. A man who didn't understand how to handle money would constantly run afoul of tax collectors.

Horatio killed everybody.
We see the events of Hamlet from Horatio's perspective. He is in every important scene and has off-stage events reported to him. He promises to tell Fortinbras the story of how Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet, Laertes, Ophelia, Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern wound up dead. So he makes up an odd story involving ghosts, dueling with poisoned swords, mistaken identity and insanity to cover up that he's an Ax-Crazy maniac. For all we know, Horatio even murdered Yorick when he was a boy.
  • I can see where this comes from, but Shakespeare isn't one for ambiguous endings; if something that dramatic was true in-play, he would have told us that somehow. Or maybe it's in a lost epilogue somewhere...

Horatio murdered everyone because he was Fortinbras's Brainwashed and Crazy puppet.
Notice how he came in right when King Claudius was trying to appeal peace with Norway.

Hamlet knew Yorick in a biblical sense.
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio!
  • Which is a bit squicky, considering the age difference.
  • It's doubtful that Hamlet would be so eager to tell Horatio he was having sex with Yorick.
    • Which opens up the debate on whether Hamlet and Horatio are having a torrid affair...
      • Yes.
    • Horatio was a pagan, so he would have been cool. (Interesting, in light of Ophelia.)
    • It would've been old news by then, anyway.
  • On a more serious note, the joke might be that "knew" also meant "recognized." Much of the scene revolves around the idea that all skulls are equal and indistinguishable in death.

Hamlet knew everyone in the cemetery in a biblical sense.
Except Ophelia.

Ophelia is Pregnant
Seen here, but also just type in 'Ophelia Pregnant' in a search engine and multiple results (20 300 from Ask.com) will show up.

Iago does not exist
He's the incarnation of that voice within every person's mind, which is why it's so easy for him to trick everyone into believing what he says. He's not saying it — they're thinking it. Emilia is just a klepto with self-esteem issues; Othello is suffering from paranoia (or, if you hold that his seizures are real, he's also having epileptic hallucinations); Roderigo is generally unstable; Cassio has a serious drinking problem... the list goes on. Iago is just an excuse for their own bad behaviour. Killing Desdemona effectively snaps our hero out of this funk, leading him to kill Iago and thus free himself from the toxic influence of his own self-hatred. Of course, all he manages to do is convert it into soul-crushing angst (Emilia in her death scene) that makes him take his own life to 'follow' his lover, but still.

Othello suffers from MPD, and Iago is the other personality.
Since the story is told mostly from Iago's point of view, the whole thing is a severe case of Unreliable Narrator.

Everyone in Othello is in the psych ward.
Iago started out as a delusion of one of the patients; the rest ran with it, editing him into their own personal safety net. "As long as it's Iago's fault, it's not mine." When each of the characters 'die' in the story, they've been released — either cured or on their way to recovery. Othello is released when he kills 'his' Iago.
  • Uhhhh, guys. Iago never died. He was captured, and it's strongly suggested he'll be tortured.

Iago did die.
This is made explicit in the Laurence Fishburne version of Othello (in which Kenneth Branagh plays Iago.)
  • Except not really; he doesn't die onscreen, and it's never clearly shown whose bodies are dumped into the ocean. It could just as easily be Desdemona and Othello being tossed overboard.

Claudius is Hamlet's biological father
Doesn't it seem odd that Gertrude willingly leaped right into bed with her husband's brother Claudius once Hamlet Senior kicked the bucket? Indeed, the Gravedigger scene informs us that Hamlet was born the same day that Hamlet, Sr. killed Fortinbras, Sr. Old Hamlet was out on military campaigns all the time. It's hardly a stretch to think that Gertrude fooled around with Claudius behind her husband's back. Claudius himself knows that Hamlet is his son, which is why he initially tries to be friends with him and insists that he remain at Elsinore rather than return to France for school. Indeed, Kenneth Branagh's adaptation all but makes this assertion. Branagh bears a much greater resemblance to Derek Jacobi than BRIAN BLESSED, and the scene where Claudius orders Hamlet's murder makes Claudius seem genuinely reluctant to do so.
  • Extra context for those scenes where he basically calls his mother a whore.

Claudius is Laertes's biological father
Suggested in the Mel Gibson Hamlet.

