By Dalya Alberge
The story of how William Shakespeare’s father slipped from wealth to bankruptcy, leaving his impoverished son to struggle to establish himself as a poet and actor before making his own wealth in the London theatre, has long been an established part of the mythology surrounding the playwright. But a new study of the family’s business in the wool trade suggests this is far from an accurate account.
David Fallow, a former financier, has spent years studying the Shakespeare family’s wealth, poring over documentary evidence from a time when “wool was to the English economy what oil is to Saudi Arabia today”.
It has long been assumed that Shakespeare’s father was a small-town glover and dealer in hides and wool, who went from riches to rags. The new research suggests that, far from going bust, John Shakespeare was reinvesting in wool and making even more money than ever, some of it via shady deals. It was also wool, not the theatre, that prompted William to leave Stratford-upon-Avon for London in 1585, where he could act as the family’s business representative.
Fallow analysed financial records of the time, including wool markets, the value of exports from regional ports, statistics on the rise of trade in London and industry consolidation, as well as Stratford court documents from John Shakespeare’s illegal wool trading and the modest revenue generated by the theatres. Using his business acumen, he has pored over figures that he believes literary scholars have struggled to understand: “You get some very brilliant academic writing about Shakespeare. The minute they try to talk about money or numbers, it becomes almost incomprehensible.”
Financial transactions and other surviving records have led him to conclude that the portrayal of John Shakespeare as a failed trader is a fable: “John Shakespeare was a national-level wool dealer, and legal research, coupled to analysis of the wool market, proves this. The Shakespeare family never fell into poverty.”
Read the rest here.
(via Tyler Cowen)