William Shakespeare: Quill Master

Poet, Playwright, and Soul of the Age

The Applause, Delight, and Wonder of Our Stage

Dubbed the greatest bard of all time, William Shakespeare is known world wide for his acclaimed plays, poetry, and acting ability. His irreplaceable body of work includes 37 plays and many poems, including A Lover's Complaint, and The Phoenix and the Turtle. His legacy has lived for over 400 years, and will continue to live on for years to come.

Life of a Legend

Early Life and Family Life

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, on April 23, 1564. He married Anne Hathaway (pictured right) on November 28, 1582, when he was only eighteen years old. The couple had three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet tragically passed away at eleven years old, and was buried in 1596, during one of the widespread outbreaks of the bubonic plague.

Life in Elizabethan England

Life in the 1500's and 1600's was very different compared to life today. This period -known as the Elizabethan Era, as this was when Queen Elizabeth reigned over England -was all about class and society. Who you are determined what your life was going to be like. The richer and higher class had access to servants, while the lower class were the servants. The servant to master relationship was upheld and highly respected. Servants weren't called servants, rather the male servants grooms and the female servants maids. It was also customary to have a steward: a chief servant, responsible for managing the slaves and assuring all the necessary work got done. Finally, it was also common for these higher class families to have a nurse (or wet nurse), responsible for children during infantry and early childhood.


The Elizabethan Era was also known for its diverse and often confusing manner of speech. It wasn't the pharmacy that sold drugs, rather the apothecary. The fletcher was responsible for making and selling arrows, and it was the barber surgeon who handled dental work.

London in Elizabethan England

London in Elizabethan England was a lot different than the way we know it today. It was one of the most populated cities in England, and as a result was known as being one of the most disgusting. During that time it was customary to dump chamber pots (the "bathroom bucket") out the window and into the streets, whether or not there were pedestrians. As a result, the higher class society got to 'walk the wall': stand near the wall to avoid being hit by waste, and let the lower class take the hit.


London was also known for its barbaric standings. Even as society developed, the city left severed heads of criminals on Temple Bar and London Bridge. The rotting heads, chamber waste in the streets and river collecting garbage and odor from afar made London known as one of the smelliest cities of its age. The odor attracted rats, and helped spread the bubonic plague and assure it would last for a long while.

The Bubonic Plague

Elizabethan England is also known for surviving one of the greatest pandemics ever recorded in history: the bubonic plague. Also known as the black death, this disease was spread by the fleas in rats, who flourished in London due to the disgusting conditions of the time. If a person contracted the plague, he and his family were locked and bolted in their house, and the house was marked 'diseased'. They weren't allowed to leave for anything; provisions had to be supplied by lowering a basket from a second story window, and have it filled by watchmen (responsible for keeping an eye out on the families and seeing if they died). If/when they did die, their bodies were collected, hastily wrapped and thrown into plague pits with other dead bodies to prevent the spreading of the disease. T

The Globe Theatre

The theatre was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Elizabethan England, and Shakespeare's plays were no exception. So, he wanted his own theatre for his plays to be performed at and not worry about competition, security etc. As a result he had a hand in constructing and assuring the success of the Globe Theatre, built in London in 1599. It is often considered the grandest and most popular theatre of its time. As successful as the theatre was for its day, it didn't have much luck. It was burned to the ground on June 29, 1613, because a cannon shot misfired during a performance of Henry VIII, and caught the thatch roof on fire. It was rebuilt in 1614 on the original foundation.

Theatres were also subject to be affected by the Bubonic Plague. They were shut down three times due to hard economic times: 1593 (before The Globe was built), 1603 and 1608. They were shut down as people were too scared to leave their houses to be entertained, so the theatres received no money. Also, actors were terrified of contracting the Bubonic Plague themselves.


The Globe Theatre was torn down in 1644 by the Puritans (Parliament) were suppressing stage plays. It wasn't rebuilt until hundreds of years later.

Shakespeare's Plays

Interpretation

Today, Shakespeare's work continues to live on. However, because we don't have the same manner of speech as they once it, Shakespeare's works leave a lot up for interpretation. Here is an example selection from the play Twelfth Night:


I know of none;
Nor know I you by voice or any feature:
I hate ingratitude more in a man
Than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness,
Or any taint of vice whose strong corruption
Inhabits our frail blood.


This can be interpreted in many different ways, however without much background information or identification of characters this can be difficult. We know this is spoken by Viola in Act 3, but other than that nothing is revealed. What I do know of Twelfth Night is it involves a woman acting as a man, so I assume it is Viola that came up with the disguise for the woman (acting as a man), and she is saying "I don't recognize you by any voice or feature." In the second part, she could be saying "I hate ingratitude more in a man/Inhabits our frail blood" to remind her (him) to be thankful for her.


However, this could also be Viola simply saying "I don't know you anymore" to someone she used to love, and that because of his ingratitude she can't be with him anymore.