Hamlet. Julius Caesar. Macbeth. All of these plays have one thing in common. William Shakespeare. He was the son of John Shakespeare, an alderman and a successful glover originally from Snitterfield, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer. He was born in Stratford and baptized there on April 26, 1564. His actual date of birth remains unknown, but is traditionally celebrated on April 23, Saint George’s Day. This date, which can be traced to a mistake made by an 18th century scholar, has proved appealing to biographers because Shakespeare died on the same date in 1616. He was the third of eight children, and the eldest surviving son. ( Ackroyd 3 )
Shakespeare received a free education at a young age, due to the fact that his father was a Stratford alderman. The school was located behind a chapel, which overlooked Church street. This may have caused for many distractions throughout the school day. In order for him to get to the next level of his education, Shakespeare had to show he could read and write English. This was because what was next to be introduced to him was Latin, which was also known as “the language of the educated world.” (Ackroyd 57)
Before the school day officially started prayers were said and a psalm was sung. His lessons continued until nine. He was part of a class with approximately 40 other boys. They had a break at eleven and went back to work ain order for the boys to walk home in time for lunch. They came back at one and continued to learn until five. Shakespeare went to school for six days a week since it was closed on sundays.
In 1551 John Shakespeare left Snitterfield his birthplace, to follow a career in the neighbouring town of Stratford. He set up as a trader of agricultural produce. Corn, wool, malt, meat, skins, and leather were some of the things he sold. Documents found at a later date describe him as a glover. The land where his family farmed at Snitterfield supplied him with his different goods. As long as his father lived he seemed to have been a frequent visitor to Snitterfield and like his father and brothers, he was occasionally designated a farmer or ‘husbandman’ of that place.
Although there was records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Shakespeare was most likely educated at the King’s New School in Stratford, a free school chartered in 1553, about a quarter-mile from his home. Grammar schools varied in quality during the Elizabethan era, but grammar school curriculums were largely similar. The basic Latin text was standardized by royal decree, and the school would have provided an intensive education in grammar based upon Latin classical authors. (Bevington.)
Even though Catholicism was against the law at this time, scholars believe some members of Shakespeare’s family were Catholic. His mother, Mary, came from a very Catholic family. There is no physical evidence except for a Catholic statement of faith signed by John Shakespeare, that was found in the rafters of his house on Henley Street. The document was lost, therefore scholars disagree on it’s authenticity. The truth may be impossible to find considering there is evidence of both for and against Catholicism in many of his plays.
Shakespeare influenced many writers such as William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy, and Charles Dickens. The American novelist Herman Melville’s monologues are owed to Shakespeare. Scholars have also found 20,000 pieces of music that can be linked to Shakespeare’s work. This includes two operas by Giuseppe Verdi, Otello and Falstaff, whose work can be compared to many of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare also inspired painters, including the Romantics. The Swiss Romantic artist Henry Fuseli, translated Macbeth into German. For Sigmund Freud the psychoanalyst was influenced by Hamlet.
At the age of 18, Shakespeare married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway. The consistory court of the Diocese of Worcester issued a marriage license on November 27, 1582. The next day, two of Hathaway’s neighbors posted bonds guaranteeing that no lawful claims impeded the marriage. The ceremony may have been arranged in a hurry, since the Worcester chancellor allowed the marriage banns to be read once instead of the usual three time. Six months after the marriage Anne gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, baptized on May 26, 1583. Twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith, were born almost two years later and were baptized February 2, 1585. Hamnet died of unknown causes at the age of 11 and was buried on August 11, 1596. ( Farouky)
After the birth of the twins, Shakespeare left few historical traces until he is mentioned as part of the London theatre scene in 1592. The exception is the appearance of his name in Scholars refer to the years between 1585 – 1592 and 1578 – 1572 as Shakespeare’s “lost years”. (Farouky.)
Another 18th-century story has Shakespeare starting his theatrical career minding the horses of theatre patrons in London. John Aubrey reported that Shakespeare had been a country schoolmaster. Some 20th-century scholars have suggested that Shakespeare may have been employed as a schoolmaster by Alexander Hoghton of Lancashire, a Catholic landowner who named a certain “William Shakeshafte” in his will. Little evidence substantiates such stories other than hearsay collected after his death, and Shakeshafte was a common name in the Lancashire area. Therefore there is no accurate way to ensure what happened in his “lost years”. (Ogburn.)
