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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. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


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Hosted by Cassidy Cash, That Shakespeare Life takes you behind the curtain and into the real life of William Shakespeare. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.






What It Means to Take a 17thC Covenant in Scotland

Shakespeare mentions “covenants drawn between’s” in Cymbeline, and mentions covenants again in Henry VI when the King is negotiating a marriage to Lady Margaret, and then it concept comes up further in both Richard II and and in Taming of the Shrew. Covenants were a key player in the Protestant Reformation that was going on in Shakespeare’s lifetime, but it was also a word that could meant to promise or form a contract. The history of the time period tells us that Swiss Reformed theologian Johannes Oecolampadius (1482–1531) was teaching in the 1520s what would later become known as “the covenant of redemption” A few years later Heinrich Bullinger (1504–75) published the first Protestant book devoted to explaining the covenant of grace, and of course there’s John Calvin, who died the year Shakespeare was born, writing about the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. All of these concepts heavily influenced not only the Church of England, but also The Kirk, the Church of Scotland in defining what it meant to be Protestant. In 1560, The Scottish Parliament designated the kirk as the sole form of religion in Scotland, and adopted the Scots Confession, rejecting Catholic teachings and practices. James VI argued the king was also head of the church, governing through bishops appointed by himself, and in 1603 when he became King of England, he also became head of the Church of England. Eventually Scotland would adopt what’s known as the National Covenant, springing from different perspectives on who held ultimate authority over the church, and this National covenant incorporated the text of another famous covenant that was drafted when Shakespeare was just 17 years old, known as the Negative Confession (1581). Its authors used pieces from the sixteenth-century covenant ideas involving familiar actions and assigned gestures as part of the ritual of what it meant to take a covenant. Our guest this week is an expert on the history of 16th century covenanting and we are delighted to welcome Neil McIntyre to the show to help us unpack the religious history that was finding its’ feet during Shakespeare’s lifetime, as well as to help us understand what Shakespeare would have been referring to or what his audience would have expected to see when they heard and saw the ideas of covenanting appearing in plays like Henry VI and Cymbeline. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Huguenots arrive in England during Shakespeare's Lifetime

In this week’s episode you’ll hear me learn about how to pronounce this week’s topic correctly—it is the Huguenots (and not Huguenots as I had been saying and which you may have been tempted to say as well). This week we’re exploring the arrival of Huguenots to England in Shakespeare’s lifetime. During Catherine de Medici’s reign as Queen consort in France, the country was anything but hospitable to Protestants. The St. Bartholomew Day’s Massacre in the late 16th century saw thousands of Huguenots rounded up and slaughtered. That was only one event where Huguenots were proven unwelcome, and in danger, to remain in France. Throughout the reigns of Edward VI, Elizabeth I, and on into the 18th century reigns of James II, and beyond, England as a Protestant nation became a safe haven for refugee French Calvinists. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the impact of the arrival of Huguenots seems to have been significant, with Shakespeare writing about “strangers” over 70 times across his works, often using the term to describe someone from another country, who may not speak English, and is simultaneously in need of a welcome, and to be viewed with necessary suspicion. We see plays like Hamlet extending a hand of friendship when Hamlet says in Act I “And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.” And yet, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V, Rosaline being much less accomodating, saying, “Since you are strangers and come here by chance, We'll not be nice“ While these references could refer to any international Immigrant, many believe that Shakespeare commented directly on the plight of the Huguenots from France, with one impassioned speech about how to treat so called Strangers, that is given in the historical play Sir Thomas More. Furthermore, we know that William Shakespeare had direct personal connections to Huguenots, having lived for a time as a lodger in London with Christopher and Mary Mountjoy, a French Huguenot couple. Here today to tell us more about the plight of refugee French Calvinists in the life of William Shakespeare is our guest and Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Joyce Hampton. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Finding a Lost Aldrovandi Portrait from the 1590s

