This article is about the poet and playwright.
For other persons of the same name, see William Shakespeare (disambiguation).
For other uses of "Shakespeare", see Shakespeare (disambiguation).
|Born||Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England|
|Baptised||26 April 1564|
|Died||23 April 1616 (aged 52)
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
|Resting place||Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon|
|Years active||c. 1585–1613|
|Spouse(s)||Anne Hathaway (m. 1582)|
William Shakespeare (bapt.
26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist.
He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "the Bard").
They also continue to be studied and reinterpreted.
At age 49 (around 1613), he appears to have retired to Stratford, where he died three years later.
Few records of Shakespeare's private life survive; this has stimulated considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, his sexuality, his religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.
Shakespeare produced most of his known works between 1589 and 1613.
Many of Shakespeare's plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy in his lifetime.
However, in 1623, two fellow actors and friends of Shakespeare's, John Heminges and Henry Condell, published a more definitive text known as the First Folio, a posthumous collected edition of Shakespeare's dramatic works that included all but two of his plays.
The volume was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson, in which Jonson presciently hailed Shakespeare in a now-famous quote as "not of an age, but for all time".
Main article: Life of William Shakespeare
He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was baptised on 26 April 1564.
His date of birth is unknown, but is traditionally observed on 23 April, 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 John and Mary Shakespeare's eight children, and their oldest surviving child; their first two children, both girls, did not live beyond infancy.
Although no attendance records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Shakespeare was probably educated at the King's New School in Stratford, a free school chartered in 1553, about a quarter-mile (400 m) from his home.
Grammar schools varied in quality during the Elizabethan era, but grammar school curricula were largely similar: the basic Latin text was standardised by royal decree, and the school would have provided an intensive education in grammar based upon Latin classical authors.
At the age of 18, Shakespeare married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway.
The next day, two of Hathaway's neighbours posted bonds guaranteeing that no lawful claims impeded the marriage.
The ceremony may have been arranged in some haste since the Worcester chancellor allowed the marriage banns to be read once instead of the usual three times, and six months after the marriage Anne gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, baptised 26 May 1583.
Hamnet died of unknown causes at the age of 11 and was buried 11 August 1596.
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 the "complaints bill" of a law case before the Queen's Bench court at Westminster dated Michaelmas Term 1588 and 9 October 1589.
Scholars refer to the years between 1585 and 1592 as Shakespeare's "lost years".
Biographers attempting to account for this period have reported many stories.
Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare's first biographer, recounted a Stratford legend that Shakespeare fled the town for London to escape prosecution for deer poaching in the estate of local squire Thomas Lucy.
Shakespeare is also supposed to have taken his revenge on Lucy by writing a scurrilous ballad about him.
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 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 collected after his death, and Shakeshafte was a common name in the Lancashire area.
London and theatrical career
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.
Scholars differ on the exact meaning of Greene's words, but most agree that Greene was accusing Shakespeare of reaching above his rank in trying to match such university-educated writers as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and Greene himself (the so-called "University Wits").
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 surviving mention of Shakespeare's work in the theatre.
Biographers suggest that his career may have begun 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.
In 1608, the partnership also took over the Blackfriars indoor theatre.
Extant 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.
Shakespeare continued to act in his own and other plays after his success as a playwright.
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 nearing its 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 one cannot know for certain which roles he played.
In 1610, John Davies of Hereford wrote that "good Will" played "kingly" roles.
In 1709, Rowe passed down a tradition that Shakespeare played the ghost of Hamlet's father.
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.
Later years and death
He was still working as an actor in London in 1608; in an answer to the sharers' petition in 1635, Cuthbert Burbage stated that after purchasing the lease of the Blackfriars Theatre in 1608 from Henry Evans, the King's Men "placed men players" there, "which were Heminges, Condell, Shakespeare, etc.".
However, it is perhaps relevant that the bubonic plague raged in London throughout 1609.
The London public playhouses were repeatedly closed during extended outbreaks of the plague (a total of over 60 months closure between May 1603 and February 1610), which meant there was often no acting work.
Retirement from all work was uncommon at that time.
Shakespeare continued to visit London during the years 1611–1614.
In 1612, he was called as a witness in Bellott v Mountjoy, a court case concerning the marriage settlement of Mountjoy's daughter, Mary.
After 1610, Shakespeare wrote fewer plays, and none are attributed to him after 1613.
His last three plays were collaborations, probably with John Fletcher, who succeeded him as the house playwright of the King's Men.
Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, at the age of 52.
He died within a month of signing his will, a document which he begins by describing himself as being in "perfect health".
No extant contemporary source explains how or why he died.
Half a century later, John Ward, the vicar of Stratford, wrote in his notebook: "Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and, it seems, drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted", not an impossible scenario since Shakespeare knew Jonson and Drayton.
