There are many authors that are widely read. However, none are more universally read and studied than the great William Shakespeare of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. His plays and poems have moved millions of people, unofficially giving him the well-deserved title of the greatest of all dramatists. Shakespeare is the basis for excellence in literacy and theatrical performances. Although occasionally confusing to the reader, Shakespeare’s work is a blend of inspirational quotes and dramatic plots.
Many details of Shakespeare’s childhood in Stratford, England are lacking, but we do know a few major facts. John Shakespeare, the father of this elite writer was a “burgess of the borough” (Encarta ’96), the position corresponding to mayor for the town of Stratford. His mother, Mary Arden, was a descendant of a rich, ancient family, and was the heiress to some land. They got married, thus moving John and Mary Shakespeare up a step on the social scale. Together, they bore eight children, the third and oldest son, William Shakespeare was born in 1564, and they baptized him in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.
The Shakespeare family was not rich and therefore could not afford to send their children to a “private school,” and it is commonly accepted that the children attended Stratford’s Grammar School. “William’s education consisted of mostly Latin studies (learning to read, write, and speak the language almost fluently), and the study of some of the classic historians, moralists, and poets. Of course, they also had basic math and English, but all this was only a minimal education, for it was assumed that the children would go to the university to enhance their knowledge toward the field of their choice” (Britannica 253-254).
William Shakespeare, however, did not go to the university, and instead tried his hand at life with only the education he received at the local grammar school. This surprises most historians; they find it hard to believe that one with minimal education could write such historically accurate plays. This generally makes us assume that he liked school, and did well in it, but there are no records from the school at Shakespeare’s time. After graduating from the Stratford Grammar School at the age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway.
There are no indications of how Ms. Hathaway and William Shakespeare met; however they got married quickly after meeting. The preserved marriage license is still in tact, and shows the bishop’s authority for the marriage of “William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway of Stratford” (Encyclopedia Americana 104). In only a few short years, the newlyweds gave birth to Susanna, who was baptized on May 26, 1583, then twins Hamnet and Judith, who were baptized on February 2, 1585. Unfortunately, the boy Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died 11 years later (Britannica 254).
Shakespeare and his new family didn’t stay long in Stratford and eight years after the birth of his twins, they moved to London. There are many theories as to what Shakespeare had done in those eight years and what made him move. “The most accepted theory is that he worked odd jobs for minimal pay and decided to move to London to avoid getting in trouble for poaching deer in the park of Sir Thomas Lucy, a local justice of the peace” (Encarta 96). As funny as it seems, it is on record that Shakespeare was caught poaching deer; however, there is no indication of a punishment, leaving room for rumors to begin about why he actually moved.
Once the Shakespeare family moved to London in 1588, they needed a start. He began working in the Globe Theater and in his spare time wrote his first poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrese in 1594, once people started reading his plays and watching him on stage. They then realized that Shakespeare was a talented man. Other works began to circulate around like his Sonnets which drew more attention and fame to his name. The hard part was behind him and Shakespeare now had a base to his career as a writer and entertainer (Encyclopedia Americana 104). Shakespeare’s works are usually divided into different groups, according to the time periods in which they were written” (Encarta ’96). His first plays, often called his worst because they were experimentations, fit into the First Period. These plays are characterized by stylized verse and obvious construction. It is already known that Shakespeare probably loved historical events and thus it is not surprising that his earliest works are the historically accurate Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III (1590), and Richard III (1593). These are known for their bloody detail and horrendous language, such that also appears in Titus Andronicus (1594).
His comedies from this period include: The Comedy of Errors (1592), The Taming Of The Shrew (1593), The Two Gentlemen Of Verona (1594), and Love’s Labour’s Lost (1594). Shakespeare’s second period shows his more important plays which were concerned with history, comedy, and tragedy. During this period, his style and approach became more mature and individualized. The historical plays include Richard II (1595), Henry IV, Parts I, II (1597), and Henry V (1598), all of which show excellent examples of Shakespeare’s new, mature writing style.
