William Shakespeare was born on April 26, 1564. William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare, an alderman and a successful glover originally from Snitterfield, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was the third child of eight and the eldest surviving son. Scholars have surmised that he most likely attended the King’s New School, in Stratford, which taught reading, writing and the classics. THEATRICAL CAREER Some of Shakespeare’s plays were published in quarto editions from 1594.
By 1598, his name had become a selling point and began to appear on the title pages. Shakespeare continued to act in his own and other plays after his success as a playwright. EARLY WORKS With the exception of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare’s first plays were mostly histories written in the early 1590s. Richard II, Henry VI (parts 1, 2 and 3) and Henry V dramatize the destructive results of weak or corrupt rulers, and have been interpreted by drama historians as Shakespeare’s way of justifying the origins of the Tudor Dynasty.
Shakespeare also wrote several comedies during his early period: the witty romance A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the romantic Merchant of Venice, the wit and wordplay of Much Ado about Nothing, the charming As You Like It and Twelfth Night. Other plays, possibly written before 1600, include Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. LATER WORKS It was in William Shakespeare’s later period, after 1600, that he wrote the tragedies Hamlet, King Lear, Othello and Macbeth.
In these, Shakespeare’s characters present vivid impressions of human temperament that are timeless and universal.
Possibly the best known of these plays is Hamlet, which explores betrayal, retribution, incest and moral failure. These moral failures often drive the twists and turns of Shakespeare’s plots, destroying the hero and those he loves. In William Shakespeare’s final period, he wrote several tragicomedies. Among these are Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. Though graver in tone than the comedies, they are not the dark tragedies of King Lear or Macbeth because they end with reconciliation and forgiveness.
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599. It portrays the 44 BC conspiracy against the Roman dictator Julius Caesar, his assassination, and the defeat of the conspirators at the Battle of Philippi. It is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from Roman history, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra. THE TEMPEST The Tempest is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1610–11, and thought by many critics to be the last play that Shakespeare wrote alone.
It is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion and skilful manipulation. He conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest, to lure his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. There, his machinations bring about the revelation of Antonio’s lowly nature, the redemption of the King, and the marriage of Miranda to Alonso’s son, Ferdinand. THE TAMING OF THE SHREW The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1590 and 1592.
The play begins with a framing device, often referred to as the Induction, in which a mischievous nobleman tricks a drunkentinker named Christopher Sly into believing he is actually a nobleman himself. The nobleman then has the play performed for Sly’s diversion. The main plot depicts the courtship of Petruchio, a gentleman of Verona, and Katherina, the headstrong, obdurate shrew. Initially, Katherina is an unwilling participant in the relationship, but Petruchio tempers her with various psychological torments—the “taming”—until she becomes a compliant and obedient bride.
The subplot features a competition between the suitors of Katherina’s more desirable sister, Bianca. HAMLET The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. Set in the Kingdom of Denmark, the play dramatizes the revenge. Prince Hamlet exacts on his uncle Claudius for murdering King Hamlet, Claudius’s brother and Prince Hamlet’s father, and then succeeding to the throne and taking as his wife Gertrude, the old king’s widow and Prince Hamlet’s mother.
The play vividly portrays both true and feigned madness—from overwhelming grief to seething rage and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play and among the most powerful and influential tragedies in English literature, with a story capable of “seemingly endless retelling and adaptation by others. “ The play was one of Shakespeare’s most popular works during his lifetime and still ranks among his most-performed, topping the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance list since 1879.
TWELFTH NIGHT Twelfth Night; or, What You Will is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written around 1601–02 as aTwelfth Night’s entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. The play expanded on the musical interludes and riotous disorder expected of the occasion, with plot elements drawn from the short story “Of Apollonius and Silla” by Barnabe Rich, based on a story by Matteo Bandello. The first recorded performance was on 2 February 1602, at Candlemas, the formal end of Christmastide in the year’s calendar.
The play was not published until its inclusion in the 1623 First Folio. MACBETH Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare. It is considered one of his darkest and most powerful tragedies. Set in Scotland, the play dramatizes the corrosive psychological and political effects produced when evil is chosen as a way to fulfil the ambition for power. The play is believed to have been written between 1603 and 1607, and is most commonly dated 1606. The earliest account of a performance of what was probably Shakespeare’s play is April 1611, when Simon Forman recorded seeing such a play at the Globe Theatre.
