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Shakespeare was ruthless profiteer and tax dodger, study says

April 01, 2013|By E. Scott Reckard
  • Portrait of William Shakespeare, who researchers say was a tax scofflaw and grain hoarder.
Portrait of William Shakespeare, who researchers say was a tax scofflaw… (Associated Press / Lefteris…)

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.

“There was no copyright then and no sense that his plays could generate future income,” Jayne Archer, one of the researchers, told the Sunday Times of London.  “That drove him to dodge taxes, illegally hoard and act as a money-lender.”

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In February 1598, Shakespeare was prosecuted for holding 80 bushels of malt or corn during a time of shortage, the researchers wrote, adding, “He pursued those who could not pay him in full for these staples and used the profits to further his own money-lending activities.”

“By combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. His profits — minus a few fines for illegal hoarding and tax evasion — meant he had a working life of just 24 years.”

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.”

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