Benvolio killed Tybalt's father.
In Romeo and Juliet, Tybalt Capulet is introduced as a volatile, violent person who loathes the Montagues even more than his kinsmen do. This suggests that he has a personal motive for hating Montagues; even Boss Capulet himself has to restrain him from murdering Romeo at the party. This motive is personal enough.

This interpretation is good because it gives Tybalt a deeper motive and makes his character more understandable.

  • But if Benvolio was the one who killed Tybalt's father, why does Tybalt completely ignore Benvolio both at the party and later in Act III? Tybalt seems far more interested in going after the higher ranking members of the Montague family, such as Romeo, and attacks Benvolio only when he doesn't have a better target available.
  • Tybalt cares more about killing Romeo than Benvolio. He does claim to hate Benvolio—"As I hate hell, all Montagues and thee"—but that seems like a pretty impersonal hatred. He hates Benvolio simply because he hates all the Montagues, and he hates Romeo still more. I think it's far more likely that one of the other Montagues killed Tybalt's father, and now Tybalt hates the whole lot of them. (Perhaps the death of Tybalt's father started the feud?)
    • Besides, Benvolio is young (he seems to be about Romeo's age), and he's also a peace-loving and gentle guy. I doubt that he's the type who would have killed Tybalt's father—or even have been able to—and if he had, I'm sure Escalus wouldn't have allowed him to simply go on living in Verona.

The play "Romeo and Juliet" is a fanfiction written by Shakespeare.
Mercutio is the main character of another work of fiction, possibly a high school dramedy. He is paired with Juliet in canon. Romeo is his sidekick and is canonically paired with Rosaline. Shakespeare ships Romeo/Juliet, and the play is his Medieval AU fanfic.

This would explain why Rosaline is instantly put on a bus while Romeo and Juliet fall in "true love" instantly. It also explains why the plot seems so rushed and why Romeo and Juliet are "so in love" that they get married within two days of meeting each other. Shakespeare is a rabid shipper and an awful writer.

This would also explain why they're only fourteen (well, Juliet is). Shakespeare probably set the fic in Renaissance Italy so that he could get away with having highschool-aged characters getting married.

Alas, the work this is a fanfic of was lost. Manuscript preservation was not as high a priority back then as it is now.
  • You know, that explains the Queen Mab sequence really well. It smacks of fanfic: Purple Prose, excessive length, deep emotional significance, and no point whatsoever to the actual story.

Macbeth was a carefully orchestrated plot by Banquo...
...Created to put his family in the seat of power without dirtying his hands. What he didn't gamble on was Macbeth going as far as to kill him; but he found that this strengthened his plans rather than ruining them.
  • Apparently, this isn't too far off from what happened in real life. Banquo was an accomplice in Macbeth's plot but Shakespeare made him a good guy because he was an ancestor of King James.
    • Well, in the chronicles Shakespeare was using, yes. Not so much real life, since Banquo probably didn't exist - "Fleance" is based on Flaald of Dol, who was actually a Breton who migrated to Scotland. Flaald's real father almost certainly never met Macbeth.

Macbeth was a carefully orchestrated plot by Malcolm...
...Created to put Malcolm into power. Not only does it get his father out of the way more quickly, but it puts him into power in the most heroic way possible. He bribes three scary-looking old ladies to give a cryptic message to Macbeth and has an agent on the battlefield tell them that the Thane of Cawdor has died.

Also, his speech to Macduff about how evil he is? It's actually a Sarcastic Confession, not a Secret Test of Character.

Macbeth was a carefully orchestrated plot by Lady Macbeth...
...who's also one of the 3 witches. Along with her 2 cohorts, Lady Macbeth implanted the thought of becoming king in Macbeth's head, involving him in a plan that was originally her own to steal the crown and vindicate her master, Hecate (or maybe just whatever witch religion-thing she and her other witches are a part of). Why else would she include both of Duncan's guards as the ones to take the blame, when only 1 is necessary? Obviously, that was added so Macbeth would think it's all about him, but the plan was originally independent of Macbeth.

Not to mention, at one point, she invokes "spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts" to fill her "from the crown to the toe topful/ Of direst cruelty!" before Duncan arrives. Now, who do we know who invokes dark spirits?!

Actually, she may be calling for another type of spirits. I.E., whiskey.

Macbeth was a carefully orchestrated plot by Macduff...
...to prevent Macbeth from becoming King of Scotland. Essentially, he kills Macbeth so that Malcolm can be King.
  • Isn't this canon?

