Literary genius of the 16th centuryby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Birth and Early Years
William Shakespeare, born in April of 1564, was the first son of John and Mary Shakespeare. His family lived in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire. John Shakespeare occupied the position of leather worker and agricultural supplies dealer. He was a sturdy, middle-class man up until 1577; at this time his wealth declined for unknown reasons. As a young boy William attended grammar school, and it can be assumed that some of his seven other siblings did as well. In general, Shakespeare’s childhood was not very different from many other children of that time.
Marriage and Family
Later in life we know that Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582. Anne was eight years William’s senior, and this could have caused some anxiety in their marriage. Nevertheless, three children were born to the couple; Susanna, in 1583, and twins Judith and Hamnet in 1585. After the birth of his children not much is known about Shakespeare’s personal life. William did not appear to be much of a “family man.” Considering his popularity, writing and performing most likely took up great portions of his time.
Writing and Performing
The year which can best be labeled the starting point of Shakespeare’s career is 1592. At this time Robert Greene, another Elizabethan playwright, wrote about Shakespeare, calling him an “upstart crow.” From this we can concluded that by this time he was well-known enough to get the recognition of another playwright. Although Shakespeare was writing during the next few years, many of the theaters were closed due to the plague and he did not get much public recognition. In 1594 theaters had opened again and Shakespeare instantaneously launched himself; performing with a group called The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. In the years 1594-1599 Shakespeare’s career was at its peak; He produced about two plays every year, performing some of them. Scholars estimate that he made 200-250 pounds every year, a high income in those days. In 1603 Shakespeare and his men became known as the King’s Men, due to the change in the ruling monarch. James I received the throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth and gave the famous acting company royal patronage. William of course continued to write, and some of his most famous works, mainly tragedies, were penned at this time. His works contain thousands of quotes from the Geneva Bible, particularly Matthew (151 times). He left the stage in 1611, the same year the King James version was published.
The Globe Theater
The famous Globe Theater was constructed in 1599. Before, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed at The Theatre, a play house of which Shakespeare was a part-owner. When the lease on the Theatre expired, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men temporarily made other arrangements, although desiring a permanent place to perform. Unfortunately, the landlord of The Theatre would not allow Shakespeare and his men back. So in 1599 they managed to tear down The Theatre, move it across the river in the middle of the night, and use that material to construct the Globe Theater. This, of course did not go over well with the landlord, but there was nothing he could do. The Globe was one of the grandest play-houses of that time, and many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed there.
After leaving the stage in 1611, Shakespeare returned to Stratford. He still continued to write, although not in such great volume. It is most likely that he finished putting together previous novels. His last few plays were not very notable, and one of them is lost to this day. By 1616 Shakespeare had become quite ill, and his death followed on April 23, 1616. His final will stated, "I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour to be made partaker of life everlasting."
Stages and Styles
Throughout Shakespeare’s life we see many changes in his style of writing. His early works include many well-known plays such as The Comedy of Errors, and Taming of the Shrew. Obviously these plays were acknowledged by the public; thus provoking Greene’s jealousy by 1592. While the play houses were closed from 1592-1594 William wrote many of his sonnets and some plays, including Love’s Labour’s Lost and Two Gentlemen of Verona. His sonnets, however, were not published until much later. By 1594 he was publishing a steady stream of plays which caused him to be the most popular playwright in England at that time. After this peak we see Shakespeare’s style shift to darkness and tragedy. Some of the plays he wrote include Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Othello. Any comedies he did write were noticeably un-humorous. There are many opinions as to why he made this switch in style; some suggest it was family-related, and others suggest it was because he wanted to please the crowds. In any event, his vision switched to light-hearted romance by 1608 and he wrote plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Shakespeare’s works after he left the stage in 1611 were Henry III, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Cardenio. Unfortunately these were not his most popular. Whatever the style, this is just a small taste of the vast amount of writing Shakespeare did in his lifetime. Each work was unique and full of genius.
Shakespeare’s influence has spread throughout generations. His works are some of the most well-known and well-loved. Since the 16th century people have been exposed to his writings. The folk of his era knew him and his work, and today his plays are being read for pleasure, taught in schools, and performed in theaters. His plays and sonnets have their own style and characteristics different from any other. His words are eloquent, his characters are dramatic, and his style is treasured. He was the quintessence of a literary genius. William Shakespeare can easily be labeled as one of the most influential writers throughout history.
1. Gray, Terry A. http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/timeline/timeline.edu
“A Shakespeare Timeline.” World History. Oct. 4, 2003
2. AbsoluteShakespeare.com http://absoluteshakespeare.com/trivia/timeline/timeline.html
“Shakespeare Timeline.” World History. Oct. 4, 2003
Death of William Shakespeare, http://www.gospelcom.net/chi/DAILYF/2003/04/daily-04-23-2003.shtml