It is not known definitively when Shakespeare began writing, but contemporary allusions and records of performances show that several of his plays were on the London stage by 1592. By then, he was sufficiently known in London to be attacked in print by the playwright Robert Greene.
Scholars differ on the exact meaning of Greene’s words, but most agree that Greene was accusing Shakespeare of plagiarizing university-educated writers such as, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and Greene himself . The italicised phrase parodying the line “Oh, tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide” from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3, along with the pun “Shake-scene”, clearly identify Shakespeare as Greene’s target. As used here, Johannes Factotum (“Jack of all trades”) refers to a second-rate tinkerer with the work of others, rather than the more common “universal genius”. Greene’s attack is the earliest mention of Shakespeare’s work in the theatre. Biographers suggest that his career may have began any time from the mid-1580s to just before Greene’s remarks.
After 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. He only wrote and acted for the company. Some of the members were Thomas Pope, Will Kempe, John Heminges and Augustine Phillips. John Heminges became the financial advisor and oversaw the member’s wills. Heminges usually played the older characters in the plays. He died a rich man with the title of “Gent”. Augustine Phillips was one of the leading members. He was the one that represented his accompanying actors in front of the Privy Council. He played serious parts such as Cassius, but would also be able to entertain the audience with farcical comedy.
Thomas Pope was known for being a great acrobat and clown. William kempe was known for being the most versatile actor in the company. He was small and stout, but also quick on his feet. This made him a great comic actor. (Schuessler.) When he was not dressed up as a female street seller he was a clown. His sense of humour was very obsene. During his performance in Hamlet he played the role of gravedigger and clown. Due to the fact that he was gagging too often in a early version of Hamlet, Kempe left the Lord Chamberlain’s men. These men became his lifelong companions. ( Ackroyd 221- 223 )
There were sixteen actors in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Five to six were boys who played the female parts. The boys were serving under an unofficial apprenticeship. They would spend anywhere from three to twelve years learning from their “master”. Their “master” is an older actor that they lived with and learned from. The goal of these young boys was to go into the profession level by level. They also would have preferred if they became a part of the company they apprenticed with. ( Ackroyd 224)
After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new King James I, and changed its name to the King’s Men. In 1599, a partnership of members of the company built their own theatre on the south bank of the River Thames, which they named the Globe. (Ogburn.) In 1608, the partnership also took over the blackfriars indoor theatre. Records of Shakespeare’s property purchases and investments indicate that his association with the company made him a wealthy man, and in 1597, he bought the second-largest house in Stratford, New Place, and in 1605, invested in a share of the parish tithes in Stratford. ( Brandeis University )
1592 was the year Shakespeare started his acting career. No one knows for certain how Shakespeare first started his career in acting, although several London actors would visit Stratford regularly and so sometime between 1585 and 1592, it is probable that young Shakespeare could have been recruited by the Leicester’s or Queen’s men.(Ogburn.) Either an acting troupe recruited Shakespeare in his hometown or he was forced to travel by himself to London to begin his career. He was an established actor in the great city by the end of 1592. In that year came the first reference to Shakespeare in the world of the theatre.
Some of Shakespeare’s plays were published in four editions, beginning in 1594, and by 1598, his name had become a selling point and began to appear on the title pages. Shakespeare continued to act in his own and other plays after his success as a playwright.(Schuessler) The absence of his name from the 1605 cast list for Jonson’s Volpone is taken by some scholars as a sign that his acting career was coming to an end. The First Folio of 1623, however, lists Shakespeare as one of “the Principal Actors in all these Plays”, some of which were first staged after Volpone, although we cannot know for certain which roles he played.(Schuessler.) In 1709, Rowe passed down a tradition that Shakespeare played the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Later traditions maintain that he also played Adam in As You Like It, and the Chorus in Henry V, though scholars doubt the sources of that information. ( Ackroyd 344)
Throughout his career, Shakespeare divided his time between London and Stratford. In 1596, the year before he bought New Place as his family home in Stratford, Shakespeare was living in the parish of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, north of the River Thames. He moved across the river to Southwark by 1599, the same year his company constructed the Globe Theatre there. By 1604, he had moved north of the river again, to an area north of St. Paul’s Cathedral with many fine houses. There, he rented rooms from a French Huguenot named Christopher Mountjoy, a maker of ladies’ wigs and other headgear. ( Ackroyd 347 )
The Globe theatre was built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s playing company. Shakespeare owned 12.5 percent of the globe and eventually went down to seven when other shareholders joined. It was originally a theatre in Shoreditch, but once the twenty year lease ran out, they dismantled it piece by piece and reconstructed in a different place. During a performance in 1613 the Globe went up in flames. A theatrical canon was misfired and set the wooden beams on fire. No one was injured in this fire. After it was rebuilt Shakespeare had a controlling portion. In 1642 the globe was closed down by the puritans and taken down in order to have more room for tenants. The location was never known until 1989 when the structure was found under a car park.
