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Welcome to Episode #65 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare. 

William Shakespeare grew up functioning as the oldest of his five siblings, with his parents losing two children before William was born. The stories of his brothers and sisters are brief, but as you might expect from the life of William Shakespeare, they are full of intrigue, mystery, and mirth. Here today to share with us the stories of Shakespeare siblings is our guest, David Kathman.

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David Kathman holds a PhD from the UoC, is a member of the Shakespeare Association of America, the Modern Language Association, and the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society. He has completed extensive archival research focused on livery companies, apprenticeship, and places other than playhouses (such as inns and taverns) where plays were performed in sixteenth-century London. His articles and reviews on the history of William Shakespeare have appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, Shakespeare Survey, Shakespeare Newsletter, Shakespeare Bulletin, Early Theatre, and Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama, among many others. Learn more about David by visiting his website at www.shakespeareauthorship.com

In this episode, I’ll be asking David about :

  • How many siblings did William Shakespeare have?

  •  He had a brother, Edmund, who is recorded as going to London. Was Edmund an actor in Shakespeare’s company?

  • Gilbert Shakespeare was said to have been a haberdasher. Please explain for us what a haberdasher does and how we know this about Gilbert.

    … and more!

‘O, bless my brother!'
Octavia

Antony and Cleopatra, III.4

The Last page of William Shakespeare's Will, where he writes “By me, William Shakespeare.” This document is considered to be one of very few examples of hand writing done in William's hand personally. This is an example of what's called the secretarial script. This image is from public domain, but you can view the entire will, including this signature, on the digital archives of Shakespeare Documented here.

William Shakespeare had 7 siblings 

We have records of John and Mary Shakespeare giving birth to 8 children, two of whom died before William Shakespeare was born. Their first daughter, named Joan, was born in 1558 and lived only two months. Their second daughter, Margaret, was baptized in 1562, but died just a year later. When William was born in 1564, his first remarkable act in this world (and perhaps his greatest) was simply that he survived a time rife with plague, a horrible disease which claimed the lives of many members of his own household. 

The bard would function as the oldest of the remaining five siblings that would follow after him. Another daughter named Joan would be born in 1569. She outlived all of her siblings, including William, and was followed in birth by Anne (1571), Richard (1574), and the youngest son, Edmond (1580).

 

Your brother he shall go along with me.

Bertram

Alls Well That Ends Well, III.6

Grave of Edmond Shakespeare (d.1607) in Southwark Cathedral, Stratford Upon Avon, England. Source

Edmond Shakespeare

 

Edmond Shakespeare is the youngest son of John and Mary Shakespeare, and the sibling about whom we know the most. Edmond followed in his older borther's footsteps, and just as soon as he was old enough, he set out for London to try and make a name for himself as an actor. Whether he acted in Shakespeare's company specifically, or not, is unknown, but we do have three records of him acting in London, so it's definitive that he was employed as an actor.

Two of the three records we have of Edmond Shakespeare actually refer to him as “Edward,” but David Kathman shares with us this week that this discrepancy is believed to be the result of a fluid language in early modern England, and much like one might call a William by the name of Billy, or a Richard by the name Dick, so in the early 17th century, could one call a man named Edmond by Edward and it be an acceptable alternative.for the same person.

The records are all from Edmond's final year, 1607, and show that he fathered a child, a bastard, and it was named Edmond. On New Year's Eve in 1607, Edmond Shakespeare is listed as a player, and one month later the baby dies.

William Shakespeare was obviously attentive and cared about the plight of his younger brother, because when Edmond did die in 1607, William is thought to be the wealthy benefactor which paid for the funeral. That's not known for certain, but Edmond himself would not have had the means for such a memorial, that included the ringing of the bells in Edmond's honor (a rare and expensive tribute). Without many friends to speak of, the only known relation which would have had the means to ensure such a lavish ceremony would have been William. Records of the funeral show Edmond's service was attended by many of the Globe actors, and the cathedral where Edmond is buried is thought to have been a kind of “players Cathedral,” located in the heart of the theater district in London.