Of the tributes from fellow authors, one refers to his relatively sudden death: "We wondered, Shakespeare, that thou went'st so soon / From the world's stage to the grave's tiring room."
He was survived by his wife and two daughters.
Shakespeare signed his last will and testament on 25 March 1616; the following day, his new son-in-law, Thomas Quiney was found guilty of fathering an illegitimate son by Margaret Wheeler, who had died during childbirth.
Thomas was ordered by the church court to do public penance, which would have caused much shame and embarrassment for the Shakespeare family.
Shakespeare bequeathed the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna under stipulations that she pass it down intact to "the first son of her body".
The Quineys had three children, all of whom died without marrying.
The Halls had one child, Elizabeth, who married twice but died without children in 1670, ending Shakespeare's direct line.
Shakespeare's will scarcely mentions his wife, Anne, who was probably entitled to one-third of his estate automatically.
He did make a point, however, of leaving her "my second best bed", a bequest that has led to much speculation.
Some scholars see the bequest as an insult to Anne, whereas others believe that the second-best bed would have been the matrimonial bed and therefore rich in significance.
The epitaph carved into the stone slab covering his grave includes a curse against moving his bones, which was carefully avoided during restoration of the church in 2008:
(Modern spelling: Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear, / To dig the dust enclosed here.
/ Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.)
Some time before 1623, a funerary monument was erected in his memory on the north wall, with a half-effigy of him in the act of writing.
Most playwrights of the period typically collaborated with others at some point, and critics agree that Shakespeare did the same, mostly early and late in his career.
Shakespeare's plays are difficult to date precisely, however, and studies of the texts suggest that Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona may also belong to Shakespeare's earliest period.
His first histories, which draw heavily on the 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, dramatise the destructive results of weak or corrupt rule and have been interpreted as a justification for the origins of the Tudor dynasty.
The Comedy of Errors was also based on classical models, but no source for The Taming of the Shrew has been found, though it is related to a separate play of the same name and may have derived from a folk story.
Like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which two friends appear to approve of rape, the Shrew's story of the taming of a woman's independent spirit by a man sometimes troubles modern critics, directors, and audiences.
Shakespeare's early classical and Italianate comedies, containing tight double plots and precise comic sequences, give way in the mid-1590s to the romantic atmosphere of his most acclaimed comedies.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a witty mixture of romance, fairy magic, and comic lowlife scenes.
Shakespeare's next comedy, the equally romantic Merchant of Venice, contains a portrayal of the vengeful Jewish moneylender Shylock, which reflects Elizabethan views but may appear derogatory to modern audiences.
His characters become more complex and tender as he switches deftly between comic and serious scenes, prose and poetry, and achieves the narrative variety of his mature work.
This period begins and ends with two tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, the famous romantic tragedy of sexually charged adolescence, love, and death; and Julius Caesar—based on Sir Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives—which introduced a new kind of drama.
According to Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro, in Julius Caesar, "the various strands of politics, character, inwardness, contemporary events, even Shakespeare's own reflections on the act of writing, began to infuse each other".
Many critics believe that Shakespeare's greatest tragedies represent the peak of his art.
The titular hero of one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, Hamlet, has probably been discussed more than any other Shakespearean character, especially for his famous soliloquy which begins "To be or not to be; that is the question".
Unlike the introverted Hamlet, whose fatal flaw is hesitation, the heroes of the tragedies that followed, Othello and King Lear, are undone by hasty errors of judgement.
The plots of Shakespeare's tragedies often hinge on such fatal errors or flaws, which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves.
In King Lear, the old king commits the tragic error of giving up his powers, initiating the events which lead to the torture and blinding of the Earl of Gloucester and the murder of Lear's youngest daughter Cordelia.
According to the critic Frank Kermode, "the play...offers neither its good characters nor its audience any relief from its cruelty".
In Macbeth, the shortest and most compressed of Shakespeare's tragedies, uncontrollable ambition incites Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder the rightful king and usurp the throne until their own guilt destroys them in turn.
In this play, Shakespeare adds a supernatural element to the tragic structure.
In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more major plays: Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest, as well as the collaboration, Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than the comedies of the 1590s, but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially tragic errors.
Some commentators have seen this change in mood as evidence of a more serene view of life on Shakespeare's part, but it may merely reflect the theatrical fashion of the day.
Main article: Shakespeare in performance
It is not clear for which companies Shakespeare wrote his early plays.
The title page of the 1594 edition of Titus Andronicus reveals that the play had been acted by three different troupes.
Londoners flocked there to see the first part of Henry IV, Leonard Digges recording, "Let but Falstaff come, Hal, Poins, the rest ... and you scarce shall have a room".
