His father, John Shakespeare, was successful in the leather business during Shakespeare's early childhood but later met with financial difficulties. During his prosperous years his father was also involved in municipal affairs, holding the offices of alderman and bailiff during the 1560s. While little is known of Shakespeare's boyhood, he probably attended the grammar school in Stratford, where he would have been educated in the classics, particularly Latin grammar and literature. Whatever the veracity of Ben Jonson's famous comment that Shakespeare had "small Latine, and less Greeke," much of his work clearly depends on a knowledge of Roman comedy, ancient history, and classical mythology.
In 1582 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior and pregnant at the time of the marriage. They had three children: Susanna, born in 1583, and twins, Hamnet and Judith, born in 1585. Nothing is known of the period between the birth of the twins and Shakespeare's emergence as a playwright in London (c.1592). However, various suggestions have been made regarding this time, including those that he fled Stratford to avoid prosecution for stealing deer, that he joined a group of traveling players, and that he was a country schoolteacher. The last suggestion is given some credence by the academic style of his early plays; The Comedy of Errors, for example, is an adaptation of two plays by Plautus.
In 1594 Shakespeare became an actor and playwright for the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the company that later became the King's Men under James I. Until the end of his London career Shakespeare remained with the company; it is thought that as an actor he played old men's roles, such as the ghost in Hamlet and Old Adam in As You Like It. In 1596 he obtained a coat of arms, and by 1597 he was prosperous enough to buy New Place in Stratford, which later was the home of his retirement years. In 1599 he became a partner in the ownership of the Globe theatre, and in 1608 he was part owner of the Blackfriars theatre. Shakespeare retired and returned to Stratford c.1613. He undoubtedly enjoyed a comfortable living throughout his career and in retirement, although he was never a wealthy man.
The chronology of Shakespeare's plays is uncertain, but a reasonable approximation of their order can be inferred from dates of publication, references in contemporary writings, allusions in the plays to contemporary events, thematic relationships, and metrical and stylistic comparisons. His first plays are believed to be the three parts of Henry VI; it is uncertain whether Part I was written before or after Parts II and III. Richard III is related to these plays and is usually grouped with them as the final part of a first tetralogy of historical plays.
After these come The Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus (almost a third of which may have been written by George Peele), The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, and Romeo and Juliet. Some of the comedies of this early period are classical imitations with a strong element of farce. The two tragedies, Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet, were both popular in Shakespeare's own lifetime. In Romeo and Juliet the main plot, in which the new love between Romeo and Juliet comes into conflict with the longstanding hatred between their families, is skillfully advanced, while the substantial development of minor characters supports and enriches it.
After these early plays, and before his great tragedies, Shakespeare wrote Richard II, A Midsummer Night's Dream, King John, The Merchant of Venice, Parts I and II of Henry IV, Much Ado about Nothing, Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. The comedies of this period partake less of farce and more of idyllic romance, while the history plays successfully integrate political elements with individual characterization. Taken together, Richard II, each part of Henry IV, and Henry V form a second tetralogy of historical plays, although each can stand alone, and they are usually performed separately. The two parts of Henry IV feature Falstaff, a vividly depicted character who from the beginning has enjoyed immense popularity.
The period of Shakespeare's great tragedies and the "problem plays" begins in 1600 with Hamlet. Following this are The Merry Wives of Windsor (written to meet Queen Elizabeth's request for another play including Falstaff, it is not thematically typical of the period), Troilus and Cressida, All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens (the last may have been partially written by Thomas Middleton).
On familial, state, and cosmic levels, Othello, Lear, and Macbeth present clear oppositions of order and chaos, good and evil, and spirituality and animality. Stylistically the plays of this period become increasingly compressed and symbolic. Through the portrayal of political leaders as tragic heroes, Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra involve the study of politics and social history as well as the psychology of individuals.
The last two plays in the Shakespearean corpus, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, may be collaborations with John Fletcher. The remaining four plays—Pericles (two acts of which may have been written by George Wilkins), Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest—are tragicomedies. They feature characters of tragic potential, but resemble comedy in that their conclusions are marked by a harmonious resolution achieved through magic, with all its divine, humanistic, and artistic implications.Appeal and Influence
Since his death Shakespeare's plays have been almost continually performed, in non-English-speaking nations as well as those where English is the native tongue; they are quoted more than the works of any other single author. The plays have been subject to ongoing examination and evaluation by critics attempting to explain their perennial appeal, which does not appear to derive from any set of profound or explicitly formulated ideas. Indeed, Shakespeare has sometimes been criticized for not consistently holding to any particular philosophy, religion, or ideology; for example, the subplot of A Midsummer Night's Dream includes a burlesque of the kind of tragic love that he idealizes in Romeo and Juliet.