Ulisse Aldrovandi is considered by many scientists, including Carl Linnaeus, the man who formalized the modern system of naming animals, to be the father of natural history studies. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, until his death in 1605, Aldrovandi collected a vast amount of specimens for his cabinet of curiosities, gathering over 7000 artifacts, organizing multiple expeditions to collect plants, and illustrating thousands of bizarre natural history phenomenon into at least 12 publications, some of which were compiled posthumously. Today, Aldrovandi’s work is preserved at the University of Bologna. However, in 2020, one painting was discovered that claims to be a lost Aldrovandi painting of a young girl that suffered from hypertrichosis, a condition that covers the body in excess hair. We have talked about this girl, Antoinetta Gonzales, on our show previously. That episode, we mentioned that paintings of the Gonzales family were often copied and distributed around Europe for inclusions in cabinets of curiosities, like the one that Aldrovandi compiled in Italy. Today, our guest, Daniel Dawson Gordon of Norfolk Reclamation Center in England, is here to talk about one such painting that belonged to Ulisse Aldrovandi, who at the time was one of the highest ranking members of Italian society. Daniel is here to share about Aldrovandi’s work, the painting of Antoinetta Gonzales, and the story of how it was discovered beneath another a famous art painting that been painted over the original of Antionetta. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Tomatoes Make a Splash in Shakespeare's England

The fruit today known as a tomato was first introduced to Europe during Shakespeare’s lifetime. As many new things were, this fruit was received at first with skepticism, considered a kind of curiosity. It was called a golden apple, as well as a “pomi d’oro” in Italy, where many considered the fruit dangerous, poisonous, and something that was pleasing to the eye, but secretly treacherous. Shakespeare echoes this sentiment in his play, Pericles, when he writes about "golden fruit but dangerous to be touched.” Today we are going to explore the arrival, reception, cultivation, and use of tomatoes for 16th century Italy, Germany, and Belgium, with our guest and author of the article “Sixteenth-century tomatoes in Europe: who saw them, what they looked like, and where they came from, Tinde van Andel. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Atlantic Slave Trade in England for the 16th Century

During the 16th century in Europe, the Portuguese dominated the African slave trade. European ships were first exposed to African slaves when privateering vessels would find enslaved Africans packed alongside Atlantic trade goods in the hulls of the captured ships. The Spanish were the first to try and break up the Portuguese monopoly on slaves, establishing a system known as the asiento de negros in the 16th century which was an agreement between the Spanish crown and a private person or granting a monopoly in supplying African slaves for the Spanish colonies in the Americas. The Dutch would use similar contracts to compete in this market, and it wasn’t long before the British and French followed suit. We see glimpses of this history in Shakespeare’s plays when he mentions the word “slave” over 170 times, the word “negro” specifically in his play Merchant of Venice, and he refers to “an African” in the play The Tempest. Here today to help us understand the start of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the place of Africans, and understanding of black skinned people, and even white skinned slaves for Shakespeare’s England, is our guest and author of Transformations of Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa Paul Lovejoy. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Blackfriars, the Parish, The Puritans, and The Theater

Prior to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, the section of London known as Blackfriars was as major religious institution extending along the bank of the Thames River. In its’ entirety, Blackfriars was second in size only to St. Paul’s Churchyard. After the Reformation, Blackfriars was located in what’s known as a Liberty, which meant it was just outside the reach of the mayoral law. Being outside the mayor’s jurisdiction made Blackfriars especially attractive to entrepreneurs like The Burbages and their star writer, William Shakespeare, who wanted to open a theater that wasn’t subject to the tighter restrictions of London proper. Blackfriars wasn’t only attractive to innovative theater professionals, however, it was also attractive to immigrants and the highly religious who were seeking freedom from the regulation of guilds. At the time that Shakespeare and the Burbages were looking at Blackfriars as a home for their theater, the parish of St Anne, Blackfriars, was dominated by godly clergy and parishioners, the people we usually think of as the enemies of theater. Here today to explain to us how Blackfriars theater was able to survive and thrive in this section of London is our guest, Chris Highley. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Card Games That Were Popular for Shakespeare

