Shakespeare was born to John Shakespeare and mother Mary Arden some time in
late April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. There is no record of his birth, but
his baptism was recorded by the church, thus his birthday is assumed to be the
23 of April. His father was a prominent and prosperous alderman in the town of
Stratford-upon-Avon, and was later granted a coat of arms by the College of
Heralds. All that is known of Shakespeare’s youth is that he presumably
attended the Stratford Grammar School, and did not proceed to Oxford or
Cambridge. The next record we have of him is his marriage to Anne Hathaway in
1582. The next year she bore a daughter for him, Susanna, followed by the twins
Judith and Hamnet two years later.
Seven years later Shakespeare is recognized as an
actor, poet and playwright, when a rival playwright, Robert Greene, refers to
him as “an upstart crow” in A Groatsworth of Wit. A few years
later he joined up with one of the most successful acting troupe’s in London:
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. When, in 1599, the troupe lost the lease of the
theatre where they performed, (appropriately called The Theatre) they were
wealthy enough to build their own theatre across the Thames, south of London,
which they called “The Globe.” The new theatre opened in July of
1599, built from the timbers of The Theatre, with the motto “Totus mundus
agit histrionem” (A whole world of players) When James I came to the
throne (1603) the troupe was designated by the new king as the King’s Men (or
King’s Company). The Letters Patent of the company specifically charged
Shakespeare and eight others “freely to use and exercise the art and
faculty of playing Comedies, Tragedies, Histories, Inerludes, Morals,
Pastorals, stage plays … as well for recreation of our loving subjects as for
our solace and pleasure.”
Shakespeare entertained the king and the people for
another ten years until June 19, 1613, when a canon fired from the roof of the
theatre for a gala performance of Henry VIII set fire to the thatch roof and
burned the theatre to the ground. The audience ignored the smoke from the roof
at first, being to absorbed in the play, until the flames caught the walls and
the fabric of the curtains. Amazingly there were no casualties, and the next
spring the company had the theatre “new builded in a far fairer manner
than before.” Although Shakespeare invested in the rebuilding, he retired
from the stage to the Great House of New Place in Statford that he had
purchased in 1597, and some considerable land holdings, where he continued to
write until his death in 1616 on the day of his 52nd birthday.
his time William wrote 13 Comedies, 13 Historical Plays, 6 Tragedies, 4
Tragicomedies, as well as many sonnets (154) , which were mostly dedicated to
his patron, Henry Wriothsley, The Earl of Southampton.
place and importance in the English culture.
wherever you go in England, you will see Shakespeare’s face watching you. He
has become the symbol of a whole nation, a people’s identity. One of the
element a foreigner is used to linking with England in the same way as the
Queen, the Red Buses or Special Breakfast. By drawing some of the
characteristics of the Modern English, he has remained part of each people.
“Shakespeare is present everywhere, in every English
person. He has created our language, colored it, and invented words. He was
just a genius, the greatest writer of all time. It is impossible to explain the
importance he has in our culture. Every English?speaking child
knows Shakespeare, knows even without having read his work, which he was the
greatest one. If he had not existed, our language and literature would not have
gone this way in the following centuries; and English would maybe not be the
most important language in the world nowadays”. St Leonard’s very
enthusiastic English Teacher.
“I really consider Shakespeare as part of my national
heritage. He is the writer I study the more. For me, he remains the most
mysterious, the most interesting and the most “beautiful” to analyze. I don’t
know what I could add, I think England can be proud of having offered the word
such a genius.” Heather Long (18), my Host Student.
myth or reality?
doubters believe there is a lack of concrete evidence proving that actor/businessman
baptized as “Shakespere” of Stratford was responsible for the body of
literary works that bear his name. Very little biographical information exists
about him and, although much has been inferred from his writings, this lack of
solid information leaves an enigmatic figure. Mainstream scholars, however,
find the lack of information unsurprising, given that in Elizabethan England
the lives of commoners were not as well documented as those of the members of
upper classes. Some find difficult to believe that a 16th?century commoner,
with no university education, could be so well?versed in English
language and literature, as well as a number of other disciplines including
politics, law, medicine, astronomy and foreign languages.
