Charles Spencer, writing for the Telegraph, had a hunch. After reviewing the Royal Shakespeare Company’s trilogy of Shakespeare’s “shipwreck” plays last month, he found himself wondering whether the Bard spent his so-called “lost years” before his arrival in London, as sailor. He has now come to the conclusion that his hunch holds water, so to speak, based primarily on the work of the late Professor A.F. Falconer of the University of St. Andrews.
Professor Falconer wrote two books in the 1960s detailing his conclusion that Shakespeare was, at one time, a sailor. His Shakespeare & the Sea followed by A Glossary Of Shakespeare’s Sea And Naval Terms Including Gunnery demonstrate the depth of understanding of the nautical world evident in Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Sadly, both books are long out of print and hard to find.
Falconer wrote “It must be stressed, that Shakespeare’s knowledge of seamanship, navigation and the navy is different in kind and in degree from his acquaintance with law, medicine, music and other arts, which is of a general sort and not beyond the reach of one who is highly intelligent and versatile. But here it is professional. He is drawing on a whole body of unified knowledge in the manner of one who understands it from within.”
In addition to being a respected scholar, A.F. Falconer had also served as a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy during World War II. Sir Eric Anderson, former headmaster and provost of Eton, who had been a student of Falconer’s wrote to Spencer, “Again and again during the night watches, Falconer found the words of Shakespeare ringing in his head and began to realise that he had really known what goes on at sea. The accuracy of each reference to the sea and seamanship, and the use of sea imagery in plays that have nothing to do with the sea, convinced him that some part of Shakespeare’s missing years must have been spent as a sailor.”