When the company found themselves in dispute with their landlord, they pulled The Theatre down and used the timbers to construct the Globe Theatre, the first playhouse built by actors for actors, on the south bank of the Thames at Southwark.
The Globe opened in autumn 1599, with Julius Caesar one of the first plays staged.
Most of Shakespeare's greatest post-1599 plays were written for the Globe, including Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.
Although the performance records are patchy, the King's Men performed seven of Shakespeare's plays at court between 1 November 1604, and 31 October 1605, including two performances of The Merchant of Venice.
After 1608, they performed at the indoor Blackfriars Theatre during the winter and the Globe during the summer.
In Cymbeline, for example, Jupiter descends "in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt.
The ghosts fall on their knees."
Burbage played the leading role in the first performances of many of Shakespeare's plays, including Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.
The popular comic actor Will Kempe played the servant Peter in Romeo and Juliet and Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, among other characters.
In 1613, Sir Henry Wotton recorded that Henry VIII "was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and ceremony".
On 29 June, however, a cannon set fire to the thatch of the Globe and burned the theatre to the ground, an event which pinpoints the date of a Shakespeare play with rare precision.
It contained 36 texts, including 18 printed for the first time.
Many of the plays had already appeared in quarto versions—flimsy books made from sheets of paper folded twice to make four leaves.
No evidence suggests that Shakespeare approved these editions, which the First Folio describes as "stol'n and surreptitious copies".
Nor did Shakespeare plan or expect his works to survive in any form at all; those works likely would have faded into oblivion but for his friends' spontaneous idea, after his death, to create and publish the First Folio.
Where several versions of a play survive, each differs from the other.
In some cases, for example, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, and Othello, Shakespeare could have revised the texts between the quarto and folio editions.
In the case of King Lear, however, while most modern editions do conflate them, the 1623 folio version is so different from the 1608 quarto that the Oxford Shakespeare prints them both, arguing that they cannot be conflated without confusion.
He dedicated them to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.
Both proved popular and were often reprinted during Shakespeare's lifetime.
A third narrative poem, A Lover's Complaint, in which a young woman laments her seduction by a persuasive suitor, was printed in the first edition of the Sonnets in 1609.
Most scholars now accept that Shakespeare wrote A Lover's Complaint.
Critics consider that its fine qualities are marred by leaden effects.
In 1599, two early drafts of sonnets 138 and 144 appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim, published under Shakespeare's name but without his permission.
Main article: Shakespeare's sonnets
Published in 1609, the Sonnets were the last of Shakespeare's non-dramatic works to be printed.
Scholars are not certain when each of the 154 sonnets was composed, but evidence suggests that Shakespeare wrote sonnets throughout his career for a private readership.
Even before the two unauthorised sonnets appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, Francis Meres had referred in 1598 to Shakespeare's "sugred Sonnets among his private friends".
Few analysts believe that the published collection follows Shakespeare's intended sequence.
He seems to have planned two contrasting series: one about uncontrollable lust for a married woman of dark complexion (the "dark lady"), and one about conflicted love for a fair young man (the "fair youth").
It remains unclear if these figures represent real individuals, or if the authorial "I" who addresses them represents Shakespeare himself, though Wordsworth believed that with the sonnets "Shakespeare unlocked his heart".
The 1609 edition was dedicated to a "Mr. W.H.", credited as "the only begetter" of the poems.
It is not known whether this was written by Shakespeare himself or by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, whose initials appear at the foot of the dedication page; nor is it known who Mr. W.H. was, despite numerous theories, or whether Shakespeare even authorised the publication.
Critics praise the Sonnets as a profound meditation on the nature of love, sexual passion, procreation, death, and time.
Main article: Shakespeare's style
Shakespeare's first plays were written in the conventional style of the day.
He wrote them in a stylised language that does not always spring naturally from the needs of the characters or the drama.
The poetry depends on extended, sometimes elaborate metaphors and conceits, and the language is often rhetorical—written for actors to declaim rather than speak.
However, Shakespeare soon began to adapt the traditional styles to his own purposes.
At the same time, Richard's vivid self-awareness looks forward to the soliloquies of Shakespeare's mature plays.
No single play marks a change from the traditional to the freer style.
Shakespeare combined the two throughout his career, with Romeo and Juliet perhaps the best example of the mixing of the styles.
He increasingly tuned his metaphors and images to the needs of the drama itself.
In practice, this meant that his verse was usually unrhymed and consisted of ten syllables to a line, spoken with a stress on every second syllable.
The blank verse of his early plays is quite different from that of his later ones.
It is often beautiful, but its sentences tend to start, pause, and finish at the end of lines, with the risk of monotony.
Once Shakespeare mastered traditional blank verse, he began to interrupt and vary its flow.