The strength of Shakespeare's plays lies in the absorbing stories they tell, in their wealth of complex characters, and in the eloquent speech—vivid, forceful, and at the same time lyric—that the playwright puts on his characters' lips. It has often been noted that Shakespeare's characters are neither wholly good nor wholly evil, and that it is their flawed, inconsistent nature that makes them memorable. Hamlet fascinates audiences with his ambivalence about revenge and the uncertainty over how much of his madness is feigned and how much genuine. Falstaff would not be beloved if, in addition to being genial, openhearted, and witty, he were not also boisterous, cowardly, and, ultimately, poignant. Finally, the plays are distinguished by an unparalleled use of language. Shakespeare had a tremendous vocabulary and a corresponding sensitivity to nuance, as well as a singular aptitude for coining neologisms and punning.Editions and Sources
The first collected edition of Shakespeare is the First Folio, published in 1623 and including all the plays except Pericles and The Two Noble Kinsmen (the latter play also generally not appearing in modern editions). Eighteen of the plays exist in earlier quarto editions, eight of which are extremely corrupt, possibly having been reconstructed from an actor's memory. The first edition of Shakespeare to divide the plays into acts and scenes and to mark exits and entrances is that of Nicholas Rowe in 1709. Other important early editions include those of Alexander Pope (1725), Lewis Theobald (1733), and Samuel Johnson (1765).
Among Shakespeare's most important sources, Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1587) is significant for the English history plays, although Shakespeare did not hesitate to transform a character when it suited his dramatic purposes. For his Roman tragedies he used Sir Thomas North's translation (1579) of Plutarch's Lives. Many times he rewrote old plays, and twice he turned English prose romances into drama (As You Like It and The Winter's Tale). He also used the works of contemporary European authors. For further information on Shakespeare's sources, see the table entitled Shakespeare's Play.
Shakespeare's first published works were two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). In 1599 a volume of poetry entitled The Passionate Pilgrim was published and attributed entirely to Shakespeare. However, only five of the poems are definitely considered his, two appearing in other versions in the Sonnets and three in Love's Labour's Lost. A love elegy, The Phoenix and the Turtle, was published in 1601. In the 1980s and 90s many Elizabethan scholars concluded that a poem published in 1612 entitled A Funeral Elegy and signed "W.S." exhibits many Shakespearean characteristics; it has not yet been definitely included in the canon.
Shakespeare's sonnets are by far his most important nondramatic poetry. They were first published in 1609, although many of them had certainly been circulated privately before this, and it is generally agreed that the poems were written sometime in the 1590s. Scholars have long debated the order of the poems and the degree of autobiographical content.
The first 126 of the 154 sonnets are addressed to a young man whose identity has long intrigued scholars. The publisher, Thomas Thorpe, wrote a dedication to the first edition in which he claimed that a person with the initials W. H. had inspired the sonnets. Some have thought these letters to be the transposed initials of Henry Wriothesley, 3d earl of Southampton, to whom Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece; or they are possibly the initials of William Herbert, 3d earl of Pembroke, whose connection with Shakespeare is more tenuous. The identity of the dark lady addressed in sonnets 127-152 has also been the object of much conjecture but no proof. The sonnets are marked by the recurring themes of beauty, youthful beauty ravaged by time, and the ability of love and art to transcend time and even death.
There has been a great variety of critical approach to Shakespeare's work since his death. During the 17th and 18th cent., Shakespeare was both admired and condemned. Since then, much of the adverse criticism has not been considered relevant, although certain issues have continued to interest critics throughout the years. For instance, charges against his moral propriety were made by Samuel Johnson in the 18th cent. and by George Bernard Shaw in the 20th.
Early criticism was directed primarily at questions of form. Shakespeare was criticized for mixing comedy and tragedy and failing to observe the unities of time and place prescribed by the rules of classical drama. Dryden and Johnson were among the critics claiming that he had corrupted the language with false wit, puns, and ambiguity. While some of his early plays might justly be charged with a frivolous use of such devices, 20th-century criticism has tended to praise their use in later plays as adding depth and resonance of meaning.
Generally critics of the 17th and 18th cent. accused Shakespeare of a want of artistic restraint while praising him for a fecund imagination. Samuel Johnson, while agreeing with many earlier criticisms, defended Shakespeare on the question of classical rules. On the issue of unity of time and place he argued that no one considers the stage play to be real life anyway. Johnson inaugurated the criticism of Shakespeare's characters that reached its culmination in the late 19th cent. with the work of A. C. Bradley. The German critics Gotthold Lessing and Augustus Wilhelm von Schlegel saw Shakespeare as a romantic, different in type from the classical poets, but on equal footing. Schlegel first elucidated the structural unity of Shakespeare's plays, a concept of unity that is developed much more completely by the English poet and critic Samuel Coleridge.
While Schlegel and Coleridge were establishing Shakespeare's plays as artistic, organic unities, such 19th-century critics as the German Georg Gervinus and the Irishman Edward Dowden were trying to see positive moral tendencies in the plays. The 19th-century English critic William Hazlitt, who continued the development of character analysis begun by Johnson, considered each Shakespearean character to be unique, but found a unity through analogy and gradation of characterization. While A. C. Bradley marks the culmination of romantic 19th-century character study, he also suggested that the plays had unifying imagistic atmospheres, an idea that was further developed in the 20th cent.
