Monday, November 4, 2013

William Shakespeare: Biography

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

v     Poet and playwright, considered the greatest writer in the English language. His plays have been translated into every language and are the most popular on Earth.

v     While popular in his own lifetime, Shakespeare’s popularity grew to its highest point in the 19th century.

v     He wrote 38 plays consisting of comedies, tragedies, historical works, and romances, also known as tragicomedies.

v     Shakespeare’s comedies include: As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Taming of the Shrew.

v     Shakespeare’s tragedies include: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and Julius Caesar.

v     Shakespeare’s histories include: Richard II & III, and Henry IV, V, VI, & VIII.

v     Shakespeare’s romances include: The Tempest, and The Winter’s Tale.

v     He also wrote 154 sonnets, 2 long narrative poems, and other poems. His poems Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, and A Lover’s Complaint all deal with the guilt and confusion that result from uncontrolled lust.

v     Not very much is known about Shakespeare. Few documents survive, making him a mysterious person. His sonnets offer tantalizing clues, but nothing concrete about his personal life. Even portraits of him were drawn or painted after his death.

v     We know that Shakespeare collaborated with other authors in many of his works, but it’s not always clear who worked with him or when. Scholars say George Wilkins wrote half of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Thomas Middleton may have helped with several plays. And John Fletcher also worked with him on a few.

v     There are theories that some of his works may have been written by others, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, or Edward de Vere – but there’s no evidence to prove it.

Shakespeare's First Folio, Title Page
Engraving by Martin Droeshout

v     The first authoritative edition of his work is the First Folio, published in 1623. Other versions existed before, called quartos. Quartos were printed on cheap paper, and had many errors. They were similar to the pirated versions of films and CD’s which people sell today.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

v     His home town of Stratford-upon-Avon is home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, a theatre troupe which performs his plays in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. 3 million tourists visit there every year.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, in London

v     In 1997 Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was reconstructed and opened in Southwark, London, near its original spot.

Famous Quotes:

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

As You Like It – “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...”

Hamlet – “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”

Julius Caesar – “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Romeo & Juliet – “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?”

Sonnet 18 – “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate...”

Personal Life:

Shakespeare's childhood home in Stratford

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small town near Birmingham, in central England. He is remembered there as the “Bard of Avon”. His father, John, was a glove maker and an alderman (a town council member). Shakespeare was the 3rd of eight children, and the eldest surviving son. Scholars believe he attended the King’s New School in Stratford, which would have taught him Latin and grammar. He never attended university. Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden came from a Catholic family, at a time when Catholocism was outlawed. It’s possible Shakespeare was Catholic, but there’s no evidence.

            At eighteen, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, age twenty-six. They had three children, Susanna (born six months after the wedding), and twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at age eleven. Susanna grew up and married a physician. Judith married a vintner, just two months before Shakespeare’s death.

At twenty-one he started an acting career in London, joining a theatre troupe called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which performed throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and into to reign of King James I, who became their patron. Shakespeare wrote plays and sometimes acted, rarely taking the leading roles. He also acted in many plays by Ben Johnson.

They played in a number of theatres. After a dispute with one landlord, they tore down the theatre, and carried all the timbers to Southwark where they rebuilt it, naming it the Globe Theatre. It was the first theatre built by and for actors. It burned down in 1613, the same year Shakespeare retired – someone had fired a cannon during a performance, and it hit the roof, starting the blaze. In 1614 it was rebuilt, but it closed down again in 1642. Plays were often closed due to plague – there were 60 months of closure between 1603-1610.

The Globe Theatre, in 1647, illustrated by Václav Hollar
            In 1613 Shakespeare moved to Stratford-upon-Avon, age 49, a wealthy man. He died three years later. Although he has a commemorative plaque at Westminster Abbey, he wasn’t buried there. He was buried in Holy Trinity Church and his body still rests there. An epitaph reads:

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones

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