Macbeth was a carefully orchestrated plot by Macbeth himself...
...to become king and get overthrown. He kills Duncan, thus becoming king, but he is overthrown by Macduff because Malcolm is the true heir to the throne.

Cymbeline was written by Ben Jonson as a Shakespeare parody.
Cymbeline is full of allusions to Shakespeare's other, more legendary plays. The play is all right, but not Shakespeare good — it's a little too educated, like Jonson himself. Jonson was pals with Shakespeare (and defended him often), but considered himself a genius and Shakespeare a hack (he often heckled Shakespeare's plays). Cymbeline comes off as a Stealth Parody.

Somebody lost the ending to The Taming of the Shrew.
Originally, it cleared up what happened to Sly.
  • That is actually what happened. Shakespeare snipped out the original ending, in which Sly, confident that he knows 'How to Tame a Shrew', goes to practice Petruchio's method on his wife and gets sorely beaten for it. This was probably cut because Shakespeare's creditors doubted there was a market for a women-sympathetic ending.

The part of Macbeth where Hecate appears was added later by another playwright.
That scene sucks compared to the rest of the play. Note that many Shakespeare scholars argue this theory.
  • The scene's quality is all a matter of opinion. Hecate's importance as classical goddess of Witches would have been better known to the students in Shakespeare's contemporary audience, who found witch scenes very important - and besides, King James, who the play would likely have been written to please, would enjoy the idea of witchcraft having a very visible structure of authority - imagine an author during Bush's Presidency fitting Deimos (Greek God whose name means 'Terror') into a comic book as the leader of a gang of terrorists.
  • The scene is usually cut by most modern Shakespeare directors to avoid having to cut other, slightly more important parts of "Macbeth." This has resulted in an unjustified impression that the scene itself is not very good.
    • Plus, the scene coupled with Lennox's dialogue afterwards allows a small breather between Macbeth announcing he'll see the Witches and his visiting the Witches, allowing Shakespeare to build up the tension before the meeting.
  • The songs mentioned in the scenes are confirmed to have been written by another playwright, for use in the plays he wrote about Hecate. These plays were highly popular, so it's safe to say that, once he got his hands on Macbeth, he inserted Hecate because she was an audience favorite and threw in a few witch songs he'd already written.
    • Of course, due to the near absence of copyrights, coupled with Shakespeare borrowing so much from other authors, it is a difficult claim to make that Shakespeare didn't just add in some other author's songs into his original play.

Executive Meddling forced Shakespeare to put Hecate in Macbeth
He used Stylistic Suck in the hopes it would be taken out.
  • Again, the scene is usually cut by most modern Shakespeare directors to avoid having to cut other, slightly more important parts of "Macbeth." This has resulted in an unjustified impression that the scene itself is not very good.

Hamlet is Hamnet
Hamlet is close enough to his father to hate his mother when he dies. Shakespeare's supposed to have been recovering from the loss of his similarly named son when he wrote his adaption of the Amleth legend and probably hated his wife, what with his whole moving-to-London thing. What if at least part of Hamlet's character is what Shakespeare wished had happened if he'd died first (you know, aside from the poisoned daggers, &c.)?
  • There's no record of Shakespeare going home for his son's funeral, and we know for a fact that his daughters were illiterate. Not exactly the picture of a loving father who'd write a play in his grief to honor his dead son.

Romeo and Juliet was a Dark Parody.
First of all, A Midsummer Night's Dream was written before R&J and has as a major theme that young love is foolish. This is also pointed out by several characters in Romeo and Juliet; they tell Romeo that he's being stupid thinking that he is truly in love with a girl he only met a few days before. Mercutio made fun of him for being in love with Rosaline, whom Romeo has never really talked to, right when Romeo decides, "Oh no, I don't love Rosaline anymore. I love Juliet!"

Also, there is the famous line from Julius Caesar (another play that predates Romeo and Juliet) - "The fault... is not in our stars, But in ourselves..." But Romeo blames all his screw-ups on the stars. He kills both Tybalt and Paris, and then whines about how his killing them is the stars' fault.

  • Julius Caesar was written several years after Romeo and Juliet, soon before Hamlet. Also, the story of "Romeo and Juliet" predates Shakespeare.

