born: APRIL 23, 1564
died: APRIL 23, 1616
movement: RENAISSANCE, ELIZABETHAN ERA
William Shakespeare, born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, is often considered the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s foremost dramatist. His works have been translated into every major language, and his plays have been performed more often than those of any other playwright. In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the life of William Shakespeare, examine his most popular works, and reflect on his enduring literary and theatrical legacy.
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
William Shakespeare was born to John Shakespeare, a glove maker and local politician, and Mary Arden, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. He was the third of eight children and received his early education at the King’s New School in Stratford, where he likely studied Latin, grammar, and literature.
Little is known about Shakespeare’s life between his schooling and his emergence as a playwright in London. It is believed that he worked as a schoolmaster, an actor, and possibly a butcher’s apprentice during these “lost years.”
LITERARY CAREER AND SUCCESS
Shakespeare’s literary career began in the late 1580s when he started writing plays and poems. By the early 1590s, he had moved to London and joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a prominent theater company. His early works were primarily comedies and histories, but he later delved into tragedies and tragicomedies.
Shakespeare’s plays were performed at the Globe Theatre, a renowned playhouse in London that was co-owned by his company. His works gained immense popularity during his lifetime, and he eventually became a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men.
TOP 10 BOOKS BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Hamlet (circa 1600)
One of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, Hamlet tells the story of Prince Hamlet of Denmark, who seeks to avenge his father’s murder by his uncle, King Claudius.
Romeo and Juliet (circa 1595)
This timeless love story revolves around the tragic romance between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, whose feuding families stand in the way of their happiness.
Macbeth (circa 1606)
Macbeth is a tragedy about the ambitious Scottish general Macbeth, who, driven by his wife’s encouragement and prophetic visions, commits murder to secure the throne, leading to his downfall.
Othello (circa 1603)
In this tragic tale, Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army, is manipulated by his ensign, Iago, into believing that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful, ultimately leading to a series of tragic events.
King Lear (circa 1605)
This tragedy follows the aging King Lear, who decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, setting off a chain of events that leads to his downfall and the destruction of his family.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (circa 1595)
This enchanting comedy weaves together the love lives of various characters, both human and supernatural, in a magical forest filled with mischief and misunderstandings.
Much Ado About Nothing (circa 1598)
This romantic comedy revolves around the witty banter and blossoming love between Beatrice and Benedick, as well as the darker plot involving the deception and slander of Hero, Beatrice’s cousin.
Twelfth Night (circa 1601)
In this comedy, the shipwrecked Viola disguises herself as a man, leading to a series of mistaken identities, comic misunderstandings, and romantic entanglements.
The Merchant of Venice (circa 1596)
This play explores themes of justice, mercy, and prejudice through the story of Antonio, a Venetian merchant, who borrows money from the Jewish moneylender Shylock to help his friend Bassanio court the wealthy heiress Portia.
Julius Caesar (circa 1599)
This historical tragedy chronicles the conspiracy against and assassination of Roman dictator Julius Caesar, as well as the subsequent power struggles and conflicts that follow his death.
- Mysterious Early Life: Little is known about Shakespeare’s early life, and there are no records of his education. Some scholars speculate that he may have attended the King’s New School in Stratford-upon-Avon, which provided a solid education in Latin, Greek, and rhetoric.
- Lost Years: There is a seven-year period, from 1585 to 1592, known as Shakespeare’s lost years. There are no records of his activities during this time, leading to much speculation and various theories, such as him working as a schoolteacher, traveling, or even being a spy.
- Marriage and Family: At the age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who was 26 at the time. They had three children together: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Sadly, Hamnet died at the age of 11, which may have influenced some of Shakespeare’s later works.
- The Lord Chamberlain’s Men: In 1594, Shakespeare became a founding member of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an acting company that later became The King’s Men under the patronage of King James I. The company performed many of Shakespeare’s plays and was instrumental in his success.
- The Globe Theatre: Shakespeare was a shareholder in the Globe Theatre, which was built in 1599. The theater was the primary venue for the performance of his plays and became an iconic symbol of the Elizabethan stage.
- Shakespeare’s Vocabulary: It is estimated that Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of around 29,000 words, which is significantly larger than the average person’s vocabulary today. He is credited with coining or popularizing many words and phrases that are still in use, such as break the ice, heart of gold, and wild goose chase.
- Shakespeare’s Sonnets: In addition to his plays, Shakespeare also wrote 154 sonnets, which were published in a collection in 1609. These sonnets explore themes of love, beauty, and the passage of time and have become some of the most famous and beloved poems in the English language.
- Authorship Debate: There has been a long-standing debate over the authorship of Shakespeare’s works, with some suggesting that other writers, such as Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, or Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, may have written some or all of his plays. However, most scholars and historians continue to attribute the works to Shakespeare himself.
- Shakespeare’s Grave: Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. His grave carries an epitaph that includes a curse against anyone who might attempt to move his remains: Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed heare. Bleste be the man that spares thes stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.
DEATH AND LASTING LEGACY
William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, at the age of 52. The exact cause of his death remains unknown. His literary legacy is unparalleled, with his plays continuing to be performed, studied, and loved by audiences worldwide. Shakespeare’s profound understanding of human nature and his masterful use of language have made his works timeless, and he is often regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.
Shakespeare’s influence can be seen in countless aspects of literature, theater, and even everyday language. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and his works have been performed more often than those of any other playwright. Many modern writers, filmmakers, and playwrights have drawn inspiration from Shakespeare’s stories, themes, and characters, demonstrating the enduring power of his imagination.
In addition to his artistic contributions, Shakespeare’s works have also played a significant role in the development of the English language. His inventive use of language, including the creation of new words and phrases, has enriched our vocabulary and shaped the way we communicate today.
In conclusion, William Shakespeare’s life, though shrouded in mystery, is an extraordinary testament to the power of creativity and the human spirit. His remarkable body of work continues to captivate audiences, inspire artists, and shape our understanding of the world, ensuring that his legacy will endure for generations to come.