The tendency in 20th-century criticism was to abandon both the study of character as independent personality and the assumption that moral considerations can be separated from their dramatic and aesthetic context. The plays were increasingly viewed in terms of the unity of image, metaphor, and tone. Caroline Spurgeon began the careful classification of Shakespeare's imagery, and although her attempts were later felt to be somewhat naive and morally biased, her work is a landmark in Shakespearean criticism. Other important trends in 20th-century criticism included the Freudian approach, such as Ernest Jones's Oedipal interpretation of Hamlet; the study of Shakespeare in terms of the Elizabethan world view and Elizabethan stage conventions; and the study of the plays in mythic terms.
For about 150 years after his death no one seemed to doubt that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him. However, in the latter part of the 18th cent. questions began to arise as to whether or not the historical William Shakespeare was indeed the author. Since then the issue has continued to be a subject of often heated debate, albeit mainly in academic circles. Those who doubt that Shakespeare wrote the works (sometimes called "anti-Stratfordians") generally assert that the actor from Stratford had a limited education; some have even claimed that he was illiterate. Many of the questioners maintain that such a provincial upstart could not have had the wide-ranging worldly and scholarly knowledge, linguistic skills, and fine sensibilities evinced by the author of the Shakespearean canon. Such qualities, they assert, could only have been possessed by a university-educated gentleman, multilingual, well-traveled, and quite possibly titled. Critics further contend that playwriting was a lowly profession at the time and that the "real" author protected his reputation by using Shakespeare's name as a pseudonym. Over the years, many other arguments, some involving secret codes, some even more abstruse, have been offered to cast doubt on Shakespeare's authorship.
On the other hand, traditionalists ("Stratfordians") who believe that William Shakespeare was indeed the author of the plays and poems, point out that his probable education at the Stratford grammar school would have provided the required knowledge of the classics and classical civilization as well as of Latin and at least some Greek. They also maintain that what can be assumed to be his broad reading of historical sources along with his daily involvement in the lively worlds of Elizabethan London—artistic and intellectual, ordinary and aristocratic—would, when transmuted by his genius, have provided Shakespeare with the necessary background to create his dramatic and poetic works. Moreover, they say, Shakespeare was known to his contemporaries, as attested to by a number of extant references to him as a writer by other notable men of his time.
Anti-Stratfordians have suggested a number of Elizabethans as candidates for the "real" author of the works. From the late 18th through the 19th cent. the individual most often cited was Francis Bacon, who had the requisite aristocratic background, education, courtly experience, and literary talent. Others claimed that Bacon was one of a group that collectively wrote the Shakespearean oeuvre. In the 20th cent. a new candidate emerged as the authorial front runner—Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. His proponents, the Oxfordians, cited correspondences between events in his life and those in some of the plays, apparent similarities in the two men's language, and Oxford's proven skills as a dramatist and poet. Prominent among the many reasons to doubt de Vere's authorship is the fact that he died in 1604 and that some of Shakespeare's greatest works were written well after that date.
More than 50 other names have been put forward as the "real" Shakespeare, ranging from the implausible, e.g., Queen Elizabeth I, to the somewhat more possible, e.g., Christopher Marlowe; William Stanley, 6th earl of Derby; and Roger Manners, 5th earl of Rutland. Still others have suggested that the works were the result of a collaboration by two or more Elizabethan writers. In 2005 a new candidate, Sir Henry Neville, a courtier, diplomat, and distant relative of Shakespeare, was proposed. Even as studies and biographies of Shakespeare proliferate, the authorship controversy shows few signs of subsiding, and books, scholarly essays, and, more recently, websites continue to be devoted to the question.
See also biographies by E. K. Chambers (2 vol., 1930), G. E. Bentley (1961), S. Schoenbaum (1970 and 1975), S. Wells (1974), R. Fraser (2 vol., 1988), P. Levi (1988, repr. 1995), E. Sams (1995), P. Honan (1998), A. Holden (1999), I. L. Matus (1999), and P. Ackroyd (2005) A. Nicoll, Shakespeare: An Introduction (1952); G. Bullough, ed., Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (8 vol., 1957-75); O. J. Campbell and E. G. Quinn, ed., The Reader's Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966); M. R. Martin and R. C. Harrier, The Concise Encyclopedic Guide to Shakespeare (1972); M. Spevack, A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare (6 vol., 1970); The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare (1973); S. Wells, ed., Current Approaches to Shakespeare (1988); G. Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare (1989); J. Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare (1997); H. Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets (1997); H. Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998); D. S. Kastan, ed., A Companion to Shakespeare (1999); S. Orgel, Imagining Shakespeare: A History of Texts and Visions (2003); B. Vickers, Shakespeare, Co-Author (2003); S. Wells, Shakespeare for All Time (2003); S. Greenblatt, Will in the World (2004); J. Shapiro, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005); M. Garber, Shakespeare and Modern Culture (2008); J. Knapp, Shakespeare Only (2009); J. Bate, Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare (2009); bibliographies ed. by G. R. Smith (1963) and E. Quinn et al. (1973);.
