The “Hunt for Shakespeare”

A Medieval Hunting Scene

B) The man, known as Shakespeare was a competent sportsman and practised “field sports” as frequented by the higher echelons of society.

In a previous post I mentioned that during the “Lost Years Debate” Shakespearean academics and scholars were at pains to scour the municipal, legal, ecclesiastical, and parish records for any documentary evidence of William Shakespeare’s whereabouts, activities or movements between the years 1582-92. This resulted in a virtual vacuum of documentary evidence of his life presumed to be residing either in Stratford-upon-Avon or London where he was assumed to be occupied as an actor and soon after becoming a playwright in the London theatres. I have expressed my own erudite and forensic conclusions in “Facts & Fallacies About Shakespeare” and the “Myths & Legends About Shakespeare” in ascertaining what evidence exists of Shakespeare as an actor or playwright. It would appear that even in literary and academic circles that nature abhors a vacuum and numerous attempts have been made by pure conjecture or supposition by scholars to draw up a definitive or extensive biography of the man from Stratford whose literary and dramatic endeavours have been admired and lauded for several centuries.

The first evidence of his activities however appears as late as 1595 when it is alleged he had joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and in March 1595 he is mentioned in the lists as receiving payment for his performance in the play “A Comedy of Errors”, which was played at Gray’s Inn. However, as usual trouble was stalking our now middle-aged Shakspere as in 1596 the London court records mention the following:

1596 – Michaelmas – Court record. William Wayte “swore before the Judge of the Queen’s Bench that he stood in danger of death, or bodily hurt,” from “William Shakspere” and three others. “The magistrate then commanded the sheriff of the appropriate county to produce the accused … who had to post bond to keep the peace, on pain of forfeiting the security”.

Much later in 1598 we find the following records, the first of which we should take with a pinch of salt or should we say mustard?

*1598 – List of Actors. In the initial presentation of Ben Jonson’s “Every Man In His Humour”, “Will Shakespeare “was a “principall Comoedian”.

Meanwhile, back in Stratford-upon-Avon:

1598, 1st December – Bill of sale. Chamberlain’s Accounts Wyllyn Wyatt Chamberlin “Pd to Mr. Shakspere for one load of stone xd”.

1598, 24th January – Letter – Abraham Sturley wrote to his brother-in-law that “our countriman Mr Shaksper is willing to disburse some stone upon some old yardeland or other Shottrei or neare about us…”

1598, 4th February – List of Hoarders. Shakspere is named as having illegally held 10 quarters (80 bushels) of malt or corn during a shortage.

1598, 1st October – Tax record. In the King’s Remembrancer Subsidy Roll, Shakspere is listed as a tax defaulter who failed to pay an assessed 13s..4d

1598, 25th October Letter. Richard Quiney wrote an undelivered letter asking Shakspere for a £30 loan, the letter could very easily have been a forgery.

1598 September – Tax record. In the Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer
Accounts of Subsidies, Shakspere is listed among those in Bishopgate ward who had moved out of the district.

Remission of taxes for Stratford-upon-Avon was also finally granted in 1599 and Richard Quiney’s expenses, the sum of £44 were eventually paid by the Exchequer. Sir Edward Greville of Stratford, Lord of the Manor and son of Lodowick Greville, was the cousin of Fulke Greville II, the courtier poet, who was obliging in this regard, although somewhat belatedly.

The hunt for any evidence of Shakespeare’s activities in that decade continued within the registers of the Inns of Court, but nothing was found among the student registers that he might have attended at Gray’s Inn, the Middle Temple or the Inner Temple. One would have rightly assumed that given the large number of legal references made by Shakespeare in his plays that he would have attended a Law College. The only evidence of handwriting is apparently found in six signatures made on legal documents just four years before he died. No other hand-written evidence such as a letter, manuscript, promptbook or handbook has subsequently been discovered. Neither has any documentary evidence of his early education been forthcoming in Stratford-upon-Avon either again due to the absence of registers.

