The Bard of Avon – William Shakespeare
“To be, or not to be: that is the question“. This line is most commonly used today, along with other famous ones like “all that glisters is not gold “and “All the world’s a stage.” These famous quotes are all written by probably the greatest playwright the world has ever witnessed – William Shakespeare. Even though he lived about 400 years ago, his works are still as famous and widely read as none other. He is known as the national poet of England and has been nicknamed The Bard of Avon.
Date of Birth: April 23 1564 (Estimated)
Baptized: April 26 1564
Date of Death: April 23 1616 (At age 52)
Parents: John Shakespeare (father)
Mary Arden (mother)
Spouse: Ann Hathaway (1582-1616)
Children: Susanna Hall
HIS EARLY LIFE
There is no recorded information written about the life of William Shakespeare. However a number of records exist that deal with Shakespeare’s life. By relating these records to various aspects of the Elizabethan history and the society of that time, scholars have been able to fill in the gaps in the factual accounts of his life.
Shakespeare’s father, John Shakespeare was a glove maker, who owned a shop in the town Stratford-upon-Avon which is about 120 kms northwest of London. His mother, Mary Arden was the daughter of a farmer and they belonged to the Church of England, the State Church. Being the third of eight siblings, Shakespeare was assumed to have been born in the year 1564.
He belonged to a family that was comfortably well off and about the age of seven, he probably attended the Stratford Grammar School. In spite of the long hours he spent at school, Shakespeare’s early years were probably not all that boring. Being a lively town, Stratford was famous for its popular pageants and shows, and coupled with the serene fields and woods surrounding the town, we can assume that this was where the young Shakespeare might have got the urge to get poetically inclined.
In 1582, Shakespeare married Anne Hathway, the daughter of a rich farmer from Shottery. At the time of their marriage, Shakespeare was just eighteen years old and his wife, who was the pregnant with their first child, was twenty six. They were blessed with three children, Susanna Hall, Hamnet Shakespeare and Judith Quiney. There is nothing much on record regarding his years from 1585 to 1592, which indicates that he might have moved to London and served a period of apprenticeship in the city’s busy theatrical life.
As indicated by a pamphlet that appeared in 1592, it is evident that Shakespeare had become an actor and a playwright. He joined one of the city’s repertory theatre companies, which consisted of a permanent cast of actors who presented a variety of plays week after week. He was also a shareholder of a company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1594, one of the most popular acting companies in London. Shakespeare was a leading member of the group for the rest of his career.
HIS FIRST POEMS
Public theatres were mostly closed from mid 1592-1594, due to the repeated outbreak of the deadly plague, which prompted Shakespeare to write poems, which was considered more important than writing plays at that time. His first poem, Venus and Adonis (1593) was printed by Richard Field, and was dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley. Many more poems followed and most of the Shakespearean Sonnets were written during this time (1590’s). The Sonnets of Shakespeare consists of 154 sonnets and is addressed to a beloved friend, a handsome and noble young man and in the later sonnets there is mention of a malignant but fascinating ‘dark lady’ whom the poet is highly attracted to. Most of the sonnets examine the inevitable decay of time and the immortalization of beauty and love.
SHAKESPEARE – THE PLAYWRIGHT
Shakespeare wrote more than thirty plays which can be divided into three broad categories – Tragedies, Comedies, and Histories. At each stage of his career, Shakespeare tended to concentrate on a certain kind of drama, depending on the taste of his audiences at that time. For example he wrote nine out of his ten histories during a period when such plays were particularly popular. His plots were generally based on published historical and literary works, but while retelling a story, he shaped the borrowed material with such genius that the finished product was more of a work of art than the initial source!
His most popular Tragedies which number around ten include: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, King Lear, Julius Caesar and Macbeth. He wrote around fifteen Comedy themed plays, which include: Taming of the Shrew, Comedy of Errors, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado about nothing, Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice and All’s Well that Ends well. His Historical plays present a panoramic view of English History in the 1400’s. Some of his historical plays include: King Henry VI (Part 1, part 2, and 3); King John, King Henry IV ( Part 1 & 2), King Henry V, Richard II, Richard III, and King Henry VIII.
THE GLOBE THEATRE
In 1599, Shakespeare and six of his associates started the Globe Theatre in the London suburb of Southwark. This magnificent amphitheatre was one of the largest theatres during that time and could seat as many as 3,000 spectators. Massive props such as canons and special effects like smoke and sounds of the canons firing were a spectacular addition which made the experience of watching the plays even more pleasurable.
INFLUENCE OF SHAKESPEARE ON THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
William Shakespeare is considered the best writer of the English language, and he has greatly evolved the English language, adding more than 3,000 words to the English vocabulary. He is responsible for introducing a number of new words in the English Dictionary, like assassination, accommodation, aerial, dislocate, exposure, frugal and many more. In addition to new words he has also coined a number of new phrases, some of which have become so popular that they are used in almost every day conversation. To name a few: ‘A laughing stock’, ‘star crossed’, ‘all’s well that ends well’, ‘brave new world’, ‘neither a borrower or a lender be’.
HIS LAST YEARS
During his last years of life it is stated that Shakespeare retired to his home in Stratford and might have divided his time between Stratford and London. The day of his death is recorded as April 23rd 1616, and he was buried inside the Stratford Parish.
- One of literature’s greatest figures, Shakespeare, did not attend university!
- Shakespeare was a good business man and in 1597 bought a luxurious house in Stratford and also invested a lot of money in purchasing property, doubling his investment.
- Shakespeare is the second most quoted writer in the English language – after the various writers of the Bible.
- Today Shakespeare holds the record of having the most number of pages dedicated to him on Google – a whopping 157 million pages! Second only to God for whom 132 million pages are dedicated and after that is Elvis Presley who has 2.7 million references!
- As per the original documents, Shakespeare spells his name as Shakespe; Shakspe; Shakspere and Shakespear.
- All Uranus’ satellites are named after Shakespearean characters.