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Shakespeare: Tax Dodger and Food Hoarder?

William Shakespeare, arguably one of the greatest writers ever; was also a ruthless profiteer and food hoarder?


Food has always been a form of currency, especially during times of economic strife. Over the last several years, we have witnessed the drastic shifts of food prices, causing many of us to prepare for future times of hardship. As we live through these unprecedented times, we bear witness to not only economic uncertainties, but political shifts, climate changes, and societal upheavals. All of these events shape how we perceive the world. That said, if our environment shapes and influences our perceptions of the world, wouldn’t it make sense to prepare for this uncertainty? It’s common sense, I know. Yet, there have been times in history when preparing during times of strife was frowned upon and had the potential to cause imprisonment, as a result.

Was Shakespeare a Man of His Time or a Product of His Environment?

Most notably, William Shakespeare, arguably one of the greatest writers who lived, lived during his own time of strife. He lived and wrote in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, during a period known as the “Little Ice Age,” when unusual cold and heavy rain caused poor harvests and food shortages. Surviving during this time was a struggle, and food insecurity was at the forefront of problems.

William Shakespeare is quoted as saying,

Famine is in thy cheeks,
Need and oppression starveth in thine eyes,
Contempt and beggary hang upon thy back;
The world is not thy friend nor the world’s law:
The world affords no law to make thee rich;
Then be not poor, but break it, and take this.

Romeo and Juliet (5.1.76), Romeo to the Apothecary

Shakespeare’s insights into famine were because he lived amongst it. As a wealthy landowner and successful businessman, he saw those around his struggling to survive. He invested some of his wealth into storing large amounts of grains and later sold it for inflated prices. Whether it was to prepare for long-term famine or to make a quick buck, no one really knows. What we do know is that it was illegal during the time.

Academics at the University of Wales claimed they have uncovered court documents that, during his lifetime, threatened Shakespeare with fines for illegally stockpiling food during a famine and imprisonment for tax evasion.

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According to the article:

Court and tax records show that over a 15-year period Shakespeare purchased grain, malt and barley to store and resell for inflated prices, according to a paper by Aberystwyth University academics Dr Jayne Archer, Professor Richard Marggraf Turley and Professor Howard Thomas.

The study notes: “By combining both illegal and legal activities, Shakespeare was able to retire in 1613 as the largest property owner in his home town, Stratford-upon-Avon. His profits – minus a few fines for illegal hoarding and tax evasion – meant he had a working life of just 24 years.”


While some may deem Mr. Shakespeare as a businessman for selling food at inflated prices during a time of famine, others would consider him an opportunist. He saw an opportunity in storing grains for a long-term famine and also realized it meant he could profit off of the business venture, as well. These days, one would be more likely to call Shakespeare a capitalist rather than an illegal food hoarder.

What Can We Learn From This?

As preppers, we know that when a population’s basic needs are not being met, a person will do anything to keep their family fed – even pay inflated prices. So, I ask you, what side of this scenario do you want to be on: The one who has the grains to barter and sell, or the ones begging for it at the mercy of the seller?

The only way to change how severely these types of debacles can affect us is by recognizing them for what they are and preparing for them beforehand. Knowing the possible storms that are on the horizon and preparing for them will help us stay better insulated from them. This concept is gone over in great detail in The Prepper’s Blueprint, and focuses on the importance of keeping a vigilant watch for potential hazards that are in our field of vision.

Whether or not Shakespeare was a ruthless profiteer and food hoarder, he can teach us a valuable lesson. In dire times, our food sources are a lifeline and something we should all prepare for. With the concern that many of our main food sources have peaked in productivity, in the future, we could be facing a famine of our own. Calculating how much food we will need for a long-term disaster is essential in ensuring we have everything we need for our family. While others are investing in worthless nickknacks, investing in goods can help us invest in our wealth.

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on March 18th, 2015

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