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That Shakespeare Life

History Podcasts

Hosted by Cassidy Cash, That Shakespeare Life takes you behind the curtain and into the real life of William Shakespeare.

Hosted by Cassidy Cash, That Shakespeare Life takes you behind the curtain and into the real life of William Shakespeare.


United States


Hosted by Cassidy Cash, That Shakespeare Life takes you behind the curtain and into the real life of William Shakespeare.






Hobby Horses with Natalia Pikli

When you hear the term “hobby horse” you may be tempted to recall images of toy wooden horses that children laugh and play on. For Shakespeare’s lifetime, however, this term refers to a particular kind of dance that featured in popular celebrations like May Day and Morris dances. The hobby horse dance was a characterized and often costumed representation of a person riding a horse, and it was a staple feature of these celebratory dances. Our guest this week has written extensively about the...


Infant Formula in the 16th Century

Commercial baby formula wouldn’t hit the mass market until the 1800s, but Shakespeare’s lifetime still had to deal with babies who needed to eat but were unable, for a variety of reasons, to nurse and drink breastmilk. Here this week to help us take a look at baby formula, baby bottles, and the role of wet nurses in Shakespeare’s lifetime is our guest and author of multiple articles on the history of baby formula, Carla Cevasco.


King John with Ralph Turner

While King John isn’t one of the more popular Shakespeare plays performed by companies today, taking a look back at monarchs of the past was a favorite pastime for Elizabethan England. To better understand the real history behind Shakespeare’s version of this famous monarch, we’ve invited our guest and author of the book King John for The Medieval World, Ralph Turner here today to share with us the context of King John’s life, impact on the legacy of England, and exactly what led to him...


Bears of 1608 with Callan Davies

An anonymous dairy was written in 1608 cataloging the keeping of bears for the sport of bear baiting in England. Our guest today calls this diary the “Bearward Diary of 1608” and the term “bearward” is used to describe individuals whose job it was to take care of or travel with a bear (or in the case of this diary, multiple bears), for the purpose of putting on bearbaiting shows around England.The diary is a fascinating glimpse into the history of bearbaiting and the logistics behind...


Conrad Gessner with Dan Hooley

The true example of a Renaissance Man, or a person who is great with many talents or areas of knowledge, Conrad Gessner joins the ranks of herbalists like William Turner and John Gerard as not only influences on Shakespeare, but examples of the influence of Renaissance thought on life in Elizabethan England. Gessner’s works were printed prolifically and consumed regularly in England, most likely by Shakespeare himself. Having completed over 70 publications in his lifetime, Conrad Gessner is...


How did Shakespeare Sleep? With Sasha Handley

Shakespeare mentions sleep in his plays over 380 times, and the word bed over 540 times! His works mentions Truckle beds, as well as the famous Great Bed of Ware, but when it comes to the bard himself, what did he sleep on? Here this week to help us explore beds in Tudor England as well as pajamas, bedtime rituals, and the materials used to make bed sheets is our guest and author of Sleep in Early Modern England, Sasha Handley.


Did Women Act on Stage? With Pamela Brown

One of the most accepted statements you’re liable to find about Elizabethan theater online today is that playing companies were all male companies. The idea of a woman on stage is considered forbidden, or not allowed. However, our guest today, Pamela Brown, has recently published a book called The Diva’s Gift to the Shakespearean Stage where she presents evidence that women did participate in performances on stage during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Her work challenges what I know I thought I...


Catherine de Medici with Estelle Paranque

Married to Henry Valois, Catherine de Medici held considerable power and influence over the Valois Dynasty of France and was beloved of the Medici Dynasty in Italy. The year William Shakepseare was born, in 1564, Catherine de Medici offered her son, Charles IX, as a husband for Elizabeth I, and would go on to offer her other two sons, Francis and Henry, to Elizabeth I as well in a decades long effort to secure a political alliance through marriage with England. Staunchly opposed to marriage...


Maps with Peter Barber

Transoceanic travel was a staple of European endeavors for the 16-17th century, with both Elizabeth I and James I spending massive amounts of money and effort to work with trading companies and explorers who traveled to other continents for trade, commerce, and colonization during Shakespeare’s lifetime. In order to reach these new and exotic places, as well as to be able to return again after the new places had been found, the sailors and explorers relied mainly on navigation by the stars...


The First English Lottery with Elizabeth Norton

William Shakespeare uses the word “lottery” in his plays 8 times, often referring to a reward that comes after taking a gamble. While we may be familiar with lotteries like the Powerball or Publishing Clearinghouse here in the United States, a ticket based lottery where people could pay money for a chance to win big was brand new for England in Shakespeare’s lifetime. The first time England had seen a real lottery, was the first national lottery in 1567, instituted by Elizabeth I, when...


