The works of Shakespeare_s great mind were Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, and many more. These are the works of a man with something special to give the world: a gift that has transcended time to lend its inspiration to struggling playwrights and poets even now. What genius possessed his soul that he was able to produce so many masterpieces of literature?
We can only wonder. . .
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Birth Date. William Shakespeare, surely the world_s most performed and admired playwright, was born in April, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, about 100 miles northwest of London. According to the records of Stratford_s Holy Trinity Church, he was baptized on April 26. Since it was customary to baptize infants within days of birth, and since Shakespeare died 52 years later on April 23, and–most significantly–since April 23 is St. George_s day, the patron saint of England, it has become traditional tto assign the birth day of England_s most famous poet to April 23. As with most sixteenth century births, the actual day is not recorded. And as with most remarkable men, the power of myth and symmetry has proven irresistible. SSo April 23 it has become.
Parents and Family. Shakespeare_s parents were John and Mary Shakespeare, who lived in Henley Street, Stratford. John, the son of Richard Shakespeare, was a whittawer (a maker, worker and seller of leather goods such as purses, belts and gloves) and a dealer in agricultural commodities. He was a solid, middle class citizen at the time of William_s birth, and a man on the rise. He served in Stratford government successively as a member of the Council (1557), constable (1558), chamberlain (1561), alderman (1565) and finally high bailiff (1568)–the equivalent of town mayor. About 1577 John Shakespeare_s fortunes began to decline for unknown reasons. There are records of debts. In 1586 he was replaced as alderman ffor shirking responsibilities, and in 1592 was reprimanded for not coming to church for fear of process of debt.
Mary, the daughter of Robert Arden, had in all eight children with John Shakespeare. William was the third child and the first son.
Birth Place. In the sixteenth century Stratford-upon-Avon was an important agricultural center and market town, its market being licensed in the twelfth century by Richard I. The building in Henley street known today as the „birthplace“ was at the ttime of Shakespeare_s birth actually two adjacent buildings that John Shakespeare purchased at different times. Illustrations of it are based on the 18th century water color by Richard Greene made after the two buildings were joined into one. There are no renderings of the original buildings.
Education. Records for the Stratford grammar school (The King_s New School – dedicated by Edward VI) from the time Shakespeare would have attended have been lost, but attend he undoubtedly did since the school was built and maintained expressly for the purpose of educating the sons of prominent citizens. The sons of burgesses attended free.
The curriculum commenced with the hornbook in order to learn the English alphabet, and thereafter was largely devoted to learning the Latin grammar, based on Lily_s Grammaticis Latina (this Lily was the grandfather of the playwright John Lily–often spelled Lyly), and later translating and reading the standard Roman authors. They began with what was considered the relatively easy Latin of Aesop_s Fables (translated from Greek), then Caesar, and then moved on to Cicero, Virgil, Ovid (the author that seems to have been Shakespeare_s favorite), Horace, Suetonius, Livy, and, notably for a dramatist, Seneca, Terence and (perhaps) Plautus . School began aat dawn (six or seven depending on the season) and proceeded most of the day, with breaks for meals, six days a week How long Shakespeare attended the school is not known, but from his obvious mastery and love for the Latin authors, the grammar school must have at least begun the process that he later mastered.
The other significant educational opportunity afforded all Elizabethans was mandatory attendance at church, where they were exposed to either the Geneva Bible (translated 1560) or the Bishops_ Bible (translated 1568)–not the authorized, or King James, version since it was not published until 1611. Church attendance also brought them under the influence of The Book of Common Prayer (composed 1549), Foxe_s Acts and Monuments (1563), homilies and preaching.
No one knows how long Shakespeare remained at the Stratford Grammar School, but Nicholas Rowe (first editor of Shakespeare_s Works after the Folio editions and his first biographer–1709) reports that „.the want of his assistance at Home, forc_d his Father to withdraw him from thence.“ (Rowe, Some Acount of the Life, ). Rowe_s source was the actor Thomas Betterton (1634-1710), who made „a journey to Warwickshire on purpose to gather up what remains he could, of a name ffor which he had so great a veneration.“ So we cannot be certain, but it would seem likely that William was apprenticed to his father_s business in the usual way, perhaps some time around 1577 when John Shakespeare_s fortunes seem to take a turn for the worse.
In any event, reckoned as part of William_s early education must be the ways of business he would have learned around his father_s shop. Concerning this period, there is a legend reported in Aubrey_s Brief Lives (Aubrey was a seventeenth century gentleman known as a gossip and raconteur–1681) that „.his father was a Butcher, & I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbors, that when he was a boy he exercised his father_s Trade, but when he kill_d a Calfe, he would do it in a high style, & make a Speech.“ As unlikely as this behavior seems from someone who shows empathy for animals in his poetry–almost alone among his contemporaries–the detail of having been apprenticed to his father (who was not a butcher but a worker in leather, and probably did not do his own butchering) may well be correct.
