(Jennifer Schuessler’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/29; via Pam Green.)

Shakespeare biography has long circled a set of tantalizing mysteries: Was he Protestant or secretly Catholic? Gay or straight? Loving toward his wife, or coldly dismissive?

That the man left no surviving letters or autobiographical testimony has hardly helped, ensuring that accounts of his life have often relied on “one halfpenny worth of fact to an intolerable deal of supposition,” as the scholar C. W. Scott-Giles once lamented.

Only a few scraps of new material relating to Shakespeare in his lifetime have surfaced over the past century. But now, a researcher has uncovered nearly a dozenpreviously unknown records that shed clearer light on another much-discussed side of the man: the social climber.

The documents, discovered by Heather Wolfe, the curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, relate to a coat of arms that was granted to Shakespeare’s father in 1596, attesting to his and his son’s status as gentlemen.

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