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Lesson 18

William Shakespeare.



William Shakespeare (baptised April 26, 1564 died April 23, 1616)[1] was an English poet and playwright widely regarded as the greatest writer of the English language,[2] and the world's preeminent dramatist.[2] He wrote about 37 plays and 154 sonnets (see Shakespeare Apocrypha for plays uncertainly attributed to Shakespeare), as well as a variety of other poems. Already a popular writer in his own lifetime, Shakespeare's reputation became increasingly celebrated after his death and his work adulated by numerous prominent cultural figures through the centuries.[3] In addition, Shakespeare is the most quoted writer in the literature and history of the English-speaking world.[4] He is often considered to be England's national poet[5] and is sometimes referred to as the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard")[6] or the "Swan of Avon".[7]

Shakespeare is believed to have produced most of his work between 1586 and 1616, although the exact dates and chronology of the plays attributed to him are often uncertain. He is counted among the very few playwrights who have excelled in both tragedy and comedy, and his plays combine popular appeal with complex characterisation, poetic grandeur and philosophical depth.

Shakespeare's works have been translated into every major living language, and his plays are continually performed all around the world. In addition, many quotations and neologisms from his plays have passed into everyday usage in English and other languages. Over the years, many people have speculated about Shakespeare's life, raising questions about his sexuality, religious affiliation, and the authorship of his works.

The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed (National Portrait Gallery, London).


Born: c.April 1564
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England


Died: April 23, 1616
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
Occupation(s): Playwright, poet, actor


Early life


William Shakespeare (also spelled Shakspere, Shaksper, Shaxper, and Shake-speare, due to the fact that spelling in Elizabethan times was not fixed and absolute[8]) was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in April 1564, the son of John Shakespeare, a successful glover and alderman from Snitterfield, and of Mary Arden, a daughter of the gentry. His birth is assumed to have occurred at the family house on Henley Street. Shakespeare's christening record dates to April 26 of that year. Because christenings were performed within a few days of birth, tradition has settled on April 23 as his birthday. This date provides a convenient symmetry because Shakespeare died on the same day, April 23 (May 3 on the Gregorian calendar), in 1616.

Shakespeare is believed to have attended King Edward VI Grammar School in central Stratford,[9] since as the son of a prominent town official he was entitled to do so for free;[citation needed] however, the records that would confirm this no longer exist.[9]

By 1596, Shakespeare had moved to the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, and by 1598 he appeared at the top of a list of actors in Every Man in His Humour written by Ben Jonson. Also by 1598, his name began to appear on the title pages of his plays, presumably as a selling point.

There is a tradition that Shakespeare, in addition to writing many of the plays his company enacted, and being concerned as part-owner of the company with business and financial details, continued to act in various parts, such as the ghost of Hamlet's father, Adam in As You Like It, and the Chorus in Henry V.[citation needed]

He appears to have moved across the Thames River to Southwark sometime around 1599. By 1604, he had moved again, north of the river, where he lodged just north of St Paul's Cathedral with a Huguenot family named Mountjoy. His residence there is worth noting because he helped arrange a marriage between the Mountjoys' daughter and their apprentice Stephen Bellott. Bellott later sued his father-in-law for defaulting on part of the promised dowry, and Shakespeare was called as a witness.

Various documents recording legal affairs and commercial transactions show that Shakespeare grew rich enough during his stay in London to buy a property in Blackfriars, London and own the second-largest house in Stratford, New Place.

 

Later years

Shakespeare's funerary monument
Shakespeare's House in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Now home of the Shakespeare's Birthplace TrustShakespeare's last two plays were written in 1613, after which he appears to have retired to Stratford. He died on April 23, 1616, at the age of 52, on the same date (though not same day for England was still functioning under the Julian calendar) as Spanish writer and poet Miguel de Cervantes. He also died on his birthday, if the tradition that he was born on April 23 is correct. He was married to Hathaway until his death and was survived by his two daughters, Susanna and Judith. Susanna married Dr John Hall, but there are no direct descendants of the poet and playwright alive today.

