The name of William Shakespeare is so powerful in the collective imagination that it’s hard to achieve a neutral stance when considering it.  So let us first imagine that all the non-literary documents connected to William Shakespeare belong to a man called John Smith.  A historian asked to examine those records and conclude what Smith did for a living, would conclude he was a successful businessman.

shakespeare businessmanBy 4 May 1597 (aged thirty-three), he was rich enough to buy New Place, the second largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon.  In January 1598 it was reported that he was looking to buy some tithes ‘in Shottery or thereabouts’.  In 1602 he bought 107 acres of land and a cottage in Chapel Lane, which he rented out.  In July 1605 he bought one fifth of the Stratford tithes for the sum of £440, which generated £60 a year income.[1]  To put these amounts in perspective, a schoolteacher at the time earned around £18 a year. For ten months, from August 1608 to June 1609, he pursued debtor John Addenbrooke, and then his surety Thomas Hornby, through the Stratford courts for the sum of £6. On 10 March 1613, he paid £140 for a share of Blackfriars Gatehouse in London.   Whatever else William Shakespeare knew how to do, he knew how to make money.


[1] £38 net after paying £5 a year to the original leaseholder and £17 to the Stratford corporation

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