It’s Shakespeare’s Birthday this week! Happy Birthday Shakespeare! To celebrate, we’re going to paly some card games! From Noddy and Maw to Laugh and Lie Down, card games were popular for Shakespeare’s lifetime, with records from the court of King James and Elizabeth I outlining games played, losses incurred, and even insults traded between dignitaries all over the playing of card games. Shakespeare himself mentions a few of these games in his plays by name including Noddy, Primrose, and Laugh and Lie Down. When it comes to early modern card games, no one knows more about the games, their history, and how to play them than internationally renowned game expert David . If you are an Experience Shakespeare patron on PAtreon or followed meon YouTube where we have played some of these early modern games for ourselves, you will be familiar with David ’s name, having seen and heard me mention his work as we relied on his research to put together those activities. I am very honored and quite delighted to welcome David to the show today to share with us some of the history of card games, how they were played, and their place in society for the life of William Shakespeare. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Lost Plays and the Historians Who Find Them Again

Whether it’s a diary entry or a side note in a ledger or account book, history leaves us records of plays that were performed during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but their scripts never survived to the present day in any form that’s recognizable as a complete play. Other than the occasional snippet of a line or two here and there, we cannot read these plays, and we certainly can’t perform them, but we know they were real, and that they had a place in the life of William Shakespeare. This entire group of work is called collectively “Lost Plays” and even bard himself has a few titles that we know he wrote, but we no longer have anything but a passing record to tell us their contents. Researching and cataloging the collection of historical breadcrumbs that piece together a story of a lost play is the purpose of The Lost Plays Database, which is an online collection of the records and research being done into the theatrical works now lost to history. Their database records plays from as early as 1570 and as late as 1658. Our guest this week knows better than most the history of Lost Plays, because she is one of the editors at The Lost Plays Database, and a pioneer in the field of repertory study. We are delighted to welcome Roslyn Knutson. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


A Traditional Marriage Ceremony Including the Reading of the Banns

The difference in Shakespeare’s plays between a tragedy and a comedy is defined as whether or not the characters end in marriage or end in death. The comedies often showcase the promise of a marriage, or even sometimes multiple marriages, with proposals happening in the midst of fun and elaborate parties including songs, dances, and frivolity. Then of course those happy marriages are starkly contrasted with those we see in Shakespeare’s tragedies where marital relationships are marred by jealousy, suspicion, or betrayal. Shakespeare’s works give us a glimpse into what marriage customs were for turn of the 17th century England, but they are far from providing any kind of definition what was normal. In order to explore the history of marriage customs for Shakespeare’s lifetime and understand better what we could expect to see if we had attended a 17th century marriage in England, we are sitting down today with our guest, and expert in the history of marriage traditions, George Monger. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Danby Portrait: A newly uncovered painting from life of William Shakespeare

Of all the history we know about William Shakespeare and what it was like to live in turn of the 17th century England, one of the hardest things to know for sure about the bard is what he looked like. There are only two verified portraits of William Shakespeare, one is the bust available at his funerary monument in Stratford Upon Avon, and the other is known as the Droeshout portrait, which is an engraving on the title page of the First Folio that was published in 1623. Aside from these two depictions, there have been at least 9 paintings that claimed to be life-like representations of William Shakespeare, all of which were hotly contested, and a few that were outright disproven. One painting, however, has risen to the top through rigorous investigation as a contender for another verified portrait of the bard and it’s known as the Danby Portrait. The Danby portrait was owned by the Danby family for years, until it was sold by Christie’s in a house contents sale in 1975. At that time the painting was misattributed and has since been shown to be a painting by Robert Peake, a professional artist from Shakespeare’s lifetime who not only knew about William Shakespeare, but actually worked with him directly in theater. Our guest this week, Duncan Phillips, is the art gallery owner who recently displayed the Danby Portrait, and he joins us to share about the history of the Danby Portrait, it’s connections to Shakespeare, and the recent evidence that’s been uncovered that suggests the portrait is not only of William Shakespeare, but that it was likely painted from life. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Great Fires that Ravaged Stratford Upon Avon in the 1590s

