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Solving Shakespeare’s riddles in The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet, King John, 1–2 Henry IV, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, Julius Caesar, Othello, Macbeth and Cymberline

Knowing William Shakespeare better, we are better equipped to know his plays. Better knowing his plays brings us closer to knowing him. This book suggests that Shakespeare wrote not only for the mass audience, but simultaneously for that stratum of cognoscenti whom Gabriel Harvey dubbed 'the wiser sort.' It identifies many passages in the plays which Shakespeare resolves famous cruces which scholars have never been able to unravel, and casts new light on Shakespeare's mind and method. Shakespeare wrote into Julius Caesar more than one passage intelligible only to that handful of the wiser sort who had read Plutarch and knew their Suetonius. Into Macbeth Shakespeare injected a detail accessible only to the few intrepid souls brave or reckless enough to have cast the horoscope of King James I. We find a poem in Hamlet, where the prince invites his love and bandies matters of cosmology which were burning issues (literally) throughout Shakespeare's lifetime. While Julius Caesar's old Julian calendar prevailed in England its rival, the scientifically correct Gregorian reformed calendar, dominated most of Europe. Shakespeare suffused his plays with references to calendrical anomalies, as seen in Othello. By relating Shakespeare's texts, the Renaissance calendars and the liturgy, the book produces a lexicon apt for parsing the time-riddles in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare handled religious subjects, examined and interrogated the dogmas of the received religions, and parodied the Crucifixion by exploiting Holinshed's account of the persecution and assassination of York.

Queen Elizabeth’s calendar muddle
Steve Sohmer

that it is in Romeo and Juliet). Shakespeare and his contemporaries struggled to come to terms with this paradox in ingenious, intriguing ways. As a consequence – and in an ongoing appeal to reason – Shakespeare suffused his plays with references to calendrical anomalies. Some of these are heart-wrenching, as when Othello, who lives by a Gregorian-style calendar 1

in Shakespeare for the wiser sort
Steve Sohmer

for conveyance, Shakespeare and the Jacobeans had access to information that a voyage from (Gregorian) Venice to (Julian) Cyprus was expected to last four or five weeks. 55 And this change of place and time could create the most remarkable calendrical anomalies. During the age of rival calendars, travelers between Protestant and Catholic areas of Europe routinely experienced temporal anomalies we would find

in Shakespeare for the wiser sort