The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0687 Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Date: Tuesday, 02 Dec 2008 23:34:13 -0800
Subject: Blind Shakespeare
William Shakespeare might have left London and stopped writing three
years before he died because he had lost his sight, a playwright has
By Stephen Adams, Arts Correspondent
Telegraph, 03 Dec 2008
Rick Thomas said he thought years of writing by candlelight would have
left Shakespeare struggling to see.
He has just written a play, For All Time, about why the bard left London
for Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613.
It is question has vexed scholars for years.
Thomas said he had came to the conclusion out of personal experience -
that writing plays for years on end had taken its toll on his vision.
With the conditions Shakespeare was working under, he thought his sight
would have deteriorated much faster.
Thomas was commissioned to write For All Time by The Theatre By the Lake
in Kendal for its summer season next year.
He said: "I started off thinking about how Shakespeare would spend his
working day, He would have been rehearsing in the morning, he would have
been performing in the afternoon.
"So if he was going to write at all it would have been in the evening.
So for six months of the year that would have been in candlelight.
"If you think about it in those terms it would have been virtually
impossible for him to get to the age of 48 and still have 20-20 vision,"
he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
He added: "I just can't see that Shakespeare could have had that clear
After leaving London Shakespeare did not write any more plays and died
three years later in 1616.
Thomas also came up with an alternative theory - that Shakespeare was
frightened of staying in London in case his health failed at the speed
it left his father.
"When William was a teenager, his father John 'went through a strange
situation when he lost a lot of money very quickly'.
"I wonder if one of the reasons might be that he was a diabetic, lost a
lot of money and couldn't work, and William was worried about that
happening to him later on in life," he said.
Stanley Wells, chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said the
blindness theory was an interesting one.
But he thought the playwright could have left London after being
traumatised by the Globe theatre burning down in 1613.
He also cast doubt on the assumption that Shakespeare lived full-time in
London before moving back home.
"He didn't exactly depart from London. I think that's a very simplistic
way of putting it," he said.
"He started spending more and more time in Stratford, it would appear,
but I think he spent far more time in Stratford [throughout his career]
than has been acknowledged."
He stressed: "He never had a house in London - he only had lodgings
there - but he had the second-biggest house in Stratford."
Little historical documentation exists about the last years of
Shakespeare's life and the reason why he stopped writing remains a mystery.
But Mr Wells said Shakespeare must have been able to see well enough at
the very end of his life to sign his "elaborate" signature. Five of the
six surviving signatures come from his "last years of his life," he said.
"He was able to see well enough to sign his quite elaborate signature
within two months of dying," he argued.
Thomas said his play was not meant to be a historical account, but to
put forward "lots of reasons why Shakespeare wanted to leave London."
"I plumped for the blindness in the end as the main reason but the truth
is we just do not know and the truth is we will probably never know," he
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