Shakespeare Got Rich Price Gouging The Hungry During A Famine
Everyone reading this secretly fantasizes about becoming a writer. The only question is: Can you afford the writer’s wild life, knowing that the actual process of writing doesn’t guarantee you any money? The question was even more serious historically, when poverty hit harder, and so many famous authors could only write because they had family money.
William Shakespeare’s parents were modestly wealthy, enough to give him a good start. Before his acting career started, he then earned more through various sorts of non-literary business. He invested in real estate, soon owning a farm of over 100 acres and several other properties and collecting rent on them all. He made money giving out loans. The authorities went after him for tax evasion.
Authorities also went after him for hoarding grain during a time of shortage (in the 16th century, there was a better-than-even chance that any year picked at random was a time of shortage). He bought malt and barely and stored them, which was a wise move for anyone with a family. He then sold the grain when the following year’s harvest was bad, at prices that were inflated enough to warrant criminal investigation.
A lot of this came to attention around a decade ago, when some Shakespeare scholars published the info as part of a paper studying how the themes of food insecurity and land influenced his plays. This wasn’t brand-new info, however, but rather long-established facts that people tried to forget. A Shakespeare monument in Stratford has stood for the past two centuries, showing the man holding a quill pen. For three centuries before that, the monument in the same spot instead showed him holding a sack of grain.
A lot of people’s first view of Shakespeare is some rich noble writing for royalty. Later, we learn that he was just another goofy author writing for the masses for whatever they’d pay him. Maybe our first instinct had a hint of truth to it.
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