In the first chapter of “A Companion to Shakespeare Studies” (Cambridge University Press-1934) Harvey Granville-Barker and G.B. Harrison write with candour:

“Of the life of Shakespeare little is known. No biography of him was attempted until nearly a century after his death. Floating traditions then collected, partly at Stratford and in the neighbourhood, partly from theatrical circles in London, clothed the bare facts for which there was documentary evidence with some amount of flesh and blood. The portrait of Shakespeare remains substantially unchanged by the laborious research of two centuries more. Most Modern Lives expand their contents partly by accumulation of details however minute and bearing however remotely on Shakespeare himself; and much more largely by inference and conjecture based on treatment of the plays and the sonnets as veiled or unconscious autobiography.”

The attempt to substantiate William Shakspere as a man of property and elevated status with his shares in the Blackfriar’s theatre and as a co-owner of the lease of the Blackfriar’s Gatehouse does not stand up. Both of these assets were not bequeathed or passed on to his family or even mentioned in his last will and testament and remain “red herrings” in a dubious attempt to support the great literary cover-up. At the time of writing no evidence of his marriage to Agnes Hathaway existed except the issue of a marriage licence suggesting intent. Where and when he was married was completely unknown, so we can presume the actual evidence of his marriage provided by Halliday appeared sometime in the 1940’s. The “Companion to Shakespeare Studies” states clearly: “But for the years 1585-92 (his own 21st to 28th years) there are no first hand facts.” This appears to be the beginning of the “Lost Years” theory to substantiate the total absence of viable evidence to which so much conjecture has subsequently been applied cosmetically by numerous “laudable” Shakespeare scholars.

In a series of articles I have been taking on the myriad aspects of Shakespeare’s personality, the depth of his knowledge and whether the Stratford Shakespeare had as much prolific knowledge to write the plays attributed to him. One peculiarity about the author of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry is the fact, taken partly from the linguistic terminology and his arcane descriptions, sometimes metaphorical, sometimes anachronistic of various subjects as listed as follows:

The man was a prolific polymath having minutely studied a multitude of subjects such as botany, the legal profession, pharmacology, medicine, anatomy, ornithology, falconry, fencing, horsemanship, horticulture, astrology, alchemy, history, heraldry, genealogy, and Greek and Roman classical mythology. Incidentally, to name but a few, the list in reality is much larger suggesting an ability or curiosity about the world at large and the motivation to discover and understand a lot more.

Many references are made in Shakespeare’s plays and poetry to “The Noble Arte of Venerie or Huntyng” (George Turberville, published 1575), although the practice itself was derived from our Norman ancestors and restricted to the nobility, not specifically indulged in by the commoners of the realm. I make reference to Turberville’s book because it was probably used by Ben Jonson as a reference to write a hunting scene in his own play, “Sad Shepherd” although Jonson most likely never followed the hunt himself. In fact very little technical reference is made to hunting per se in Shakespeare except where personal experience and certain idioms are employed. A good example is found in “As You Like It”, Act 3, scene 3 when the word “rascal” is employed to compare a single man to a small deer with large horns who can neither run fast nor fight in comparison with a mature stag with large head and large body who certainly can. Touchstone says:

Courage! As horns are odious, they are
necessary. It is said, ‘many a man knows no end of
his goods:’ right; many a man has good horns, and
knows no end of them. Well, that is the dowry of
his wife; ’tis none of his own getting. Horns?
Even so. Poor men alone? No, no; the noblest deer
hath them as huge as the rascal. Is the single man
therefore blessed? No: as a walled town is more
worthier than a village, so is the forehead of a
married man more honourable than the bare brow of a

The term Rascal is part of the extensive and rare terminology employed in poaching, woodcraft and hunting circles that can be found in a manuscript, “The Maystre of Game” (Bodleian Library). Furthermore, an old fat stag would be more likely hunted for its venison than would a young deer or hart and more easily hunted down by hounds. In Act 2, scene 3 of Troillus & Cressida, the warrior Achilles while sulking in his tent is compared to a stag who has gone to ground: “The hart, Achilles keeps thicket”. The skill of driving deer into nets or enclosures where they were killed with crossbow or bow is referenced in Hamlet, Act 3, scene 2; “Why do you go about to recover the wind of me, as if you would drive me into a toil?”. In Henry VIth Part One, Act 4, scene 2 when Talbot is surrounded by the French enemy at Bordeaux he espouses the language of the hunt:

How are we parked and bounded in a pale,
A little herd of England’s timorous deer,
Mazed with a yelping kennel of French curs!
If we be English deer, be then in blood;
Not rascal-like to fall down with a pinch,
But rather moody-mad and desperate stags,
Turn on the bloody hounds with heads of steel,
And make the cowards stand aloof at bay.