In 1594 and 1595, when William Shakespeare was 31 years old, fires tore through his hometown of Stratford Upon Avon, causing such destruction that this natural disaster is one of the few major events in Stratford Upon Avon that was recorded for posterity. The fires were known as The Great Fires and in the aftermath of the devastation the town gathered together to rebuild the timbers of their homes and businesses. Many of these rebuilt structures survive through to today, and with the help of a recently awarded research grant from Historic England, the Stratford Society lead by historian Robert Bearman, look to investigate how the timber frame buildings were rebuilt following the fires in 1594, 1595, and another one that occurred later in 1614. Dr. Bob Bearman joins us today to tell us about the history of the fires and to share a look inside the Stratfire Project. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Hairy Girls That Captivated Europe With Their Portraits

In the late 16th century, William Shakespeare was in his 30s, and staging plays like As You Like It, where Rosalind mentions the “howling of Irish wolves against the moon.” (That’s from Act V scene ii). While scholars today debate whether or not that’s a reference to the legend of werewolves, we know from a painting completed in 1595 that there was at least one family whose hereditary disease made many in Europe believe in that werewolves might be real. The Gonzales family carried a rare genetic condition that is known today as hypertrichosis, but it's more common name is “werewolf syndrome”, so called because the people afflicted with it have hair growing over their entire faces, making them look exactly like pictures of werewolves that we have in pop culture and folklore. Here today to help us understand the history of the Gonzales family and what their lives were like living with this condition in the 16th century is our guest, and author of the book “The marvelous hairy girls : the Gonzales sisters and their worlds”, Merry Wiesner-Hanks. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Man Who Established The Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare's Playing Company

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men is known as “Shakespeare’s playing company” and was a group of actors for which Shakespeare wrote plays most of his career. By 1603, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men were so popular that James I himself chose to patronize the company making it The King’s Men. Today we are going to look at the man who made the company The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and that’s Henry Carey, the First Lord Hudson, and the Lord Chamberlain who patronized The Lord Chamberlain’s Men when it was founded by Elizabeth I in 1594. This week we are delighted to welcome historian Stephanie Kline to the show to share with us the life and history of Henry Carey and his role in the career of William Shakespeare. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Heads That Keep Talking After They Are Decapitated (and other wild Royal death stories)

In her latest book, Mortal Monarchs: 1000 Years of Royal Deaths Suzie Edge writes about the deaths of several of England’s monarchs who died in grotesque, weird, or elaborate ways. A former medical doctor now turned history, Suzie takes an indepth look at the sciene behind the deaths of Kings and Queens of England across a thousand years of history. Today, Suzie joins us on the show today to share with us the stories of the deaths of some of the most famous monarchs whose lives and deaths touched on the life of William Shakespeare including Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and James I of England. This week’s episode contains frank medical discussions of gore and violence, including disease and specifics about human demise. While our discussion is both entertaining and academic in nature, the content may be inappropriate for younger listeners. If you are listening in a classroom or where there are child ears present, we recommend you listen to the episode first before sharing it. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


1582: David Ingram Walks from Mexico to Nova Scotia

In 1567, a young English sailor named David Ingram signed up to work on a ship captained by English privateer John Hawkins. They would travel up and down the coasts of Africa and Mexico raiding and trading goods. In November of 1567, Ingram found himself and close to a hundred of his fellow crewmates stranded off the coast of Mexico, in a city called Tampico, just south of the present day Texas/Mexico border. Seeking to avoid capture by the Spanish, Ingram and close to two dozen of his shipmates started walking North. By October of 1568, a French fishing vessel picked up Ingram and just two of his original party of travellers off the coast of Nova Scotia. 13 years later, Ingram’s account of what happened to himself and those travellers from Tampico to Nova Scotia was written down by Sir Francis Walsingham and published by Richard Hakluyt in his bookThe Principall Navigations Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation of 1589. Since then, the veracity of Ingram’s story has been debated by scholars across the globe. Today, our guest, Dean Snow, is here to share his research into Ingram and the famous walk from Mexico to Nova Scotia that defends Ingram’s journey as accurate, all of which is cataloged in Dean’s latest book, The Extraordinary Journey of David Ingram. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Thomas Kyd inspires a young William Shakespeare to write plays

