It seems to me that most discoveries in life are predicated upon the age-old workings of serendipity. I was idly surfing the Internet for some genealogical information as gene-junkies so often do when I made the most extraordinary discovery. Hidden away, deep inside a dusty old folder, archived in cyberspace a few centuries ago and now covered in cobwebs, nibbled by moth and liberally stained by mustard seed, I came across a long-discarded group of e-mail messages and attachments between the writer, William Shakespeare, his family, friends and business acquaintances.
With great difficulty and by using a very specialised software package, I managed to retrieve this ancient folder and successfully download it. It was at this stage that I realised I was now the keeper of the priceless relic of a bygone age. I was, of course, totally amazed at this incredible find. It seemed too good to be true; and it was. When I opened some of the e-mails and documents, I discovered several of them had been corrupted. Many of the scripts were faded and chunks of text were missing. Through a lengthy and painstaking process of rebuilding and research, I have managed to rescue what is now an important collection of hitherto unpublished material and my findings can now be offered to the general public and to Academe in the hope that the material may become an invaluable resource.
By unlocking some of the mysteries surrounding this era, I have been privileged to be able to shed some light on William Shakespeares life, especially on that part of it so often termed by his biographers as The Lost Years. For those readers unfamiliar with the mystery of those so-called lost years of William Shakespeare, I should point out that there are almost as many theories as there are lost years. The bottom line is that no one really knows much about his early life and if, once upon a time they did, the knowledge went with them to the grave; now only snippets remain a reference here, a rumour there and nothing of any substance in between. We know he dealt in property. We have a few official documents relating to his business life. We know he owed tax from time to time and that he didnt always go to church when he should have done so. We know when he was born; we know when he died. His birth is registered as having taken place at Stratford-on-Avon in the county of Warwickshire, England, in 1564. He was the third child and first son of John Shakespeare and his wife, Mary Arden. He died some fifty-two years later, at Stratford, in 1616. We know when he got married and we know when his wifes children were born. He became the husband of Anne Hathaway in 1582 and she bore a daughter, Susanna Shakespeare, some six months later, in 1583.
I hear the calculators tapping. Well, it was not unusual for couples to test fertility before getting married in those days; but it was unusual to get away with it unscathed if you were anything less than the moneyed class since the church took a somewhat dim view of carnal knowledge before marriage; a kind of Tudor catch twenty-two situation, really Joseph Heller would have been proud of it but hardly a beacon for equality. In truth, there was no such thing as equality in Tudor society. You either had it or you didnt. Money, that is. There were pretenders to the status of money, of course, but on the whole, if you were just plain John Smith, the church authorities could make your life quite uncomfortable. Actually, as will become apparent, the name John Smith is probably not the best name to choose as an illustration; however, the point is made. Susanna grew up and married early in the 1600s and had a daughter with whom William Shakespeare spent grandfatherly days in the closing years of his life. It is also known when Anne Hathaway gave birth to twins a boy and a girl in 1585 - and that the boy, Hamnet, died young in 1596. Judith, the girl, grew up and married within Williams lifetime just. We know, also, the year in which William first dedicated a written work to his patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. This was 1593.
We must assume that he was educated at the Grammar School in Stratford although there is no record of his attending the school as such. He would have attended as a boy of seven or so and left early in his teens; though this is not known for certain either. In reality, nothing is known about him from the day of his birth until the recording of the banns of his marriage in 1582 or put more formally, nothing is officially known or proven by family, town, ecclesiastic or county written record. Apart from his marriage, by way of a figurative punctuation mark, he was never heard of again after his birth until he appeared in London in about 1593, almost thirty years old and over half way through the journey of his life and just over ten years after he was married.
The numerous theories about the lost years and how William arrived in London may be investigated as a separate exercise if you wish; suffice to say for these pages, the closest anyone has come to getting it right as now demonstrated by Shakespeares private correspondence - suggests that he became a teacher and lived in Lancashire for a while. The following information will show how closely this conjecture has hit the mark. Yet, no matter which theory you follow, you will always see written in books and in erudite papers - and on the Internet - that nobody knows how he perhaps he . Now, there can be no room for doubt. The how is clearly shown as well as the when, the where and the why.
It is also my hope that the contributions set down here will make a significant impact when they are drizzled into the melting pot of theory and invention so closely associated with the question of the Shakespeare authorship, a topic so hotly debated over the last few hundred years. The e-mail fragments William Shakespeare so inadvertently left behind, floating in the ether and quite unreachable until this modern age of sophisticated software, have made it possible to arrange a comfortable (some may say convenient) marriage between the annals of history and the hidden quirks of genealogy. The child of this liaison is something of a squalling brat, destined to howl like a banshee down the hallowed corridors of learning and so turn the world of Shakespeare studies upside down.
To learn more about the amazing Tudor Internet - and about the lost years of William Shakespeare - click on the title panel above. This is a serious comedy - or, an' you like it, as Bottom the Weaver would say, "A very good piece of work, I assure you, and a merry. "
SMYTH, Robert printer Edinburgh - At the Netherbow 1592-1602
Probably the Robert Smythe of Westbury in Wiltshire who in February 1565 was apprenticed to Hugh Singleton, stationer of London. He started to print in Edinburgh in 1592, and was one of the complainers to the Town Council 2 February 1592 against John Norton for selling books retail in Edinburgh. He bought books from Plantin in Antwerp, together with Henry Charteris and Thomas Vautrollier. He married Catherine Norwell, widow of Bassandyne. She died 8 August 1593, will registered 2 June 1596. He married secondly, Jonet Gairden. They had three children, Robert who was baptised 7 November 1596, David and Isobel.
Smyth died 1 May 1602, his will was registered 17 February 1604. The inventory and that of his first wife were printed in Bann.Misc.ii,233 and 218. He was succeeded by Thomas Finlason who purchased his privileges, stock and equipment in October 1602. David Smyth son to the late Robert Smyth printer was apprenticed 8 October 1617 with John Little, tailor.
Aldis 1904; Dickson & Edmond.475; EBS.i.15; Lee. Appendix xv,lxxi; Scottish Antiquary iv,174; STC; EdinTest; EdinPren; Colin Clair. Christopher Plantins trade connexions with England and Scotland. Library 3rd series xiv,43-5 (1959)
Smyth/e Vautrollier, Field and Shakespeare ... http://www.levity.com/alchemy/h_shake.html