  • Also, it is very easy (when you do the RESEARCH) to find that "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was NOT written before "Romeo and Juliet" - the dialogue of "Pyramus and Thisbe" and the action of it are Shakespeare's own self-parody. Even direct lines are connected - Juliet's "O happy dagger" turned to Thisbe/Flute's "Come, trusty sword".

Shakespeare set Measure For Measure in Vienna because he thought it was in Italy.
To begin with, no other Shakespearean play is set in a Teutonic country (except perhaps A Winter's Tale, of which more.) Bohemia, where the Holy Roman Emperor (i.e., the German emperor) did hold court, is the setting of A Winter's Tale, but it was actually a Slavic country (the modern Czech Republic), not a German one. However, MANY of S.'s plays are set in Italy, particularly the comedies: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Much Ado About Nothing, A Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors, etc.
  • Second, S. made a number of elementary geographical mistakes in his plays — one of the most famous (it was mocked by Ben Jonson) being that he had characters in The Winter's Tale shipwrecked on the coast of Bohemia. That's right — shipwrecked on the coast of a landlocked country. Furthermore, in Two Gentlemen Valentine travels from Verona to Milan via ship. Yup — both landlocked again.note  In the early play King John a Duke of Austria does appear — called "Lymoges" by the playwright, who was apparently not aware that Richard The Lionheart's enemies Ademar V, Viscount of Limoges (in west-central France) and Leopold V, Duke of Austria, ruled territors some 950 miles apart.
  • Third, the nomenclature of Measure For Measure consists of common English names, like Froth, Elbow, and Mistress Overdone; classical names like Escalus and Pompey; and Italian names like Vincentio (the Duke), Isabella, Claudio, Juliet, Angelo, Mariana, and Lucio — and not one single German name!
  • Finally, Shakespeare makes none of the two usual Jacobean jokes about the Germans — the bagginess of their pants (a joke which he does make about "Austria" in King John) nor even the ancient, universal, and certainly highly appropriate for Measure For Measure one about their drunkenness (a joke which he does make about the Duke of Saxony's nephew in Merchant of Venice). Obviously, ol' Will couldn't tell the difference between Vienna and Verona, and proceeded accordingly.
  • This makes a ton of sense.
  • Of course, Shakespeare's Genius is evident in the fact that most of the people saying he knew nothing about geography apparently know very little about Shakespearean contemporary geography.
    • For starters, the coastline of Bohemia. The extent of a country's borders, at that time and even now, is not solely determined by pure geography. Today we talk of, for example, "U.S. Soil" in terms of U.S. embassies, even though the ground they stand on is clearly a part of some other country, because of legal fictions used today and in Shakespeare's time. The same is true of the coastline of Bohemia: the Bohemian Empire once extended to the ocean (under King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, from 1575–1608, the period of Shakespeare), even though Bohemia itself has no coastline. Thus a Shakespearean contemporary would know of a "Bohemian" coastline that existed from 1575 to 1608, in spite of the fact that Bohemia itself had no coastline.
    • Next, getting from Milan to the ocean via boat. Some have made the error of assuming that Italy's canals were small enough that large boats could not make their way up its canal system. The Grand Canal, still in existence today, shows that quite large ships could make their way deep "inland" into Italy. Shakespeare's extensive sailing knowledge and sailing language does not preclude the use of large canal boats used to get to the ocean sailing ships, that then wreck on distant shores.

Hamlet knows he's in a play.
At least by Act 5 he does. Hamlet is constantly making metatheatrical references— to the practices common in Elizabethan theatre in general and to the Globe specifically. When he gets picked up by the pirates, he realizes what an obvious plot device it is (and it is— Shakespeare uses it in Pericles as well)— and he's Genre Savvy enough already for that to clue him in that he's a character in a play. This explains why he's so calm about facing the duel in Act 5— he knows how it's going to end already.

The pirates in Pericles are the same ones mentioned in Hamlet.
See above. They're obvious plot devices in both plays, and in both plays random characters know them. Clearly they travel around a lot, as their express purpose is to transport characters to the next location in the plot.

