To Hamlet or Not To Hamlet:

That is the Question

The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: Early Life

Very little is know about the early life of William Shakespeare. He was born on April 26th, 1564 in Stratford-Upon-Avon, United Kingdom. He was born to John Shakespeare, a glove maker and wool merchant, and Mary Arden, the daughter of a wealth landowner. As a child, he most likely attended the local King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford-Upon-Avon. After this, the next documented event in the early life of Shakespeare is his marriage to Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a local farmer. The couple had a daughter, named Susanna, six months after the wedding. Two years later, Hathaway gave birth to twins, Hamnet and Judith, but Hamlet died when he was only eleven years old. After this, there is a gap in Shakespeare's life between 1585 and 1592, which is often referred to by scholars as "the lost years".

The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: Career

The next time he appears in history, Shakespeare made his way to London and is working in the theater. He was mention in a pamphlet in 1592, where contemporary critic, Robert Green, described him as an "upstart Crow". Shakespeare was one of the managing partner of the Lord Chamberlin's Company, and belonged to its pool of actors and playwrights. This company acquired interests in two theaters in London- the Globe and the Blackfriars. In 1593 and 1593, Shakespeare's first poems, "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece" were published and he dedicated to his patron, Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. It is believed that Shakespeare wrote most of his sonnets at this time. Records of Shakespeare's plays began in 1594 from which time Shakespeare produced about two plays a year until 1611. His earlier plays were mainly histories and comedies, such as "Henry VI", "Titus Andronicus", "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "Merchant of Venice", and "Richard II". The tragedy, "Romeo and Juliet", was also published during this time. By the last years of Elizabeth's I reign, Shakespeare was an established poet and playwright and was called upon to perform several of his plays before the Queen at court. In 1602, Shakespeare's successes allowed him to move to upmarket Silver Street, where he wrote some of his most infamous tragedies, such as "Hamlet", "Othello", "King Lear", and "Macbeth".

The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: Death

Shakespeare spent the final years of his life in New Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon. When he died on April 23rd, 1616, he was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. After his death, he bestowed his property to the mail heirs of his eldest daughter, Susanna. He bequeathed his "second-best-bed" to his wife. The significance of this gesture remains unknown. The first collection of his work, "the First Folio", was published in 1623.

The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: Fun Facts!

  • Shakespeare's wife was eight years his senior
  • During his life, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets
  • Some scholars have maintained that it was not Shakespeare who wrote the plays published and performed under his name, and at least fifty writers have been identified as the "real" author

Shakespeare and the Modern Day

One of the many, and most important, reasons that Shakespeare's works are still read and studied today is Shakespeare's ability to capture and express in words the human condition. Through the compelling characters of his plays and the voice in his sonnets, Shakespeare spins tales of love, greed, compassion, corruption, humor, and tragedy that transcend time and are telling of the world constant that is the human condition. Although his works were written more than a four hundred years ago, his writings provide something for everyone, even those in the modern-day, to relate to.

Shakespeare and His Sonnets

If the sonnets of Shakespeare are assumed to be autobiographical, then those sonnets would be directed to the various lovers of Shakespeare, one of which is referred to as the "dark lady". Another lover that sonnets are directed towards is referred to as "Mr. W. H.". There are several theories that assume the identity of the "Mr. W. H.", including William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.

Shakespeare and the Renaissance Period

The Renaissance represents the cultural rebirth from the 14th century to the middle of the 17th century. There were three core values that existed during the Renaissance Period, which were individualism, well-roundedness, and humanism. The influence of the Renaissance Period on Shakespeare's work can be seen through the emotionality of his characters and his use of his knowledge of Greek and Roman classics in his plays. The Renaissance period emphasized humanism, which allowed for characters that express emotions that are complex and ultimately human, which can be seen especially in Shakespeare's works. The influence of the Renaissance Period on Shakespeare's works is further seen by his references to the Greek and Roman classics, which would have been suppressed by the Catholic Church before the cultural rebirth of the Renaissance.

Shakespeare and His Audience

Shakespeare's audience consisted of common people, who were often illiterate. Thus, Shakespeare tried to convey messages about the human condition- something everyone, regardless of literacy, would be able to understand and appreciate.
Video SparkNotes: Shakespeare's Hamlet Summary

Hamlet and Elsinore

Hamlet took place in a fictional town known as Elsinore in Denmark. The real Elsinore is a town in Denmark that is below the Kronborg Castle, Helsingor. However, it is the the Kronberg Castle, rather than the town nested below it, that immortalizes Hamlet and the town of Elsinore.

Hamlet and the Revenge Tragedy

Hamlet is what is known as a revenge tragedy, a drama in which the dominant motive is revenge for a real or imagined injury or wrongdoing.

Hamlet and Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Hamlet was inspired by a Danish folklore found in Byzantine, Greek, and Roman myth. This Danish story tells the tale of Amleth, who, unlike his Grandfather, Rorik, was a thing of myth. This original story of Amleth is very similar to Hamlet: Feng murders his brother out of jealousy and marries Gerutha (Amleth's mother); Amleth feigns witlessness, and his sanity is tested by Feng; he is sent to England guarded by two of Feng's retainers, who carry a death letter; Amleth alters the letter to order the death of the retainers and his own marriage to the King's daughter; he returns to Jutland, and burns the Great Hall filled with drunken nobles and murders his uncle, avenging his father.