In Stratford, Avon in Warwickshire on April 23, 1564, a legend was born. His name was William Shakespeare. He was baptized in the Holy Trinity church three days later. Shakespeare also died in Stratford on April 23, 1616. Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare, was a leather merchant when he married Mary Arden, an inheritor of farmland.
William Shakespeare was one of eight children. John Shakespeare later became a member of the city council and a respected bailiff. Due to his respectable position, John Shakespeare was given free tuition for his son, William to attend a Stratford grammar school. At the age of six, William Shakespeare began his education at school where he was involved in small parts of the school plays.
In school, his strongest subjects were astrology, medicine, and law. Although Shakespeare did not attend a university, he had great knowledge of Latin and Classical Greek. As a boy, he also learned many things from places other than school. Shakespeare enjoyed the woods, fields, birds, insects, and small animals. Later, he was fond of outdoor sports such as, hunting, hawking, and fishing. At the age of eighteen, on November 28, 1582, William Shakespeare married twenty-six-year-old, Anne Hathaway.
Their first child, Susanna, was born in 1583. Two years later in 1585, twins, Hamnet and Judith were born. Sadly, Hamnet died at the age of eleven on August 11, 1596. Shakespeare’s excitement for poaching caused him great trouble.
In about 1584, he was caught hunting on Sir Thomas Lucy’s land. Because of this trouble, he was forced to leave his hometown and move to London. In 1592, at twenty-eight years old, Shakespeare was recognized as an actor and playwright, as well as being mentioned in another man’s book for the first time. In his book, Robert Greene, a playwright, accused Shakespeare of borrowing other people’s work.
During the period of 1592 to 1594, when London theaters were closed, Shakespeare wrote his earliest sonnets and poems, “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece”. Shakespeare’s childhood friend, Richard Field, printed both poems. Until 1598, William Shakespeare’s theater work was done in a district, northeast of London in the parish of Shoreditch. The Theatre and the Curtain, two playhouses in that area, were both managed by James Burbage, the father of Richard Burbage.
Up to 1596, Shakespeare lived near these theaters in Bishops gate. Between 1596 and 1599 William Shakespeare moved across the Thames River to a district called Bankside to work in the Rose and the Swan, two new theaters built by Philip Hens low. Due to this competition, Burbage also moved to Bankside and built the Globe Theatre. Shakespeare’s shares in this theater brought him much money.
In 1596, Shakespeare’s life took a twist for the better. His father was granted a coat of arms. This made Shakespeare happy because he was then considered higher class than most actors. In 1597, Shakespeare bought New Place, the biggest house in Stratford along with his other properties. For the first time, Shakespeare’s name appeared on the title pages of his printed plays in 1598. In that same year, Francis Meres praised Shakespeare and mentioned his poems, sonnets, and the names of twelve of his plays.
Francis Meres showed that people knew and respected the intelligence of William Shakespeare. After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, King James I became her successor. Shakespeare’s business in theater was taken over by the king. It was called King’s Company. Other names for it were Earl of Derby’s and the Lord Chamberlain’s. Shakespeare and his fellow players were honored by James I and were appointed Grooms of the King’s Chamber.
In 1608, the company expanded by acquiring Blackfriars Theatre. This playhouse was smaller than the Globe Theatre and it was mainly for royal families. Later, they performed in both theaters. Although Shakespeare acted very little in 1603, he had favorite roles such as, Adam in As you Like It and Ghost in Hamlet. The King’s Company was the most successful business of its time.
Unfortunately, in 1607, when he was forty-three-years-old, Shakespeare suffered a severe physical breakdown. During that year, his daughter Susanna married John Hall, a doctor, and a year later Shakespeare’s first grandchild, Elizabeth, was born. Also in 1607 Shakespeare’s brother Edmund, who was an actor in London, died at the age of twenty-seven. At about 1607, William Shakespeare became part of a group of famous writers, who gathered at Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside. Sir Walter Raleigh formed this club. A man named Ben Jonson was the leading participant, who was liked for his talent and kindness.