Finally, as part of Shakespeare_s early education and influences, the Warwickshire
countryside cannot be ignored. The plays and poetry are full of images taken from nature, gardening, agricultural pursuits, and country folklore. For example, in Henry V we find this description of the land:
Her vine, the merry cheerer of the heart,
Unpruned dies; her hedges even-pleach_d,
Like prisoners wildly overgrown with hair,
Put forth disorder_d twigs; her fallow leas
The darnel, hemlock, and rank fumitory,
Do root upon, while the coulter rusts,
That should deracinate such savagery;
The even mead, that erst brought sweetly forth
The freckled cowslip, burnet, aand green clover,
Wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank,
Conceives by idleness, and nothing teems
But hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs,
Losing both beauty and utility.
This sort of learning was not gleaned from books.
On November 28, 1582 the Bishop of Worcester issued the marriage bond for „William Shagspere“ and „Ann Hathwey of Stratford.“ This was, almost beyond doubt, Anne Hathaway, daughter of Richard Hathaway of Shottery–a gathering of farm houses near Stratford. The Hathaway farm house has become known to the tourist industry aas „Anne Hathaway_s cottage“.
Richard Hathaway_s will does not specify a daughter Anne, but names her Agnes, a name used interchangeably for Anne in the sixteenth century. He was a substantial, Warwickshire farmer with a spacious house and fields.
The banns were aasked only once in church, rather than the customary three times, because the bride was some three months pregnant and there was reason for haste in concluding the marriage. She was eight years older than her new husband William. We can only wonder if Shakespeare was speaking for himself in A Midsummer Night_s Dream:
Lysander: The course of true love never did run smooth;
But either it was different in blood.
Or else misgraffed in respect of years–
Hermia: O spite! too old to be engage_d to young.
Or in Twelfth Night:
Duke: Then let thy love be younger than thyself,
Or thy affection cannot hold the bent;
For women are as roses, whose fair flow_r
Being once display_d doth fall that very hour.
The only mention of his wife iin Shakespeare_s will is the famous bequest of his „second best bed.“ Whether as a fond remembrance or a bitter slight is not known.
Children. Whatever subsequent feelings, on May 26, 1583 their first daughter Susanna was baptised. Two years later, twins were born to them, Hamnet and Judith, named after Hamnet and Judith Sadler, apparently lifetime friends to Shakespeare. Hamnet Sadler was remembered in Shakespeare_s will.
There is no documentary record of Shakespeare_s activities from the birth of the twins, iin 1585 until Robert Greene_s complaint about him as an „upstart crow“ in 1592. Biographers have therefore called these the lost years. In fact, there is nothing certain known about him from his birth in 1564 until 1592 except that he was married in 1582, fathered Susanna in 1583 and the twins Judith and Hamnet in 1585, and probably attended Stratford Grammar School. The lack of details has not stopped authors from inventing tales as to how Shakespeare got from Stratford, a young husband needing a way to support his growing family, to London as the man to be reckoned with in the entertainment business. A couple of these notions have some slight circumstantial evidence, but it must be said that no one really knows how it happened and that what follows is largely speculation.
The most commonly told story about Shakespeare leaving Stratford has it that he had to leave to escape prosecution for poaching deer on the lands of Sir Thomas Lucy, and that later he revenged himself on Lucy in The Merry Wives of Windsor who he portrayed as Justice Shallow. The story was started by a Gloucestershire clergyman name Richard Davies who, around 1616, wrote that „Shakespeare wwas much given to all unluckiness in stealing venison and rabbits, particularly from Sir —– Lucy [Davies left out Sir Thomas_ first name] who oft had him whipped and sometimes imprisoned and at last mad him fly his native country to his great advancement.“ In 1709 Rowe picked up the story in his Acount of the Life:
He had, by a Misfortune common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company; and amongst them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag_d him with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong_d to Sir Thomas Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that Gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho_ this, probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him to that degree, that he was oblig_d to leave his Business and Family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in London.
The Essay to which Rowe refers is not The Merry Wives, but rather various Stratford ballads sung at tthe unpopular Sir Thomas_ expense. An example reported by the eighteenth century Shakespeare scholar George Steevens (yet nonetheless unlikely to be by Shakespeare) goes:
A parliament member, a justice of peace,
At home a poor scarecrow, at London an ass,
Is lousy is Lucy as some folks miscall it
Then Lucy is lousy whatever befall it.
and so it goes in the same vein. The local Stratford sentiment is sufficient to explain any anti-Lucy puns in The Merry Wives and this episode really has no other supporting evidence.
Supported by less evidence even than the Lucy episode, others have made various speculations about Shakespeare_s activities during his last years in Stratford. Edmond Malone, greatest of eighteenth century Shakespeare scholars, impressed with Shakespeare_s detailed knowledge of the law, speculated that he „was employed while he yet remained at Stratford, in the office of some country attorney.“ (Poems and Plays, 1790). A nineteenth century antiquary (W. J. Thoms, 1859) found a William Shakespeare as a conscript in the low countries in 1605 and, once again, being impressed with the dramatists grasp of military minutia thought this must be the man.
