Was Shakespeare bipolar?

The author of this article at Online Opinion seems to think so. And it’s a vaguely intriguing idea too; after all, lots of creative people live and experience reality rather closer to the edge than most of the rest of us. But there’s an almost complete absence of evidence for the claim, as author Cireena Simcox concedes in passing, although the concession doesn’t stop her from making the claim anyway.

Simcox argues that the sudden disappearance of Shakespeare’s father John from Stratford public life might be explained by the onset of mental illness (inherited by William), and that William’s seemingly bizarre bequeathing of their “second-best bed” to his wife Anne provides further evidence. But the most commonly accepted explanation for Shakepeare’s bequest is this:

Shakespeare’s will, still in existence, bequeathed most of his property to Susanna and her daughter. He left small mementos to friends. He mentioned his wife only once, leaving her his “second best bed” with its furnishings.

Much has been written about this odd bequest. There is little reason to think it was a slight. Indeed, it may have been a special mark of affection. The “second best bed” was probably the one they used. The best bed was reserved for guests. At any rate, his wife was entitled by law to one third of her husband’s goods and real estate and to the use of their home for life.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Nicholas Gruen
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Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
15 years ago

Gives a Shakespearian resonance to the fact that in Kath and Kim, Sharon is Kimmoi’s second best friend.

david tiley
15 years ago

And done without a trace of humour.

Personally I think there is an obvious reason why Shakespeare wrote tragedies and comedies. I know there is no evidence for this, but the very notion that one brain could be capable of those varied moods is ridiculous.

It is obvious that Shakespeare had two heads.

cireena simcox
cireena simcox
15 years ago

I’ve only just discovered Club Troppo and was rather gobsmacked to find my article on Shakespeare quoted. Perhaps its not acceptable to join in a blog on my own article but I shall anyway:
1) This is actually directed to the blogger who stated that the article was written “Without a trace of humour”. Admittedly I didn’t throw in the one about Shakespeare and Marlowe and the man with bow-legs. But, people, the whole article was written with tongue very firmly in cheek. The very thought of even a small bat in that celebrated belfry was enough to cause apoplexy in the ranks of the staunch Shakesperians when I originally wrote it.
2) That blasted 2nd best bed seemed to cause more consternation than anything else. The wretched thing has been part of the public record for hundreds of years, yet people seemed to imagine I was including some arcane fact I thought would clinch the argument. Scholars have puzzled and pondered it for years as it doesn’t seem to fit with the accepted (and largely, dare I say it, apocryphal) persona of our Sweet William. Once again, not on a par with “Did you hear the one about…?” but I considered it somewhat amusing to tag it as a product of a manic high.
3)Of course I have no empirical evidence. We don’t even have empirical evidence that the picture we all identify as William doesn’t actually portray his best mate, either.However, deconstruction of the “problem” play Hamlet has always been difficult for academics who have thus come up with many theories. If everyone would just forget about that damned bed and focus on the parts of the play which were quoted then we really would have something to argue about.
4)My reason for putting what turned out to be a very skittish cat amongst all the rather staid pigeons was more whimsical than scholastic, but nevertheless valid.
5) My knowledge of bi-polar disorder probably even exceeds my knowledge of Shakespeare:- I have had it since age 12.
Finally…now that we’ve got all that sorted…you up for another article on, say, whether Shakespeare’s homosexual lover was actually the Earl of Southampton or the pot-boy down at his local pub?