He and Shakespeare would usually have challenges of wit. In 1610, William Shakespeare retired from his theater work and returned to Stratford. In 1613, the Globe Theater burned. Although he lost money from this, he was still wealthy. In 1616, his daughter Judith married. On April 23, 1616 at the age of fifty-two, William Shakespeare died.
He was buried in the chancel of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford. In his will Shakespeare left most of his property to his daughter, Susanna. To his wife, he left his “second best bed”. This was the bed that Shakespeare and his wife slept in, but the “best bed” was for their guests to sleep in. She was allowed by law to own one-third of his goods and real estate. Shakespeare’s wife was also given the home.
She died on August 6, 1623. John Aubrey, an English scholar of old and rare books, wrote about Shakespeare sixty-five years after he died. William Shakespeare had a normal life. He was a hard working, middle-class man who took good care of his family. Despite his genius, many people did not realize Shakespeare’s greatness. People did not think that he was capable of writing his plays.
They thought that he could not have learned about professions with barely any schooling and poor speech manners. Since the 1800’s, people tried to prove that Shakespeare did not write his plays, and that others did. Sir Francis Bacon had many arguments with Shakespeare trying to prove that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays but he himself did. After Bacon, came Earl of Oxford and other men who were believed to have written Shakespeare’s plays. Christopher Marlow was the most recent person who has allegedly been the author of his plays. Some people even said that “Shakespeare” was a name for an entire group of poets and playwrights.
Many people refused to believe in his intelligence. Only few men of his time such as Meres and Jonson recognized Shakespeare as a great writer. People wanted to know about Shakespeare’s private life, so in 1609 his one hundred sixty-four sonnets were published. Shakespeare’s sonnets were more popular than anything else that he wrote except “Hamlet”. People enjoyed them as poetry, but even more so seeing that they hinted to a true story. The story is of a young royal who destroyed Shakespeare’s friendship and befriended someone else.
In the end the royal is forgiven. Many people had trouble telling whether the story was true or make believe. This predicament brought the “Problem of the Sonnets”. Several people thought that the friend was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. Others said it was Henry Wrothesely, Earl of Southampton. Regardless of the other opinions, the finest outlook was that the sonnets were full of passion and told some truth.
Other interesting renaissance poems include “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece”. These works showed much of Shakespeare’s spirit as a young man. There are also about sixty songs distributed throughout his plays. His songs demonstrate originality, melodies, and rhythms.
Shakespeare’s first period of writing was learning from others. This was when he was between the ages of twenty-six and thirty. He applied Roman comedy and the ways of playwrights before him. Shakespeare followed the practices of Christopher Marlowe. Shakespeare composed plays in the style of “Tragedy of Blood” which was popular at the time. He later wrote historical plays when they were well liked.
During the second period, most people admired Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and Henry IV. Another side of the second period included comedies, which were always enjoyed by most people. Many of these plays were fun and happy poetry. In about 1601, “Hamlet” was popular. Plays like this showed the sorrow and bitterness of Shakespeare’s plays during the third period. The fourth period introduced a new style of theater.
Tragicomedy or dramatic romance was calm, quiet, and lovely. This form is illustrated in “The Tempest”; Shakespeare’s most beautiful play. These four periods display all of William Shakespeare’s amazing theatrical abilities. Out of all of William Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet is the most scheming and suspenseful. It is a tale of a prince who returns home to Denmark from school in Germany to attend his father’s funeral. Prince Hamlet’s goal is to avenge the king’s death.
To do this, he must first undergo many stages of detecting the culprit. After he is sure of the murderer he struggles to punish the criminal. In the end Prince Hamlet’s goal is accomplished. William Shakespeare’s talent is irreplaceable and his work could be done by no one other than he. Shakespeare’s knowledge is not what one could learn in school, but the knowledge of a genius. His brilliance and wisdom is shown in all of his work.
1. William Shakespeare – His Life, Art, and Times. Compton’s Encyclopedia and Fact Index. Vol. 21 pp. 129-1412. Halliday F. E Shakespeare. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. 19863.
Shakespeare Resource Center, web Stock non. Carla Lyn Cliff Notes Shakespeare’s Hamlet. New York, NY: Hungry Minds Inc. 2000.