Shakespeare’s lost years | Daily News
Inside Shakespeare’s mind :

Shakespeare’s lost years


Sometimes, the lost years of great men are open to speculation. Writers come up with many a varied interpretation. They can be individualistic or opinionated. How they base these theories complicate situations further.
The best example to quote are the lost years of our Lord, Jesus. Great philosophers, theologians, scholars as well as historians have placed the Lord out of His habitat and they have failed miserably. I, as a passionate Christian, leave it to the Holy Bible in which lies our faith. In this same context, let me take a peep into the lost years of Shakespeare.
Where on earth was he?
The time between his marriage to Anne Hathaway in 1582 and his appearance as a young playwright in London in 1592 are termed as his lost years. This absence surfaced a major issue. Everyone wanted to know how this grammar school boy from Stratford go to London became famous and worked with one of the famous groups.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre. A magnificent tribute to a life of literary genius for the world to pay homage
He was already slammed as the ‘Upstart Crow’ by the University Wits that included famous playwrights during his time. Possibly he may have joined a group of actors who were known as Lord Strang's Men and travelled with them to London. The possibility is there but no positive evidence on this theory has been traced. There is yet another school of thought that he may have met up with a company of actors in Stratford. It has been recorded that there were a number of companies when Shakespeare was a boy.
One of them was the Queen's Men that had been formed in 1583 in a deliberate attempt to put the best actors under the direct control of Queen Elizabeth I and her Council. One actor, William Knell was killed in a duel at Thame in Oxfordshire. No one has witnessed it to the full but one thing was certain and that was the Queen's Men were on their way to Stratford and they needed one to replace Knell in a hurry.
It may have been at this stage that William Shakespeare got himself into the company. If guesswork is at this stage, it is likely that Shakespeare's first play was a comedy, two gentlemen from Verona. In this play the character of Launce would have been played by the company's clown. Launce has a dog called Crab and there is a funny scene between the two.
We also know that clown played by Richard Tarleton had a dog and at time had ‘conversation’ with the animal. So, the possibility that wrote his first comic role for the master comedian and his dog. It was one of Tarleton's last role as he died in 1588.
What was inside Shakespeare's mind?
There were no more dogs in Shakespeare's plays. The Queen's men did not confine themselves to Shakespeare. They also took on Robert Greene who always ridiculed and opposed Shakespeare. By 1592 Shakespeare was well-known in London.
This was the year that Greenewrote a sarcastic attack on a new young writer whom he termed as an Upstart Crow, beautified with their feathers, that with his Tiber's heart wrapped in a player's hide. It did not end there.
The joke using Shakespeare's name, was also being sarcastic about his ability to write plays. Shakespeare had stepped out of ‘His Lost Years’ which made Greene livid with jealousy. Greene, educated at university, was attacking a grammar school boy for daring to compete as a playwright.
Was this a severe case of sour grapes because Green's work was no longer popular, or even because, some years before Shakespeare's plays had replaced his in the repertoire of the Queen's Men? Whatever the reason was, William Shakespeare was obviously successful enough to be attacked by other writers, come 1592.
He stunned them by buying himself a share in the Chamberlain's Men within two years, after making enough capital. This was the company of actors with whom he would work for the rest of his life. It was good reaction after his lost years.
Shakespeare's stature rose so magnificently and his success was enough to quell all those surviving in the literary scene.
Around 1590 when he was at the height of his career, the terrifying bubonic plague gripped London, spread by fleas and carried by rats, sent terror among Londoners.
The River Thames was an open sewer where people dumped their waste added more complications. Anyone infected from this plague was isolated and left to die.
The front doors of victims’ houses were marked with red crosses. The cries of the dying from within these houses along with the creaks of carts trundling through the streets carrying the dead towards the communal burials pits were a dreadful sight and horrifying the nation.
This violent outbreak closed up most of the places that people gathered freely. Touring companies were banned and public playhouses closed indefinitely.

My personal assumption

Let us take a look at Romeo and Juliet where a plague takes place to give a new twist to the tragedy which otherwise, would have ended on a happy note.
Each time I come to this point in Shakespeare's real life, I pause and wonder many a time. Is this the incident that Shakespeare placed in Romeo and Juliet and each time I end up on a vague note.
Next moment, I realize its possibility. When the Friar sends a messenger to Mantua with instructions to be given to Romeo, he gets caught up with a plague and is put away. Thereby the message never reach Romeo and tragedy takes place instead........ all because of a plague. London by Elizabethan standard was a huge city with around 200,000 people crammed into narrow streets and dark alleys criss crossed by ditches and drains. It was a very dangerous city with thieves, prostitutes, spies etc. and a city of enormous contrasts with great wealth of nobility, royalty and the rich.
It was a place of tremendous energy where life was lived to the full but life could have been snuffed out at any moment by murder and disease.
However, the city was Shakespeare's second home where he had earlier spent his lost years. He kept clear of all ills in the city and unlike some of his fellow writers such as Ben Johnson, Thomas Dekker, did not write much about London.
His plays inhabit countries of the mind and imagined such as France, Italy or more often what seemed like Warwickshire. If he did love London, he seemed to have loved Stratford more and recreated his dreams in the rural Warwickshire.
Shakespeare created many different types of plays for the company. He had made his mark as a writer of plays about English history (where I discovered many irregularities about English history in some of his plays). He also developed a type called comedies though they were not funny. I suppose it was a way of identifying his variety and most of them end in a hopeful note, reflecting a positive view of life.
This was not the beginning of plays alone but the start to a magnificent move to the future, polishing the existing English language most of which were either cockney or slam. Remember, very few people patronized universities or seats of academy which accounts to Shakespeare not being an academic.
That was the way of life in England of the time.
Lastly let me recall an incident when a Welsh teacher asked Shakespeare the alternative meaning of Latin words. The teacher was Sir Hugh Evans.
Evans – ‘What is your genitive case plural, William?
William – ‘Genitivo, ‘hourm, harum, horum’
(extracted from The Merry Wives of Windsor)


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