Confirmation that Shakespeare was ShakespeareBreaking News
Only a few scraps of new material relating to Shakespeare in his lifetime have surfaced over the past century. But now, a researcher has uncovered nearly a dozen previously unknown records that shed clearer light on another much-discussed side of the man: the social climber.
The documents, discovered by Heather Wolfe, the curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, relate to a coat of arms that was granted to Shakespeare’s father in 1596, attesting to his and his son’s status as gentlemen.
Considered with previously known records, Ms. Wolfe argues, the documents suggest both how deeply invested Shakespeare was in gaining that recognition — a rarity for a man from the theater — and how directly he may have been drawn into colorful bureaucratic infighting that threatened to strip it away.
The new evidence “really helps us get a little bit closer to the man himself,” Ms. Wolfe said. “It shows him shaping himself and building his reputation in a very intentional way.”
James Shapiro, a Shakespeare scholar at Columbia University who has seen Ms. Wolfe’s research, said her discoveries help illuminate what mattered to Shakespeare. “It’s all about trying to figure out, what was he like?” Mr. Shapiro said. “Anytime we can substitute something solid for speculation, that’s significant.”
The new documents, Mr. Shapiro added, also come with a nice bonus: they clearly refute skeptics who continue to argue — to the deep exasperation of most scholars — that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was not actually the author of the works attributed to him.
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