#Shakespeare400: Taxes

While I may have missed the official date for a blog post on taxes (April 15th), there has been an extension granted for Emancipation Day (set aside to commemorate the signing of the Emancipation Act by President Abraham Lincoln), moving the tax deadline to April 18.

Shakespeare understood the need for extensions for taxes, because among the the paltry collection of documents that bear his name are two tax delinquencies. The first is for 5 shillings, the second for 12 shillings:


1597-11-15: Tax record. Shakspere is named in the King’s Remembrancer Subsidy Roll as a tax defaulter in Bishopgate ward who failed to pay an assessed 5s (E. 179/146/354).

1598-10-1: Tax record. In the King’s Remembrancer Subsidy Roll, Shakspere is listed as a tax defaulter who failed to pay an assessed 13s.4d (E. 179/146/369).

In a paper titled Shakespeare’s Guide to Tax Policy: ‘Know You of This Taxation?’,  former chief counsel to the Senate Finance Committee, Michael Evans, provides a wonderful explanation of Shakespeare’s delinquencies coupled with analysis of his attitudes towards taxes as written in his plays. ShakespeareMoney

He explains that Shakespeare was one step of the tax collectors, or maybe several steps, when he moved his theater across the Thames River and hence outside London’s city limits. Shakespeare’s debts were left to be collected by a  bishop in the district where Shakespeare was then thought to reside.

“There the trail ends.” writes Evans, “with Shakespeare two years delinquent paying his taxes for 1598 and with the English tax authorities in slow but diligent pursuit.” In summarizing Shakespeare’s tax problems, Evans suggests:

One assumes that Shakespeare paid the debt and thereby got himself off the tax delinquency list, and there is no evidence, in the records of either the London area or Stratford, to indicate that Shakespeare had further trouble with the tax authorities.

Shakespeare is not alone in tangling with tax authorities.  Considering the delinquency rate for the general public in the US has been historically between 8 percent and 9 percent, Shakespeare shares a special tax delinquency status today  (2016) with roughly 256 million Americans.



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