Fans of King Lear will undoubtedly mark the irony of a character, a bastard child, being named Edmund in Shakespeare's famous tragedy. While it's only logical to think William Shakespeare would have known he was giving his brother's name to one of his characters, I cannot prove he named Edmund of King Lear after his youngest sibling. Wouldn't it be grand if he did?

 

sister I bequeath you, whom no brother 
Did ever love so dearly

Octavius

Antony and Cleopatra, II.2

This image claims to be of Joan Shakespeare, listed on a genealogy website. This particular website has been known to contain errors concerning images, so be cautioned as to the validity of this actually being of Joan Shakespeare.
Here is a link to the source of the image.

Joan Shakespeare

Joan Shakespeare was the second Joan in the family, with her parents quite humorously in my opinion, recycling the name “Joan” to use here again after their first daughter passed away at a few months old. While not much, if anything, is known about Joan's personality, she appears to have been of strong constitution because she would outlive all of her siblings, including William, and live to be 77 years old. 

According to David Kathman, 77 was a dear old age for anyone, but especially women, in the early modern period. While I took her age to suggest that perhaps William died young, since there was an example of some people living decades longer than William Shakespeare's age of 52, David is of the opinion that rampant plague and disease claiming many before their time results in an extreme difficulty when it comes to estimating an average age overall. Just in William's family alone you can see that his siblings died at two months old, eight years old, twenty-seven, fifty-two, and seventy-seven, which is a wide and varied age range with no discernible median to really base a conclusive average upon. Your age when you would die seems to have been determined on the luck of the draw for each individual, living as they did, in chaotic times. 

While it is thought that customarily, girls did not attend school, David shares with us today that court records of a later period show a woman giving testimony in which she claims to have known another girl “from school in Stratford Upon Avon.” This testimony provides evidence that it is possible Joan Shakespeare could have attended the local grammar school alongside her brothers.

In addition to living a long time, Joan Shakespeare lived out her final years in a small cottage attached to Shakespeare's Birthplace on Henley Street, on her oldest brother's permission. During her life, she would marry a man named William Hart, and together they had four children, of whom two survived: William and Michael. William Hart, the son, would go on to become an actor, and though he never married, many believe the famous restoration actor Charles Hart is this William's illegitimate son.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

Henry V

Henry V, IV.3

Example of Gilbert Shakespeare's signature on a deed he witnessed in Stratford Upon Avon. Used by Kind permission of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Source

Gilbert and Richard Shakespeare

 

William's last two remaining siblings, Gilbert and Richard, lack very much information concerning them. What we do know is that Glibert was a haberdasher. That's a word which describes someone that sells men's accessories. David shares with us this week that a haberdasher could also sell miscellaneous items in his shop, but it was not clothing or hat specificaly, but rather belts, cufflinks, ruffs, and that sort of final touch to an outfit which would have been attractive to a man of the 16-17th century. 

We know Gilbert was a haberdasher from a lawsuit brought against him in 1597, which lists his occupation as that of a haberdasher, but interestingly, he is not listed as a member of the official company of Haberdashers in London from that time period. 

All we know of Richard is that he existed. There is record of his baptism, and his death at age 38. There is one court record that indicates he was party to a lawsuit, but the record gives no additional details as to why Richard was there, or what his involvement might have been. 

 

Books David Recommends:

Note from Cassidy on the books: I am including the link to Schoenbaum's Shakespeare Biography because it's truly a staple of Shakespeare studies and a great read.  The amazon page does let you see what the book is about, and shows you what I am recommending. Particularly since we've had several guests in addition to David Kathman recommend Schoenbaum on the show, I felt it important to list it here. HOWEVER, to buy a copy of this book on amazon is (in my opinion) prohibitively expensive at $500+ for a hardback copy. I would not personally pay that. You can search around on amazon to get a used or paperback copy cheaper, but I'd recommend searching used book sales or even just reading a copy from your local library. The book itself is definitely worth reading, but unless you are a professional Shakespearean who will be adding this book to an already established collection of books you intend to keep as an heirloom, I would advise you look for a cheaper price than what Amazon is advertising for this one. Many people write great books on Shakespeare, you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars to learn something valuable. That's just my two cents.

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