Hamlet is a flashback.
Horatio is the narrator. He's in the first and last scenes, and in between he's in a lot of scenes but does almost nothing but observe. Hamlet tells him everything, and he's unobtrusive enough to have observed other scenes without being noticed, so that accounts for the scenes that he's not in. In his last speech to Fortinbras, he says: "Give order that these bodies high on a stage be placed to the view, and let me speak to the yet unknowing world how these things came about." That's another metatheatrical reference— the bodies are on a stage. Horatio has just finished narrating the entire tale to Fortinbras and this speech is where the flashback comes full circle.
  • Addendum to this theory: That speech is a prologue, and as soon as they get offstage the entire play starts again. This is why Hamlet isn't bothered by death after realizing that he's in a play— see two entries up— because he knows everything will reset next time the play starts.
  • Which, if this were actually staged, would give Horatio the first and last lines of the play. It would open with him surrounded by bodies saying, "Why does the drum come hither?" and end with his previous line of, "Goodnight Sweet Prince..."

Lady Anne isn't beautiful.
That's why Richard's flattery is so effective. She falls for his seduction because she's completely thrown off guard by it. (This also explains why she appears initally skeptical of her "beauty's" power over him.)

Hamlet, Iago, and Mercutio are the same character in different situations.
Hamlet is what Mercutio would be if he were the main character of a revenge tragedy, and Iago is what Hamlet would be if he were evil. All three have similar levels of intelligence (and of homoerotic subtext, if you want to go there). Hamlet and Mercutio share the same compulsion towards wordplay, and Iago and Hamlet have similar tendencies to soliloquize. Mercutio and Iago are both able to manipulate other characters, although Mercutio uses that ability a lot less frequently. And all three have sidekick characters (Horatio, Benvolio, and Roderigo).
  • By this logic it could also be argued that Horatio and Benvolio are the same character (both narrator figures), as well as Laertes and Tybalt (both foil characters with hot tempers, reputed excellent swordsmen, who die in duels at the hand of the main character).
  • Rosencrantz is Romeo. The presence of Guildenstern is a parody of the fact that he constantly needs to be in a "couple". The feelings of treachery experienced by Hamlet with regards to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are similar to those experienced by Mercutio with regard to Romeo.
  • Ophelia is Juliet. She's Laertes' sister, just as Juliet is Tybalt's cousin. Like Juliet, she experiences Heroic BSOD when one of her relatives dies (although Juliet's upset at Tybalt dying disguises her sorrow at Romeo leaving—and Ophelia's "madness" at Polonius dying might disguise the secret that she's pregnant with Hamlet's child). Also, Mercutio may be in love with Juliet, as he was in the poem from which Shakespeare took inspiration (see "Mercutio is in love with Juliet" WMG somewhere below).

Sonnet 18 was written for a man.
It was part of his Fair Youth series.

Sonnet 18 was written for an immortal.
Who else would have eternal beauty and could be promised "Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade"? A vampire? Well, "too hot the eye of Heaven shines" and saying that the subject is far more attractive than daytime may be praising a vampire lover and asking to be made a vampire oneself. A demigod? The "eye of Heaven" could be a pun on the word's sun and son. (Shakespeare may also be punning the words fair and fare. Could he be hinting eternal life comes at a price?)
  • Immortality does not require the actual unending life of the physical body. Children represent a form of immortality, and the writer of the Sonnets is frequently goading the object of his Sonnets into reproducing.

Sonnet 18 was written for a work of art.
Shakespeare may have seen a sculpture, perhaps of Apollo, and wrote a poem about how beautiful the statue was and how it would be a permanent monument to beauty. Or, perhaps he saw a painting of a landscape of a summer's day. "Thy eternal summer shall not fade".

Lady Macbeth was possessed by the witches and not in control of her actions.
Notice how she seems to swing widly from fear to control. She also has a "spot" which in those days was believed to be a symbol of evil possession by the devil. Near the beginning of the play she asks evil spirts to give her strenth. The witches used her to make sure Macbeth would kill Duncan and become evil. Her Sanity Slippage was her after she was released from being possessed and realizing what she had done.

The "pound of flesh" bargain in The Merchant of Venice is the result of Shylock and Antonio's dueling plans
Shylock wants to either kill Antonio or run him out of Venice so that he can conduct business without Antonio's interference; he loses nothing by having the debt repaid. Antonio is already in debt (other creditors are mentioned in 3.1), and therefore will not be able to pay the debt even if his ships succeed. He's depressed and thinks that the best solution is to take the deal and hopefully die in Bassanio's arms. Then Jessica elopes, Bassanio gets married and everything goes pear-shaped; Shylock winds up motivated by revenge, not economics, and Portia feels compelled to come to the rescue.

