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The Shakespeare Family History Site

'In Search of Shakespeare'

(Based on the book of the same name)

by Michael Wood

An summary of information contained in the television series:

Program 1: (shown 28 June 2003 on BBC2)
The first program proved to be disappointing in the information contained - right at the start Michael Wood confirmed that he would be repeating previous unsubstantiated myths as facts, by mentioning the Poet being in Lancashire at one time: this was compounded at the end of the program when it was stated that program 2 would deal with William's 'lost years' and would reveal the Poets time spent in Lancashire under the name William Shakeshaft.

On the Poets origins the connection with Wroxall is made, but two unsubstantiated facts are presented:

  • Williams grandfather, Richard, 'was bailliff there'
  • 'and his Great Aunt Joan was Prioress'

No evidence has yet been seen to confirm this.

The claim is made that William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway married at Temple Grafton on the basis of the record at Worcester of the marriage license record on the day prior to that of the Poets of a William Shakespeare and Anne Whateley - this is almost certainly a different individual bearing the illustrious name and has led to numerous spurious theories over the years since it's discovery.

One interesting item to emerge was the recent discovery of a document relating to John Shakespeares activities as an illegal wool dealer. However, the assumption is made that this was the Poets father - as is known there were two John Shakespeares in Stratford at this time, the other one being John 'the Shoemaker.'

Program 2: (shown 5 July 2003 on BBC2)
This program contained little, if any, factual information. A large part was taken up with the old theory that William Shakespeare spent time in Lancashire as either a schoolteacher or, using the name 'William Shakeshaft' a 'player.' Mention was made of music, although there otherwise seems to be no other record of supposed musical abilities of the Bard. What the program also failed to mention was that there were a large number of Shakeshafts in the this county at this time, many of them bearing the common Christian name William - anyone of whom could have been the 'player.'
Program 3: (shown 12 July 2003 on BBC2)
This contained no genealogical information, dealing as it did with the Poet's career during the 1590's. It also dwelt on the persecution of Catholics associated with Shakespeare. The Grant of Arms to the Poets father allowed viewers to see historical documents which rarely if ever see the light of day. The death of the Poet's son Hamnet was mentioned, as was the existence of the Poet's mistress, who, of course, has never been identified.
Program 4: (shown 19 July 2003 on BBC2)
This again had a 'Catholic' theme, including the following points:
  • James I and his coronation.
  • the Catholics involved in the Gunpowder Plot.
  • the purchase of a 'Catholic Safe House' in London after William had retired to Warwickshire - this was in 1613, shortly before his death.

On a historical note was the recent identification of the Poet's hand in a recently discovered manuscript of a play about Sir Thomas More.

The program concluded with mention of the Poet's will - and of course the 'second best bed'!

The book accompanying the series does have more details, as would be expected, and actually goes into more detail on 'facts' which appear somewhat 'hazy' in the television series.