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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.






Ep 157: Social Order and Architecture with Matthew Johnson

As students of Shakespeare’s lifetime, often we see the phrase “of certain status” to describe 16-17th century limitations on clothes, housing, and other material realities for various people. Particular if you study Elizabethan sumptuary laws, it seems like society was strictly controlled based on social status, and one’s place in society was decided at birth, with little mobility allowed. The life of people like William Shakespere, however, who in his own life was able to rise in the ranks...


Ep 156: Rules for 17th C Hunting with Karen Kaiser Lee

In Elizabethan England, the Queen is immortalized in woodcuts that show her fondness for the sport of hawking. By the time James I comes to the throne in 1603, hawking is surpassed by a form of hunting called par force where animals like dogs and horses are used to round up prey. While the practical aspect of hunting animals for meat was utilized in these hunting expeditions, arguably the primary function of going hunting was to establish yourself as a member of a higher order of social...


Ep 155: John Harington with Bob Cromwell

This week is Part 2 in our 2 part series on John Harington, the man who invented the first flush toilet in England. Our guest, Bob Cromwell, is back again this week to take us back to 16th century England and explore the exciting life of John Harington beyond his invention of the flush toilet. Harington was known as a literary figure, primarily for his translation of Orlando Furioso, and was a godson to Elizabeth I as well as a courtier in the royal court. Harington’s destiny was set into...


Ep 154: 16th C Puppets with Maureen Benfer

According to an article on the Victoria and Albert Museum website, puppetry as an art form in Britain can be traced back over 600 years, with the first recorded puppet theater performance in London happening around 1600, when William Shakespeare was 36 years old. Medieval clergy used puppets to tell Bible stories, with one performance in 1599 at Coventry featuring a puppet version of the devil. When theaters like Shakespeare’s Globe were closed due to plague, puppet theaters were allowed to...


Ep 153: Galloway Nag with Miriam Bibby

In Henry IV Part II, Shakespeare writes the earliest known reference to a Galloway Nag when Pistol he says “Know we not Galloway Nags?” That comes from Act II Scene 4. If you are not a 16th century Scotsman, however, the assumption that you know what a galloway nag is, or what it is suitable for Pistol in that scene, may not be as obvious as the character suggests. Turns out, in the 16th century, a Galloway nag was a highly reputable horse from the Galloway region of Scotland. The term...


Ep 152: Public Executions with Murat Öğütcü

Walking across London Bridge seems like a merry trip for many, or perhaps even a dismissable part of the daily commute if you live in London today, and while travel across the bridge was a normal occurrence for William Shakespeare, as well, what was decidedly different for him is that it often featured heads of executed traitors displayed on the Southgate of London Bridge. Along with severed heads on display, public hangings, disembowelment, and even burning at the stake were very much forms...


Ep 151: The First Flush Toilet in England with Bob Cromwell

Surviving archaeological items from the first English settlements at Jamestown include intact chamber pots. One of these chamber pots was part of a 2009 exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, United States. These pots were brought over to the New World by 16-17th century colonists who, at the time, used chamber pots as essential items. However, when they arrived, the colonists were surprised to discover that the natives did not have the same sanitary system as they did...


Ep 150: London Bridge with Tony Sharp

There has been a bridge over the river Thames since the time of the Romans and the reign of Aethelred II, when the bridge was designed as a Saxon defense against the Danish. Since then, there have been at least 5 bridges either built, or repairs made to the predecessor, which have occupied the crossing of the Thames at London Bridge. The original structure we think of as the first London Bridge was located about 100 feet east of today’s London Bridge. There was a London Bridge stretched...


Ep 149: Mermaids with Vaughn Scribner

When medieval cartographers drew maps of the world they included mermaids among the fantastic ocean beasts that they believed roamed the waters of foreign lands. Professional explorers like Henry Hudson in 1608, described sighting a mermaid in the NOrthern Atlantic ocean, describing how the mermaid called to the men on his ship. Philosophers, physicians, and clergymen, all described, in detail, the discovery, examination, and even display of mermaid bodies. There was a pervasive belief that...


Ep 148: Robert Greene with Darren Freebury Jones

The most memorable illustration of Robert Greene shows him dressed as an ear of corn, sitting at a desk, penning Groatsworth of Wit, his famous deathbed insult that calls William Shakespeare an “upstart crow.” That upstart crow may have gone on to eclipse Robert Greene’s fame in posterity, but for the moment in which those lines were written about the bard, Robert Greene was not only well established as a playwright in early modern England but held a arguably higher reputation in the...


