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Shakespeare was a tax-dodging food hoarder?

Press Trust of India
Apr 01, 2013 at 12:40pm IST

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London: Bad Bard! William Shakespeare was repeatedly dragged before the courts and fined for illegally hoarding food during times of shortage, and even threatened with jail for evading his taxes, a new study on the famous English playwright has claimed. "There was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright - as a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximise profits at others' expense and exploit the vulnerable - while also writing plays about their plight to entertain them," said Jayne Archer, a researcher in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth University.

She worked with Richard Marggraf Turley, a professor in the department, and Howard Thomas, a professor of plant science, to study the Bard of Avon's 'other' life as a businessman and owner of arable farmland and pasture at a time when Europe was suffering famines, The Sunday Times reported. The team found documents in the court and tax archives showing he was repeatedly dragged before the courts and fined for illegally stockpiling food and was threatened with jail for evading tax payments.

"Over a 15-year period Shakespeare purchased and stored grain, malt and barley for resale at inflated prices to neighbours and local tradesmen," they said. "In February 1598 he was prosecuted for holding 80 bushels of malt or corn during a time of shortage. He pursued those who could not pay him in full for these staples and used the profits to further his own money-lending activities. Profits were channelled into land purchases. He also acquired tithes on local produce, including 'corn, grain and hay', allowing him to cream off the profits from others' manual work," they said.

Was Shakespeare a tax-dodging food hoarder?

By combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his home town.

"By combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his home town, 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," the researchers added.

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