(Patricia N. Saffran’s article appeared in Horse Directory Magazine, August 2014.)
Surprisingly, there was a 132 year interval between William of Stratford’s death in 1616 and the first Shakespeare play to be performed in that town. In 1748, the Reverend/headmaster Joseph Greene decided to hold a benefit performance of Othello to fund a remodeling of the Shakespeare monument. What was a representation of a wool merchant would be changed to that of a writer in order to promote William as the author of the Shakespeare canon. Reverend Greene had found William’s original will a year earlier, in 1747. He surmised from the will that William could not have been a writer and wrote his opinion in a letter to his friend, the Honorable John West, that the will “appears to me so dull and irregular . . . must lessen his Character as a Writer.” Greene was using Othello to bolster William of Stratford’s authenticity, but, ironically, William was not known to be a horseman or connoisseur of horses, and the play contains references to horses and horsemanship (with many more references in the other plays.) Elizabeth Dollimore of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) writes, “. . . there is no real evidence of Shakespeare owning horses . . . people saying he started out holding horses for patrons outside the theatre . . . it’s more rumor than fact!” After the benefit performance of Othello, the Shakespeare phenomenon started to take hold in Stratford-upon-Avon, with tourists visiting the town. A commemorative building for Shakespeare performances was first built in Stratford in 1769, and an official theater was erected in 1879. A resident theater company evolved into the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Both the SBT and the RSC officially oppose questioning the town’s history.