It was first published in the Folio of 1623, possibly from a prompt book. It was most likely written during the reign of James I, who had been James VI of Scotland before he succeeded to the English throne in 1603. James was a patron of Shakespeare’s acting company, and of all the plays Shakespeare wrote during James’s reign, Macbeth most clearly reflects the playwright’s relationship with the sovereign. MERCHANT OF VENICE The Merchant of Venice is a play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written between 1596 and 1598.
Though classified as a comedyin the First Folio and sharing certain aspects with Shakespeare’s other romantic comedies, the play is perhaps most remembered for its dramatic scenes, and is best known for Shylock and the famous “Hath not a Jew eyes? ” speech. Also notable is Portia’s speech about “the quality of mercy”. The title character is the merchant Antonio, not the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who is the play’s most prominent and most famous character. THE COMEDY OF ERRORS The Comedy of Errors is one of William Shakespeare’s early plays.
It is his shortest and one of his most farcical comedies, with a major part of the humour coming from slapstick and mistaken identity, in addition to puns and word play. The Comedy of Errors (along with The Tempest) is one of only two of Shakespeare’s plays to observe the classical unities. It has been adapted for opera, stage, screen and musical theatre. The Comedy of Errors tells the story of two sets of identical twins that were accidentally separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse, arrive in Ephesus, which turns out to be the home of their twin
brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus. When the Syracusans encounter the friends and families of their twins, a series of wild mishaps based on mistaken identitieslead to wrongful beatings, a near-seduction, the arrest of Antipholus of Ephesus, and false accusations of infidelity, theft, madness, and demonic possession. POEMS In 1593 and 1594, when the theatres were closed because of plague, Shakespeare published two narrative poems on erotic themes, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He dedicated them to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.
In Venus and Adonis, an innocent Adonis rejects the sexual advances of Venus; while in The Rape of Lucrece, the virtuous wife Lucrece is raped by the lustful Tarquin. Influenced by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the poems show the guilt and moral confusion that result from uncontrolled lust.  Both proved popular and were often reprinted during Shakespeare’s lifetime. A third narrative poem, A Lover’s Complaint, in which a young woman laments her seduction by a persuasive suitor, was printed in the first edition of the Sonnets in 1609.
Most scholars now accept that Shakespeare wrote A Lover’s Complaint. Critics consider that its fine qualities are marred by leaden effects. The Phoenix and the Turtle, printed in Robert Chester’s 1601 Love’s Martyr, mourns the deaths of the legendary phoenix and his lover, the faithful turtle dove. SONNETS Published in 1609, the Sonnets were the last of Shakespeare’s non-dramatic works to be printed. Scholars are not certain when each of the 154 sonnets was composed, but evidence suggests that Shakespeare wrote sonnets throughout his career for a private readership.
Even before the two unauthorised sonnets appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, Francis Meres had referred in 1598 to Shakespeare’s “sugred Sonnets among his private friends”. Few analysts believe that the published collection follows Shakespeare’s intended sequence. He seems to have planned two contrasting series: one about uncontrollable lust for a married woman of dark complexion (the “dark lady”), and one about conflicted love for a fair young man (the “fair youth”).
It remains unclear if these figures represent real individuals, or if the authorial “I” who addresses them represents Shakespeare himself, though Wordsworth believed that with the sonnets “Shakespeare unlocked his heart”. The 1609 edition was dedicated to a “Mr. W. H. “, credited as “the only begetter” of the poems. It is not known whether this was written by Shakespeare himself or by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, whose initials appear at the foot of the dedication page; nor is it known who Mr. W. H. was, despite numerous theories, or whether Shakespeare even authorised the publication.
Critics praise the Sonnets as a profound meditation on the nature of love, sexual passion, procreation, death, and time. ESTABLISHING HIMSELF By 1597, 15 of the 37 plays written by William Shakespeare were published. Civil records show that at this time he purchased the second largest house in Stratford, called New House, for his family. It was a four-day ride by horse from Stratford to London, so it is believed that Shakespeare spent most of his time in the city writing and acting and came home once a year during the 40-day Lenten period, when the theatres were closed.
By 1599, William Shakespeare and his business partners built their own theater on the south bank of the Thames River, which they called the Globe. In 1605, Shakespeare purchased leases of real estate near Stratford for 440 pounds, which doubled in value and earned him 60 pounds a year. THE MERMAID TAVERN GROUP About this time Shakespeare became one of the group of now-famous writers who gathered at the Mermaid Tavern located on Bread Street in Cheapside. The Friday Street Club (also called the Mermaid Clu was formed by Sir Walter Raleigh. Ben Jonson was its leading spirit. Shakespeare was a popular member.