William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564 – died 23 April 1616) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's preeminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard"). His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language, and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who bore him three children: Susanna, and twins, Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as the King's Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare's private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1590 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the sixteenth century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest examples in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights. Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. In 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare's.
Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise to its present heights until the nineteenth century. The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed Shakespeare's genius, and the Victorians hero-worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George Bernard Shaw called "bardolatry". In the twentieth century, his work was repeatedly adopted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly popular today and are constantly performed and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.
William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare, a successful glover and alderman originally from Snitterfield, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and baptised on 26 April 1564. His unknown birthday is traditionally observed on 23 April, St George's Day. This date, which can be traced back to an eighteenth-century scholar's mistake, has proved appealing because Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616. He was the third child of eight and the eldest surviving son.
Although no attendance records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Shakespeare was educated at the King's New School in Stratford, a free school chartered in 1553, about a quarter of a mile from his home. Grammar schools varied in quality during the Elizabethan era, but the curriculum was dictated by law throughout England, and the school would have provided an intensive education in Latin grammar and the classics. At the age of 18, Shakespeare married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway. The consistory court of the Diocese of Worcester issued a marriage licence on 27 November 1582. Two of Hathaway's neighbours posted bonds the next day as surety that there were no impediments to the marriage. The couple may have arranged the ceremony in some haste, since the Worcester chancellor allowed the marriage banns to be read once instead of the usual three times. Anne's pregnancy could have been the reason for this. Six months after the marriage, she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, who was baptised on 26 May 1583. Twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith, followed almost two years later and were baptised on 2 February 1585. Hamnet died of unknown causes at the age of 11 and was buried on 11 August 1596.
After the birth of the twins, there are few historical traces of Shakespeare until he is mentioned as part of the London theatre scene in 1592. Because of this gap, scholars refer to the years between 1585 and 1592 as Shakespeare's "lost years". Biographers attempting to account for this period have reported many apocryphal stories. Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare’s first biographer, recounted a Stratford legend that Shakespeare fled the town for London to escape prosecution for deer poaching. Another eighteenth-century story has Shakespeare starting his theatrical career minding the horses of theatre patrons in London. John Aubrey reported that Shakespeare had been a country schoolmaster. Some twentieth-century scholars have suggested that Shakespeare may have been employed as a schoolmaster by Alexander Hoghton of Lancashire, a Catholic landowner who named a certain "William Shakeshafte" in his will. No evidence substantiates such stories other than hearsay collected after his death.
...there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in a Player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.
Scholars differ on the exact meaning of these words, but most agree that Greene is accusing Shakespeare of reaching above his rank in trying to match university-educated writers, such as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe and Greene himself. The italicised phrase parodying the line "Oh, tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide" from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part 3, along with the pun "Shake-scene", identifies Shakespeare as Greene’s target.
"All the world's a stage,|
and all the men and women merely players:
they have their exits and their entrances;
and one man in his time plays many parts..."
|As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7, 139–42.|
Greene’s attack is the first recorded mention of Shakespeare’s career in the theatre. Biographers suggest that his career may have begun any time from the mid-1580s to just before Greene’s remarks. From 1594, Shakespeare's plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new king, James I, and changed its name to the King's Men.
In 1599, a partnership of company members built their own theatre on the south bank of the Thames, which they called the Globe. In 1608, the partnership also took over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Records of Shakespeare's property purchases and investments indicate that the company made him a wealthy man. In 1597, he bought the second-largest house in Stratford, New Place, and in 1605, he invested in a share of the parish tithes in Stratford.
Some of Shakespeare's plays were published in quarto editions from 1594. By 1598, his name had become a selling point and began to appear on the title pages. Shakespeare continued to act in his own and other plays after his success as a playwright. The 1616 edition of Ben Jonson's Works names him on the cast lists for Every Man in His Humour (1598) and Sejanus, His Fall (1603). The absence of his name from the 1605 cast list for Jonson’s Volpone is taken by some scholars as a sign that his acting career was nearing its end. The First Folio of 1623, however, lists Shakespeare as one of "the Principal Actors in all these Plays", some of which were first staged after Volpone, although we cannot know for certain what roles he played. In 1610, John Davies of Hereford wrote that "good Will" played "kingly" roles. In 1709, Rowe passed down a tradition that Shakespeare played the ghost of Hamlet's father. Later traditions maintain that he also played Adam in As You Like It and the Chorus in Henry V, though scholars doubt the sources of the information.
Shakespeare divided his time between London and Stratford during his career. In 1596, the year before he bought New Place as his family home in Stratford, Shakespeare was living in the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, north of the River Thames. He moved across the river to Southwark by 1599, the year his company constructed the Globe Theatre there. By 1604, he had moved north of the river again, to an area north of St Paul's Cathedral with many fine houses. There he rented rooms from a French Huguenot called Christopher Mountjoy, a maker of ladies' wigs and other headgear.
