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Shakespeare the greatest playwright England has known and possibly the greatest playwright the world has known represents something of a mystery.

At some time or another most of us have been subjected to Shakespeare when he have not really wanted to be subjected to it. This is not a good way of endearing anything to anyone. Worse still are those vain attempts to make Shakespeare 'hip' by updating the plot in some manner. This usually means Macbeth in a pair of ripped jeans but still spouting the same archaic lines at the sort of speed which I defy anyone to keep up with let alone gather any nuance without having read the thing to death. In effect it is theatre for an 'educated elite' which I don't think was the original idea. The reverse is when some soap-writer comes on the television and says 'in all seriousness I think, personally, if Shakespeare were alive today he would be writing soap-operas.' These people always think personally as if others upon the planet have a process of collective thinking in some manner. He could well be, the difference is they would be good.

Mary represented the distillation of a long line of knightly ancestors

Every word the fellow wrote has been analysed and tweaked endlessly to fit in with different ideas as moral and political climates change. There is a moment in one of the Star Trek episodes where a Klingon announces he prefers to read Shakespeare in the original Klingon. Not far from the truth.

We all have a favourite quote from the Bard (even if you do not know you have). The mans plots have been recycled endlessly (possibly the best known is, The Forbidden Planet, a cult sci-fi movie which introduced the world to Robbie the Robot, who later appears in Lost in Space. This film being based on The Tempest. That is a must read.)

Well how does the greatest playwright the world has ever known fair when it comes to the great smoking public.

Not too well to be honest.

However he does get a mention, why else the article.

Players, Shakespearian Series [1917] 25 cards in the series, 21 horizontal 4 vertical.

Card One begins with the 'Birth room' stating Shakespeare was born April 23, 1564.

The nan himself.

This is actually a best guess birthdate but the card states it as a fact.

Card two must get a mention because it has the most strange of details in it. Parked outside the birthplace is a modern (remember this is 1917) motor vehicle. Quite why the car is there is a mystery to me, as all other cards strive to maintain a period feel. It is not even a small car.

To be fair I have noticed the odd car in a number of sets which might not be actually benefiting from the presence of the contraption and it could well have been a game the illustrators were playing on the cards, rather like the Easter Eggs of programmers today and the idea that policemen try to work in the word 'walnut' into any court testimony. Or maybe it was an early attempt to bring Shakespeare closer to the people.

Anyway, It is also where we learn of Shakespeare's hometown is Stratford-upon-Avon.

I do not want to get to cynical this early in the article but Stratford-Upon-Avon has become pretty famous as the birthplace of Shakespeare and they should be darn grateful for that. Rather like an actor that spent their entire wearisome life playing one role, Stratford exists because of this link and has made a darn good living out of being the very essence of Ye Olde Tea Shoppe culture that chokes England as we head into another millennium and makes it so jolly to visit (grammar police are swopping on that last sentence to seal the area off). It is nice but really they should go the whole hog, move the population out and call it Shakespeare World and turn it into the theme park it really wants to be.

The 5th card in the series introduces us to William's mother, Mary Arden. It was from her that William inherited his great intellect as Mary represented the distillation of a long line of knightly ancestors. The card says there is no known portrait of this woman and manages to dismiss William's father as coming from good yeoman stock.

This brings us to perhaps the greatest mystery of William Shakespeare. Exactly who he was.

Amazingly when he was alive there was no great complication as to who he was, he was William Shakespeare the playwright. Ben Johnson knew him well and respected him greatly but as time passed somehow Shakespeare merged into the background to such an extent some people believe he never existed and that someone else entirely wrote the plays.

Shakespeare father turns out to be a deal more complicated than the card is letting on. He was one of an elite group of men that actually ran Stratford at the time. When William was 13 his father, John, ran into a deal of trouble as an illegal dealer in fleece wool and black-market money lender (20 per cent). His friends gathered around him for nine years before John was finally expelled from the local council.

Card 10 introduces us to the other woman in Shakespeare's life, Anne Hathaway. Again we are informed there is no surviving representation of his wife although it is known she was some years his senior. Indeed William was a minor when he married. So why the hurry? The card fails to mention it was something of a shotgun wedding.

By card 12 Anne has died (1623) but not before bearing three children, a son (Hamnet) who died young (actually aged 11 of an unknown ailment in 1596) and two daughters, Susannah and Judith.

When Hamnet died William had no heir and he changed his will, leaving his wife only 'the second best bed.' From this many have determined he was a mean spirited fellow but the truth being it stopped the Shakespeare estate falling into the hands of Anne's brothers. Leaving her the bed he was sure in the knowledge his eldest daughter would look after her so it was not the gesture of a mean man more a concerned one.

Shakespeare life meant he was separated from his family for long periods

Card 14&15 deals with the Globe theatre, something the acting fraternity have been obsessed with for many years now (especially because of the rebuilding project.) It burnt down in 1618 during a performance of Henry VIII. The card fails to tell us if Shakespeare was acting in that particular play that night although it does say he did act in many of his plays.

Card 16 shows Shakespeare's house, The New Place. William restored the property in his hometown after his return from London. The card explains that it was in this building that Shakespeare's daughter received the queen of Charles I.

Card 17 deals with the 3 known portraits of Shakespeare there is no discussion as to the viability of these portraits as representations of the man. Interestingly there are a number of portraits of Shakespeare but nobody knows if any really are him and this has probably added greatly to the idea he never really existed or is a man of great mystery.

Shakespeare died April 23, 1616 (there is a certain tidiness about dying on your birthday). Note also that his wife outlived William, despite the premature announcement of her death on card 12. Card 18 discusses the Monument at Holy Trinity Church, Stratford.

Shakespeare's death is not the end of the series (which is heartening for all those with religious leanings). Instead card 22 depicts Mary Ardens house. It also explains that William was the third child of Mary & John Shakespeare. He was also their eldest son.

Actors strutting and fretting about the stage. The Globe in this instance

Actually the card fails to mention he was their oldest surviving son.

So there you have it, a set devoted to Shakespeare and mention of just one play. If the globe had not burnt down during the performance perhaps that would have not been mentioned.

So there you have it one of the few sets which deal with Shakespeare and a set as interesting for the things it deals with as the things it does not deal in. Either way it is a popular set and deserves to be just for tackling the topic and being affordable.