The hunting metaphors and similes continue in Julius Caesar, Act 3, scene 1 where Anthony surveys the blooded corpse of Caesar he states:

Here wast thou bay’d, brave heart,
Here didst thou fall; and here your hunters stand,
Sign’d in thy spoil, and crimsoned in thy lethe.

In Act 1, scene 1 of Much Ado About Nothing an allusion is made to the sound of a hunting horn (recheat) to call the hounds, and in A Winter’s Tale the sound of the “mort” when the prey has died. However, we get the general impression that the author was somewhat sensitive to the plight of the hunted and preferred instead a “quick kill” with crossbow or spear in Henry VIth Part 3, Act 5, scene 1 we find an interesting reference:

1st Keeper: Under this thick-grown brake we’ll shroud ourselves;
For through this laund anon the deer will come;
And in this covert will we make our stand,
Culling the principal of all the deer.
2nd Keeper: I’ll stay above the hill, so both may shoot.
1st Keeper: That cannot be; the noise of thy crossbow
Will scare the herd; and so my shot is lost.
Here stand we both, and aim we at the best.

And the Prince in Love’s Labours Lost, Act 4, scene 1 he compares the bow to a merciful weapon:

But come, the bow: now mercy goes to kill,
And shooting well is now accounted ill.
Thus will I save my credit in the shoot:
Not wounding, pity would not let me do it.

He must have understood the distress and anxiety a wounded animal experiences and in Titus Andronicus compares Lavinia with a wounded deer:

Straying in the park, seeking to hide herself, as doth the deer that hath recieved some unrecuring wound.

On occasions in the chase a clever deer will enter a stream to throw the dogs off its scent, unless of course the dog is a spaniel which can retain a scent even when in water. And greyhounds, being extremely fast and mute when running were excellent for hunting deer, fox, wolf, boar and stag. He uses colloquial words such as “pricket”, “brocket” and “hearst” to describe deer, does, hart and fawn etc. Hare-coursing is also frequently described for example in Venus & Adonis:

The Chase enters the Forest

Sometimes he runs among a flock of sheep,
To make the cunning hounds mistake their smell,
And sometime where earth-delving conies keep,
To stop the loud pursuers in their yell,
And sometime sorteth with a herd of deer;
Danger deviseth shifts; wit waits on fear.

And also in the opening scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a reference is made to a hunting dog known as a basset; although beagles were also generally preferred for hunting:

I was with Hercules and Cadmus once,
When in a wood of Crete they bay’d the bear
With hounds of Sparta: never did I hear
Such gallant chiding: for, besides the groves,
The skies, the fountains, every region near
Seem’d all one mutual cry: I never heard
So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.

My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flew’d, so sanded, and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew;
Crook-knee’d, and dew-lapp’d like Thessalian bulls;
Slow in pursuit, but match’d in mouth like bells,
Each under each. A cry more tuneable
Was never holla’d to, nor cheer’d with horn,
In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly:

This reference to a Spartan type of dog is so rare and could only have come from Xenophon’s Latin translation, “Cynegetica” where the sound of hounds is comparable to the sound of a choir of bells. In reference to hounds we turn finally to The Taming Of A Shrew (Act 1, scene 1):

Horns winded. Enter a Lord from hunting, with his train
Huntsman, I charge thee, tender well my hounds:
Brach Merriman, the poor cur is emboss’d;
And couple Clowder with the deep–mouth’d brach.
Saw’st thou not, boy, how Silver made it good
At the hedge-corner, in the coldest fault?
I would not lose the dog for twenty pound.
First Huntsman:
Why, Belman is as good as he, my lord;
He cried upon it at the merest loss
And twice to-day pick’d out the dullest scent:
Trust me, I take him for the better dog.
Thou art a fool: if Echo were as fleet,
I would esteem him worth a dozen such.
But sup them well and look unto them all:
To-morrow I intend to hunt again.

