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Shakespeare as a man is often an enigma. When we look back at the study of Shakespeare’s plays, the question always come to mind about how much can we know about the actual William Shakespeare from the pieces of artwork, plays, and even legal documents that survive about his life. No one has done more study of the plays of William Shakespeare nor understands more about his life in turn of the 17th century England than our guest today, Stanley Wells, President of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who joins us to share about his latest book answering the question “What was Shakespeare Really Like” 

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Professor Sir Stanley Wells Commander of the Order of the British Empire, fellow of the Royal Society of Literature is a former Life Trustee (1975-2017) and former Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (1991-2011) He is published extensively on Shakespeare, his plays, including multiple editions of Shakespeare’s works for Cambridge, Oxford, and Penguin Shakespeare. I invite you to the show notes of today’s episode to explore a full list of Sir Stanley Wells publications as a great place to learn more about William Shakespeare, including his latest book that’s available now titled What was Shakespeare Really Like. 

I’ll be asking Stanley Wells about:

  • When we interpret the facts that remain from the 16th and 17th century about Shakespeare, is it possible to understand what Shakespeare is really like as a person from this evidence?
  • In relatively recent scholarship about Shakespeare, there has been an effort to use modern scientific approaches like psychology, to look back at Shakespeare to try to determine what sort of man he was through the lens of disciplines like Freudian theory. Do you think these methods are able to be accurate?
  • We’ve talked several times on this show about Robert Greene’s reference to Shakespeare being an “upstart crow” but what are some examples of records which survive from the time period of Shakespeare’s life that demonstrate he was generally well liked man?  
  • …and more!

Sam Schoenbaum, Documentary Life of William Shakespeare and Compact Documentary Life of William Shakespeare

Note from Cassidy: On Amazon, these books are older, so be careful selecting from the hardcover vs paperback. When you toggle between types on Amazon, the site takes you to different books, so confirm you are purchasing the ones by Sam Schoenbaum when you checkout.

Lena Corwin Orlin, Private Life of William Shakespeare

To find out more about the “drunken brawl” that Stanley mentions, I direct you to The Shakespeare Blog’s website article on “Shakespeare In Trouble With The Law” which examines a writ of attachment on November 29, 1596, involving Shakespeare. The idea that it was a “drunken brawl” is conjecture (but delightful thought, nonetheless).

Here are the two portraits we talk about in this episode:

This was long thought to be the only portrait of William Shakespeare that had any claim to have been painted from life, until another possible life portrait, the Cobbe Portrait was revealed in 2009. The Chandos portrait gets its’ name after a previous owner, James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos. It was the first portrait to be acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1856. The artist may be by a painter called John Taylor who was an important member of the Painter-Stainers’ Company. Public Domain. Source
Cobbe Potrait of William Shakespeare. This painting was done by an anonymous artist in 1611, of an unknown sitter. Stanley Wells is among the experts who evaluated this painting and determined this portrait could accurately be described as being of William Shakespeare. Public Domain. Source

Our guest, Duncan Phillips, shares about what he believes is the only painting of Shakespeare done while the bard was alive. This painting has been analyzed by leading experts, but remains unconfirmed as being of Shakespeare himself. Hear the evidence. What do you think?

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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!