Will flats in London. (Circa 1601-1604)
Court records of a dispute between William's landlord Christopher Mountjoy and his son-in-law Stephen Belott confirm that William was living in London around 1601. The playwright's name is recorded in the court records when he gave testimony in 1612 concerning Mountjoy and Belott's dispute. Interestingly, in 1601, he bought roughly 107 acres of arable land with twenty acres of pasturage for 20 pounds in Old Stratford.
The Bard strikes it rich.
William made his greatest financial gain in 1605 when he purchased leases of real estate near Stratford. This investment of some four hundred and forty pounds doubled in value and earned him 60 pounds income each year. Some academics speculate that this investment gave the Bard the time he needed towrite plays uninterrupted and we know that he was indeed thought of as a businessman in the Stratford area...
A friend passes away.
Yet another record confirming the Bard's existence was John Comb's will which bequeathed to the Bard the princely sum of just five pounds.
The Bard's will and death.
Records reveal that the great Bard revised his will on March the 25th, 1616. Less than a month later, he died on April the 23rd, 1616. Literature's famous Bard is buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. He infamously left his second-best bed to his wife Anne Hathaway and little else, giving most of his estate to his eldest daughter Susanna who has married a prominent and distinguished physician named John Hall in June 1607. This was not as callous as it seems; the Bard's best bed was for guests; his second-best bed was his marriage bed... His will also named actors Richard Burbage, Henry Condell and John Hemminges, providing proof to academics today that William was involved in theatre. The Bard's direct line of descendants ended some 54 years later until Susanna's daughter Elizabeth died in 1670.
The Bard's last words...
Written upon William Shakespeare's tombstone is an appeal that he be left to rest in peace with a curse on those who would move his bones...
Good friend, for Jesus? sake forbeare
To digg the dust enclosed here!
Blest be ye man that spares thes stones
And curst be he that moues my bones.
Translated this reads as:
Good friend, for Jesus' sake, forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blest be the man that spares these stones
And curst he that moves my bones.
Did Shakespeare write the 37 plays and 154 sonnets credited to him?
The evidence above proves William existed but not that he was a playwright nor an actor nor a poet. In fact recently some academics who call themselves the Oxfords argue that Stratford's celebrated playwright did not write any of the plays attributed to him. They suggest that he was merely a businessman and propose several contenders for authorship, namely an Edward de Vere.
Evidence that the great Bard wrote his plays.
The earliest proof that William did indeed write 37 plays was Robert Greene's criticism of the Bard in his Groatsworth of Wit, Bought with a Million of Repentance which attacked Shakespeare for having the nerve to compete with him and other playwrights in 1592 . Robert Greene made this quite clear by calling him "an upstart crow". This criticism was placed with the Stationers' Registrar on the 20th of September, 1592.
Proof that William was an actor comes from his own performances before Queen Elizabeth herself in 1594 and evidence of William's interest in theatre comes from the Bard's name being listed in 1594 and 1595 as a shareholder (part owner) of the Lord Chamberlain's Company, a theatre company.
The Bard's reputation as a poet is again confirmed in 1598, when Francis Meres attacked him as being "mellifluous" and described his work as honey-tongued, "sugared sonnets among his private friends" in his own Palladis Tamia of 1598.
William's theatre presence is again confirmed by his name being recorded as one of the owners of the Globe theatre in 1599 and on May the 19th, 1603, he received a patent, titling him as one of the King's Men (previously called the Chamberlain's men) and a Groom of the Chamber by James I, the then King of England. This honour made William a favorite for all court performances, earned each King's man extra money (30 pounds each for a performance in 1603 alone) and made the Bard's name one rather above reproach. Macbeth which celebrates King James I ancestor Malcolm, is considered to have been written in part as appreciation for the King's patronage. And as a potent form of royalist propaganda (it warned of the dangers of killing a King appointed like James, by God).
The First Folio (1623): Conclusive proof that Shakespeare authored his plays.
The proof most often cited that Shakespeare authored his plays however, was the First Folio (1623) where Henry Condell and John Hemminges who were actors in the Bard's theatre company, claim in a dedicatory verse within the Folio that they recorded and collected his plays as a memorial to the late actor and playwright. In terms of value, the First Folio originally was sold for just 1 Pound in 1623. Today as one of just 250 still in existence, it would fetch nearly 3 million dollars (US).
Ben Jonson criticizes and then praises William by name.
Further proof of authorship comes in the form of a poem by Ben Jonson, one of the Bard's more friendly rivals, which criticizes the playwrights dramatic plays. It is contained within a work entitled Discoveries (also known as Timber) dated 1641. Despite his criticism, Ben Johnson paradoxically also said that Stratford's famous Bard's works were timeless, describing them as "not of an age, but for all time".