Ep 147: 16th C Men's Shaving with Alun Withey

Shakespeare uses the word “beard” in his plays over one hundred times, and almost always as a way to indicate a man’s status, power, or authority. In Anthony and Cleopatra Caesar is referred to as “scarce bearded” as a slight against him by Cleopatra, several times the phrase “by my beard” is used in plays like Alls Well That Ends Well, as an oath, and in Henry V Gower refers to a specific style of beard being known as “the general’s cut.” Throughout the works of Shakespeare we see women...


Ep 146: Early Modern Tattoos with Matt Lodder

When telling about the Battle of Hastings, William Malmesbury wrote a description of the English ancestors, the Anglo Saxons, as having “arms covered with golden bracelets, tattooed with coloured patterns.” The trend of tattooing oneself with coloured patterns seems to have fallen to the wayside by the time William Shakespeare was writing about skin used as parchment in Comedy of Errors, because tattoos were far from the everyday normative for your average English citizen in the 16th...


Ep 145: Cleire Water with Vaughn Scribner

Ale was a popular drink in Shakespeare’s London, due in part to the undrinkable nature of the water from the nearby Thames River. The fear of water and superstitions about drinking it, extended well beyond England’s capital city, and extended even over the Atlantic Ocean to the colonies of Early American settlers, who coming from England, brought with them a surprising opinion about water in general. New England colonists in the early 17th century arrived with fear of what they called...


Ep 144: 16th Century Executioners with DJ Guba

Many famous people from history have had their lives come to an end by execution. We tell these stories with gusto, reverence, and sometimes even humor, but the person responsible for being the executioner goes largely unnoticed beyond the recognition that someone, albeit we rarely know who, had to actually be the executioner. The word “executioner” comes up in Shakespeare’s plays 17 times, twice referred to as a “common” executioner, twice mentioned in context of characters expressing...


Ep 143: 1604 Witch Trial with Todd Butler

When Shakespeare was 39 years old, in 1603, King James of Scotland succeeded Queen Elizabeth after her death, and he brought with him a famous repugnancy, and some call it outright fear, of witches during his reign. In Scotland, where James was dually King at this time, witchcraft had been considered a capital offense since 1563. The King brought this perspective to his management of witchcraft in England, as well. In 1604, just one year after his accession as King, James removed the mercy...


Ep 142: Scanning Shakespeare's Grave with Kevin Colls

Famously, the grave of William Shakespeare is marked with an ominous entreaty carved on his stone that warns against disturbing his bones, declaring a curse on anyone that disturbs the dust enclosed here. Respecting Shakespeare’s wishes has meant that it was impossible to excavate the grave of the bard and explore questions like how he was buried, or even to confirm longstanding rumors about Shakespeare’s grave, including the idea that his skull was stolen by grave robbers in the 18th...


Ep 141: Newington Butts with Laurie Johnson

For centuries, theater historians have glossed over noy only the location, but actually argued over the very existence of a theater at Newington Butts. Originally established as an archery range under Henry VIII during a time when learning the sport of archery was required for all young men, the high ground at Newington Butts just outside of London proper would morph into a popular theater destination that our guest this week believes was not only a frequent destination for playing...


Ep 140: John Shakespeare with Bob Bearman

William Shakespeare’s father was a man named John Shakespeare. When you study William’s life you often hear about John Shakespeare, as many references to glove making in Shakespeare’s plays like the glover’s pairing knife in Merry Wives of Windsor come from an intimate knowledge with the glove making trade, which most assume came from William’s father John. When it comes to the life of John Shakespeare, however, the man was much more than a glover, having served also as an ale taster,...


Ep 139: Christmas at Gray's Inn with Joe Stephenson

In 16th century England, Christmas time was a season of disorder, with many of the holiday celebrations centering around the idea of Misrule, role reversal, and a celebration of general chaos as part of the festivities. Which makes it surprising that the one place you would expect to find extreme order, the Inns of Court, which were essentially Law School for England’s budding lawyers, was also the establishment where Shakespeare staged a performance of Comedy of Errors on Dec 28, 1594,...


Ep 138: William Davenant with Ralph Goldswain

During the century following Shakespeare’s life, the government tried to end playoing, shutting down theaters and passing orders against plays entirely. During this moment in history when it would have been easy for the legacy of William Shakespeare to die completely, one man who remembered William Shakespeare from his childhood, would champion the cause of theater, plays, and his mentor, William Shakespeare, to carry the legacy forward to survive the era of Oliver Cromwell, and potentially...