The outstanding comedies, which include the best of all the periods are: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595), The Merchant of Venice (1596), Much Ado About Nothing (1599), As You Like It (1599), The Twelfth Night (1600), and The Merry Wives of Windsor (1599). His two most famous tragedies, Romeo and Juliet (1595) and Julias Caesar (1599), are also included in this period. This period began to show quotes that seemed to linger in people’s minds, such as the quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1. 1. 134).
The Third Period includes more of the tragedies than anything else. It seems as if after seeing the success and popularity that Romeo and Juliet and Julias Caesar brought him, he decided that more tragedies would do his reputation nothing but good. Hamlet (1601), Othello (1604), King Lear (1605), Antony and Cleopatra (1606), Macbeth (1606), Troilus and Cresside (1602), Coriolanus (1608), and Timon of Athens (1608) are the tragedies that were done in this period. “Each of them presents such an uncontrollable amount of action that the audience can’t resist being emotionally attached to all of the actors” (Reese 6).
There were also two comedies in this period: All’s Well That Ends Well (1602), and Measure For Measure (1604). Both of these plays question the ways of Shakespearean people, but they surprisingly don’t give better alternatives. (Encarta 96). The Fourth and final period includes his principal romantic tragic-comedies. Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1608), Cymbeline (1610), and The Winter’s Tale (1611), were his last complete plays. While using a humorous atmosphere, Shakespeare stages the dramatic plots, creating a mixture of two of his best types of plays.
Besides containing the least amount of Shakespeare’s works, it also contains the most controversial. The two final plays, almost always ascribed to Shakespeare, are probably the works of a collaboration. The historical drama, Henry VIII (1613), is believed to also be written with the English dramatist John Fletcher, and so is The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613; published 1634). “When these rumors began to circulate, Shakespeare’s name began to be the center of attention, attention he did not want. People against him used this as an example to show how one man alone could not excel in writing as Shakespeare did” (Burgess 101).
Toward the end of Shakespeare’s career, he began to settle down. The family moved back to Stratford and bought a summer house they called New Place and they became leading local citizens (Encarta 96). With no records that show why, William Shakespeare died in 1616 and is buried in Stratford church. After his death, Shakespeare’s greatness began to flow to other European countries, and America. It was around this time that people beganto study his works. Universities were reading his plays, and more and more people were learning about what Shakespeare had written, his literary tactics and not only the plot.
Today, more than ever, Shakespeare is studied and widely read in every country and language. With the increase in the study of Shakespeare, there are also movies made about his plays, (including the famous Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and the recent Othello), the bigger turnouts at places of interest in his life (his grave, home. . . ) and especially the use of his famous quotes. “If you walked down the street, you could hear quotes from Shakespeare being said as if they were verses from the Bible. Shakespeare’s legacy only began there.
With movies based on his work still being made today, people just can’t get enough of this great writer” (Foakes 26). In reading the plays Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I found myself not only entertained, but I felt as if I was right in the play. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the love triangle between Hermia, Lysander, Demietrus, and Helena was confused by Puck, the fairy who struck the wrong couple with his flower. Trying to enhance the love that each of the couples already had, Puck made everything worse, and the wrong people fell in love with each other.
Oberon, the king of the fairies, told Puck to undo his mess, and he did, leaving the happy couples back to the way they were before, and the beautiful weddings ended the childlike-romantic play. In Romeo and Juliet, the feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues, did not know that there was a love brewing between Romeo and Juliet, teenagers from each side. They met with the help of Juliet’s nurse, and planned to get married by tricking everyone into believing they were dead. Bringing an end to their families’ history of feuding, the teens end up killing themselves in a huge misunderstanding.
At times, there were confusing parts, where it was hard to understand because of the difference our language has undergone since Shakespeare’s time. While reading the famous parts for the first time that are acted out over time and time again, I began to see why people regard Shakespeare as a world- renowned author and an excellent source of history. Not only does he have the war drawn male hero for the women to drool over, he has love stories that are strong and moving, even for the manliest of men.