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In Shakespeare’s lifetime, the game we call soccer today, known as football in Europe, was a popular in Shakespeare’s lifetime. In fact, some sources say the game of football was invented in England during the Middle Ages. These original forms of football were called “mob football” and would be played in towns and villages, involving two opposing teams, that would struggle by any means possible to drag an inflated pig’s bladder to markers at each end of town. Shakespeare mentions this game twice in his plays. In Comedy of Errors, Dromio says “Am I so round with you as you with me, That like a football you do spurn me thus?” Then in King Lear, the Earl of Kent references football again saying, “Nor tripp’d neither, you base football player?” One of these inflated pig’s bladders was actually found, in tact, in the rafters of Stirling Castle. This surviving football dates to the 16th century, and could have belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. Here today to tell us more about 16th century football, the artifact discovered at Stirling Castle, and to share the results if his own scientific experiments comparing ancient football artifacts to modern soccer balls, is our guest, historian, and scientist, Henry Hanson.  

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Henry Hanson wrote a PhD thesis in football (soccer) impact mechanics and dynamics in the mechanical engineering school of Loughborough University, and has bachelors degrees in German and Mechanical Engineering from the University of Portland in Oregon.  HIs current work in the adidas Innovation team comprises aerodynamics, mechanics, test machine design, and human-product interaction to improve performance, accessibility and enjoyment of sport.  Outside the office, he runs, cycles, lifts and always has a couple science-based art projects in progress. 

I’ll be asking Henry Hanson about:

  •  Soccer and football here in America are very different sports. For Shakespeare’s lifetime, would the sport known to 16th century folk as “football” have been played like European soccer or like American football?  
  • I was able to find a few 16th century woodcuts and drawings that depict football being played, and in each image, there’s a group of men around a large ball. The ball has a seam clearly visible as if it is made of leather and the leather has been sewn together. Is this image consistent with what we know about early modern footballs?   
  • Henry has done extensive scientific research on early modern footballs, specifically the one thought to have belonged to Mary Queen of Scots which dates to the 16th century and was found, intact, in the rafters at Stirling Castle. Henry, tell us about your research, what you have discovered about early modern footballs, and what you learned from that work about how the early modern football compares in performance with the modern soccer ball?  
  • …and more!

Link to the paper Henry Hanson wrote for the International Sports Engineering Conference:

Watch Henry’s YouTube episode on the research he did into the 16th century football found at Stirling Castle:

Henry’s Website:

The Mary Rose Trust (they made part of the replica ball):

Art project from John O’Shea on Pigs bladder footballs (he has done work with the pig bladder concept in the past):

Did Shakespeare Play Football?

Shakespeare wrote one of the earliest known references to the game of football. So for this week’s episode of Did Shakespeare, we ask the question: Did Shakespeare play sports?

Watch the full episode here and keep scrolling to read a brief history of football in Shakespeare’s lifetime.

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Other Episodes You Might Enjoy

Did Shakespeare Play Sports? King Lear and Football

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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!