The pet names of the hunting dogs were not made up by the author, rather they were commonly used during the 15th and 16th century by noblemen. Needless to say the art of Falconry and Hawking is also repeatedly mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and poetry. George Turberville is the principle archivist who wrote of; “The Booke of Faulconrie or Hawking for the onlie pleasure of All Noblemen And Gentlemen” published 1575. Both his books were simply plagiarised from French books on the subject and often contain similar if not the same chapters and woodcut illustrations (Gaston Phoebus, Count of Foix, Jacques du Fouilloux, 1561). Again we find the author was familiar with the arcane terms employed by aristocrats such as “eyas”, a young hawk taken from its’ nest to be reared for the purpose of falconry or hawking and a “ramage” being simply a wild bird trained to hunt and kill. The term “eyasses” is used metaphorically to describe the boy actors trained for the stage in Hamlet. A third type of raptor was a “soar hawk” caught during the autumn or end of November who had trained themselves in their early years to fly and kill at speed. The Italian school knew them as “marzarolli” but another type was called an “entermewer” when captured and moulting for the first time. When fully moulted they were known as “haggards”, because they were difficult to train, if at all successfully. A reference to the latter is of course found in Othello (Act 3, scene 3) to signify a wild and inconstant heart:

Falconry in Elizabethan England

If I do prove her haggard,
Though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings,
I’d whistle her down the wind,
To prey at fortune.

Or in Much Ado About Nothing in Act 3, scene 3:
I know her spirits are as coy and wild as haggards of the rock.

The leather hood worn by these birds to prevent sudden excitation is often metaphorically referred to in Shakespeare’s plays, for example in Romeo & Juliet (Act 3, scene 2) when Juliet says:

Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.

The training of these wild birds is again mentioned as a metaphor in The Taming of a Shrew, by the Italian nobleman, Petruchio:

Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper’s call;
That is to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat and will not be obedient.
She’ll eat no meat today, nor none shall eat;
Last night she slept not, nor to-night she shall not.

Space here does not permit a fuller reference to metaphors based on field sports by the author since like the many musical allusions found therein, there are numerous more to be found in for example; Richard II, “How high a pitch his resolution soars!”, or in Macbeth, “A falcon towering in her pride of place, was by a mousing owl hawk’d at and killed”, and in Henry VIth Part One; “Between two hawks, which flies the higher pitch,” and in Part 2 of the same; “But what a point, my lord your falcon made, and what a pitch she flew above the rest!”.

Not to mention the numerous other references, which are similar in vein to the field sports of Fowling, Horsemanship, and Angling. All of them suggest a strong confirmation that the author of Shakespeare’s canon was a nobleman who personally practised several field sports in particular hawking and falconry. As far as I am aware the general consensus among Stratfordian academics is that the Stratford Shakspere, being a commoner in his younger years is thought to have poached deer from the Charlecote estate when resident at Stratford-upon-Avon for the purpose of a wedding feast. Not only is this conjecture totally without validity but his presence in London is deplete in any evidence whatsoever that he was hunting with the aristocracy-this is a fanciful, unproved and false supposition. It is true that the Lucy family of Stratford took umbrage at the idea that Shakspere was linked genealogically with the Ardens of Park Hall through his mother Mary Arden and why a local Justice of the Peace, Sir Thomas Lucy blocked his application for a coat of arms which might have suggested such a connection. We know for example that an ancestor of Shakspere was hanged for highway robbery and several members of his family were prosecuted for fowling the pavement, breach of the peace, bankruptcy, failure to repay loans, sueing his fellows for small debts, enclosing common land, failure to pay taxes and storing grain during a dearth for pure profit. That is for centuries the Shakspere family had accumulated a reputation or tendency towards criminal behaviour, some serious and some petty.

The links to my recent publications, “Shakespeare’s Qaballah” & “Parthenogenesis”, an anthology of poetry are as follows:


Published by Leonidas Kazantheos

In the early part of my career I have worked extensively in media, the arts and theatre as an innovator and environmental conservationist and much later took on a role as an investigative journalist and commentator on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy.

3 thoughts on “The “Hunt for Shakespeare”

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