Sonnet 18 was written for a Time Lord.
This is just building on the "Sonnet 18 was written for a man." and the "Sonnet 18 was written for an immortal." WMGs above.
  • Well, in "The Shakespeare Code" he does flirt with the Doctor.

Portia was trying to help Bassanio cheat.
Listen to the song that she arranges to have play to "help him think" while he's trying to pick a casket:
Tell me where is fancy bred
Or in the heart, or in the head
How begat, how nourish-ed
Totally wouldn't put it past her.
  • There's actually been a lot of scholarly debate on this one.

Othello is Aaron in hell
Now he gets to find out what it feels like to have your life ruined For the Evulz.

Launcelot from The Merchant of Venice and Launce from Two Gentlemen of Verona are related in some way.
"Nay, 'twill be this hour ere I have done weeping. All the kind of the Launces have this very fault"? Launcelot Gobbo is also very weepy and emotional, and some have suspected that all his references to himself as "young master Launcelot" indicate that his father is a Launcelot too, making "Launcelot" or its variant "Launce" a family name. Both characters also frequently make puns and reference Jews disparagingly. Ergo...

Launce is the son of Launcelot Gobbo.
Launce's family has a maid, which makes me think he's slightly better off than Launcelot was at the beginning of Merchant. Possibly, grown-up Launcelot is retired, and he and and his family are now living comfortably off the money he made working for Bassanio and Portia. Launce's personality comes from spending so much time with his father.

Or, vice-versa...

Launce is Launcelot's father.
Two Gentlemen was written first, so Old Gobbo from Merchant could be Launce, now old and blind.
  • Further supported by the fact that Launce's grandmother, according to him, "had no eyes" (i.e., was blind). If blindness ran in the family it could have been passed down from her to him. Additionally, Launcelot's name in the folios was "Launcelet;" in Elizabethan England "-let" was a common diminutive suffix, and the name would literally mean "little Launce", kind of like calling him "Launce Jr.".

Old Gobbo had an affair with Shylock's wife, Leah, and therefore may be the father of Jessica.
Launcelot does hint that his father was a cheater, and Jessica is described as not looking or acting anything like Shylock. Years ago, Old Gobbo (then Young Gobbo) worked for young Shylock and his young, pretty wife. The reason Launcelot has a job with Shylock is that Shylock had to hire him because of past history—his former servant came knocking on his door and begged him to take in his son.

Launcelot either knows Jessica to be his half-sister or merely suspects. Either way, his jokes about Shylock not really being her father have a level of truth, and are meant to open her eyes to the possibility.

Shylock also suspects this, but he's in denial. This explains a lot of his actions—his furious insistence that "my daughter is my flesh and my blood", and his pain at the loss of the ring. (He'd be upset either way, of course, but think of it like this...he suspected all along that his wife, who he loved, never really loved him, and now it turns out that his daughter, who might not even be his daughter, doesn't love him either.)
  • There are similarities between "Merchant of Venice" and Marlowe's play "The Jew Of Malta". One such similarity takes the concept of "daughter by another man" speculation a bit further, by having Barabas (the titular "Jew of Malta") poisoning an entire convent, in which his daughter now resides. Of course, this would imply that Barabas was revenging himself and not merely evil, which goes against Marlowe's concept of Barabas as a mustache-twirling one-dimensional melodrama villain.

Orsino wrote Sonnet 20 about "Cesario."
The language in it is similar to that of Twelfth Night (the part about Nature's hand painting beauty, for instance) and it seems to reflect Orsino's opinion that women are gentle, but false. Actually, Orsino could write this about halfway through the play; it would reflect his feelings perfectly.

Hamlet didn't know Yorick at all.
In his angst and near-lunacy, Hamlet gives an eloquent speech about the happiness of his youth...personified as a man he never even met. This represents the fact that Hamlet's youth probably wasn't as good as he thinks it was (after all, his mother seems to have loved his uncle all along, not to mention all that royal stress). With his father gone, Hamlet mentally rewrites his past: he had the best father ever born, the most loving mother, and, of course, the funniest and most loyal court jester.

Launcelot only worked for Shylock on the Jewish Sabbath.
In sixteenth century Venice, Jews were forbidden by law from having Christian servants. The legal exception was the Sabbath Day, when the Jews couldn't work themselves (day of rest, and all that) and had no choice but to hire Christians to do their work for them, even down to little things like lighting the fires.

This helps to explain why Shylock is so eager to get rid of Launcelot. All stereotypes aside, who would want to feed, clothe and shelter someone who only worked one day a week?

