William Shakespeare, grain hoarder

by on April 2, 2013 at 9:34 pm in History, Law | Permalink

There seem to be some new results about the life of the Bard:

The Bard of Avon, who championed the downtrodden in plays like “Coriolanus,” was a conniving character in his personal life, British researchers claim — a tax dodger who profiteered in food commodities during a time of famine.

William Shakespeare was fined repeatedly for illegally hoarding grain, malt and barley for resale during a time of food shortages. He also was threatened with jail for avoiding taxes, according to the study of court and tax archives by researchers at Aberystwyth University in Wales.

The profits were channeled into real-estate deals, the researchers wrote, making Shakespeare one of Warwickshire’s largest landowners.

…It would seem that Shakespeare was drawing on personal knowledge when he wrote “Coriolanus,” a political tragedy that includes an early 1600s version of an Occupy protest against the 1%:

“They ne’er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their storehouses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily to chain up and restrain the poor.”

Adam Smith of course argued that the grain hoarder was usually welfare-improving.  Other accounts of the new Shakespeare results are here.  Here is one good article with this interesting bit:

She said the playwright’s funeral monument in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church reflected this. The original monument erected after his death in 1616 showed Shakespeare holding a sack of grain. In the 18th century, it was replaced with a more ”writerly” memorial depicting Shakespeare with a tasseled cushion and a quill pen.

So far I cannot find a draft of the original research paper itself.

Steve Reilly April 2, 2013 at 9:48 pm

His grain hoarding has been known for about a century. James Shapiro discusses it in his book Contested Will.

mw April 2, 2013 at 10:19 pm

They start by taking your grain and don’t stop until they get your assault weapons.

Mark Thorson April 2, 2013 at 10:23 pm

I doth be the NRA.

JWatts April 3, 2013 at 10:20 am

Well usually they’ll make a grab for your gold on the way, but yes that’s essentially correct.

April Fools April 2, 2013 at 10:34 pm

Me thinks ye been had.

Nick_L April 2, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Shakespeare made reference to this quite often in his plays, but fortunately his editors caught most of them..
Some of these faint corrections can be observed in the first folio..
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle grain from heaven”
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your grain” – originally a reference to corn, I believe..
“Grain!, Grain! my kingdom for grain!”

and so forth..

bdbd April 3, 2013 at 3:05 pm

You forgot “Tubers or not tubers….”

Pshrnk April 2, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Your grain doth dwindle by nibbles and nibbles
Such be the troubles with tribbles

Ethan April 2, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Does Shakespeare “champion the downtrodden” in Coriolanus? I feel like I might have read a different play

dearieme April 3, 2013 at 6:32 am

There you go, assuming that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

Steve Sailer April 3, 2013 at 12:20 am

In general, where would Shakespeare be on today’s political scale? He seems like a definite UKIP man:

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2013/04/against-envy-of-less-happier-lands.html

Tracy W April 3, 2013 at 6:42 am

The legitimacy of taxes levied by the Tudor and Stuart monarchies are rather doubtful. Hardly a case of rule by popular consent.

Frederic Mari April 3, 2013 at 6:57 am

Adam Smith in favour of grain-hoarders? Can we get some quotes? It seems to me unlike most of the extracts I read from him. I can see how he might have been against trade regulations but I doubt it’d translate into a stricto sensu “let the poor f#ckers starve”…

Tracy W April 3, 2013 at 9:39 am

Without intending the interest of the people, he is necessarily led, by a regard to his own interest, to treat them, even in years of scarcity, pretty much in the same manner as the prudent master of a vessel is sometimes obliged to treat his crew. When he foresees that provisions are likely to run short, he puts them upon short allowance. Though from excess of caution he should sometimes do this without any real necessity, yet all the inconveniences which his crew can thereby suffer are inconsiderable in comparison of the danger, misery, and ruin to which they might sometimes be exposed by a less provident conduct. Though from excess of avarice, in the same manner, the inland corn merchant should sometimes raise the price of his corn somewhat higher than the scarcity of the season requires, yet all the inconveniences which the people can suffer from this conduct, which effectually secures them from a famine in the end of the season, are inconsiderable in comparison of what they might have been exposed to by a more liberal way of dealing in the beginning of it.

http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN15.html#IV.5.42

Tracy W April 3, 2013 at 9:52 am

Adam Smith gets even stronger later on in V.5.46

No trade deserves more the full protection of the law, and no trade requires it so much, because no trade is so much exposed to popular odium.

In other words, Adam Smith was in favour of speculation in corn because he was opposed to the idea of “let the poor f#ckers starve”. He was in favour of speculation because he was a bleeding heart liberal on the side of the poor, plus he was very good at reasoning. It is appalling how many people nowadays think they are on the side of good, while advocating policies that in effect consist of “let the poor f#ckers starve”.

Kenneth W. Regan April 4, 2013 at 11:26 am

This is old-news in Shakespeare Authorship circles, where some overreachingly take this as evidence that the person known already to have been one in charge of the Lord Chamberlain’s men accounts was too occupied with commodities to write soaring lines. I for one don’t hold it against his ability to “strike the second heat” brilliantly on stories already drafted by others including the Earl of Oxford. The key first question I pose concerns the eventuality that the first seventeen Sonnets comprise a 17th-birthday cycle in 1790, beginning what became a years-long entreaty to the Earl of Southampton to marry Lord Burghley’s granddaughter == Oxford’s daughter: Why would Elizabeth’s Lord High Treasurer and former Sec’y of State entrust to a complete unknown an important job the girl’s father was perfectly able and motivated to do himself?

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