Writing the one-year devotional, The Bard and the Bible (A Shakespeare Devotional), was some of the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. It took most of a year to create, but I learned so much–too much, in fact, to adequately express. Thinking back, however, I can quickly identify at least five fascinating facts I learned in the process:
1. Theater-goers of Shakespeare’s day did not go to “see” plays.
Elizabethan and Jacobean actors performed on an empty stage with no scenery and few furnishings. Actors wore appropriate costumes, but scenes were set by actors’ words and audiences’ imaginations. Plays were more of an auditory than visual experience, so people spoke of “hearing a play” rather than seeing it.
2. Only two characters in Shakespeare’s plays were named William.
Of the hundreds of characters in the Bard’s thirty-eight plays, only the country bumpkin in As You Like It and the schoolboy in The Merry Wives of Windsor were named William. As You Like It’s Will was born in the Forest of Arden; Shakespeare (whose mother’s maiden name was Arden) was born not far from there. Will in The Merry Wives of Windsor had a Welsh teacher, as did Shakespeare.
3. Shakespeare could not wear any color he wanted.
Both economics and laws dictated what people of certain class and function could wear. Only the royal family could wear purple silk. No women except duchesses, marquises, and countesses could wear “cloth of gold.” Crimson and scarlet velvet was reserved for the highest nobility (dukes, marquises, and earls, and their wives). And so on.
4. Shakespeare could be said to have invented both the stage musical and the romantic comedy.
His late plays featured more music than was customary (perhaps reflecting the talents of his theater company). He also played with the conventional genres of his day, crossing lines that others generally observed.
5. Two of King James I’s first acts as king of England related to both Shakespeare and the Bible.
King James arrived in London on May 7, 1603, a month-and-a-half after Queen Elizabeth’s death. On May 19, the king issued a royal charter naming Shakespeare’s company “The King’s Men”; then, in an October 1603 royal proclamation, the king announced a meeting to take place at Hampton Court that led to the creation of the King James Version of the Bible.
(photo at top by ms.Tea, via everystockphoto.com)