Shakespeare’s work was not considered good until he passed away. Throughout his lifetime he wrote 37 plays. ( Brandeis University) One of the most popular was Julius Caesar. It was a tragedy written in 1599. The play focuses on friendship, patriotism and honor. Throughout the play Brutus is conflicted on whether he should help kill Julius Caesar. Cassius is feeding Brutus false information by giving him letters he wrote himself but saying they came from the roman people. At the senate meeting they all stab Caesar and Brutus is last.
Speak, hands, for me!
Casca first, then the other Conspirators and Marcus Brutus stab Caesar.
Et tu, Brute?- Then fall, Caesar!
What makes this play very popular is the resonating themes throughout like betrayal and regret. Brutus was manipulated into killing Caesar by others.Caesar did not expect one of his best friends to have a hand in his death and felt completely betrayed by Brutus.
Another very popular play is Macbeth, written in 1606. This play focuses on the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition. Macbeth was a Scottish general that was told by three witches that his prophecy would one day lead him to become king of Scotland. These next verses illustrate the prophecies that the three witches told Macbeth.
All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!
All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!
All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter!
Macbeth fulfills these prophecies not knowing the negative effect it would have on his life, as well as his friend’s and wife’s life. His wife pushes him to take some action, and he ends up killing the king and becoming ruler himself. He quickly spirals out of control and continues to murder others in order to cover his and his wife’s deeds. Macbeth starts to become extremely guilty and paranoid. Lady Macbeth quickly spirals down. She starts to sleepwalk and hallucinate. As she is walking down the hall she goes to try to wash the blood off her hands but it will not wash off. This is ironic due to the fact that she told her husband earlier ” a little water washes us of this deed.” Lady Macbeth commits suicide and leaves Macbeth contemplating life’s purpose. He soon spirals down and gets conquered and killed by Macduff once he Macduff hears the news of his family’s death and vows revenge. All along Macbeth had misinterpreted the last prophecy. When the witches told him he could not be killed by anyone except someone who was not born from a woman he did not clearly understand. Macduff was born through a c-section therefore not born from a woman.
Despair thy charm;
And let the angel whom thou still hast serv’d
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb
Untimely ripp’d. (5.7.59-62)
‘A Winter’s Tale’ was seen by Dr. Forman at the Globe on May 15, 1611. It is based upon Greene’s popular romance which was called ‘Pandosto’ in the first edition in 1588, but in 1648 was renamed ‘Dorastus and Fawnia.’ Shakespeare copied Greene, also known as his rival, in allotting a seashore to Bohemia. A few lines were taken from the story of Boccaccio with which Shakespeare had dealt just before in ‘Cymbeline.’ But Shakespeare created the high spirited Paulina and the thief Autolycus, whose seductive vigilantism had become well known, and he invented the reconciliation of Leontes, the irrationally jealous husband, with Hermione, his wife, whose resignation ledd the story into its intense pathos. In the boy Mamilius, the poet illustrated childhood, while the love between Florizel and Perdita is the perfect gentle romance.
It was in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ Shakespeare’s first tragedy, that he proved himself to be the writer we know today. It showed talent In ‘Romeo and Juliet’ he turned to account a tragic romance of Italian origin, which was already popular in English versions. ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ is a tragic poem that has no comparison in any literature.
