Did Shakespeare Leave Stratford-on-Avon Because He Was Arrested for Poaching Deer?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about plays and playwrights and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: William Shakespeare left Stratford-on-Avon in the mid 1580s because he was arrested for poaching deer.

For centuries now, there has been one part of Shakespeare’s life that just doesn’t seem to be accounted for.

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He was married at age 18 to the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway in 1582. They had three children, born in 1583 and 1585.

The next time anyone has definitive information about Shakespeare is when he popped up on the London theater scene in 1592.

Every story that has come about to explain what happened in those seven years originated years after Shakespeare’s death, but one particular popular one involved deer poaching.

As the story goes, and this was offered up by four separate biographies of Shakespeare in the 1700s, Shakespeare, who had a grudge against Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, which was right across the river to Stratford. Shakespeare mocked Lucy in two separate plays.

So the legend is that Shakespeare was caught deer poaching on Lucy’s deer park at Charlecote and left Stratford for London to avoid punishment (an alternate to this legend includes Shakespeare being caught and whipped and then sent from Stratford).

Here’s Charlecote…

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It’s not a ridiculous proposition, in that it would explain nicely why he left his family behind, and people DID poach deer, of course.

However, the key sticking point is that Lucy did not HAVE a deer park at Charlecote.

Secondly, whipping was banned as a punishment for poaching deer in the late 16th Century.

In addition, the idea that Lucy would be the Justice over a case in which a guy poached deer off of Lucy’s property seems fishy, even for the 1500s.

Like most Shakespeare scholars, I’m just about convinced that the poaching story is just that, a story. And it’s a good one, but I just don’t buy it.

The legend is…

STATUS: Most Likely False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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