He was admired for his talent and loved for his kindliness. Thomas Fuller, writing about 50 years later, gave an amusing account of the conversational duels between Shakespeare and Jonson: “Many were the wit-combats betwixt him and Ben Jonson; which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war; Master Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow, in his performances. Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention.
” Jonson sometimes criticized Shakespeare harshly. Nevertheless he later wrote a eulogy of Shakespeare that is remarkable for its feeling and acuteness. In it he said: Leave thee alone, for the comparison Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come. Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe. He was not of an age, but for all time! Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were To see thee in our waters yet appear, And make those flights upon the banks of Thames, That so did take Eliza, and our James!
WRITING STYLE William Shakespeare’s early plays were written in the conventional style of the day, with elaborate metaphors and rhetorical phrases that didn’t always align naturally with the story’s plot or characters. However, Shakespeare was very innovative, adapting the traditional style to his own purposes and creating a freer flow of words. With only small degrees of variation, Shakespeare primarily used a metrical pattern consisting of lines of unrhymed iambic pentameter, or blank verse, to compose his plays.
At the same time, there are passages in all the plays that deviate from this and use forms of poetry or simple prose. Shakespeare combined poetic genius with a practical sense of the theatre. Like all playwrights of the time, he dramatised stories from sources such as Plutarch and Holinshed. He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and to show as many sides of a narrative to the audience as possible. This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama.
As Shakespeare’s mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and distinctive patterns of speech. MARRIAGE AND LIFE IN LONDON In 1582, when he was 18, he married Anne Hathaway. She was from Shottery, a village a mile (1. 6 kilometers) from Stratford. Anne was seven or eight years older than Shakespeare. From this difference in their ages, a story arose that they were unhappy together. Their first daughter, Susanna, was born in 1583. In 1585 a twin boy and girl, Hamnet and Judith, were born. What Shakespeare did between 1583 and 1592 is not known.
Various stories are told. He may have taught school, worked in a lawyer’s office, served on a rich man’s estate, or traveled with a company of actors. One famous story says that about 1584 he and some friends were caught poaching on the estate of Sir Thomas Lucy of Carlecote, near Warwick, and were forced to leave town. A less likely story is that he was in London in 1588. There he was supposed to have held horses for theater patrons and later to have worked in the theaters as a page. By 1592, however, Shakespeare was definitely in London and was already recognized as an actor and playwright.
He was then 28 years old. In that year Robert Greene, a playwright, accused him of borrowing from the plays of others. Between 1592 and 1594, plague kept the London theaters closed most of the time. During these years Shakespeare wrote his earliest sonnets and two long narrative poems, ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’. Both were printed by Richard Field, a boyhood friend from Stratford. They were well received and helped establish him as a poet. RELIGION Some scholars claim that members of Shakespeare’s family were Catholics, at a time when Catholic practice was against the law.
Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, certainly came from a pious Catholic family. The strongest evidence might be a Catholic statement of faith signed by John Shakespeare, found in 1757 in the rafters of his former house in Henley Street. The document is now lost, however, and scholars differ as to its authenticity. In 1591 the authorities reported that John Shakespeare had missed church “for fear of process for debt”, a common Catholic excuse. In 1606 the name of William’s daughter Susanna appears on a list of those who failed to attend Easter communion in Stratford.
Scholars find evidence both for and against Shakespeare’s Catholicism in his plays, but the truth may be impossible to prove either way. SHAKESPEARE PROSPERS Until 1598 Shakespeare’s theater work was confined to a district northeast of London. This was outside the city walls, in the parish of Shoreditch. Located there were two playhouses, the Theatre and the Curtain. Both were managed by James Burbage, whose son Richard Burbage was Shakespeare’s friend and the greatest tragic actor of his day. Up to 1596 Shakespeare lived near these theaters in Bishopsgate, where the North Road entered the city.
Sometime between 1596 and 1599, he moved across the Thames River to a district called Bankside. There, two theaters, the Rose and the Swan, had been built by Philip Henslowe. He was James Burbage’s chief competitor in London as a theater manager. The Burbages also moved to this district in 1598 and built the famous Globe Theatre. Its sign showed Atlas supporting the world. Shakespeare was associated with the Globe Theatre for the rest of his active life. He owned shares in it, which brought him much money. Meanwhile, in 1597, Shakespeare had bought New Place, the largest house in Stratford.