What’s here? a cup, closed in my true love’s hand? Poison, Juliet
I see, hath been his timeless end:
O churl! drunk all, and left no friendly drop
To help me after? I will kiss thy lips;
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them, To make die with a restorative.
there rust, and let me die.
Falls on ROMEO’s body, and dies
This shows how dramatic of a tragedy this play is. Both the protagonists die in the end in a very catastrophic way that leaves the readers feeling despaired. The feelings this play emotes is what makes it one of the most popular around the world. (Stewart.)
If the Nurse’s remark, ”Tis since the earthquake now eleven years’ (1.3- 23), was taken literally, the composition of the play must be referred to 1591, because no earthquakes in the sixteenth century were experienced in England after 1580. The original representation on the stage of three other pieces of the period have more explicit information. This revealed Shakespeare disguised as a person who can adapt of plays written by other people.
Mary, youngest daughter of Robert Arden, a wealthy farmer of Wilmcote was chosen by John Shakespeare to be his wife. The Arden family was settled at Parkhall, Warwickshire, and was the most influential in the county. Robert Arden was a progenitor, and sheriff of Warwickshire and Leicestershire in 1438. John Shakespeare’s wife belonged to a humbler branch of the family, and there was no trustworthy evidence between the two branches. Her grandfather who was Thomas Arden, purchased an estate at Snitterfield, in 1501 which was passed down with other properties, to her father Robert, John Shakespeare’s father, Richard, was one of Robert Arden’s Snitterfield tenants.( Yarbrough )
By his first wife, Robert Arden had seven daughters,who were all married except for two. John Shakespeare’s wife, Mary seemed to have been the youngest. Robert Arden’s second wife, widow of John Hill, a substantial farmer survived him. When he died at the end of 1556, he owned a farmhouse at Wilmcote with many acres, besides the hundred and some acres at Snitterfield and two farmhouses which he rented out to tenants. His will, which was drawn up on November 24, 1556, and approved on December 16, indicated that he was an observant Catholic. For his two youngest daughters, Alice and Mary, he showed special affection by choosing them as his executors. Mary received a house with some fifty acres of land.
He died on 23 April 1616, at the age of 52. ( Columbia College) He was married to Anne Hathaway until his death and was survived by two daughters, Susanna and Judith in 1596. Susanna married Dr John Hall, and his last surviving descendant was their daughter Elizabeth Hall. There are no direct descendants of the poet and playwright alive today, but the diarist John Aubrey recalls in his Brief Lives that Shakespeare was the real father of the poet William Davenant, his godson. Davenant was brought up as the son of a vintner at the Crown Tavern in Oxford, on the road between London and Stratford, where Shakespeare would stay when travelling between his home and the capital.
Shakespeare is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was granted the honour of burial in the chancel not on account of his fame as a playwright but for purchasing a share of the tithe of the church for a considerable sum of money. A monument on the wall near his grave, probably placed by his family, features a bust showing Shakespeare posed in the act of writing. Each year on his claimed birthday, a new quill pen is placed in the writing hand of the bust. He is believed to have written the epitaph on his tombstone which is
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare
Blessed by y man y spares hes stones
And curst be he y moves my bones
Shakespeare’s work continues to be performed around the world, on television, listened to on the radio and cinema, as well as in the theatre. The Royal Shakespeare Company, which employs some of Britain’s best actors, is located in Stratford and London. (Stewart.) They play many Shakespeare plays every year. Shakespeare’s work has been translated into almost every language, letting non-English speakers be able to learn and decipher his world renowned stories and plays. Many English people find Shakespeare difficult to understand and analyze, therefore it must be difficult to try and understand it once translated in other languages. He uses old words and phrases which are no longer used today. His grammar is very complex due to the fact that he refers to events that mean nothing to us now.
Shakespeare’s plays mirror today’s society in many ways. With their themes of love, forgiveness, loss, lust for power and deceit. Many of the themes in his plays are ones we are interested in today. One example is the theme of racism through his play “Othello the Moor of Venice, and Shylock, the Jew in The Merchant of Venice.” (Bevington.) Shakespeare, his life and plays give us information about contemporary politics and culture. This explains why Shakespeare is still an important and relevant figure in history 400 years after his death. His influence in modern writers is still acknowledged today. Many writers are influenced by his work.