In his latest book, Shakespeare’s Tutor, Darren Freebury Jones explores the unsung history of Thomas Kyd as a master playwright who belongs in the canon of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Lyly as one of the greatest playwrights of the Elizabethan Era. Darren writes that along with Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, specifically, paved the way for Shakspeare to be a successful playwright. While it makes sense for a newcomer on the scene, as Shakespeare was in the 1580s, to reach for adaptations of the work of established playwrights to launch his career, Darren points out that William Shakespeare continued to use and be influenced by the work of Thomas Kyd not only after Kyd’s death in 1594, but even after Shakespeare was independently established as a successful playwright in London. To share with us the often overlooked history of Thomas Kyd, and his influence on Shakespeare, is our returning guest, and respected friend, Darren Freebury Jones Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Plays Performed at Universities and How They Competed with the Playhouses

The theaters of the Globe, the Curtain, and the Swan all resided in parts of London considered outside of the law and housing disreputable players. In a strange twist of irony for Shakespeare’s England, however, one of the most highbrow places in society also held dramatic performances in high esteem and that is the university. New establishments for England, colleges like Cambridge and Oxford produced so many professional playwrights for the 16th century that several of them banded together to become known as the university wits. Here this week to help us understand the role of players at major universities as well as who it was that performed there, and how these dramatic presentations interacted with those of Shakespeare is our guest and author of a new publication on University Dramas in Early Modern England, Daniel Blank. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Did your barn float away? Floods, Storms, and Frozen Rivers in the 17th Century

Shakespeare mentions a “weather-cock” in his plays Merry Wives of Windsor, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Love’s Labour’s Lost, which is a kind of weather vane used for measuring wind direction. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, astronomers Tycho Brahe and David Fabricus kept daily weather diaries noting details like the rain, snow, and temperature for their respective parts of Europe. But these two astronomers were far from the only people watching the weather in the late 16th and early 17th century. Other diarists including Haller Wolfagang, and Ralph Josselin, would keep similar diaries. From these notes we learn a description of the weather on specific days as well as exactly when and where major weather events like floods or even solar eclipses would have occurred. Since keeping data about the weather in the 16th century was happening before instruments like weather radar were in existence, it’s fascinating to look back and discover how the study of weather and even weather predictions were happening for Shakespeare’s lifetime. Here this week to share with us the details of meteorology for turn of the 17th century is our guest and expert historian on weather, Martin Rowley. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Mandrakes That Scream and Look Like People Was An Elaborate 16th Century Scam

Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, talks about the shrieking mandrake while Henry IV and Henry VI use the word mandrake as an insult. These very real plants took on legendary qualities due in part to the chemicals in their makeup which make them useful for anesthetics. Our guest this week is an expert in historical plants and historical methods of growing them and we are delighted this week to welcome Michael Brown to the show, the self-styled Historic Gardner, to share with us about the history of mandrakes. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Writing letters in Renaissance England using special tricks and antiquated tools

There are many examples of letter writing from Shakespeare’s plays, including letters getting lost in transit and even examples of letter forgery! While many of the examples from Shakespeare’s plays about letters are amplified to be more entertaining on stage, they represent real history about how letters were written and delivered for the life of William Shakespeare. Here today to help us explore the tools used to write a letter, and special tricks like letter locking and sealing a letter, is our guest and co-curator of the Letterwriting in Renaissance England exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Alan Stewart. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.