William Shakeshafte, Player

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


On 3 August 1581, the Lancashire gentleman Alexander Hoghton made a will which mentions a servant named “William Shakeshafte”. Many recent biographies of Shakespeare, including Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World, believe that this record refers to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon Avon in Warwickshire, then aged seventeen, while other biographies flatly disagree. Defining questions of Shakespeare’s religious, geographical, and dramatic affiliations, it is perhaps the most important crux of Shakespeare’s early biography.

This essay offers fresh factual information which bears on that crux. It reconsiders a rival candidate to be Shakeshafte, the William Shakeshaft of Preston and Cadley (fl.1562-1609) who is recorded in Preston at the date of the will. It starts by briefly reviewing the current state of the debate around the Shakeshafte theory. It then offers biographical sketches of the ten annuitants other than Shakeshafte, putting them into the context of the list of servants given by the will, and looking at how that list is structured. Then, it moves to describing the William Shakeshaft, or rather William Shakeshafts, recorded in Preston in 1582, and their multiple possible links to the will. Building on work by Glyn Parry, it argues that Shakeshaft has multiple links to the Hoghtons; and to some of the other annuitants; and also has himself a possible involvement in drama.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023


  • Shakespeare, Catholic, Lancashire, Religion, Mystery Plays, Biography, Local History, Shakeshafte


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