Revealed: the rape trial that inspired Shakespeare

But what he could not have expected is that his brush with the law would be immortalised by Shakespeare as the inspiration for Measure for Measure, the playwright's tale of moral degradation and sexual hypocrisy.

Beeston, a jobbing Elizabethan actor who belonged, with Shakespeare, to one of a number of fiercely competitive theatre companies, issued a forthright denial that he had attacked Margaret White, a cloth worker's widow, on Midsummer's night, leaving her pregnant.

Research into Elizabethan court records has revealed evidence that suggests Shakespeare drew on the experience of Beeston and his chaotic appearance before Bridewell Court in writing Measure for Measure, which features a rapist and riotous court scenes.

Documents recounting the appearance of Beeston, who went on to become one of 17th century London's leading impresarios and was not averse to boasting of his sexual prowess, relate how his colleagues disrupted a hearing as he protested his innocence.

Duncan Salkeld, a senior lecturer in English at University College Chichester, who has spent nine years scouring the archive, said: "It is inconceivable that Shakespeare did not know either of the allegations against Beeston or the hearing that took place.

"It is also possible that he was at the hearing itself. We know Beeston's 'confederates' were at the court, where they behaved extremely badly. It therefore seems at least likely that this episode was in Shakespeare's mind when Measure For Measure was written two years later."

Although it is not known whether Beeston and Shakespeare were close friends, they were both members of the Lord Chamberlain's Men theatre troupe during the 1590s. But Beeston changed abruptly to a rival company, the Earl of Worcester's Men, in August 1602, barely a month after the rape allegation was made, suggesting he may have been forced out.

The evidence of Beeston's prosecution is contained in the "Minute Books" of the court of governors of Bridewell prison, a notorious establishment on the banks of the Thames at Blackfriars, and Bethlem Hospital, aka Bedlam. They are held at the Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives in Beckenham, south London.

The documents relate how White accused Beeston, who by 1617 had his own theatre company, of "forciblie" having sex with her, boasting that he had slept with "a hundred wenches". The record states how Beeston appeared on that day with his fellow "plaiers" and that the group "did very vehemnentlie demeane themselves ... and much abused the place".

The debacle seems to have worked in Beeston's favour. Despite ruling that there were grounds for Beeston to be "greatlie suspected to have committed the facte" and that he be tried for rape, it seems the allegation was allowed to lie on the court files.

Experts say the documents, published in the Review of English Studies, offer a glimpse into the events surrounding Shakespeare when he was writing his plays and how they may have affected his thinking.

Measure for Measure features a character called Lucio who admits making a prostitute pregnant. One of the protagonists, Angelo, threatens to rape another character. The play also contains a number of prison scenes, including one in which a character is sent to jail for "correction and instruction" - the motto of Bridewell.

News
people
Life and Style
healthMovember isn't about a moustache trend, it saves lives
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Extras
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities