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Shakespeare: tax evader and food hoarder?

A new study by researchers at Aberystwyth University found that the playwright was fined multiple times for selling food at high prices during a famine and was also threatened with prison for tax evasion.

By Staff Writer / April 1, 2013

A new study suggests that William Shakespeare (pictured) was a successful but rather unscrupulous businessman, as well as a famous playwright.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

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A new study presents some surprising evidence about legendary playwright William Shakespeare.

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Aberystwyth University faculty members Dr. Jayne Archer, Professor Richard Marggraf Turley, and Professor Howard Thomas say that Shakespeare almost went to jail for not paying his taxes and received multiple fines, as well as being prosecuted, for buying food like wheat and barley to sell to others for a higher price than the sum he bought it for during times of food shortages.

Archer researches Renaissance literature topics, while Thomas is a plant science professor, and Turley is a professor of Renaissance literature. 

“By combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his home town, Stratford-upon-Avon,” the study reads. “His profits – minus a few fines for illegal hoarding and tax evasion – meant he had a working life of just 24 years.”

Archer said the findings highlight the contrast in aspects of Shakespeare’s personality.

“Here was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright – as a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximise profits at others' expense and exploit the vulnerable while also writing plays about their plight to entertain them,” she told the Sunday Times.

She noted that the playwright may have been thinking of his children because, in a world without royalties, he had no reason to believe his plays would generate profit after his death. 

“He had two surviving daughters and would have seen himself as providing for them,” she said. “But he was acting illegally and undermining the government's attempts to feed people.”

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