Because I was reading A Midsummer Night's Dream and thought, "Where else have I read a Shakespeare play in which a mysterious man plays God by using herbs to help a couple of young lovers and 'make everything right'?"

Oberon is, as we have seen, a traveler who is also fond of mortals—specifically, young mortals. (Like Romeo.) The "friar" identity is the perfect disguise—who'd ever suspect a friar of being the King of the Fairies? And what better opportunity to do what Oberon does best—restore peace and initiate Weddings for Everyone by somewhat morally questionable means? Are there any herbs in real life that make people appear dead? Sure there aren't—they're magical herbs in the vein of love-in-idleness.

Optionally, Puck is Friar John. His messing-up hardly seems funny anymore...

The offstage "moor" who's pregnant with Launcelot's child in Merchant is meant to represent the Dark Lady.
Sonnet 144 has the same Good Angel, Bad Angel vibe as Launcelot's "fiend/conscience" speech in Merchant. In Elizabethan times it was not uncommon for devils to be represented as being black. The moor is the personification of Launcelot's imaginary "fiend". (At least, that's the way he probably sees her.)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were innocent.
They didn't know the contents of the letter they were delivering. They were roped into Claudius' schemes because they genuinely wanted to help their poor mad friend.
  • Heh heh, "roped" ...
    • While they didn't know the contents of the letter, they were hired by Claudius to spy on Hamlet, a detail they hide so unskillfully that Hamlet picks up on it himself. So "innocent" is not the word I would use to describe them.

Romeo and Juliet died because Mercutio cursed their families.
Up to that point, if Romeo had just left well enough alone, Tybalt would have been the only one in trouble. The second that Mercutio finishes his "plague a' both your houses" rant and gets dragged offstage to die, Romeo begins to muse that he shouldn't have been such a pacifist, and by the time Tybalt returns (very conveniently, one might say) he's ready to run him through—which he instantly regrets doing.

Because of this sudden and somewhat out-of-character piece of violence (isn't Tybalt supposed to be an expert swordfighter? Couldn't he have dealt with Romeo, who never involves himself in the fighting?), Romeo is banished, setting fire to a chain of events that end with the parents discovering Romeo and Juliet lying dead. If killing off the respective only children of the Feuding Families—and killing them with love, the thing Mercutio despises most—wasn't the worst punishment a vengeful spirit could have devised, I don't know what was. (Plus, Tybalt, Mercutio's murderer and related by marriage to the Capulets, gets killed first—and didn't Mercutio say "your houses!" three times?)

Those who believe that Mercutio has a connection to the supernatural ("Queen Mab", anyone?) should find this theory especially attractive.

Launcelot Gobbo is a reincarnation of Hamlet.
Let's see. Strong themes of the connection (and disconnection) between father and son? Check. An enthusiasm for dramatic performance (and a love of jesting)? Check. Conscience issues? Check. Got a girl pregnant and left her? True in Launcelot's case, and probably true in Hamlet's.

The powers that be, or what Launcelot might call, "fates, and destinies, and such odd sayings, the Sisters Three and such branches of learning", took pity on Hamlet when he died, realizing that he was a relatively good guy who probably wouldn't have killed all those people if he and his family hadn't been Royally Screwed Up. So they gave him a second chance, this time as the son of a poor man. It goes without saying that he has no memory of his past life—what he doesn't know won't hurt him.

Sure, Launcelot is uneducated, a bit bumbling, and has the general attitude of one of Shakespeare's "lower" characters, but that's because he is a peasant. Furthermore, despite his mess-ups with the English language, he displays a lot more instinctive knowledge of the upper classes than you'd expect (one commentator called him a "rustic bel esprit"), and he can pull off acting like a gentleman. When he does the monologue about his conscience and the fiend, it almost seems as if he's attempting to do a Hamlet-style soliloquy, but can't find the right words. Of course, you don't want to get on Hamlet's bad side, and the same holds for his reincarnated form—Launcelot hates Shylock with a Hamlet-like intensity. He often takes on one of Hamlet's "whimsical" moods, speaking complete nonsense.

The clincher is that Hamlet loved theatrics and wit. One of his most famous speeches is the one where he speaks with tenderness and admiration of "poor Yorick", and it seems likely that if Hamlet had had his way (and been less depressed), he would have become, not the crown prince of Denmark, but one of Shakespeare's more common character types, the fool-cum-philosopher. Which is exactly the job that Launcelot gains himself in "Merchant".