After 1606–1607, Shakespeare wrote fewer plays, and none are attributed to him after 1613. His last three plays were collaborations, probably with John Fletcher, who succeeded him as the house playwright for the King’s Men.
Rowe was the first biographer to pass down the tradition that Shakespeare retired to Stratford some years before his death; but retirement from all work was uncommon at that time, and Shakespeare continued to visit London. In 1612, he was called as a witness in a court case concerning the marriage settlement of Mountjoy's daughter, Mary. In March 1613, he bought a gatehouse in the Blackfriars priory; and from November 1614, he was in London for several weeks with his son-in-law, John Hall.
Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, and was survived by his wife and two daughters. Susanna had married a physician, John Hall, in 1607, and Judith had married Thomas Quiney, a vintner, two months before Shakespeare’s death.
Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,|
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.
|Inscription on Shakespeare’s grave|
In his will, Shakespeare left the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna. The terms instructed that she pass it down intact to "the first son of her body". The Quineys had three children, all of whom died without marrying. The Halls had one child, Elizabeth, who married twice but died without children in 1670, ending Shakespeare’s direct line. Shakespeare's will scarcely mentions his wife, Anne, who was probably entitled to one third of his estate automatically. He did make a point, however, of leaving her "my second best bed", a bequest that has led to much speculation. Some scholars see the bequest as an insult to Anne, whereas others believe that the second-best bed would have been the matrimonial bed and therefore rich in significance.
Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death. Sometime before 1623, a monument was erected in his memory on the north wall, with a half-effigy of him in the act of writing. Its plaque compares him to Nestor, Socrates, and Virgil. A stone slab covering his grave is inscribed with a curse against moving his bones.
Scholars have often noted four periods in Shakespeare's writing career. Until the mid-1590s, he wrote mainly comedies influenced by Roman and Italian models and history plays in the popular chronicle tradition. His second period began in about 1595 with the tragedy Romeo and Juliet and ended with the tragedy of Julius Caesar in 1599. During this time, he wrote what are considered his greatest comedies and histories. From about 1600 to about 1608, his "tragic period", Shakespeare wrote mostly tragedies, and from about 1608 to 1613, mainly tragicomedies, also called romances.
The first recorded works of Shakespeare are Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI, written in the early 1590s during a vogue for historical drama. Shakespeare's plays are difficult to date, however, and studies of the texts suggest that Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and Two Gentlemen of Verona may also belong to Shakespeare’s earliest period. His first histories, which draw heavily on the 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, dramatise the destructive results of weak or corrupt rule and have been interpreted as a justification for the origins of the Tudor dynasty. Their composition was influenced by the works of other Elizabethan dramatists, especially Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe, by the traditions of medieval drama, and by the plays of Seneca. The Comedy of Errors was also based on classical models. But, no source for the The Taming of the Shrew has been found, though it is related to a separate play of the same name and may have derived from a folk story. Like Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which two friends appear to approve of rape, the Shrew's story of the taming of a woman's independent spirit by a man sometimes troubles modern critics and directors.
Shakespeare's early classical and Italianate comedies, containing tight double plots and precise comic sequences, gave way in the mid-1590s to the romantic atmosphere of his greatest comedies. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a witty mixture of romance, fairy magic, and comic lowlife scenes. Shakespeare's next comedy, the equally romantic The Merchant of Venice, contains a portrayal of the vengeful Jewish moneylender Shylock which reflected Elizabethan views but may appear prejudiced to modern audiences. The wit and wordplay of Much Ado About Nothing, the charming rural setting of As You Like It, and the lively merrymaking of Twelfth Night complete Shakespeare's sequence of great comedies. After the lyrical Richard II, written almost entirely in verse, Shakespeare introduced prose comedy into the histories of the late 1590s, Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. His characters become more complex and tender as he switches deftly between comic and serious scenes, prose and poetry, and achieves the narrative variety of his mature work. This period begins and ends with two tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, the famous romantic tragedy of sexually charged adolescence, love, and death; and Julius Caesar—based on Sir Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives—which introduced a new kind of drama. According to Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro, in Julius Caesar "the various strands of politics, character, inwardness, contemporary events, even Shakespeare's own reflections on the act of writing, began to infuse each other".
