Shakespeare’s Plays with Hidden Meanings
How it works
Shakespeare hid facts about his real life in his most famous writings: Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet. The famous humor, the many double entendres, and the mysterious Rosaline all go far beyond what is written on the page. These aspects of Romeo and Juliet, among others, contribute to the mystery of the way Shakespeare writes. By analyzing three aspects of Shakespeare’s writing: his inconspicuous jokes, his character development, and his complex vocabulary, it can be determined that Shakespeare wrote his plays with hidden meanings that relate to his real life; leading to a far deeper understanding of the text, and of Shakespeare himself.
Rosaline is in fact a characterization of Shakespeare’s first love: Anne Whateley. There are many similarities, including their name; Anne’s middle name is “Rosaline”. Shakespeare was going to get married to Anne, “In the Episcopal Register at Worcester under 27 November 1582 there is the following sentence: ‘item eodem supradicto die similes emanavit licencia inter Willielmum Shaxpere et Annam Whateley de Temple Grafton’” (Beach Combing). (http://www.strangehistory.net/2012/10/29/shakespeares-first-anne/). This shows that Anne was Shakespeare’s first love, like Rosaline was Romeo’s first love, because Shakespeare got a marriage license for him and Anne, before Anne Hathaway. Also, Anne and Rosaline are both nuns; although in Romeo and Juliet, Rosaline was not able to get married, but in real life, Anne was. We never actually see Rosaline during the play–she is only mentioned–but this is yet another similarity, because there is no proof that Anne Whateley exists. This hidden metaphor is important because it gives the reader a far deeper understanding of the way Shakespeare feels about his first true love, the way Romeo felt about Rosaline. Anne Whateley, although not proven to exist, lives on through Shakespeare’s play, as Rosaline.
How it works
As a bit of humor, the serving boy could not read the list of party guests. Shakespeare must have thought this was funny, because his father and mother were illiterate, while he could read and write. William-shakespeare.info states that: “John Shakespeare (father of the Bard) was totally illiterate, he used glovers’ compasses as his signature” (Linda Alchin). (http://www.william-shakespeare.info/william-shakespeare-biography-mother-and-father.htm). This gives insight into Shakespeare’s life, showing the reader that he felt he had surpassed his father. When Mercutio dies, he says: “Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch” (William Shakespeare). Well, he dies from said scratch, which inevitably caused a great amount of laughter in the audience. This type of humor is called understatement, and it makes sense that Shakespeare would brighten up such a dark part of the story, Mercutio’s death, with this humor. Humor was Shakespeare’s way of expressing himself, even if no one catches it.
The last scene of Romeo and Juliet is a very tragic scene, but if you look deeper, you find that Shakespeare could not help himself from hiding one last double entendre. A double entendre is when a phrase has a written meaning, but also a second hidden meaning; in this case, and in most Shakespearian double entendres, it is a hidden sexual inuendo. In the last scene, Juliet says: “O happy dagger, this is thy sheath. There rust and let me die” (William Shakespeare). Shakespeare is making a Latin sex joke; the English word ‘sheath’ translates to the Latin word ‘vagina’. Also, as stated by Paul Anthony Jones: “in 16th and 17th century English die could also be used as a euphemism meaning ‘to achieve sexual climax’” (Paul Anthony Jones). (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/20-words-william-shakespeare-used-completely-differently-to-you/). Now it is obvious what Juliet was actually saying, or more accurately, what Shakespeare was implying. This leads to a far deeper understanding of Shakespeare, as it gives a closer look at the things he would write in his plays, and possibly do in real life. Shakespeare was a naughty old man who could not help but hide double entendres in his plays.
When Shakespeare died, the only thing he left to his wife was his ‘second best bed’. Shakespeare.org.uk quotes Shakespeare’s last will and testament to say: “Item I gyve unto my wife my second-best bed with the furniture” (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust). (https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/william-shakespeare/second-best-bed/). This is the only time he mentions Anne Hathaway in his will, and he only gives her one item; the ‘furniture’ is the bedsheets and bedframe that complete the bed. However, the second-best bed would have been their marriage bed, and the one that he and his wife slept in every night, because the best bed was reserved for the guest room. In act 1, scene 5, Juliet says: “If he be married: My grave is like to be my wedding bed” (William Shakespeare). This can be understood as: “if he gets married, my death will mean my marriage bed”, which correlates to after Shakespeare got married, when he died, he gave his wife his marriage bed. Realizing this will give a much deeper understanding that even long before he died, Shakespeare always planned to give his wife his second-best bed in his will. Shakespeare’s gift of the second-best bed was not merely an afterthought, but an act of love.
It might seem that all these similarities are just coincidences, but in actuality, Shakespeare was very smart and purposefully wrote every small detail to perfection. Natasha Bertrand says on Business Insider: “William Shakespeare had an estimated IQ of 210” (Natasha Bertrand). (https://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-40-smartest-people-of-all-time-2015-2#40-richard-rick-rosner-1). This shows that he would catch any mistakes and would not let a single detail be wrong. Also, it cannot be a coincidence that he gave his wife his second-best bed as well as Juliet saying she will give her bed when she dies, because Shakespeare wrote both, and made the connection between the two. Shakespeare would have been really good at thinking ahead and planning out strategy, because he played chess, and he even wrote a scene to extreme detail about it. “Shakespeare wrote this chess scene composed of 64 words (like 64 squares on a chess board) in 8-line verse lines (8 rows and 8 files, just like a chess board). Each section is arranged in two equal parts of 32 words (like 32 pieces in a chess game)” (Bill Wall). (http://www.chessmaniac.com/chess-and-shakespeare/). This extreme detail gives the reader a better understanding of what Shakespeare is trying to say, and inevitably gives the play more depth and complexity. Although this seems coincidental, Shakespeare was a master of thinking ahead and connecting everything through writing.
Shakespeare’s jokes, characters, and vocabulary show the similarities between himself and his plays, allowing the reader to fully understand the way he writes. He writes with double entendres, extended metaphors, and a little bit of humor. Of course, he also writes with passion, joy, and wisdom. Shakespeare famously wrote in Twelfth Night, ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them’, but through the years, he managed to have all three.