About the Author
English poet, dramatist, and actor, considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time. Some of Shakespeare's plays, such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, are among the most famous literary works of the world. Shakespeare was the most popular dramatist of his age. However, his early works did not match the artistic quality of Marlowe's dramas. If he had died on the same year than Marlowe, in 1593, today he perhaps would be considered a minor poet. Shakespeare became the first to appeal and to meet with the full approval of a broad and mixed public embracing almost all levels of society. He possessed a large vocabulary for his day, having used 29,066 different words in his plays. Today the average English-speaking person uses something like 2,000 words in everyday speech.
There is not much records of Shakespeare';s personal life. Rumors arise from time to time that he did not write his plays, but the real author was Christopher Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth or Edward De Vere (1550-1604), whom T.J. Looney identified in 1920 as the author of Shakespeare's plays. A large body of 'Oxfordians' have since built on this claim and the reluctance to believe that a man of humble origins could be such a great author. - According to some numerologists, Shakespeare wrote The King James Version of the Bible at the age of 46. Their "evidence": Shake is the 46th word of the 46th Psalm, Spear is the 46th word from the end in the 46th Psalm.
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small country town. The black plague killed in 1564 one out of seven of the town's 1,500 inhabitants. Shakespeare was the eldest son of Mary Arden, the daughter of a local landowner, and his husband John Shakespeare (c. 1530-1601), a glover and wood dealer. John Aubrey (1626-1697) tells in Brief Lives that Shakespeare's father was a butcher and the young William exercised his father's trade, "but when he kill'd a Calfe he would do it in a high style, and make a speech." In 1568 John Shakespeare was made a mayor of Stratford and a justice of peace. His wool business failed in the 1570s, but the family's position was restored in the 1590s by earnings of William Shakespeare, and in 1596 he was awarded a coat of arms.
Very little is known about Shakespeare early life, and his later works have inspired a number of interpretations. T.S. Eliot wrote that "I would suggest that none of the plays of Shakespeare has a "meaning," although it would be equally false to say that a play of Shakespeare is meaningless." (from Selected Essays, new edition, 1960). Shakespeare is assumed to have been educated at Stratford Grammar School, and he may have spent the years 1580-82 as a teacher for the Roman Catholic Houghton family in Lancashire. When Shakespeare was 15, a woman from a nearby village drowned in the Avon. Her death was ruled accidental but it may have been a suicide. Later in Hamlet Shakespeare left open the question whether Ophelia died accidentally or by her own hand. At the age of 18, he married a local girl, Anne Hathaway (died 1623), who was eight years older. Their first child, Susannah, was born within six months, and twins Hamnet and Judith were born in 1585. Hamnet, Shakespeare's only son, died in 1896, at the age of 11.
Hamlet was first printed in 1603. It is Shakespeare's largest drama, based on a lost play known as the Ur-Hamlet. Prince Hamlet, an enigmatic intellectual, mourns both his father's death and his mother's remarriage. His father's ghost appears to him and tells that Claudius, married to Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, poisoned him. Hamlet, fascinated by cruelly witty games, swears revenge. "The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!" He arranges an old play whose story has a parallel to that of Claudius. Hamlet's behavior is considered mad. He kills the eavesdropping Polonius, the court chamberlain, by thrusting his sword through a curtain. Polonius's son Laertes returns to Denmark to avenge his father's death. Polonius's daughter Ofelia loves Hamlet, but the prince's sadistically brutal behavior drives her to madness. "Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?" he tells Ophelia who dies by drowning. Before the slaughter that ends the story, Hamlet says to his friend Horatio: "I shall win at the odds. But thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart." A duel takes place and ends with the death of Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet, whose final words are "the rest is silence."
According to a legend, he left Stratford for London to avoid a charge of poaching. After 1582 Shakespeare probably joined as an actor one or several companies of players. By 1584 he emerged as a rising playwright in London, and became soon a central figure in London';s leading theater company, the Lord Chamberlain's Company, renamed later as the King's Men. He wrote many great plays for the group. In 1599 a new theater, called The Globe, was built.
Shakespeare was known in his day as a very rapid writer: "His mind and hand went together," his publishers Heminges and Condell reported, "and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers." Despite all the praise, some writer's were not enthusiastic about his plays. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) called A Midsummer Night's Dream "the most insipid, ridiculous play that I ever saw in my life." Voltaire wrote: "Shakespeare is a drunken savage with some imagination whose plays please only in London and Canada," "Shakespeare is the Corneille of London, but everywhere else he is a great fool..." Shakespeare wrote also two heroic narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594). His sonnets were written earliest by 1598 and published in 1609. The sonnets refer cryptically to several persons, among them a handsome young man, a woman called the 'Dark Lady', and a rival poet. Shakespeare's name was on the title page of The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), issued by the publisher William Jaggard.
Romeo and Juliet was based on real lovers who lived in Verona, Italy, and died for each other in the year 1303. At that time the Capulets and Montagues were among the inhabitants of the town. Shakespeare found the tale in Arthur Brooke's poem 'The Tragical Historye of Romeus and Juliet' (1562). The play has inspired other works, such as Berlioz's dramatic symphony (1839), Tchaikovsky's fantasy-overture (1869-80), and Prokofiev's full-length ballet (1938).
About 1610 Shakespeare returned to his birthplace, where he had a house, called New Place, and lived as a country gentleman. A number of his plays were published during his lifetime, but none of the original dramatic manuscripts have survived. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. He bequeathed his "second-best bed" to his wife - at that time the best bed was the grand prize of a forfeited estate. Anne Shakespeare died seven years after her husband. In 1623 appeared a folio edition of Shakespeare's collected works - known as the First Folio. On Shakespeare's gravestone are four lines of verse. It is not certain that the Bard of Avon wrote the famous epitaph:
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