Shakespeare's so-called "tragic period" lasted from about 1600 to 1608, though he also wrote the so-called "problem plays" Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and All's Well That Ends Well during this time and had written tragedies before. Many critics believe that Shakespeare's greatest tragedies represent the peak of his art. The hero of the first, Hamlet, has probably been more discussed than any other Shakespearean character, especially for his famous soliloquy "To be or not to be; that is the question. Unlike the introverted Hamlet, whose fatal flaw is hesitation, the heroes of the tragedies that followed, Othello and King Lear, are undone by hasty errors of judgement. The plots of Shakespeare's tragedies often hinge on such fatal errors or flaws, which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves. In Othello, the villain Iago stokes Othello's sexual jealousy to the point where he murders the innocent wife who loves him. In King Lear, the old king commits the tragic error of giving up his powers, initiating the events which lead to the murder of his daughter and the torture and blinding of the Earl of Gloucester. According to the critic Frank Kermode, "the play offers neither its good characters nor its audience any relief from its cruelty". In Macbeth, the shortest and most compressed of Shakespeare's tragedies, uncontrollable ambition incites Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder the rightful king and usurp the throne, until their own guilt destroys them in turn. In this play, Shakespeare adds a supernatural element to the tragic structure. His last major tragedies, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, contain some of Shakespeare's finest poetry and were considered his most successful tragedies by the poet and critic T. S. Eliot.
In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more major plays: Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, as well as the collaboration, Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than the comedies of the 1590s, but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially tragic errors. Some commentators have seen this change in mood as evidence of a more serene view of life on Shakespeare's part, but it may merely reflect the theatrical fashion of the day. Shakespeare collaborated on two further surviving plays, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, probably with John Fletcher.
It is not clear for which companies Shakespeare wrote his early plays. The title page of the 1594 edition of Titus Andronicus reveals that the play had been acted by three different troupes. After the plagues of 1592–3, Shakespeare's plays were performed by his own company at The Theatre and the Curtain in Shoreditch, north of the Thames. Londoners flocked there to see the first part of Henry IV, Leonard Digges recording, "Let but Falstaff come, Hal, Poins, the rest...and you scarce shall have a room". When the company found themselves in dispute with their landlord, they pulled The Theatre down and used the timbers to construct the Globe Theatre, the first playhouse built by actors for actors, on the south bank of the Thames at Southwark. The Globe opened in autumn 1599, with Julius Caesar one of the first plays staged. Most of Shakespeare's greatest post-1599 plays were written for the Globe, including Hamlet, Othello and King Lear.
After the Lord Chamberlain's Men were renamed the King's Men in 1603, they entered a special relationship with the new King James. Although the performance records are patchy, the King's Men performed seven of Shakespeare's plays at court between 1 November 1604 and 31 October 1605, including two performances of The Merchant of Venice. After 1608, they performed at the indoor Blackfriars Theatre during the winter and the Globe during the summer. The indoor setting, combined with the Jacobean fashion for lavishly staged masques, allowed Shakespeare to introduce more elaborate stage devices. In Cymbeline, for example, Jupiter descends "in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt. The ghosts fall on their knees.
The actors in Shakespeare's company included the famous Richard Burbage, William Kempe, Henry Condell and John Heminges. Burbage played the leading role in the first performances of many of Shakespeare's plays, including Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. The popular comic actor Will Kempe played the servant Peter in Romeo and Juliet and Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, among other characters. He was replaced around the turn of the sixteenth century by Robert Armin, who played roles such as Touchstone in As You Like It and the fool in King Lear. In 1613, Sir Henry Wotton recorded that Henry VIII "was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and ceremony". On 29 June, however, a cannon set fire to the thatch of the Globe and burned the theatre to the ground, an event which pinpoints the date of a Shakespeare play with rare precision.
In 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare's friends from the King's Men, published the First Folio, a collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. It contained 36 texts, including 18 printed for the first time. Many of the plays had already appeared in quarto versions—flimsy books made from sheets of paper folded twice to make four leaves. No evidence suggests that Shakespeare approved these editions, which the First Folio describes as "stol'n and surreptitious copies". Alfred Pollard termed some of them "bad quartos" because of their adapted, paraphrased or garbled texts, which may in places have been reconstructed from memory. Where several versions of a play survive, each differs from the other. The differences may stem from copying or printing errors, from notes by actors or audience members, or from Shakespeare's own papers. In some cases, for example Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida and Othello, Shakespeare could have revised texts between the quarto and folio editions. The folio version of King Lear is so different from the 1608 quarto that the Oxford Shakespeare prints them both, since they cannot be conflated without confusion.
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?|
Thou art more lovely and more temperate..."
|Lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18.|
Published in 1609, the Sonnets were the last of Shakespeare's non-dramatic works to be printed. Scholars are not certain when each of the 154 sonnets was composed, but evidence suggests that Shakespeare wrote sonnets throughout his career for a private readership. Even before the two unauthorised sonnets appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, Francis Meres had referred in 1598 to Shakespeare's "sugred Sonnets among his private friends". Few analysts believe that the published collection follows Shakespeare's intended sequence. He seems to have planned two contrasting series: one about uncontrollable lust for a married woman of dark complexion (the "dark lady"), and one about conflicted love for a fair young man (the "fair youth"). It remains unclear if these figures represent real individuals, or if the authorial "I" who addresses them represents Shakespeare himself, though Wordsworth believed that with the sonnets "Shakespeare unlocked his heart". The 1609 edition was dedicated to a "Mr. W.H.", credited as "the only begetter" of the poems. It is not known whether this was written by Shakespeare himself or by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, whose initials appear at the foot of the dedication page; nor is it known who Mr. W.H. was, despite numerous theories, or whether Shakespeare even authorised the publication. Critics praise the Sonnets as a profound meditation on the nature of love, sexual passion, procreation, death, and time.
