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.

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

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

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.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to