Medlars with Neil Buttery

Five times in Shakespeare’s works he refers to a specific plant called a Medlar. In As You Like It, Rosalind talks about grafting a medlar, Lucio talks about a rotten medlar in Measure for Measure, Mercutio uses the medlar tree to describe Romeo’s state of mind in Romeo and Juliet and the last two references to medlars are found in Timon of Athens when Apemantus both presents a medlar for eating, and questions whether someone hates medlars. Whether or not we should hate or love the medlar...


Banbury Cheese with Helen Forde

In William Shakespeare’s play, Merry Wives of Windsor, Bardolph declares “You Banbury Cheese!” as an insult. The reason this line is an insult is because for the life of William Shakespeare, Banbury England was famous for making a particular kind of cheese that was thinner on the rind than other cheese typical of the period. Therefore, calling someone a Banbury cheese was akin to calling them a string-bean, or saying they were too thin. It works especially well as a joke for Shakespeare in...


John Caius with Vivian Nutton

John Caius was a prominent medical professional in the 16th century. A staunch adherent to the teachings of Galen, who himself was the ultimate authority on medical knowledge for close to 15 centuries. John Caius owned a copy of Galen’s text and that original copy survives at Eton College, Berkshire, with Caius’ notes and annotations there for review. Galen’s work was essentially the Grey’s Anatomy of its time and Caius’ interest in Galen’s work was not merely being a fan, but the doing of...


Transplant Surgery with Paul Craddock

From blood transfusions to replacement of legs, during Shakespeare’s lifetime was when medical science was trying to figure out the best way to replace broken or damaged body parts with transplants. Having only just discovered that the heart was a muscle, pumping at regular intervals, it was a revolution in medical science to consider each body part as a kind of piece in the mechanism that was the human body. We see these new concepts echoed in the work of our favorite playwright, William...


William Adams with Timon Screech

In the year 1600, when William Shakespeare was just 36 years old, William Adams became the first Englishman to reach Japan. Adams sailed as part of a 5-ship fleet employed for the expedition by a private Dutch company. Adams would serve in Japan under Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, helping to build the first Western Style ships in Japan, and later helping Japan establish trading factories with the Netherlands and England. While Adams held significant influence in Japan during his lifetime, what was...


Stephen Hopkins with Andrew Buckley

On June 2, 1609, a ship named the Sea Venture set sail for Jamestown, Virginia. On the way, the ship was blown off course by a horrible hurricane. The storm badly damaged the ship and all hands onboard fought off the rising water until the ship ran aground on the island of Bermuda. After salvaging parts of the Sea Venture to build another ship, the stranded group set sail again for Jamestown, arriving in Virginia on May 10, 1610. News of the shipwreck and tales of the castaways traveled...


The Moon with Rachel Aanstad

William Shakespeare uses the word “moon” over 160 times in his works, talking about the shape of the moon, the horns of the moon, and even traits of the moon like moonshine or moonbeam. For Shakespeare’s lifetime, the moon held almost as prominent a place in life as the sun, with people planning their lives around the phases of the moon. Described using a variety of names including popular feminine names like Lucina, Diana, and Cynthia, the moon was personified with attributes like good...


John Taylor the Water Poet with Bernard Capp

John Taylor is a poet contemporary to Shakespeare, but with a decidedly unique approach to the writing profession. John Taylor trained professionally as a waterman, or a river worker who taxied passengers to and from city destinations on the rivers like the River Thames in London. John Taylor used his occupation as a waterman to talk with the various playwrights, actors, and patrons while they were on the boat with him between destinations. Over the years, John Taylor used what he learned...


Cocktails with Jared and Anistatia Brown

Shakespeare’s plays mention several kinds of alcoholic beverages, some of which we still have today like wine, ale, and beer, but others are more firmly situated in the past, making them pretty obscure references outside of niche historical circles that enjoy recreating beverages from antiquity. For example, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry VI, and Twelfth Night give us mentions of drinks like sack, posset, canary, and metheglin, all of which are alcoholic drinks but their substance may not...


Cataracts Surgery with Chris Leffler

In a 16th century painting by Casper Stromayr, two men, presumably doctors, are standing behind a table on which a set of surgical instruments are laid out very neatly. In the notes for the painting we discover that some of the instruments are specifically for surgery of the eye. Cataract surgery like the one being prepared for in this painting was just becoming widespread in Shakespeare’s lifetime and was performed to remove the pearly film that developed over the surface of the...