We love the richly symbolic new 2016 Shakespeare coins from the Royal Mint – but are they actually committing an act of treason against the Queen?

Shakespeare fans who are also numismatists are giddy with glee at the 2016 William Shakespeare £2 coins issued by the Royal Mint.

The three coins celebrate Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies.
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The ‘Comedies’ coin is conventional enough, depicting a Shakespearean jester or Fool.
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But the ‘Histories’ coin has rather more powerful imagery. It depicts Shakespeare’s “Hollow Crown” pierced by a short sword or dagger.
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As the coin’s other side features our present Queen, sharp-eyed commentators have wondered if this could be interpreted as being disrespectful – potentially even treasonous – towards the monarch?

My interpretation is that the Hollow Crown symbol accurately represents the overriding theme of Shakespeare’s Histories – the legitimacy of rulers and the fate of those who usurp the throne.

So, when we turn over the ‘Histories’ coin we find Queen Elizabeth II. The crown is no longer hollow – it’s worn by the longest-reigning monarch in English history, and the namesake of Shakespeare’s Queen (Elizabeth I) as well.

If possible, the ‘Tragedies’ coin is even more striking – disturbing, even. It features a very gothic-looking Skull-and-Rose motif.
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I’m intrigued to know if this is the first time a skull has appeared on a British coin?

The message of this coin is clear: it’s about death. And when we flip the coin over, we once again find the Queen’s head, and the inescapable thought that one day her reign will come to an end.

Reinforcing this notion, we’ve noticed that if you place the upper half of the ‘Histories’ coin upon the lower half of the ‘Tragedies’ coin, what results is a very sinister image of a skull apparently wearing a crown.
coins skull and crown
In Shakespeare’s time it was considered treason to speculate about the death of the monarch – and we all know what the penalty was for treason.

But I think what the ‘Tragedies’ coin is saying is that, like Shakespeare himself, Queen Elizabeth II will live on – in artefacts like the coin itself, and in the memories of those who lived through her reign.

To quote the famous couplet from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

You can order the Shakespeare Coins direct from the Royal Mint.

Check out the trailer and clips from brilliant Shakespeare comedy film BILL, arriving in UK cinemas Friday 18 September

The funniest Shakespeare film of the year is upon us.

The UK comedy heroes who brought us Horrible Histories have tackled the mystery of Shakespeare’s “lost years”.

Matthew Baynton as Bill Shakespeare in BILL

Matthew Baynton as Bill Shakespeare in BILL

 

The result is BILL, a Shakespeare film that pulls off the neat trick of being brilliantly silly while packing in enough literary and historical references to satisfy the most ardent of Shakespeareans.

Quite possibly the most entertaining Bard film since Shakespeare in Love, it’s also a razor sharp parody of Tudor costume dramas like the Elizabeth films.

Helen McCrory as Queen Elizabeth I in BILL

Helen McCrory as Queen Elizabeth I in BILL

 

But don’t take our word for it. Check out the trailer and four clips below for a taste of BILL’s many mirthful moments.

We’ve also added cinema links at the end, so you can book your tickets right now!

TRAILER:

“People will remember the name Shakespeare… twenty years from now!”

CLIP 1:

Richard Hawkins versus King Philip of Spain

“Do look me up if ever one of your Armadas pans out…”

CLIP 2:

Shakespeare gets in a spot of bother at the meat market

“No problem. Just a salad that needs… addressing”

CLIP 3:

Queen Elizabeth and the King of Spain

“I came straight here. No funny business”

CLIP 4:

Marlowe meets Walsingham

“What are you doing in a pie?”

BILL (94 minutes, Cert: PG) is released in the UK on Friday 18 September.

Go here to book tickets for BILL at Cineworld Cinemas.

Go here to book tickets for BILL at Odeon Cinemas.

Go here to book tickets for BILL at Vue Cinemas.

Go here to book tickets for BILL at Showcase Cinemas.

“Let me put it to you this way: No one has ever successfully ripped off the Folger Library…” Guarding Shakespeare author Quintin Peterson takes us into the high-security vaults of Washington D.C.’s Shakespeare treasure house

I’ve often jokingly said words to the effect of “Bloody Americans! Nicking all our Folios…” So it amused me greatly that Guarding Shakespeare’s opening scene featured a couple of Brits saying something similar. Have you encountered many English people who really do feel that way?

“I started working for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Department of Safety and Security in December 2010, after I retired from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. In the four years I have worked there, only one British gentleman who visited the library expressed that sentiment. I reminded him that all of the Folger Library’s copies of the First Folio were purchased, not pilfered.”

The next thing I noticed is that your book is virtually a How-To guide to robbing the Folger Library! Do you worry you may have given too much away?

“Not at all. Like all good fiction authors, I mix lies with the truth. Any thief who attempts to use Guarding Shakespeare as a how-to guide to try to rip off the Folger Library is in for a rude awakening. I used the Folger Library as the backdrop for a good old-fashioned heist story, but I didn’t give away the farm. I would never put the library’s security at risk for the sake of a story. I write crime fiction, noir mysteries, thrillers and simply followed the guidelines for creating an entertaining noir heist story. However, this story enlightens as well as entertains.”

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I was reminded of Ian Fleming’s note at the beginning of From Russia With Love, where he mentions the accuracy of his descriptions of people and places. Were all your Folger descriptions real or did you invent some rooms, passageways and so on?

“That certainly is not true of my depiction of the Folger Shakespeare Library, except for the common areas open to the general public. Guarding Shakespeare is part fact, part fancy. Like I said, I mix lies with the truth.”