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 ?440 (a considerable sum of money at the time). A monument placed by his family on the wall nearest his grave features a bust of him 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:

Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

 

Works

Plays
Main article: Shakespeare's plays
A number of Shakespeare's plays are widely regarded as among the greatest in the English language and in Western literature. He wrote tragedies, histories, comedies and romances, which have been translated into every major living language,[citation needed] in addition to being continually performed around the world.

As was normal in the period, Shakespeare based many of his plays on the work of other playwrights and reworked earlier stories and historical material. For example, Hamlet (c. 1601) is probably a reworking of an older, lost play (the so-called Ur-Hamlet), and King Lear is an adaptation of an earlier play, also called King Lear. For plays on historical subjects, Shakespeare relied heavily on two principal texts. Most of the Roman and Greek plays are based on Plutarch's Parallel Lives (from the 1579 English translation by Sir Thomas North[10]), and the English history plays are indebted to Raphael Holinshed's 1587 Chronicles.

Shakespeare's plays tend to be placed into three main stylistic groups:

early comedies and histories (such as A Midsummer Night's Dream and Henry IV, Part 1)
middle period (which includes his most famous tragedies, Othello, Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear, as well as "problem plays" such as Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure)
later romances (such as The Winter's Tale and The Tempest).
The earlier plays range from broad comedy to historical nostalgia, while the middle-period plays tend to be grander in terms of theme, addressing such issues as betrayal, murder, lust, power, and ambition. By contrast, his late romances feature redemptive plotlines with ambiguous endings and the use of magic and other fantastical elements. However, the borders between these genres are never clear.


Image of Shakespeare from the First Folio (1623), the first collected edition of his playsSome of Shakespeare's plays first appeared in print as a series of quartos, but most remained unpublished until 1623 when the posthumous First Folio was published by two actors who had been in Shakespeare's company: John Heminges and Henry Condell. The traditional division of his plays into tragedies, comedies, and histories follows the logic of the First Folio. It is at this point that stage directions, punctuation and act divisions enter his plays, setting the trend for further future editorial decisions. Modern criticism has also labelled some of his plays "problem plays" or tragi-comedies, as they elude easy categorisation, or perhaps purposefully break generic conventions. The term "romances" has also been preferred for the later comedies.

There are many controversies about the exact chronology of Shakespeare's plays. In addition, the fact that Shakespeare did not produce an authoritative print version of his plays during his life accounts for part of the textual problem often noted with his plays, which means that for several of the plays there are different textual versions. As a result, the problem of identifying what Shakespeare actually wrote became a major concern for most modern editions. Textual corruptions also stem from printers' errors, compositors' misreadings, or wrongly scanned lines from the source material. Additionally, in an age before standardised spelling, Shakespeare often wrote a word several times in a different spelling, contributing further to the transcribers' confusions. Modern scholars also believe Shakespeare revised his plays throughout the years, sometimes leading to two existing versions of one play.


Sonnets
Main article: Shakespeare's sonnets
Shakespeare's sonnets are a collection of 154 poems that deal with such themes as love, beauty, and mortality. All but two first appeared in the 1609 publication entitled Shakespeare's Sonnets; numbers 138 ("When my love swears that she is made of truth") and 144 ("Two loves have I, of comfort and despair") had previously been published in a 1599 miscellany entitled The Passionate Pilgrim. The Sonnets were written over a number of years, probably beginning in the early 1590s.

The conditions under which the sonnets were published are unclear. The 1609 text is dedicated to one "Mr. W.H.", who is described as "the only begetter" of the poems in the dedication. It is unknown if the dedication was written by Shakespeare or Thomas Thorpe, the publisher. It is also unknown who this man was, although there are many theories, including those who believe him to be the young man featured in the sonnets.[11] In addition, it is not known whether the publication of the sonnets was even authorised by Shakespeare.


[edit] Other poems
In addition to his sonnets, Shakespeare also wrote several longer poems, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and A Lover's Complaint. These poems appear to have been written either in an attempt to win the patronage of a rich benefactor (as was common at the time) or as the result of such patronage. For example, The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis were both dedicated to Shakespeare's patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.

In addition, Shakespeare wrote the short poem The Phoenix and the Turtle. The anthology The Passionate Pilgrim was attributed to him upon its first publication in 1599, but in fact only five of its poems are by Shakespeare and the attribution was withdrawn in the second edition.





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