Shakespeare uses it, for example, to convey the turmoil in Hamlet's mind:
After Hamlet, Shakespeare varied his poetic style further, particularly in the more emotional passages of the late tragedies.
The literary critic A. described this style as "more concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical". C. Bradley
In the last phase of his career, Shakespeare adopted many techniques to achieve these effects.
These included run-on lines, irregular pauses and stops, and extreme variations in sentence structure and length.
In Macbeth, for example, the language darts from one unrelated metaphor or simile to another: "was the hope drunk/ Wherein you dressed yourself?"
(1.7.35–38); "... pity, like a naked new-born babe/ Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd/ Upon the sightless couriers of the air ..." (1.7.21–25).
The listener is challenged to complete the sense.
The late romances, with their shifts in time and surprising turns of plot, inspired a last poetic style in which long and short sentences are set against one another, clauses are piled up, subject and object are reversed, and words are omitted, creating an effect of spontaneity.
Shakespeare combined poetic genius with a practical sense of the theatre.
He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and to show as many sides of a narrative to the audience as possible.
This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama.
As Shakespeare's mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and distinctive patterns of speech.
He preserved aspects of his earlier style in the later plays, however.
In Shakespeare's late romances, he deliberately returned to a more artificial style, which emphasised the illusion of theatre.
Main article: Shakespeare's influence
Shakespeare's work has made a lasting impression on later theatre and literature.
Until Romeo and Juliet, for example, romance had not been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy.
Soliloquies had been used mainly to convey information about characters or events, but Shakespeare used them to explore characters' minds.
His work heavily influenced later poetry.
The Romantic poets attempted to revive Shakespearean verse drama, though with little success.
Scholars have identified 20,000 pieces of music linked to Shakespeare's works.
Shakespeare has also inspired many painters, including the Romantics and the Pre-Raphaelites.
In Shakespeare's day, English grammar, spelling, and pronunciation were less standardised than they are now, and his use of language helped shape modern English.
Expressions such as "with bated breath" (Merchant of Venice) and "a foregone conclusion" (Othello) have found their way into everyday English speech.
Shakespeare's influence extends far beyond his native England and the English language.
His reception in Germany was particularly significant; as early as the 18th century Shakespeare was widely translated and popularised in Germany, and gradually became a "classic of the German Weimar era;" Christoph Martin Wieland was the first to produce complete translations of Shakespeare's plays in any language.
Actor and theatre director Simon Callow writes, "this master, this titan, this genius, so profoundly British and so effortlessly universal, each different culture – German, Italian, Russian – was obliged to respond to the Shakespearean example; for the most part, they embraced it, and him, with joyous abandon, as the possibilities of language and character in action that he celebrated liberated writers across the continent.
Some of the most deeply affecting productions of Shakespeare have been non-English, and non-European.
He is that unique writer: he has something for everyone."
Shakespeare was not revered in his lifetime, but he received a large amount of praise.
In 1598, the cleric and author Francis Meres singled him out from a group of English playwrights as "the most excellent" in both comedy and tragedy.
In the First Folio, Ben Jonson called Shakespeare the "Soul of the age, the applause, delight, the wonder of our stage", although he had remarked elsewhere that "Shakespeare wanted art" (lacked skill).
Between the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the end of the 17th century, classical ideas were in vogue.
As a result, critics of the time mostly rated Shakespeare below John Fletcher and Ben Jonson.
Thomas Rymer, for example, condemned Shakespeare for mixing the comic with the tragic.
Nevertheless, poet and critic John Dryden rated Shakespeare highly, saying of Jonson, "I admire him, but I love Shakespeare".
For several decades, Rymer's view held sway; but during the 18th century, critics began to respond to Shakespeare on his own terms and acclaim what they termed his natural genius.
By 1800, he was firmly enshrined as the national poet.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, his reputation also spread abroad.
During the Romantic era, Shakespeare was praised by the poet and literary philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the critic August Wilhelm Schlegel translated his plays in the spirit of German Romanticism.
In the 19th century, critical admiration for Shakespeare's genius often bordered on adulation.
"This King Shakespeare," the essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote in 1840, "does not he shine, in crowned sovereignty, over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet strongest of rallying signs; indestructible".
The Victorians produced his plays as lavish spectacles on a grand scale.
The modernist revolution in the arts during the early 20th century, far from discarding Shakespeare, eagerly enlisted his work in the service of the avant-garde.
The poet and critic T.S. argued against Shaw that Shakespeare's "primitiveness" in fact made him truly modern. Eliot
In the 1950s, a wave of new critical approaches replaced modernism and paved the way for "post-modern" studies of Shakespeare.
He encloses us because we see with his fundamental perceptions."
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William Shakespeare.