Musicians at the tavern. From the Roxburghe Ballads. University of Victoria Library.

The theater has always sparked scandalous stories* of backstage passion, real or imagined. One story involving Shakespeare circulated among the law students, and was recorded on 13 March 1602 in the diary of John Manningham.

Duke Vincentio: Shall we thus permit
A blasting and a scandalous breath to fall
On him so near us?
Measure for Measure (5.1.121)

Close

Upon a time when Burbidge played Richard III there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him that, before she went from the play, she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard the Third.

Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then, message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third.

More rumors

Did Shakespeare enjoy more than John Davenant's hospitality at the Crown Tavern in Oxford? There is a legend that he shared the bed of the proprietor's wife, and on one of his frequent stops between Stratford and London (sometime in June or July 1605) fathered her fourth son, William.

The story did not surface until well after Shakespeare's death, and there is no evidence to support it; certainly, Shakespeare never publicly acknowledged William Davenant as his son, nor did he mention him in his will. The rumour seems to have originated with Davenant himself, born of his rather extravagant claim that "he writt with the very spirit that Shakespeare [did]."

Footnotes

  1. A response to scandal

    Duke Vincentio: Shall we thus permit
    A blasting and a scandalous breath to fall
    On him so near us?
    Measure for Measure (5.1.121)