Shakespeare a 'Ruthless' Food Hoarder
New study paints a picture of the Bard's darker side
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted Apr 2, 2013 8:14 AM CDT
This is a Monday March 9, 2009 file of a then newly discovered portrait of William Shakespeare, presented by the Shakespeare Birthplace trust, as seen in central London.   (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

(Newser) – William Shakespeare was, of course, an acclaimed playwright—but according to researchers, he was also a grain hoarder, tax evader, and all-around "ruthless" businessman. "Shakespeare the grain-hoarder has been redacted from history so that Shakespeare the creative genius could be born," say the academics in a paper that will be presented at a May literary festival. They paint the picture of a grain merchant and landowner who got rich by buying and storing grain, malt, and barley, which he resold at higher prices during times of famine, the AP reports. He then "pursued those who could not (or would not) pay him in full for these staples and used the profits to further his own money-lending activities," according to the paper.

Shakespeare was actually prosecuted in 1598 for hoarding grain during a food shortage, and that's not all: He was also wanted for tax evasion. He was fined for both, and threatened with jail over the tax issue, reports the Telegraph, citing the Sunday Times. The AP notes that these details weren't entirely unknown, and one of the researchers says critics and scholars tend to ignore this information because they "cannot countenance the idea of a creative genius also being motivated by self-interest." But, she adds, these details actually inform Shakespeare's work: In Coriolanus, for example, the people complain when rich merchants exploit the famine in order to maximize profits; and in King Lear, "there is a very subtle depiction of how dividing up land also involves impacts on the distribution of food."

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Apr 2, 2013 3:12 PM CDT
It would be nice, "truthinadvertizing" if you could learn some history. "Hoarding" means exactly what you, and the story, says it means. But it also means something else. To hoard grain in a time of scarcity was, in many societies, a crime. Beyond a certain level one could call it a crime against humanity. We're not exactly talking about mom-and-pop store-style storage. As for the "abortion is murder" mysticism, again, history didn't begin the day you discovered conservative politics, U.S.A.-style, nor is all knowledge of life and death to be found in that movement's tomes. You might benefit from learning, and taking seriously, the arguments of the other side. You might then want to then account for the power those arguments continue to hold, especially with women. (It's always been curious to me that anti-abortion advocates seem untroubled by the fact that most women oppose their point of view.) Speaking of crimes against humanity, what the story doesn't mention is that Shakespeare was a participant in the slave trade, since he had a financial stake in the Virginia Colony, which was, in his time, at the very beginning of its illustrious career as one of the most significant locations of the hemispheric-wide system of slave labor camps.
Apr 2, 2013 2:22 PM CDT
It is comforting for some people to tear down those whose talent they envy: "I may not be able to write Hamlet, but at least I'm not a greedy hoarder." I prefer to acknowledge their greatness and my own awe of their accomplishments, and comfort myself with: "Hey, at least I'm not dead." As to living artistic geniuses (I'm talking to you, Leonard Cohen), well, I just suck on a big, bitter pill of envy.
Apr 2, 2013 11:35 AM CDT
To Profit or Not to Profit, that is the question! Sound like a hard driving business man a man our Socialist President would not like at all. Except if he could tax his profit aka ill gotten gains.