In a new book about William Shakespeare, Dr. W. Nicholas Knight, a professor of English at UMR, pieces together evidence from the bard’s legal documents and from his family life to strengthen the case that Shakespeare was indeed the author of his plays. In the book, Autobiography in Shakespeare’s Plays , just released by Peter Lang Publishing, Knight identifies autobiographical elements in passages from several of Shakespeare’s works. He also cites numerous examples of how Shakespeare’s experiences with legal matters — including his loss of an inheritance — influenced the plots and texts of many Shakespearean plays.
Based on an investigation of Shakespeare’s legal documents from Stratford and London courts, and building on prior research on Shakespeare’s life, Knight, who is chair and professor of English at UMR, connects several legal events from Shakespeare’s life with the contents of his plays. He points out how Shakespeare’s loss of an inheritance near the beginning of his writing career influenced a variety of plays, from early works (such as Taming of the Shrew) to later ones (such as King Lear).
In addition, Knight uses information about Shakespeare’s family to draw parallels between the bard’s life and his writings. Knight points out references to Shakespeare’s mother in As You Like It and Coriolanus, his twins in Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night, and the loss of his son in Merchant of Venice and Macbeth. Shakespeare’s daughters — the recipients of his accumulated wealth — figure prominently in both King Lear and The Tempest, Knight says.
Shakespeare’s knowledge of the law served as a firsthand source for the legal content of his plays, Knight adds.
"He used his own family life, personal documents and legal problems to give impetus to his version of borrowed characters, plots, plays and history," Knight says. "These personal events, from the placement of the references, give his plays … an autobiographical initial compulsion."
Autobiography in Shakespeare’s Plays is the sixth volume in Peter Lang Publishing’s Studies in Shakespeare series. The series is edited by Dr. Robert F. Willson Jr., a professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.