During the next three years he bought other property in Stratford and in London. The year before, his father, probably at Shakespeare’s suggestion, applied for and was granted a coat of arms. It bore the motto Non sanz droict–Not without right. From this time on, Shakespeare could write “Gentleman” after his name. This meant much to him, for in his day actors were classed legally with criminals and vagrants. Shakespeare’s name first appeared on the title pages of his printed plays in 1598. In the same year Francis Meres, in ‘Palladis Tamia: Wit’s Treasury’, praised him as a poet and dramatist.
Meres’s comments on 12 of Shakespeare’s plays showed that Shakespeare’s genius was recognized in his own time. HONORED AS ACTOR AND PLAYWRIGHT Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603. King James I followed her to the throne. Shakespeare’s theatrical company was taken under the king’s patronage and called the King’s Company. Shakespeare and the other actors were made officers of the royal household. The theatrical company was the most successful of its time. Before it was the King’s Company, it had been known as the Earl of Derby’s and the Lord Chamberlain’s.
In 1608 the company acquired the Blackfriars Theatre. This was a smaller and more aristocratic theater than the Globe. Thereafter the company alternated between the two playhouses. Plays by Shakespeare were also performed at the royal court and in the castles of the nobles. After 1603 Shakespeare probably acted little, although he was still a good actor. His favorite roles seem to have been old Adam in ‘As You Like It’ and the Ghost in ‘Hamlet’. In 1607, when he was 43, he may have suffered a serious physical breakdown.
In the same year his older daughter Susanna married John Hall, a doctor. The next year Shakespeare’s first grandchild, Elizabeth, was born. Also in 1607 his brother Edmund, also a London actor, died at the age of 27. GLOBE THEATRE The Globe Theatre was a theatre in London associated with William Shakespeare. It was built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, on land owned by Thomas Brend and inherited by his son, Nicholas Brend and grandson Sir Matthew Brend, and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613.
A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site by June 1614 and closed in 1642. A modern reconstruction of the Globe, named “Shakespeare’s Globe”, opened in 1997 approximately 750 feet (230 m) from the site of the original theatre. The Globe was owned by actors who were also shareholders in Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Two of the six Globe shareholders, Richard Burbage and his brother Cuthbert Burbage, owned double shares of the whole, or 25% each; the other four men, Shakespeare, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, andThomas Pope, owned a single share FAMOUS QUOTES
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. – Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. – Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. – Listen to many, speak to a few. CRITICAL REPUTATION Shakespeare was not revered in his lifetime, but he received a large amount of praise.
In 1598, the cleric and author Francis Meres singled him out from a group of English writers as “the most excellent” in both comedy and tragedy. And the authors of the Parnassus plays at St John’s College, Cambridge, numbered him with Chaucer, Gower and Spenser. In the First Folio, Ben Jonson called Shakespeare the “Soul of the age, the applause, delight, the wonder of our stage”, though he had remarked elsewhere that “Shakespeare wanted art”. FIRST FOLIO Mr. William Shakespeares’ Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare’s plays.
Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio. Printed in folio format and containing 36 plays (see list of Shakespeare’s plays), it was prepared by Shakespeare’s colleagues John Heminges and Henry Condell. It was dedicated to the “incomparable pair of brethren” William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke and his brother Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery (later 4th Earl of Pembroke). Although eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays had been published in quarto prior to 1623, the First Folio is the only reliable text for about twenty of the plays, and a valuable source text even for many of those previously published.
The Folio includes all of the plays generally accepted to be Shakespeare’s, with the exception of Pericles, Prince of Tyre and The Two Noble Kinsmen, and the two “lost plays”, Cardenio and Love’s Labour’s Won. W. W. Greg has argued that Edward Knight, the “book-keeper” or “book-holder” (prompter) of the King’s Men, did the actual proofreading of the manuscript sources for the First Folio. Knight is known to have been responsible for maintaining and annotating the company’s scripts, and making sure that the cuts and changes ordered by the Master of the Revels were complied with.
DEATH Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616 and was survived by his wife and two daughters. Susanna had married a physician, John Hall, in 1607, and Judith had married Thomas Quiney, a vintner, two months before Shakespeare’s death. In his will, Shakespeare left the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna. The terms instructed that she pass it down intact to “the first son of her body”. Shakespeare’s will scarcely mentions his wife, Anne, who was probably entitled to one third of his estate automatically.
He did make a point, however, of leaving her “my second best bed”, a bequest that has led to much speculation. Some scholars see the bequest as an insult to Anne, whereas others believe that the second-best bed would have been the matrimonial bed and therefore rich in significance. Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death. The epitaph carved into the stone slab covering his grave includes a curse against moving his bones, which was carefully avoided during restoration of the church in 2008.
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