Shakespeare's first plays were written in the conventional style of the day. He wrote them in a stylised language that does not always spring naturally from the needs of the characters or the drama. The poetry depends on extended, sometimes elaborate metaphors and conceits, and the language is often rhetorical—written for actors to declaim rather than speak. The grand speeches in Titus Andronicus, in the view of some critics, often hold up the action, for example; and the verse in Two Gentlemen of Verona has been described as stilted.
Soon, however, Shakespeare began to adapt the traditional styles to his own purposes. The opening soliloquy of Richard III has its roots in the self-declaration of Vice in medieval drama. At the same time, Richard’s vivid self-awareness looks forward to the soliloquies of Shakespeare's mature plays. No single play marks a change from the traditional to the freer style. Shakespeare combined the two throughout his career, with Romeo and Juliet perhaps the best example of the mixing of the styles. By the time of Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and A Midsummer Night's Dream in the mid-1590s, Shakespeare had begun to write a more natural poetry. He increasingly tuned his metaphors and images to the needs of the drama itself.
Shakespeare's standard poetic form was blank verse, composed in iambic pentameter. In practice, this meant that his verse was usually unrhymed and consisted of ten syllables to a line, spoken with a stress on every second syllable. The blank verse of his early plays is quite different from that of his later ones. It is often beautiful, but its sentences tend to start, pause, and finish at the end of lines, with the risk of monotony. Once Shakespeare mastered traditional blank verse, he began to interrupt and vary its flow. This technique releases the new power and flexibility of the poetry in plays such as Julius Caesar and Hamlet. Shakespeare uses it, for example, to convey the turmoil in Hamlet's mind:
After Hamlet, Shakespeare varied his poetic style further, particularly in the more emotional passages of the late tragedies. The literary critic A. C. Bradley described this style as "more concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical". In the last phase of his career, Shakespeare adopted many techniques to achieve these effects. These included run-on lines, irregular pauses and stops, and extreme variations in sentence structure and length. In Macbeth, for example, the language darts from one unrelated metaphor or simile to another: "was the hope drunk/ Wherein you dressed yourself?" (1.7.35–38); "...pity, like a naked new-born babe/ Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd/ Upon the sightless couriers of the air..." (1.7.21–25). The listener is challenged to complete the sense. The late romances, with their shifts in time and surprising turns of plot, inspired a last poetic style in which long and short sentences are set against one another, clauses are piled up, subject and object are reversed, and words are omitted, creating an effect of spontaneity.
Shakespeare's poetic genius was allied with a practical sense of the theatre. Like all playwrights of the time, Shakespeare dramatised stories from sources such as Petrarch and Holinshed. He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and show as many sides of a narrative to the audience as possible. This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama. As Shakespeare’s mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and distinctive patterns of speech. He preserved aspects of his earlier style in the later plays, however. In his late romances, he deliberately returned to a more artificial style, which emphasised the illusion of theatre.
Shakespeare's work has made a lasting impression on later theatre and literature. In particular, he expanded the dramatic potential of characterisation, plot, language, and genre. Until Romeo and Juliet, for example, romance had not been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy. Soliloquies had been used mainly to convey information about characters or events; but Shakespeare used them to explore characters' minds. His work heavily influenced later poetry. The Romantic poets attempted to revive Shakespearean verse drama, though with little success. Critic George Steiner described all English verse dramas from Coleridge to Tennyson as "feeble variations on Shakespearean themes.
Shakespeare influenced novelists such as Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner, and Charles Dickens. Dickens often quoted Shakespeare, drawing 25 of his titles from Shakespeare's works. The American novelist Herman Melville's soliloquies owe much to Shakespeare; his Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick is a classic tragic hero, inspired by King Lear. Scholars have identified 20,000 pieces of music linked to Shakespeare's works. These include two operas by Giuseppe Verdi, Otello and Falstaff, whose critical standing compares with that of the source plays. Shakespeare has also inspired many painters, including the Romantics and the Pre-Raphaelites. The Swiss Romantic artist Henry Fuseli, a friend of William Blake, even translated Macbeth into German. The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud drew on Shakespearean psychology, in particular that of Hamlet, for his theories of human nature.
In Shakespeare's day, English grammar and spelling were less standardised than they are now, and his use of language helped shape modern English. Samuel Johnson quoted him more often than any other author in his A Dictionary of the English Language, the first serious work of its type. Expressions such as "with bated breath" (Merchant of Venice) and "a foregone conclusion" (Othello) have found their way into everyday English speech.
|"He was not of an age, but for all time."|
Shakespeare was never revered in his lifetime, but he received his share of praise. In 1598, the cleric and author Francis Meres singled him out from a group of English writers as "the most excellent" in both comedy and tragedy. And the authors of the Parnassus plays at St John's College, Cambridge, numbered him with Chaucer, Gower and Spenser. In the First Folio, Ben Jonson called Shakespeare the "Soul of the age, the applause, delight, the wonder of our stage", though he had remarked elsewhere that "Shakespeare wanted art".
