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That Shakespeare Life

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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.


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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.






The History of English Apples

Shakespeare uses the word “apple” in his works a total of 9 times, including references to crab apples, rotten apples, and the apple of your eye, among others. The word apple was used to describe the round, edible, fruit we know today, but could also apply to other fruits. In fact, some 16-17th century references use “apple” as a generic term for any fruit that included a nut. There’s even one expression from the Middle ages called “appel of paradis” which refers to a banana. The apple fruit features prominently in religious artwork for the 16th century, as well as being useful for cooking, apple cider, and of course, the famous Christmas beverage enjoyed in Shakespeare’s lifetime, Apple Wassail. To explore the history of apples in England, we are excited to welcome Nigel Deacon to show today, who will be sharing with us not only how apples are cooked for Shakespeare’s lifetime, but other more surprising places you might find them in the 16-17th century as well. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Science of a 16th Century Football Found at Stirling Castle

In Shakespeare’s lifetime, the game we call soccer today, known as football in Europe, was a popular in Shakespeare’s lifetime. In fact, some sources say the game of football was invented in England during the Middle Ages. These original forms of football were called “mob football” and would be played in towns and villages, involving two opposing teams, that would struggle by any means possible to drag an inflated pig’s bladder to markers at each end of town. Shakespeare mentions this game twice in his plays. In Comedy of Errors, Dromio says “Am I so round with you as you with me, That like a football you do spurn me thus?” Then in King Lear, the Earl of Kent references football again saying, “Nor tripp'd neither, you base football player?” One of these inflated pig’s bladders was actually found, in tact, in the rafters of Stirling Castle. This surviving football dates to the 16th century, and could have belonged to Mary Queen of Scots. Here today to tell us more about 16th century football, the artifact discovered at Stirling Castle, and to share the results if his own scientific experiments comparing ancient football artifacts to modern soccer balls, is our guest, historian, and scientist, Henry Hanson. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The 16th Century Bed That Sleeps 12 People

In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Act III, Sir Toby Belch uses the Great Bed of Ware in England as a measuring stick for something that is impossibly large. The Great Bed of Ware is a real bed, as it was in Shakespeare’s lifetime, that was made for travelers to use when staying at an inn. The bed itself is, as Sir Toby suggests, impossibly large, with sleeping capacity for up to 9 people! Here today to tell us about the history and importance of The Great Bed of Ware, is our guest and Curator, Furniture and Woodwork 1300-1700 at the Victoria and Albert Museum where the Great Bed of Ware is part of the collections, Nick Humphrey. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


What Was Shakespeare Really Like?

When we look back at the study of Shakespeare’s plays, the question always come to mind about how much can we know about the actual William Shakespeare from the pieces of artwork, plays, and even legal documents that survive about his life. No one has done more study of the plays of William Shakespeare nor understands more about his life in turn of the 17th century England than our guest today, Stanley Wells, President of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who joins us to share about his latest book answering the question “What was Shakespeare Really Like” Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Expletives: Exploring 16th Century Curse Words

A short notice for you ahead of today’s episode, I apologize for the general gruff sounding voice today, I am recovering from a cold and struggling through a horrible cough that threatens to take my voice completely. But never fear! As a true performance professional, the show must go on! Therefore, I am armed with three cups of chamomile tea, a large bottle of water, and an excellent audio editor who will remove any coughs. Therefore, without more ado, let’s dive in to the history. Profanity is a term we use to describe naughty words, but as a definition, profanity is anything that happens when specific religious terms get stolen from their original intent and applied with manipulated meaning. Think of words like damn or hell. They are appropriate when used in context of their biblical meaning, but offensive when you hear them in an action movie, for example. When it comes to the origin of curse words, the Latin term “profanus” actually meant “outside the temple” to signify terms that desecrated what was held sacred. If you’ve watched the tv show, Becoming Elizabeth, which is set in 16th century England, the f-word gets used liberally on that show, which surprised me and made me wonder if the f-word was, in fact, historically accurate, or if that had been added for modern flare. To find out exactly what words were expletives for Shakespeare’s lifetime, and which ones were normal for him but highly offensive to us today, we are sitting down with our guest, Jesse Sheidlower to explore the colorful world of Elizabethan language and profanities. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Potatoes First Arrived in England in the 16th Century