Apart from the main conspirators, how many of the characters are real Folger people? I noticed you gave yourself a cameo role…

“Characters in the book who have anything to do with the plot are purely fictitious. The rest are actual people the fictional characters either interact with in passing, or who witness the actions of the fictional characters. Fact and fiction collide. It’s also my way of acknowledging coworkers.”

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I didn’t appreciate until fairly recently how important the Folger is as a storehouse of Shakespeare treasures and a centre of study. Your book conveys a sense of it as a place of almost religious significance…

“It is. People from around the globe come to the Folger to either work with rare materials housed there or to appreciate the various exhibitions on display in the Great Hall. One of the best exhibits was Manifold Greatness: The Life and Afterlife of the King James Bible. The exhibit consisted of various King James Bibles – one owned by Queen Elizabeth I, another by Elvis Presley, which he’d acquired from the Estate of Frederick Douglass, et al. And yet always on display in the Great Hall, no matter what exhibit is featured, is one of the Folger’s 82 First Folios. It occurred to me that the two most influential books of the English language were on display together. For the first time, perhaps…”

Another Ian Fleming comparison is the audacious scheme to heist Fort Knox in Goldfinger. Has anyone ever actually succeeded in robbing the Folger in real life?

“Let me put it to you this way: No one has ever successfully ripped off the Folger Library.”

Folger_MacBeth

I know that real-life criminal gangs are increasingly targeting rare books, but the target in Guarding Shakespeare isn’t actually a book, is it?

“No. Nefarious businessman Rupert Whyte describes the MacGuffin – the object of desire – as something so small, all protagonist Special Police Officer Lt. Norman Blalock need do is put it in his shirt pocket and then just walk out of the Folger Library.”

And it does seem entirely plausible that the Folger could have acquired some amazing Shakespeare items without anyone realising quite what they were…

“Yes. In my novel, the object of desire is hidden inside of a jewelry box the Folger Library recently acquired.”

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You also touch on the frightening idea of what would happen if an unstable employee went berserk in the Folger. It’s a chilling reminder that Shakespeare books and artefacts are vulnerable to vandalism – as well as the kind of cultural terrorism practiced by IS.

“Yes. It’s one of the reasons why the Folger Library has its own Department of Safety and Security, not only to safeguard the collection, but its employees and visitors as well.”

Finally, can you tell us one mind-blowing fact about the Folger that didn’t make it into your book?

“The underground complex of the Folger Shakespeare Library is a bunker. In that bunker along with priceless treasures is the Special Collection, consisting of works of fiction depicting scene(s) inside of the Folger Library or that merely make mention of the library. Guarding Shakespeare is among them. However, it is the only work of fiction that is actually about the Folger Library. My novel has gone where no crime fiction has gone before.

Folger Board Room Table

“On Thursday, 23 April, 2015, I autographed 30 copies of Guarding Shakespeare for the Folger Shakespeare Memorial Library’s Board of Governors, and inscribed each book: ‘All the world’s a stage…’

“Coincidentally, 23 April is Shakespeare’s birthday, but it is also the day I retired from the Metropolitan Police Department. D.C., five years ago, after more than 28 years of public service. It was a great day.”

UK readers order Guarding Shakespeare here.

US readers order Guarding Shakespeare here.

“Shakespeare was an alien!” BBC historian Dr Lucy Worsley solves controversial Shakespeare authorship question with sensational Twitter reveal…

Historian Dr Lucy Worsley has apparently confirmed what scholars have suspected for decades, if not centuries – namely the fact that Earth’s greatest-ever author was in fact of extra-terrestrial origin.

Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid writes: It was just a regular Tuesday night as I settled down to watch BBC4′s Tales From The Royal Wardrobe presented by Dr Lucy Worsley, the ebullient Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces.

Dr Worsley is known for her irreverent sense of humour, as well as her penchant for dressing in historical costume whenever possible, and the programme treated Shakespeare fans to a thorough investigation of the magnificent and highly symbolic clothing of Queen Elizabeth I.

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At one point, Dr Worsley revealed that in 1599 (the year Shakespeare wrote Henry V, As You Like It, Julius Caesar and Hamlet), Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Wardrobe contained a staggering 1,326 dresses, taking up an entire London city block.

Although some of Her Majesty’s undergarments have survived the passage of four centuries, none of her dresses are with us today. I promptly posted this fact on the Shakespeare Magazine Twitter feed, adding the line “So, not much hope for Shakespeare’s notebooks, then…”

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This quickly saw some good-humoured replies from readers alluding to the so-called ‘Shakespeare Authorship Question’. But it wasn’t until the following morning that Dr Worsley herself entered the fray with the following Twitter bombshell:

“well actually both [Shakespeare and Elizabeth] were alien beings from space, obvs. NASA have proof but have covered up.”

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As Shakespeareans around the world responded with the words “I knew it all along!”, a spokesperson for NASA categorically denied the allegation, saying “I categorically deny the allegation.”*

To further add to the intrigue, earlier this year Dr Worsley visited the FBI headquarters in Washington DC under the pretext of meeting serial killer expert Agent Clarice Starling. However, speculation has arisen that this was in fact a cover for Dr Worsley’s real meeting with Agents Mulder and Scully, who specialise in extra-terrestrial investigations.

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An FBI spokesperson angrily refuted the claims, saying “I angrily refute the claims.”**

However, it now seems likely that literary scholars and historians alike will no longer be able to deny that William Shakespeare was indeed an alien. Case closed.

More from Dr Lucy Worsley on her official website.

Go here to watch Tales From The Royal Wardrobe on BBC4.

Lucy-Worsley

*Actually, I might have made this bit up.
**Also kind of made up.