Firstly, Shakespeare of Stratford’s name was spelled
in many different ways, including “Shakespeare”. Anti?Stratfordians
(those who doubt that the man born in Statford?upon?Avon wrote what is
known as Shakespeare’s work) conventionally refer to the man from Stratford as
“Shakspere”(the name recorded at his baptism) or “Shaksper”
to distinguish him from the author “Shakespeare”or “Shake?speare” (the
spellings that appear on the publications), who they claim has a different identity.
Those doubters deliver the argument that during the 16th century, the Golden
Age of pseudonyms, almost every writer used a pseudonym at some time in his
career, and so, that Shakespeare should not make exception.
Then, several historian affirmed that Shakespeare died
in 1604 which would mean the man associated with King Lear, Mac Beth, Henry
VIII, The Tempest or The Winter Tale ; would have never write these plays ; all
written between this date and his “official’ death in 1616.
The very last controversial point remains in William
Shakespeare’s will, long and explicit listing the possessions of a successful
bourgeois in detail. However, the will makes no mention at all of personal
papers, letters, or books of any kind. In addition, no early poems or
manuscripts, plays or unfinished works are listed, whereas at the time of
Shakespeare’s death, 18 plays remained unpublished.
However, it remains
many evidences proving that the man who is considered as the Greatest Writer in
English literature and the greatest dramatist ever, did have existed. Indeed,
instead of Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere’s pretentions
to Shakespeare work’s authorship, the baptism act, signatures, portraits, and
numerous evidences remaining of Shakespeare’s life; seem to be sufficient
proofs to confirm the traditional and well known Shakespeare’s biography.
is his literacy legend based on?
Shakespeare’s works have been a major influence on
subsequent theatre. Not only did Shakespeare create some of the most admired
plays in Western literature (with Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear being ranked
among the world’s greatest plays), he also transformed English theatre.
Specifically, in plays like Hamlet, Shakespeare integrated characterization
with plot. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare mixed tragedy and comedy together to
create a new romantic tragedy genre. Through his “soliloquies”, Shakespeare
showed how plays could explore a character’s motivations and conflict, provide
an exposition or reveal plans.
His plays were made
of spectacular violence melting comedy with tragedy. In King Lear, Shakespeare
had deliberately brought together two plots of different origins. His closeness
to human nature made him greater than any of his contemporaries. Humanism and
contact with popular thinking gave vitality to his language. Shakespeare’s
plays borrowed ideas from popular sources, folk traditions, street pamphlets,
and sermons etc. Shakespeare used groundlings widely in his plays. He represented
English people more concretely and not as puppets. His skills have found expression
in chronicles, or history plays, and tragedies.
earliest years were dominated by history. His histories were based on the
prevailing Tudor political thought. They portrayed the follies and achievements
of kings, their misgovernment, church and problems arising out of these.
Shakespeare developed his skills in getting into his characters, which so, were
very near to reality.
characters are more sharply individualized after Love’s Labour’s Lost. His
Richard II and Bolingbroke are complex and solid figures whereas Richard III is
more comic and human. Falstaff trilogy is in this respect very important.
Falstaff, although a minor character, has a powerful reality of its own. This
shows that Shakespeare had developed a capacity to see the plays as whole,
something more than characters and expressions added together.
Shakespeare is cited as an influence on a large number
of writers in the following centuries, including major novelists such as Herman
Melville, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and William Faulkner. Examples of this
influence include the large number of Shakespearean quotations throughout
Dickens’ writings and the fact that at least 25 of Dickens’ titles are drawn
from Shakespeare, while Melville frequently used Shakespearean devices,
including formal stage directions and extended soliloquies, in Moby?Dick. In fact,
Shakespeare so influenced Melville that the novel’s main antagonist, Captain
Ahab, is a classic Shakespearean tragic figure, “a great man brought down
by his faults.” Shakespeare has also influenced a number of English poets,
especially Romantic poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge who were obsessed
a modern theme Shakespeare anticipated in plays such as Hamlet. Shakespeare’s
writings were so influential to English poetry of the 1800s that critic George
Steiner has called all English poetic dramas from Coleridge to Tennyson
“feeble variations on Shakespearean themes”. English has definitively
become “The Language of Shakespeare”.