And what's another memorable line of Hamlet's? "O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!" Sounds like a perfect description of Launcelot to me. ("Slave" at the time often meant simply "servant"...and the name "Launcelot" means "servant".)

Lord Capulet's fiancé started the feud by marrying his friend Lord Montague instead.
This explains it all.

Mercutio is in love with Juliet.
People tend to assume that it's Romeo he's in love with, but he appears to be straight. The Arthur Brook poem "Romeus and Juliet", which Shakespeare copied almost detail for detail, doesn't feature Mercutio the way the play does. He appears in only one scene—right before Romeo and Juliet meet at the party, he's apparently trying to woo Juliet, but Romeo comes in and steals her.

In Shakespeare, Mercutio comes in somewhat randomly—we hear nothing about him until he suddenly shows up with the others to go to the party. It could be that he just wants to have a good time and pick up some chicks—but it also could be that he's been watching Juliet from afar for some time. They don't talk about it because it's being kept low-key; Mercutio's embarrassed about being in love, and mocks Romeo about Rosaline to keep up his "I'm too cool for deeper feelings" image. As a relative of the prince, Mercutio would be in good standing to gain Juliet as a wife—her parents are eager enough to get her married to Paris, the prince's other relative.

Now imagine Mercutio's thought process as Romeo waltzes in and steals Juliet—why shouldn't he feel betrayed and angry, especially since Romeo was obsessing over Rosalind mere moments ago?

He plays dumb about it, pretending not to notice or care, in accordance with his Sad Clown nature, joking around with Romeo (who he still really cares about—they've been friends for a long time) and attempting to make him reject love (so he can have Juliet). The hurt and betrayal he feels don't come out until his death (which Romeo pretty much caused), at which point he curses the Montagues and the Capulets—"They have made worm's meat of me."

Also, why is he so eager to attack Tybalt? Because Tybalt is Juliet's cousin, and Mercutio is Hot-Blooded enough to take out his angst on someone marginally involved that he's not particularly attached to.

Tybalt is in love with Juliet.
Used in the French musical, but it's not terribly unlikely. It's possible Tybalt knows about Romeo's relationship with Juliet and wants to get rid of him out of family pride, big brother instinct...or thwarted love.

Cousins married cousins all the time back then, and when you consider how clannish Tybalt is...

Shakespeare wrote the plays, but the actor Shakespeare was actually someone else.
I'm surprised I've never heard this theory before.
  • Ben Jonson knew two separate people named William Shakespeare, one an author, whom Jonson liked, and the other an actor, whom Jonson hated. Jonson likens the actor Shakespeare to the Roman orator Haterius, a highly ineloquent and unenlightened person who had the unfortunate reputation of being so impetuous and carried away with his words that he would muddle them, burst into tears, speak ex tempore and so profusely that he usually had to be stopped. Jonson also insists that Shakespeare the actor never wrote anything, indicating that Jonson is referring to two different people. Of course, since the Official History indicates that William Shakespeare the Playwright was also an actor, Ben Jonson's differentiation between the author and the actor presents a problem.

Banquo's ghost wasn't really a ghost
Okay, hear me out here. Banquo was murdered by a band of three murderers, right? But what about the mysterious third murderer who just appears out of nowhere? In one of the film adaptations, he kills the other two after Banquo dies. But it wasn't really Banquo, it was a body double that Banquo had hired. He knew that Macbeth was going to try and kill him. Fleance escaped because the third murderer (Banquo) went after him to instruct him to spread word of "Banquo's" demise. Banquo's ghost at the banquet was actually Banquo pretending to be his ghost. The reason for this was that if he could drive MacBeth insane with guilt, he would retire the throne. However, the rest of the people there (even Lady Macbeth) were in on this. You've noticed how Lady MacBeth seemed like she didn't want anymore killing, that's evidence that she doesn't approve of MacBeth anymore and wants him out of power. The reason Banquo's "ghost" only appears once is because there was a large group of people there (it's useless to go "insane" if there's no witnesses), ripe to spread rumors about their insane ruler.

Costard is related to the person who murdered Henry III, the Princess' father.

  • The assassin of the king claimed he had a letter for the king, but stabbed him instead. Costard had to deliver letters in the play, but mixed them up.


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