Rudolph Shakespeare is a cousin of the actor, poet and playwright William Shakespeare. Although close friends in the end, they did not meet face-to-face until both were thirty years of age, due to a family conflict that had spanned generations.
William’s great-great grandfather, Dunlop Shakespeare, and Rudolph’s great-great grandfather, Marcus Shakespeare, (Dunlop’s younger brother) began a feud in their boyhood that centered on a prized egg-laying hen.
The hen’s eggs were exalted in the brothers’ village for having enormous, proud, orange yolks that were compared to “the noonday sun”. But the hen was extremely vocal and Dunlop, preferring to start his day around 11am, was angered at being awoken by the unnamed hen soon after sunrise each day.
Marcus, who loved and cherished the hen and was an early riser, tried relocating the chickens’ pen farther back on the family’s property to allow his brother a later slumber, but chickens are creatures of habit and the hen would always roam back close to Dunlop’s bedroom window to begin her day with choral exuberance.
One early morning after a particularly rowdy evening of port and walnuts, Dunlop had enough of the boisterous hen and, grabbing his hatchet, he called to Marcus to meet him in the yard to “Cure the ill that is the chicken!” Marcus arrived just as Dunlop had dispatched with the task and the hen, now headless and running around in circles, was silent for the first time in her life.
Marcus was devastated and never ate another egg, or chicken, as long as he lived. He also never again spoke to his brother.
Decades later, his great-great grandson, Rudolph, wrote a letter of congratulations to his cousin William (Dunlop’s great-great grandson) on his many successes, and apologized for the family feud that led to their never having met. The cousins soon shared a tearful reunion and become the best of friends.
William immortalized their great-great grandfathers’ troubles in a line in his play As You Like It. “Truly, thou art damned, like an ill-roasted egg, all on one side!”
The family feud was laid to rest, and the entire surviving Shakespeare clan became civil once again.