Upstart Crow Trivia

As we all know, Upstart Crow is full of Shakespearean trivia some of it is obvious, but a lot of it isn’t  so easy to spot-so, I have been inspired to unearth 50 facts about Upstart Crow that you may not know!


  • This is the full paragraph Greene wrote on Shakespeare: ‘…for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Player’s hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a country’.
  • Susanna really was 13-years-old when Will wrote Romeo and Juliet.
  • In real life the actress who plays Susanna, Helen Monks is 23-years-old!
  • The acting troupe are based on ‘The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’ who were a company of actors lead by Richard Burbage, who performed most of Shakespeare’s plays.
  • Shakespeare’s mother and father really did live with him. Shakespeare also had a younger brother, Edmond…an unusual coincidence that ties in with Blackadder.
  • There are many lines in the show about Shakespeare only marrying Anne because ‘he got her up the duffington’. But it is true that they did marry when Anne was three months pregnant-she was 27-years-old and Shakespeare was just 17-years-old!
  • Kate and Bottom are the only two main characters in the show that are not based on real people.
  • ‘Hugger Tugger’ , a phrase used by Robert Greene to refer to homosexuality is amusingly similar to a series of children’s books about a bear called, ‘Tugger the Hugger’!
  • ‘Lady acting’ was illegal in Shakespeare’s day! Women could not appear on stage publicly-it was only with the accession of Charles II in 1660 that the position changed.
  • Robert Greene did attend Cambridge University, as did Marlowe-it was only Shakespeare who went to ‘Stratford bumbling school’ as Greene put it.
  • Condell, who we see in Upstart Crow as the lead actor of female roles, was a huge fan of William Shakespeare. Condell helped to publish, ‘The First Folio’ with John Heminge after Shakespeare’s death. They wrote of Shakespeare: ‘Read him therefore, and again and again, and if then you do not like him, surely you are in manifest danger not to understand him.’.
  • William Kempe really was a famous clown of his day, however, he eventually left the troupe-some believe he was dropped due to ‘ improvisational clowning’. Here is an original ‘advert’ for his performance in which he ‘danced from London to Norwich’.english-school-titlepage-to-william-kemp-s-nine-days-wonder-published-in-1600.jpg
  • The line, ‘which farmyard animal you rodgered at university’ was almost cut! The scene was retaken with an unknown alternative line, which it was reported didn’t get a laugh-so the original line was left in.
  • Both Will and Anne are heard to proclaim ‘Zounds!’ which is a very old curse, thought to have been derived from ‘God’s Wounds’ and was considered a vulgar reference to Jesus Christ at the time.
  • It is rumoured that Shakespeare and Greene fell out whilst writing the play: A Knack to Know a Knave, which isn’t officially attributed to anybody.
  • Greene died in 1592-which is the year Upstart Crow is set in. His famous ‘Upstart crow’ jibe was actually published posthumously in ‘Greene’s Groatsworth of Witte’.
  • The song sang by Miss Saucequickly to Florian is actually a parody of a song at the end of Twelfth Night.
  • Despite the entire first episode being based on Romeo and Juliet, the line Shakespeare uses when Florian dies is actually taken from Hamlet.
  • The line ‘…and make your Codpiece cry woof woof?’ is a reference to Lord Flashheart, from Blackadder, played by the late, great, Rik Mayall.
  • Many characters proclaim ‘but soft’ throughout the series, a Shakespearean saying that simply means ‘be quiet’ or ‘let’s wait and see.’.
  • When Burbage is making conversation at Florian’s farewell feast he mentions John Heminge, the man who published ‘The First Folio’ with Condell.
  • Burbage’s Theatre troupe frequently mention performing, ‘Gammer Gurton’s Needle’ which is the second earliest English comedy.
  • Bottom’s first name is Ned just like his Mid Summer Night’s Dream counterpart220px-Rgreene
  • This is the only surviving ‘portrait’ of greene-it is a wood cut and is believed to be of Greene writing from beyond the grave in his shroud about Shakespeare.
  • Kate’s story, closely follows the film, ‘Shakespeare in Love’, with the obvious omittance of a romance between her and Will.
  • Although there are some hints that Will and Kate hold a candle for each other: In episode four Kate says, ‘ So much more satisfying to consummate a passion poetically betwixt pure white sheets of paper, rather than physically in the snowy linen sheets of love.’ Shakespeare replies, ‘At least that’s what I keep trying to tell myself, anyway.’ And Kate then adds ‘me too’ wistfully before the conversation moves on. Also when Shakespeare thinks Suzanne has murdered her he is beside himself screaming her name over and over-so maybe there is something in this theory
  • Marlowe really was thought to be a spy of Sir Francis Walsingham‘s intelligence service.
  • Marlowe died in 1593-he was just 29-years-old! As Anne prophesied in one of her and Will’s fireside chats, he was believed to have died in a pub brawl.
  • A theory surfaced that Marlowe faked his death and went on to write plays under Shakespeare’s name. This is a theory very much reversed in the show where Will is revealed to have written all of his plays.
  • Will and Marlowe were contemporaries and likely to have been friends-they were also both born in the same year.
  • There is a character in Henry IV called Henry Bolingbroke. Perhaps inspiring the popular ‘Bolingbrokes!’ phrase used in Upstart Crow.
  • Will’s dad mentions ‘The Mumming plays’ or ‘Mummers plays’ as they are sometimes referred to, which as Shakespeare explained were a short form of traditional English folk play and some of the earliest examples of theatre.Holling.png
  • In the Macbeth episode, the book Shakespeare can be seen reading in bed is ‘Holinshed’s Chronicles’ a book believed to have inspired Macbeth.
  • Although it may seem obvious, all the episodes are based on Shakespeare’s plays except episode four, which is based on Shakespeare’s sonnets. Episode one… Romeo and Juliet, episode two…  Hamlet, episode three… Twelfth Night, episode five…  Macbeth and episode six… The Merchant Of Venice.
  • In ‘What Bloody man is that?’ otherwise known as the ‘Macbeth’ episode, Shakespeare shouts, ‘Angles of grace and ministers defend us!’ which is a line from Hamlet.
  • Also in ‘What Bloody Man is That?’ Kempe persuades the players to perform the ‘lazzi of the Fly’ , which was a real Italian comedy skit that plays out similarly to how we saw it.
  • The Inquisitor in episode four is played by John Sessions.
  • Will and Anne did live in ‘New Place’, although it’s not clear whether they had to poison their neighbours milk to own it!
  • John Shakespeare was engaged in trading wool illegally in 1571, as referenced in episode six.
  • Episode six saw a cameo from Blackadder favourite, Bob!
  • Greene really did write a play called ‘Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay’ which was popular enough to warrant a sequel called: ‘John of Bordeaux, or The Second Part of Friar Bacon‘.
  • Emilia Lanier, really was thought to be ‘The Dark Lady’ in Shakespeare’s sonnets- Lord Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, was thought to be ‘The fair youth’-although there are other proposed candidates.
  • The programme given to the studio audience for episode six had all the actresses listed as ‘Mr’, a joke based on the episode centring around women pretending to be men.
  • It is true that Shakespeare did invest in the Globe theatre with Burbage.
  • It’s a sad fact that Greene died the year ‘Upstart Crow’ is set (1592) with Marlowe dying the year after (1593) and Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, dying just three years later aged eleven (1596). Hopefully we won’t see these events in series two!
  • The show was written with David Mitchell in mind for Shakespeare!
  • In the pilot Mel Giedroyc played Anne.
  • Shakespeare mentions having a plan that’s ‘a corker!’ in several episodes-an obvious allusion to Baldrick’s ‘I have a cunning plan’ from Blackadder.
  • Series two is reported to feature an episode where Kit takes Will on a spying mission to meet the Two Gentlemen of Verona.
  • David once played Parolles in  a Fringe production of ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, he portrayed him as ‘constantly eating bakewell tarts.’ Which consequently caused David to become ‘absolutely sick’ of bakewell tarts.



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