Between the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the end of the seventeenth century, classical ideas were in vogue. As a result, critics of the time mostly rated Shakespeare below John Fletcher and Ben Jonson. Thomas Rymer, for example, condemned Shakespeare for mixing the comic with the tragic. Nevertheless, poet and critic John Dryden rated Shakespeare highly, saying of Jonson, "I admire him, but I love Shakespeare". For several decades, Rymer's view held sway; but during the eighteenth century, critics began to respond to Shakespeare on his own terms and acclaim what they termed his natural genius. A series of scholarly editions of his work, notably those of Samuel Johnson in 1765 and Edmond Malone in 1790, added to his growing reputation. By 1800, he was firmly enshrined as the national poet. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, his reputation also spread abroad. Among those who championed him were the writers Voltaire, Goethe, Stendhal and Victor Hugo.
During the Romantic era, Shakespeare was praised by the poet and literary philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge; and the critic August Wilhelm Schlegel translated his plays in the spirit of German Romanticism. In the nineteenth century, critical admiration for Shakespeare's genius often bordered on adulation. "That King Shakespeare," the essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote in 1840, "does not he shine, in crowned sovereignty, over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet strongest of rallying signs; indestructible". The Victorians produced his plays as lavish spectacles on a grand scale. The playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw mocked the cult of Shakespeare worship as "bardolatry". He claimed that the new naturalism of Ibsen's plays had made Shakespeare obsolete.
The modernist revolution in the arts during the early twentieth century, far from discarding Shakespeare, eagerly enlisted his work in the service of the avant garde. The Expressionists in Germany and the Futurists in Moscow mounted productions of his plays. Marxist playwright and director Bertolt Brecht devised an epic theatre under the influence of Shakespeare. The poet and critic T. S. Eliot argued against Shaw that Shakespeare's "primitiveness" in fact made him truly modern. Eliot, along with G. Wilson Knight and the school of New Criticism, led a movement towards a closer reading of Shakespeare's imagery. In the 1950s, a wave of new critical approaches replaced modernism and paved the way for "post-modern" studies of Shakespeare. By the eighties, Shakespeare studies were open to movements such as structuralism, feminism, African American studies, and queer studies.
Around 150 years after Shakespeare's death, doubts began to emerge about the authorship of Shakespeare's works. Alternative candidates proposed include Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. Although all alternative candidates are almost universally rejected in academic circles, popular interest in the subject, particularly the Oxfordian theory, has continued into the 21st century.
Some scholars claim that members of Shakespeare's family were Catholics, at a time when Catholic practice was against the law. Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, certainly came from a pious Catholic family. The strongest evidence might be a Catholic statement of faith signed by John Shakespeare, found in 1757 in the rafters of his former house in Henley Street. The document is now lost, however, and scholars differ on its authenticity. In 1591, the authorities reported that John had missed church "for fear of process for debt", a common Catholic excuse. In 1606, William's daughter Susanna was listed among those who failed to attend Easter communion in Stratford. Scholars find evidence both for and against Shakespeare's Catholicism in his plays, but the truth may be impossible to prove either way.
Few details of Shakespeare's sexuality are known. At 18, he married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, who was pregnant. Susanna, the first of their three children, was born six months later on 26 May 1583. However, over the centuries readers have pointed to Shakespeare's sonnets as evidence of his love for a young man. Others read the same passages as the expression of intense friendship rather than sexual love. At the same time, the twenty-six so-called "Dark Lady" sonnets, addressed to a married woman, are taken as evidence of heterosexual liaisons.
Shakespeare's works include the 36 plays printed in the First Folio of 1623, listed below according to their folio classification as comedies, histories and tragedies. Shakespeare did not write every word of the plays attributed to him; and several show signs of collaboration, a common practice at the time. Two plays not included in the First Folio, The Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles, Prince of Tyre, are now accepted as part of the canon, with scholars agreed that Shakespeare made a major contribution to their composition. No poems were included in the First Folio.
In the late nineteenth century, Edward Dowden classified four of the late comedies as romances, and though many scholars prefer to call them tragicomedies, his term is often used. These plays and the associated Two Noble Kinsmen are marked with an asterisk (*) below. In 1896, Frederick S. Boas coined the term "problem plays" to describe four plays: All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida and Hamlet. "Dramas as singular in theme and temper cannot be strictly called comedies or tragedies", he wrote. "We may therefore borrow a convenient phrase from the theatre of today and class them together as Shakespeare's problem plays. The term, much debated and sometimes applied to other plays, remains in use, though Hamlet is definitively classed as a tragedy. The other problem plays are marked below with a double dagger (‡).
Plays thought to be only partly written by Shakespeare are marked with a dagger (†) below. Other works occasionally attributed to him are listed as lost plays or apocrypha.