One of William Shakespeare's most frequently quoted lines is "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."Maybe the Bard should have written, "The first thing I need to do is hire a good tax lawyer."
Academics at Aberystwyth University in Wales say Shakespeare was one of Warwickshire's largest landowners, that he illegally stockpiled food in times of famine and sold it back to tradesmen at inflated prices and that he faced tax evasion charges.
"Shakespeare is remembered as a playwright, but there was no copyright then and no sense that his plays could generate future income," Jayne Archer, a researcher in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth, told The Sunday Times of London. "That drove him to dodge taxes, illegally hoard [food] and act as a money-lender."
Archer and her colleagues Howard Thomas and Richard Marggraf Turley combed through historical archives to uncover details of Shakespeare's parallel life. The shady businessman persona, Archer told the Christian Science Monitor, was purposely ignored and "redacted from history so that Shakespeare the creative genius could be born."
But, says Archer, we shouldn't judge him too harshly. "Remembering Shakespeare as a man of hunger makes him much more human, much more understandable, much more complex," she said.
Tax-troubles-on-Avon: So what do the Bard's run-ins with the British tax collector say about him?
Author Graham Phillips recounts the tax charges:
Nov. 15, 1597: Documents in the Public Records Office in London record that tax collectors in Bishopsgate in East London (where Shakespeare was living in a small rented room) list Shakespeare the playwright as being sought by the authorities for failing to pay five shillings. This would probably be the equivalent of around £100 today. (Public Records Office, Exchequer, King's Remembrancer, Subsidy Roll, E.179/146/354.)
Oct. 1, 1598: In London, Shakespeare is again wanted for tax evasion in Bishopsgate. This time a warrant is issued for his apprehension for the non-payment of 13 shillings and 4 pence (about £250 by today's standards). More interesting still is that the Exchequer tax records estimate the total assets of William Shakespeare the playwright – that is everything he supposedly owned in all the world - as valuing only £5. (Much less than £2000 by today's standards). (Public Records Office, Exchequer, King's Remembrancer, Subsidy Roll, E. 179/146/369.)
Oct 25, 1598: In Stratford-upon-Avon a Richard Quiney writes to Shakespeare asking for a loan of £30 - around £12,000 by today's standards. (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Records Office, MS. ER 27/4.) The tax went unpaid until 1600, when an unnamed benefactor in Winchester eventually settled the debt on Shakespeare's behalf, although in Stratford he continued to grow richer, within a couple of years buying a further 107 acres of land and a cottage.
Maybe Shakespeare's tax troubles will earn him a few more fans among those Americans cursing our tax system and the Internal Revenue Service this filing season.
If you finish your taxes soon, you can spend your extra time catching up on some of the Bard's collected works.You also might find these items of interest: