Shakespeare Hoarded Grains And Resold It For Profit During Famine

By | April 20, 2020

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(British Library)

It's hard to think of William Shakespeare as anything but the author of some of the most stirring and populist plays of the 16th and 17th centuries, but he was also a grain hoarder, profiteer, and tax evader. Centuries after his death, Shakespeare's more cutthroat qualities were sanded down and lost to time until he became the kindly man from Stratford who wrote Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and the Scottish play.

Your ignorance of the bard's bloodthirsty business practices isn't on you; they were ignored by scholars for hundreds of years until 2013, when researchers from Aberystwyth University in Wales delivered their findings to the Hay Literary Festival in Wales, exposing the ugly truth about the world's most beloved playwright. Jayne Archer and her colleagues, Howard Thomas and Richard Marggraf Turley, combed England's historical archives for information about Shakespeare's life outside of the theater and found that when he wasn't writing the most famous plays in history, he spent most of his time hoarding grain and lending money during a dark time in England.

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(Los Angeles Times)

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In Shakespeare's heyday, the world was experiencing what we now know as the "Little Ice Age," a time of extremely cold and wet winters that ruined harvests from Europe to North America. During this trying time for Europeans, Shakespeare hoarded as much grain as possible to resell for a higher price. The researchers from Aberystwyth University explain:

Over a 15-year period, he purchased and stored grain, malt, and barley for resale at inflated prices to his neighbors and local tradesmen ... [Shakespeare] pursued those who could not (or would not) pay him in full for these staples and used the profits to further his own money-lending activities.