William Shakespeare, (1564-1616) also known as the “Bard of Avon,” is widely regarded as England’s most famous national poet and considered as the greatest dramatist of all time. Shakespeare’s works are known, taught, studied and performed throughout the world and have inspired artists, ballets, opera and classical music composers such as Verdi, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Benjamin Britten.
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire and was baptised a few days later on 26 April 1564. His father, John Shakespeare, was a glove maker and wool merchant and his mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a well-to-do landowner from Wilmcote, South Warwickshire
William had two older sisters, Joan and Judith, and three younger brothers, Gilbert, Richard and Edmund. Before William’s birth, his father became a successful merchant and held official positions as alderman and bailiff, in Stratford.
No records exist of William’s childhood and his education, but It is likely Shakespeare was educated at the then recently established local King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford, which taught reading, writing and the classics. Being a public official’s child, William would have undoubtedly qualified for free tuition.
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582, in Worcester. Hathaway was from Shottery, a small village a mile west of Stratford. William was 18 and Anne was 26 and pregnant at the time. Their first child, a daughter they named Susanna, was born on May 26, 1583. Two years later, on February 2, 1585, twins Hamnet and Judith were born. Hamnet later died at age 11.
Again, a gap in the records leads some scholars to refer to Shakespeare’s life between 1585 and 1592 as ‘the lost years’. It is generally believed he arrived in London in the mid- to late 1580s. By the time he reappears again, mentioned in a London play pamphlet, Shakespeare has settled in London, without his family and is already working in the theatre.
By 1592 , William Shakespeare was earning a living as an actor and a playwright in London and possibly had several plays produced
Having gained public recognition, Shakespeare had clearly disconcerted some of his established rivals. The September 20, 1592 edition of the Stationers’ Register (a guild publication) includes an article by London playwright Robert Greene that takes a few jabs at William Shakespeare: “…There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country,” Greene wrote of Shakespeare.
As well as belonging to its pool of actors and playwrights, Shakespeare was one of the managing partners of the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Men Company’, whose actors included the famous Richard Burbage.
The Company was renamed the ‘King’s Men Company’ when James I succeeded to the throne in 1603 and they performed seven plays for the King .
From all accounts, the ‘King’s Men Company’ was very popular. Records show that Shakespeare had works published and sold as popular literature. The ‘theatre’ in 16th century England was still thought of as lower class entertainment, but many of the nobility were good patrons of the performing arts and friends of the actors. In 1593 and 1594, Shakespeare’s first poems, ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, were published and he dedicated them to his patron, Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. It is thought Shakespeare also wrote most of his sonnets at this time.
In 1597 William Shakespeare was obviously doing well . Civil records show that at this time he purchased the second largest house in Stratford, called New House, for his family. In 1605, Shakespeare purchased leases of real estate near Stratford for £ 440 , which soon doubled in value and earned him an income of 60 pounds a year which gave him financial security and the time to devote to more writing. In 1605. It was a four-day ride by horse from Stratford to London, so it is believed that Shakespeare spent most of his time in London writing and acting and came home once a year during the 40-day Lent period, when the theatres were closed by law.
By 1599, William Shakespeare and his business partners had built their own theatre on the south bank of the Thames River, which they called ‘The Globe’ as the construction was literally round , though the standing audience in front of the stage was open to the elements They also took an interest in another theatre called ‘The Blackfriars’ across the River Thames on the location of the old Blackfriars Dominican Priory, which was indoors and so available for performances during the winter.
William Shakespeare’s early plays were written in the conventional style of the day, with elaborate metaphors and rhetorical phrases to embellish the actor’s performance. However, Shakespeare was very innovative, and created a freer flow of words to drive the action and maintain pace in the drama . With only small degrees of variation, Shakespeare used a non-rhyming iambic pentameter, or blank verse, to compose his plays and the same metre, but rhyming, for his sonnets . In all but a few of his dramatic works , Shakespeare used well known literary sources from the classic and renaissance historic authors and he drew substantially on known historical figures and stories, to provide the plot base for his embellished, poetic rhetoric . He was evidently an avid reader and it is his extraordinary imagination and flowing dramatization of a story which shows him as the world’s most prolific dramatic genius. His characters and plots present real human beings in a wide range of situations with strengths and weaknesses , emotions and conflicts that are still evident to everyone over the centuries .
By 1597, Shakespeare had already written and published 15 of his 37 plays.
From about 1590 to 1613, he wrote a total of 37 plays revolving around several main themes: histories, tragedies, comedies and tragicomedies.
Plays written before 1600 include Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Love’s Labour’s Lost, King John, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V.
Many of William Shakespeare’s first plays were histories. Henry VI (Parts I, II and III), Richard II and Henry V and have been interpreted as Shakespeare’s way of justifying the origins of the Tudor Dynasty and pleasing Queen Elizabeth 1. Julius Caesar portrays upheaval in classical Roman politics and the tragic love story Romeo and Juliet was in contrast to his several comedies of this early period A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night.
After 1600, that he wrote the tragedies Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth where the hero is morally flawed and ultimately destroys himself and those he loves . Finally he wrote several tragicomedies like Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest which end with hope and reconciliation. Other plays written during this late period include All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Pericles and Henry VIII.
Remarkably, Shakespeare’s reputation as a dramatic genius remained largely unrecognized until the early 1800s, but then built in fame throughout the Victorian period .
However, about 150 years after his death, questions arose about the authorship of William Shakespeare’s plays. This stemmed from the unsubstantiated details of Shakespeare’s life and the lack of contemporary primary sources.
Scholars and literary critics began to suggest that contemporary men of more known backgrounds and literary record , like Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Vere and Francis Bacon, were the true authors of the plays.
However, the great majority of Shakespearean scholars believe that William Shakespeare wrote all his own plays. They point to evidence of his name on the title pages of published poems and plays. Other authors and critics of the time acknowledged William Shakespeare as author of plays such as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors and King John. Royal records from 1601 show that William Shakespeare was recognized as a member of the King’s Men Theatre Company and as a ‘Groom of the Chamber’ by the court of King James I, where the company performed seven of Shakespeare’s plays. There is also strong circumstantial evidence of personal relationships by contemporaries who knew Shakespeare as an actor and a playwright.
William Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday, April 23, 1616. Church records show he was interred at Trinity Church ,Stratford on April 25, 1616. His wife Ann is also buried there.
In his will, he left the bulk of his possessions to his eldest daughter, Susanna and little seems to have gone to his wife, Anne, whom he bequeathed his “second-best bed.” Scholars note that the term “second-best bed” often refers to the bed belonging to the household’s master and mistress — the marital bed — and the “first-best bed” was reserved for guests.
World wide acclaim and reverence for William Shakespeare and his work has reached its height in the 20th and 21st centuries with continuous performances of his works on the stage and in all the contemporary visual media as well as the inspirations they provided to artists, classical music and the ballet. In total he wrote 39 plays, 154 sonnets and two long narrative poems. William Shakespeare is the best-selling fiction author of all time with an estimated 4 billion copies sold.