In the play, Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff declares “Let the sky rain potatoes!” what’s unique about this quote, despite Falstaff calling for root vegetables to rain down from the sky which is of course, weird on its’ own, but potatoes on the whole were brand new to England at the exact time Shakespeare was including this quote in his play. Merry Wives of Windsor was written towards the end of the 16th century—between 1597 and 1601. Potatoes are thought to have arrived in the late 1580s or early 1590s. Once the potato arrived in Europe it was used for medicine, grown by some gardeners for their flowers, and in 1597, the same time frame we think Merry Wives of Windsor was writtne, John Gerard added the first printed picture of the potato to Herball (although he thought that the potato was native to Virginia). Here today to help us sort through what it was like to see a potatoe for the first time, as well as how potatoes were used in Shakespeare’s lifetime is our guest and expert in the history of plants, Sally Cunningham. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Wadlow Portrait of Shakespeare

After we published our episode here on That Shakespeare Life about the Duncan portrait of William Shakespeare, I received an email from Steve Wadlow, telling me about the history of a portrait that had been hanging in his family home for years that a visiting Shakespeare scholar indicated might be William Shakespeare, and suggested Steve look into the provenance further. With no prior experience in Shakespeare history or indeed even the art world, Steve dove headlong into finding out where this painting had come from originally and exactly who the person in the picture was, since the image was strikingly similar to the Cobbe portrait of William Shakespeare. Here today to tell us what he found out and whether or not this painting is of William Shakespeare is our guest, and newly minted art historian, Steve Wadlow. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Tewskbury Mustard from Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 2

In Shakespeare’s in Henry IV, Part 2, Falstaff has the line: “his wit's as thick as Tewkesbury Mustard” (Act 2, Scene 4). Falstaff is describing his friend Ned Poins, but it presents the question of what was Tewkesbury Mustard? Turns out this particular mustard developed in a small town of England called Tewkesbury, and it was not only popular in Shakespeare’s lifetime, but during the 17th century it was considered a staple condiment in kitchens of this time period. Amazingly, the mustard has not only survived the centuries but is still being made exactly the way it was for Shakespeare’s lifetime right in Tewkesbury at the Tewkesbury Mustard Company. We are delighted to have Robin Ritchie who is founder and Mustard Master Emeritus at the Tewkesbury Mustard Company to share with us the history of this mustard, how it is made, and how you can enjoy some for yourself. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Real 17thC Canon Law in Measure for Measure

In Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, there’s a fictional court case against Claudio for extra-marital misconduct. The play separately asks the audience to pass judgement on Angelo regarding a marriage pre-contract that was known as a “Spousal” contract for Shakespeare’s lifetime. In 1604, when Measure for Measure was first performed, these cases of immoral behavior were being tried in real life in what were known as “ecclesiastical courts,” or colloquially, the “Bawdy Courts.” Many of the real people that had been brought up on charges in these bawdy court cases were members of the audience being addressed by the play’s fictional court portrayal. It was this same year that church courts started cracking down on engaged couples who were becoming secretly engaged or “bethrothed” to one another without witnesses or parental consent. Here today to tell us about the battle between civil and canon law that governed couples intending to get married and the specific changes to the canonical law that occured in 1604, is our guest and theatrical historican, Cynthia Greenwood. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Arrival of the Exclamation Point During Shakespeare's Lifetime

In his 1611 English to French dictionary, Randle Cotgrave defines the exclamation point as “the point of admiration and detestation” While credit for the original creation of the exclamation point is given to Alpoleio da Urbisaglia, the current version of the exclamation point that we know today developed between 1400-1600, during the time WIlliam Shakespeare was penning over 6000 uses of exclamation points we can find in his works. In the absence of emojis, punctuation was the way that writers communicated varying emotion and called attention to important sections of a play or story that needed to be given more oomph. Our guest this week, Florence Hazrat, has completed the book “An Admirable Point: a Brief History of the Exclamation Point” and joins us today to share some of the history of where this bit of English grammar originated and how it was being used in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England

When it comes to stepping back into the life of William Shakespeare and walking around the streets of London to see what the sights, sounds, smells, people and places were really like, no one does that better than a time traveler. In order to take just such a trip and take a short jaunt down a London street during the 16th century, we are delighted to welcome a man who is a listener favorite and longtime listener-requested guest, the history time traveler himself, and author of The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, Ian Mortimer, to the show today. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


A Fight Director Takes on Queen Margaret

One of Shakespeare’s strongest characters is Queen Margaret who, as a consequence of her husband’s bouts with insanity, finds it necessary to lead not only a country, but to stand at the helm of an entire army, leading England’s military into battle and winning. It is an important story in the history of the War of the Roses, and one that Jared Kirby and Hudson Classical Theater decided to take on this year. Jared is a celebrated fight director and took on the challenge of staging entire battle scenes on stage for this production, and he joins us today to talk with us about how Shakespeare would have staged these battle scenes in the 16th century and how it works to stay true to history when staging these plays today. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Stranger's Hall: A 16thC Home for Refugees

