Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Untold Story

A One Act Play – Shakespeare In Loathing

True historical information: A historical research group in Wales has unearthed evidence that one William Shakespeare, father of famous theatrical plays known throughout the world, was also a business cheat. Records have been found that show the author being dragged before a court for hoarding grain during a time of famine. Even more ironically, it occurred at the same time as the presentation of his work ‘Coriolanus’ which opens with a scene of a mob seeking to harm the lead character for holding back foodstuffs at a time when supplies were low. We take a look back at the scene transpiring at the courtroom that day:

Shakespeare A Court in England – Year 1608

Magistrate- (Finishing a case. A forlorn man stands before him.) So for you sir, a fitting sentence for a man fit to steal the grog of his neighbor. You shall be fitted to the stocks in Dorchester Square for the entire day of Wednesday for the entire publik to scorn. I hope you will see fit to control your passions so that we will not have to control them for you.

Man- (Humbled by the verdict) Yes, Sire.

The man is escorted out by a guard.

Magistrate- (To his aide) So, another bit of soiled laundry washed and aired. Dear Kentworth, what joyous bit of social engagement are we to delight in next?

Kentworth- Well, Sir, let me take a look…….hmm… It seems we have an actor appearing before us.

Magistrate- (He snorts in derision) An actor? I presume he is a debtor who some boarding house woman is finally turning the screws on to get the last three months due!

Kentworth- Nay, Sir. It would seem that he is hoarding grain during our time of famine.

Magistrate- (Flabbergasted) Hoarding grain at a time like this. A black bastard is he! Have him appear!

Kentworth (Rises and speaks loudly) Guard, please allow entrance to a Mr. (looks at the paper and reads) ..ah…. William Shakespeare!

The guard brings in a prim man, well dressed, but somewhat disheveled with bits of hay from the jail cell strutting out here and there on his wardrobe.

Kentworth- Would you stand before the Magistrate, Mr. Shakespeare.

Magistrate- (Leans forward to take in the man before him) So, Mr. Shakespeare, what sort of folly is this I am to attend to? You have been hoarding grain? What a foul villain are you to do such in a time of great want among the people?

Shakespeare- (Bold, frightened but hiding it; searching desperately for the right words to say to free him from these circumstances.) Aye, great Sir, that is the strife laid upon me, but a grievous one.

Magistrate- A grievous one? How so?

Shakespeare- True it be that I am a grain master and do lord over several silos thereof, but, verily Lord, it is with the intention of the people at heart. I save the fodder for the days when true starvation clappers upon their door.

Magistrate- Hold, fellow, hold! Was it not read to me that you are an actor? I see by the straw of your costume that you carry yet your profession off the stage and out into the world at large. How did an actor come to be a merchant of grain? It would seem to be the two most unlikely of professions to be dancing a duet!

Shakespeare- Largely Lord, that accusation is false as well. I am a playwright.

Magistrate- (Laughs loudly) A playwright! (Sarcastically.) Twell, that puts thee in with a whole higher level of company than I suspected you kept. Your status in society is immensely elevated thereby, much as a worm is greatly elevated by being hoisted aloft by a passing hungry raven! (Kentworth guffaws at this witticism.) Yes, indeed, a playwright! But not an actor? Or be you an upstart crow who merely tramps about in the plumage of a greater bird?

Shakespeare- (He is having a great difficulty swallowing this. He stammers, but marches on forward.) Aye, Sir, playwright and actor. One cannot survive without the other.

Magistrate- (He is having much fun with this) Yes, indeed, good Sir! The one with too much in his head invents words for the one with too little! A fine marriage! But, pray Sir, It is rare that both inhabit the same living corpse.

Shakespeare- (Humiliated, but holding in his anger and wrath and insult) I have learned the arts from being both. The experience of one supplies knowledge and wisdom to the other. (Taking a risk) I am widely admired amongst my critics, Sir.

Magistrate- As is the pickpocket amongst fellow thieves.

Shakespeare- (Almost to the breaking point, but struggling to keep control and not be insulted.) So it may seem , Sir. But my plays are widely viewed.

Magistrate- ( Not relinquishing an inch) Yea, by do-nothings, layabouts and drunkards who have no other way to pass their day! Ha, Sir! I should have you taken to the gaol for being a vagrant as there is little difference in the two vocations. But then I guess we must account for your ‘other profession’, that of being a grain hoarder. Are you awaiting that starvation will loosen purses which will greater the stores of your money while your stores of oats drain?

Shakespeare- Nay, Sir. I merely maintain a strong hand in keeping my business a business. An eagle cannot be lax when mice are about.

Magistrate- I would imagine that such has truth in it. I could also imagine that the eagle that guards the prize also feeds well off the mice that he fights against. You, sir, I suspect, are a black villain. Jehovah Himself will witness upon me that I witness here in this court every manner of scallywag who will lift a pence off a body living or dead. I will keep you for two days here in hand while I have agents determine the extent of your ‘business’. But that should profit yourself as well. It should give you time for working your ‘profession’ of playwright in great solitude. I know that genius needs stillness and quiet. A couple of days enclosure should stimulate all manner of clever dialogue!

Shakespeare- (defeated, his head is bowed) Aye, Sir, aye. (The guard begins to be take him out)

Kentworth- (He interrupts the procedure) Hold, my man. I mean to ask; I believe I have seen your latest performance. What was the name thereof?

Shakespeare- The title of the piece is ‘Coriolanus’.

Kentworth- Does it not begin with a scene of a mob out to rob the hero of his life as he has robbed them of grain?

Shakespeare- As, Sir, it does.

Magistrate- Blackheart! Gouger! Viper!

Kentworth- Hypocrite! Blood greed! Scoundrel!

Magistrate- A proper sentence for you sir would be for the fiction of your work to become the reality of your life! You foul the name of even the gaol you will pestify with your presence! I should be shamed that I am so lenient with you! A noose would be a better fit to you, sir, and more just! May your name be forever linked with intrigue, scandal, and comedies of errors! Begone with thee! Out of my sight!

Shakespeare- (To himself) They jest at scars that never felt a wound. (Aloud) A plague on both your houses! (He is dragged out.)


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Author’s note: It could perchance prove to be, being as the scholarly study was completed at Aberystwyth,Wales, that the derision of character made against said perpetrator William Shakespeare is perhaps due more to the Welsh tradition of caustic abrasion against the moral character of their British overlords rather than a true defect of character on the part of the Bard. One is always wise to err on the side of reasonableness than to taint the possibly innocent.

Roger Freed