William Shakespeare, born on 26 April 1564 was an English actor, poet, and playwright. He is widely known as the finest English-language playwright and writer in the world. Also, he is referred to as the national poet of England and Bard of Avon. His extant works include 39 plays, collaborations, 154 sonnets, and 3 long narrative poems. Furthermore, his plays have been translated into all major living languages which are performed more frequently than those of any other playwright.
Perhaps, he remains the most prominent writer in the English language. His works continue to be reinterpreted and studied. Many plays of Shakespeare were published in editions of varying accuracy and quality during his lifetime. However, in 1623 two other friends and actors of Shakespeare, Henry Condell and John Heminges published a more definitive text known as the First Folio. It is a posthumously collected edition of Shakespeare’s dramatic works that included all but two of his plays.
Childhood And Family Life Of Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a bustling market town 100 miles northwest of London. Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564, but traditionally his birthday is celebrated on April 23 which was the date of his death in 1616. Also, it is a feast day of Saint George, the patron saint of England. John Shakespeare, the father of William Shakespeare, dabbled in farming, tanning, the timber trade, money lending, leatherworking, and other occupations.
Shakespeare’s father had several municipal offices before falling into debt in the late 1580s. John, an ambitious son of a tenant farmer, improved his social status by marrying Mary Arden (mother of William Shakespeare), the daughter of an aristocratic landowner. Mary Arden may have been a practicing Catholic like John at a time when those who rejected the New Church of England were being persecuted.
William was the third of John Shakespeare’s eight children, three of whom died in infancy. Although no record of his education remains, he likely attended the prestigious local primary school. He would have studied the classics and Latin grammar. It is not known if he finished his studies or gave them up as a teenager to be his father’s apprentice.
At the age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway (1556-1616), who was eight years his senior, in a ceremony said to have been hastily arranged due to her pregnancy. In May 1583, Susanna, a daughter, was born less than seven months after their marriage. Twins Judith and Hamnet followed in February 1585. Judith and Susana reached adult age, whereas Hamnet, the only son of Shakespeare died at the age of 11.
As for Anne and William, the couple is thought to have lived apart for most of the year while Shakespeare pursued his literary and theatrical career in London. It was not until the end of his life that Shakespeare returned to live with Anne in their house in Stratford.
The Lost Years and Early Career of Shakespeare
Shakespeare disappeared from the historical records between 1585 when his twins were baptized and 1592, when Robert Greene, a playwright denounced him in a pamphlet as an upstart crow. Historians have speculated that Shakespeare worked as a teacher, traveled across continental Europe, studied law, or joined a visiting acting troupe in Stratford. According to a 17th-century account, he fled his hometown after hunting deer illegally on the estate of a local politician.
However, by 1592 Shakespeare began working as an actor. He spent enough time in London to write about its culture, geography, and various personalities with authority. Also, he wrote several plays. His early works show knowledge of foreign countries, European affairs, general erudition, and familiarity with the royal court that might seem unattainable to a young man brought up in the provinces by probably illiterate parents.
For some reason, the theorists have suggested that one or more authors who wanted to hide their true identity used the person of William Shakespeare as a front. Some literary historians and scholars reject this hypothesis while suspecting that Shakespeare collaborated with other playwrights over the period.
Plays of Shakespeare
The first plays of Shakespeare are thought to have been written before or around 1592 and encompass the three main dramatic genres of Bard’s work such as:
- Titus Andronicus (Tragedy)
- The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Comedy)
- The Comedy of Errors (Comedy)
- The Taming of Shrew (Comedy)
- Henry VI Trilogy (History)
- Richard III (History)
When these plays made their debut on the London stage, Shakespeare was affiliated with different theater companies. In 1594, he began writing and performing for a company known as Lord Chamberlain’s Men which was renamed King’s Men when James I appointed himself as its patron. Eventually, Shakespeare became a household playwright in Lord Chamberlain’s Men. In 1599, he partnered with other members to establish Globe Theater.
Between the mid-1590s and his retirement around 1612, Shakespeare wrote the famous of his 39 plays including:
- Romeo and Juliet
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- King Lear
- The Tempest
As a playwright, Shakespeare is known for his frequent use of meditative soliloquies, iambic pentameter, and ingenious wordplay. His works reinvent and weave theatrical conventions dating back to ancient Greece. He presented a variety of characters with deeply human interpersonal conflicts and complex psyches.
Some of his plays such as Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure, and All’s Well That Ends Well are characterized by moral jarring and ambiguity. The defiant changes in the tone of the plays are much like their classification as purely comic and tragic.
Poems of Shakespeare
Shakespeare is also known for his non-dramatic contributions. His first published narrative poem the erotic Venus and Adonis were curiously dedicated to his close friend Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. It was the time when the theaters were closed in London due to an outbreak of plague in 1593.
The numerous reprints of the play and a second poem The Rape of Lucrece suggests that it was during his lifetime that the bard was best known for his poetry. The famous collection of sonnets of Shakespeare covers themes ranging from sensuality and love to beauty and truth.
They were printed in 1609 without the consent of Shakespeare. It is suggested that he intended them only for those around him but not the general public. Perhaps, because of the explicit sexual references and dark emotional character, the sonnets did not get the same success as the earlier lyrical work of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare died aged 52 of unknown causes on April 23, 1616. He left most of his estate to his daughter Susanna. Anne Hathaway outlived her husband by seven years and received his second-best bed. The slab above Shakespeare’s tomb, located inside a church in Stratford bears an epitaph written by himself to grave robbers with a curse: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.”
However, his remains have not yet been abducted even after requests from the archeologists who eagerly want to know what killed him. In 1623, two former colleagues of Shakespeare published a collection of his works known as the First Folio. In the preface, Ben Johnson, a playwright wrote of his late contemporary that was not of an age but of all times. Indeed, the legacy of Shakespeare continues to resonate with audiences around the world.
Legacy of Shakespeare
His plays spawned a wide range of stage adaptations, television, and film. Moreover, Shakespeare is thought to have influenced the English language more than any other writer in history. Furthermore, he is known to popularize the expressions and terms that still appear regularly in everyday conversation. The examples of the words are as follows:
- Fashionable (Troilus and Cressida)
- Sanctimonious (Measure for Measure)
- Eyeball (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
- Lackluster (As You Like It)
Whereas, the examples of expressions are as follows:
- Foregone Conclusion (Othello)
- In A Pickle (The Tempest)
- Wild Goose Chase (Romeo and Juliet)
- One Fell Swoop (Macbeth)
William Shakespeare – An English Playwright, Actor, and Poet
William Shakespeare was a famous English poet, playwright, and actor born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. His birthday is celebrated on April 23 which is also believed to be his date of death in 1616. He was a prolific writer during the Jacobean and Elizabeth eras of British theater, also known as the English Renaissance or the Early Modern Period. His plays are not only an enduring legacy but also the poems he wrote are still popular to this day.
Shakespeare disappeared from the historical record between 1585 and 1592. It is speculated by historians that he worked as a teacher, traveled across continental Europe, and studied law. However, he fled to his hometown after hunting deer illegally from the estate of the local politician. Shakespeare died of an unknown cause on April 23, 1616. However, he is still alive in theaters, in films, and on television. The playwrights and poems he left for the world have kept him alive in various ways.