In the 16th century, one man from Norwich, Thomas Sotherton, wanted to encourage these refugees to settle in Norfolk, specifically, because the immigrant’s skills in textile weaving made them valuable to the economy. To that end, he setup what became known as Stranger’s Hall, where the immigrants could live and work. The property was owned by people who would have used the property for business and living accommodation, which was common practice for mediaeval merchants’ dwellings. Therefore, Strangers’ wasn’t built or established for the Strangers arriving in 1565 but was used by them as an available property. Only one known family lived in the Hall from 1567. The letter written by the family lodging at Strangers refers to it as Master Sotherton’s property in the High Street. The hall is a museum today that and we are delighted to welcomemuseum's assistant curator of social history, Bethan Holdrige, to the show today to tell us about the history of Stranger’s Hall and the impact of the influx of refugees to the area during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


The Establishment of Fort Raleigh in 1587

In 1584, Spain dominated the coasts of Central and South America, the Carribean, and modern day Florida. England, under the rule of Elizabeth I, sought to disrupt and overthrow this control by establishing colonies in the New World. Not only would these colonies help provide a buffer against Spain’s control, but it also helped set up a home base for England’s privateering, which allowed English ships to attack Spanish ships, stealing treasure and gaining control of Spanish trade routes in the region. One of England’s most famous privateers, Sir Walter Raleigh, with the blessing of Queen Elizabeth, sent a reconnaissance expedition to the New World in April, 1584, they arrived in present day North Carolina in July of 1584, and would go on to establish the first English colony in the united States, Roanoke Colony, in 1587. At this site today, Fort Raleigh, named after Sir Walter Raleigh, preserved the history of Roanoke Colony and National Park Guide Josh Nelson joins us to today to tell us about the Elizabethan history of Raleigh, North Carolina, and to share some of the archaeological finds still there today that you can see from Shakespeare’s lifetime. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


New Discoveries about the First Folio

During his lifetime, only about half of Shakespeare’s plays were available in printed versions.That meant that there were several of Shakespeare’s plays that weren’t available in printed form at all while the bard was alive. So how do we know about those plays today if there weren’t any written records? They survive through a book called the First Folio. There are at least 18 plays from Shakespeare’s works that we only have today because of the printing of the First Folio that happened in 1623. If you have heard about the printing of the first Folio then you’ll probably recognize the names Heminges and Condell, Shakespeare's friends and colleagues, who are often regarded as the authors of the First Folio. What the history shows us, however is that the making of First Folio was not done solely by two men, but instead was a collective work done by a large network of individuals that were friends, and fans of Shakespeare, as well as business men looking to capitalize on an opportunity. Our guest this week, Chris Laoutaris, has done in-depth investigative research into the history behind the making of the First Folio, that he shares in his latest book titled Shakespeare’s Book, that’s out now. We’re delighted to have Chris here today to discuss his book and to reveal a fresh perspective and some new discoveries about the people and the history that gave us the First Folio. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


Farthingales & Poofy Shorts: The World of 16th Century Underpants

Today we’re talking about undergarments! 16th –17th century fashion was rife with gorgeous and elaborate outerwear, but the underwear, hose, and supportive under clothing was just as intricate. Shakespeare’s plays from this period suggest that clothing styles were a way to identify a man’s nationality. In Much Ado About Nothing Don Pedro talks about being able to identify the Dutch, French, German, and Spanish by the cut of their clothes. While slops and short cloaks are called out in Much Ado About Nothing and the Henry plays, women’s clothing and specifically their scandalous undergarments, are mentioned, too, when Shakespeare writes about a pair of bodies, hose and sleeve, and a farthingale. 16th century English men and women had underclothing designed to deal with the practical realities of using the restroom, avoiding body odor, supportive garments like bras & menstrual pads, and there’s even record of 16-17th century lingerie. Here today to walk us through the history of undergarments for men and women in Shakespeare’s lifetime as well as night clothes, and specialty styles of practical linen for Shakespeare’s lifetime is our guest and clothing historian, Sarah Bendall. Get bonus episodes on Patreon Hosted on Acast. See for more information.


What was it like to be handicapped or disabled in 16th Century England?

In his plays, Richard III, in his Henry Plays, and even in macbeth, Shakespeare writes about medical disabilities and phsyical deformities like a hunchback, madness, blindness, and being lame. We can tell form these references that disability was present in Shakespare’s lietime but what exactly was the understanding of what a disability meant for a real person in Shakespeare’s lifetime? In order to understand the reaction of society, whether accomodations were made for disabilities, what those would have been, and how organizations like Bedlam Hopsital for the insane fit into this understanding, we are sitting down today with Jeffrey R. Wilson, author of Richard III's Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity: Shakespeare and Disability History to examine how uderstanding 16th century medical history helps characters like Richard III make more sense. 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.