Much has been made, in recent years, of the fact that Shakespeare apparently hoarded grain in a time of famine.

His name appears on a list, compiled in February 1598, of Stratford householders who, against orders drawn up by the Privy Council, were holding large quantities of grain. The largest holding in the area was eighteen quarters of malt; Shakespeare held ten. Only a dozen men had more than Shakespeare, according to E.K. Chambers. Shakespeare’s holding surpasses, by a considerable amount, the quantity of malt that would have been needed for household brewing purposes. Ten quarters is eighty bushels, which equates to 640 gallons of malted barley, weighing an estimated 2,720 lbs or 1.234 metric tonnes.

A sound explanation for his holding such a quantity of barley in a time of shortage is brokerage. It is good business practice to buy a commodity when it is cheap and plentiful, and sell it when it is in short supply and will fetch a good price. There is no question that Shakespeare sold grain; in 1604 he sued the apothecary Philip Rogers for thirty-five shillings and ten pence, plus ten shillings damages, to recover a small loan and the unpaid balance on a sale of twenty bushels of malt. By that time he was the owner of 107 acres of farmland, and the grain may have come from his own acreage, although it is most unlikely that he farmed the land himself. But in 1598, when he was recorded as one of Stratford’s grain-hoarders, he had no land that we know of besides the garden at New Place. A plausible explanation for his holding, therefore, is that he was acting as a broker or middle-man; he had bought the grain from a farmer at a lower price and was intending to sell it at a higher one.


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