william shakespeare


william shakespeare

Shakespeare was born on or just before April 23, 1564, in the small but then important Warwickshire town of Stratford. His mother, born Mary Arden, was the daughter of a landowner from a neighboring village. His father, John, son of a farmer, was a glove maker and trader in farm produce; he had achieved a position of some eminence in the prosperous market town by the time of his son's birth, holding a number of responsible positions in Stratford's government and serving as mayor in 1569. By 1576, however, John Shakespeare had begun to encounter the financial difficulties which were to plague him until his death in 1601. Shakespeare studied Latin grammar during the early years, and then progressed to the study of logic, rhetoric, composition, oration, versification, and the monuments of Roman literature. The work was conducted in Latin and relied heavily on rote memorization and the master's rod. A plausible tradition holds that William had to discontinue his education when about 13 in order to help his father. At 18 he married Ann Hathaway, a Stratford girl. They had three children (Susanna, 1583-1649; Hamlet, 1585-1596; and his twin, Judith, 1585-1662) and who was to survive him by 7 years. Shakespeare remained actively involved in Stratford affairs throughout his life, even when living in London, and retired there at the end of his career. The years between 1585 and 1592, having left no evidence as to Shakespeare's activities, have been the focus of considerable speculation; among other things, conjecture would have him a traveling actor or a country schoolmaster. The earliest surviving notice of his career in London is a jealous attack on the "upstart crow" by Robert Greene, a playwright, professional man of letters, and profligate whose career was at an end in 1592 though he was only 6 years older than Shakespeare. Greene's outcry testifies both in its passion and in the work it implies Shakespeare had been doing for some time, that the young poet had already established himself in the capital. So does the quality of Shakespeare's first plays: it is hard to believe that even Shakespeare could have shown such mastery without several years of apprenticeship. Shakespeare's first extant play is probably The Comedy of Errors (1590; like most dates for the plays, this is conjectural and may be a year or two off), a brilliant and intricate farce involving two sets of identical twins and based on two already-complicated comedies by the Roman Plautus. Though less fully achieved, his next comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1591), is more prophetic of Shakespeare's later comedy, for its plot depends on such devices as a faithful girl who educates her fickle lover, romantic woods, a girl dressed as a boy, sudden reformations, music, and happy marriages at the end. The last of the first comedies, Love's Labour's Lost (1593), is romantic again, dealing with the attempt of three young men to withdraw from the world and women for 3 years to study in their king's "little Academe," and their quick surrender to a group of young ladies who come to lodge nearby. If the first of the comedies is most notable for its plotting and the second for its romantic elements, the third is distinguished by its dazzling language and its gallery of comic types. Already Shakespeare had learned to fuse conventional characters with convincing representations of the human life he knew. Shakespeare's first tragedy, Titus Andronicus (1593), reveals similar ambition. Though it’s chamber of horrors— including mutilations and ingenious murders—strikes the modern reader as belonging to a theatrical tradition no longer viable, the play is in fact a brilliant and successful attempt to outdo the efforts of Shakespeare's predecessors in the lurid tradition of the revenge play. A final group of plays takes a turn in a new direction. Commonly called the "romances," Pericles (1607), Cymbeline (1609), The Winter's Tale (1611), and The Tempest (1611) share their conventions with the tragicomedy that had been growing popular since the early years of the century. Particularly they resemble in some respects plays written by Beaumont and Fletcher for the private theatrical company whose operation the King's Men took over in 1608. While such work in the hands of others, however, tended to reflect the socially and intellectually narrow interests of an elite audience, Shakespeare turned the fashionable mode into a new kind of personal art form. Though less searing than the great tragedies, these plays have a unique power to move and are in the realm of the highest art. Pericles and Cymbeline seem somewhat tentative and experimental, though both are superb plays. The winter’s Tale, however, is one of Shakespeare's best plays. Like a rewriting of Othello in its first acts, it turns miraculously into pastoral comedy in its last. The Tempestis the most popular and perhaps the finest of the group. Prospero, shipwrecked on an island and dominating it with magic which he renounces at the end, may well be intended as an image of Shakespeare himself; in any event, the play is like a retrospective glance over the plays of the 2 previous decades.

After the composition of The Tempest, which many regard as an explicit farewell to art, Shakespeare retired to Stratford, returning to London to compose Henry VIII and the Two Noble Kinsmen in 1613; neither of these plays seems to have fired his imagination. In 1616, at the age of 52, he was dead. His reputation grew quickly, and his work has continued to seem to each generation like its own most precious discovery. His value to his own age is suggested by the fact that two fellow actors performed the virtually unprecedented act in 1623 of gathering his plays together and publishing them in the Folio edition. Without their efforts, since Shakespeare was apparently not interested in publication, many of the plays would not have survived.

A poem from William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sonnet 116
William Shakespeare