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Shakespeare the Grain-Dealing Tax Evader

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0148  Thursday, 4 April 2013

From:        Al Magary < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 1, 2013 4:10:05 PM EDT

Subject:     Shakespeare the Grain-Dealing Tax Evader

 

From The Telegraph

 

Shakespeare Was a Tax-Evading Food Hoarder, Study Claims

By Sam Marsden

Telegraph

31 March 2013

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/william-shakespeare/9963602/Shakespeare-was-a-tax-evading-food-hoarder-study-claims.html

 

William Shakespeare evaded tax and illegally stockpiled food during times of shortage so he could sell it at high prices, academics have claimed.

 

As well as writing many of the world’s greatest plays, he was a successful businessman and major landowner in his native Warwickshire who retired an extremely wealthy man.

 

However, a new study has found that he was repeatedly prosecuted and fined for illegally hoarding food, and threatened with jail for failing to pay his taxes, The Sunday Times reported (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Arts/article1238514.ece).

 

Court and tax records show that over a 15-year period Shakespeare purchased grain, malt and barley to store and resell for inflated prices, according to a paper by Aberystwyth University academics Dr Jayne Archer, Professor Richard Marggraf Turley and Professor Howard Thomas.

 

The study notes: “By combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his home town, Stratford-upon-Avon. His profits - minus a few fines for illegal hoarding and tax evasion - meant he had a working life of just 24 years.”

 

The research sheds new light on Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus—written around the time of a 1607 peasant revolt in the Midlands—which centres on riots over grain-hoarding by the wealthy few.

 

Dr Archer, a researcher in Renaissance literature, told The Sunday Times: “There was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright - as a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximise profits at others’ expense and exploit the vulnerable—while also writing plays about their plight to entertain them.”

 

 

[Editor’s Note: I am including excerpts from two other online news reports. –Hardy]

 

From Forbes

 

http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/04/02/so-will-shakespeare-was-a-money-grubbing-food-speculator-hurrah-for-will-shakespeare/

 

This turned up in the UK press over the weekend. An academic paper insisting that Will Shakespeare had another side to him, one rather different from the playwright and poet still celebrated today. He was a speculator in vital foodstuffs, indeed got fined for it a couple of times:

 

However, a new study has found that he was repeatedly prosecuted and fined for illegally hoarding food, and threatened with jail for failing to pay his taxes, The Sunday Times reported.

 

Court and tax records show that over a 15-year period Shakespeare purchased grain, malt and barley to store and resell for inflated prices, according to a paper by Aberystwyth University academics Dr Jayne Archer, Professor Richard Marggraf Turley and Professor Howard Thomas.

 

As you know there are various campaigns being led by ignorant lefties going on at the moment. Insisting that speculation in foodstuff is the very devil and is something that must be regulated into extinction. The correct response to which is to go all Adam Smith on people and start screaming that speculation actually moderates food price rises. Fortunately, Craig Pirrong is rather more mild mannered than I am:

 

No doubt Shakespeare was prosecuted under the engrossing and forestalling laws rightly excoriated by Adam Smith in Chapter V of Book IV of Wealth of Nations (“Digression Concerning the Corn Trade and Corn Laws.”) Laws which Smith demonstrated actually contributed to dearth and famine. As Smith clearly showed, rather than being exploitative, the speculative storage of grain reduced the likelihood and severity of “dearth”.

 

In those editions that give paragraph numbers the discussion starts at para 40.

 

If vast swathes of 18th century prose aren’t really your thing here is the essence of the argument. As a speculator you buy up wheat just after harvest, when there’s lots of it around and it’s cheap. You then store it, cackling evilly, as you wait for the price to rise so that you can gouge your neighbours. So, what happens when you purchase this cheap wheat? It raises the price of course. The farmer thus sees a better price as he sells of his harvest and is encouraged to plant the same or more for next year. This is good.

 

As the price is higher people don’t thus gorge on the cheap wheat. They substitute away from it a bit, eat more oats and barley perhaps. This reduces the amount of wheat that is consumed in total. This is good.

 

Now we come to the hungry time. This is the 6 to 8 weeks before the next harvest. And this really was the hungry time. This is when the diet was at its most sparse and if there was going to be anything from malnutrition through to starvation this was the time of year when it would happen. England didn’t really get over this until the 1840s, other places somewhat later. This is when you open up your barn and, cackling evilly again, sell it at inflated prices to your neighbours. You naughty exploiter you. This means that your neighbours now have wheat to eat (and bread was indeed the staff of life, the major portion of the working man’s diet). You have, through your actions, moved wheat from a time of plenty to a time of dearth. There could well be small children who will survive until after the harvest as a result of your greed for pilf and gelt. This is good. Do note that your selling will push the price down in May and June as well. This is also good.

 

If the first harvest was a good one and there is no shortage before the next one then you lose your money. Oh dear, boo hoo, how sad. But you’re a capitalist, that’s your lookout. If it was an average or bad one, what is the net effect of your actions?

 

You have tempered the price swings in wheat. You drove it up when it was cheap, drove it down again when it was expensive. You also lowered total consumption by your changing the price. This means that the wheat will last longer into the hungry time. And quite possibly starving babbies will have a crust to chew on at a time of year where, without you, they would not have.

 

All of this driven simply by your pure greed, your lust for profit.

 

Good stuff this food speculation idea, isn’t it? And thus just another reason why we should praise Will Shakespeare, willing to even defy the law of the land of his day to undertake this vital task. Shifting both prices and supplies of food through time, from times and places of plenty to times and places of dearth.

 

This is exactly what the current day food speculators, the Cargills, Bunges and Dreyfus’ do as well: move food across time and space from where it is cheap to where it is expensive. So why is it that people whine about it and them?

 

 

From The Christian Science Monitor 

 

http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2013/0401/Shakespeare-tax-evader-and-food-hoarder

 

Aberystwyth University faculty members Dr. Jayne Archer, Professor Richard Marggraf Turley, and Professor Howard Thomas say that Shakespeare almost went to jail for not paying his taxes and received multiple fines, as well as being prosecuted, for buying food like wheat and barley to sell to others for a higher price than the sum he bought it for during times of food shortages.

 

Archer researches Renaissance literature topics, while Thomas is a plant science professor, and Turley is a professor of Renaissance literature. 

“By combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his home town, Stratford-upon-Avon,” the study reads. “His profits – minus a few fines for illegal hoarding and tax evasion – meant he had a working life of just 24 years.”

 

Archer said the findings highlight the contrast in aspects of Shakespeare’s personality.

 

“Here was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright – as a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximise profits at others' expense and exploit the vulnerable while also writing plays about their plight to entertain them,” she told the Sunday Times.

She noted that the playwright may have been thinking of his children because, in a world without royalties, he had no reason to believe his plays would generate profit after his death. 

 

“He had two surviving daughters and would have seen himself as providing for them,” she said. “But he was acting illegally and undermining the government's attempts to feed people.” 

 
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.