More likely, Aubrey in his Brief Lives (1681) states that „.he had been in his younger yeares a
Schoolmaster in the Countrey.“ and cites as his source William Beeston, son of Christopher Beeston who had certainly been one of the most important people in the London theater in his later life, and in his earlier life had belonged to the Lord Chamberlain_s men and had acted with Shakespeare in Every Man in His Humour (1598). This is the closest we get to authoritative intelligence about Shakespeare during these years.
Lute.There is a theory, argued by E. A. J. HHonigmann (Shakespeare: „The Lost Years“ – 1985), that has Shakespeare located in Lancashire in the household of the powerful, Catholic Hoghton family. The link between faraway Lancashire and Stratford, as this theory has it, would have been Shakespeare_s last schoolmaster John Cottom. The theory is based on rather circumstantial evidence found in a Hoghton will, asking his kinsman to take care of „.William Shakeshaft, now dwelling with me.“ along with references to plays, play-clothes and musical instruments. The theory has iit that Shakespeare was engaged by the Hoghtons as a schoolmaster on Cottom_s recommendation (Cottom being a Lancashire native living near the Hoghtons) and then began, naturally, participating in their private theatricals, and then passed through the Stanleys (who had mmany holdings in Lancashire to Lord Strange_s men, a theater company with which Shakespeare was definitely associated. The theory is presented convincingly in Honigmann_s book, but cannt be demonstrated with certainty.
Other less believable spculations have Shakespeare holding horses outside theaters in London, or visiting Italy, based on his knowledge of things Italian, or being a runaway butcher, or a scrivener. Perhaps the most natural course of events was that–based on Aubrey–Shakespeare actually was employed in some sense at least as an usher or schoolmaster and being what he was, performed with his class and even constructed plays for them based on Plautus (The Menaechmi is the source for The Comedy of Errors, perhaps Shakespeare_s first play). When a traveling theater ccompany visited Stratford (as did the Queen_s men in the summer of 1587, among them Will Kemp (often spelled Kempe), later one of Shakespeare_s fellow householders in the Globe), perhaps they were short on personnel and pressed the eager local into service. He then may have shown them his budding dramatic work, told them he could work as a scrivener, impressed them with his quick wit and natural talent, and so he would have passed into the world of the TTheater. We don_t really know, but this seems a natural scenario.
Perhaps the most famous literary snarl ever was penned in 1592 by Robert Greene in his Groats-worth of Witte:
for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a country.
The passage is famous because it clearly refers to William Shakespeare („Shake-scene“) and is the first documentary evidence we have of his rise to prominence in the London theatre world, indeed the first direct documentary evidence regarding him at all since the baptism of the twins in 1585.
Greene was a minor Elizabethan playwright (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay) and pamphleteer, six years Shakespeare_s senior, a university educated man (MA from both Oxford and Cambridge) and proud of it, yet known to be a wastrel. He wrote the Groats-worth of Witte as a bitter, dying man, and in it attacked his younger rivals Marlowe, Nashe, and Peele as well as Shakespeare. Much has been written about this passage. Its iimportance is that it verifies several facts about Shakespeare_s career as it had developed by 1592:
Ų He had become successful enough to rankle Greene_s jealousy.
Ų He had become well known among in the London professional theater world.
Ų He was known as a man of various abilities („Johannes fac totem“ or Jack-of-all-trades, as we would say), actor, playwright, play mender („beautified with our feathers“).
Ų He was well known as a poet („bombast out a blanke verse“).
Ų His Henry VI Part 3 had become famous enough to be recognize by one of its famous lines („O, tiger_s heart wrapped in a woman_s hide“).
Also in 1592 Thomas Nashe (1567-1601), another playwright and pamphleteer, made reference to Talbot, the hero of Shakespeare_s very popular Henry VI Part 1 in his book Pierce Pennilesse, his Supplication to the Devil:
How it would have joy_d brave Talbot (the terror of the French) to thinke that after he had lyne two hundred yeare in his tombe, hee should triumphe againe on the Stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the teares on ten thousand spectators at least (at severall times) who, in the tragedian that represents his person, imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.
The „at severall ttimes“ in this passage is significant. Elizabethan theatrical companies produced plays in repertory, several being played simultaneously, new ones being added and tried out while old, less profitable ones were dropped from the rotation. Philip Henslowe, a theatrical impresario kept a Diary in which he kept many records, such as theater receipts, payments to playwrights, the cost of costumes, etc. A typical month (March 1592) shows one of Shakespeare_s Henry VI plays being performed 5 times in rotation with 13 other plays. Shakespeare_s play was apparently the most popular at the time (it was new to Henslowe on March 3), since the next most performed play during the month was Thomas Kyd_s Spanish Tragedy (3 times–called Joronymo, after its main character) and Marlowe_s Jew of Malta (twice). (One marvels at the feats of memory required of Elizabethan actors).
In any event, we see that Shakespeare was well established in the London theater world by the end of 1592. By this time he had probably already written The Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, perhaps Two Gentlemen of Verona, the three parts of Henry VI, Titus Andronicus and perhaps even Richard III. Assigning dates to the plays is, on the whole,
a very difficult and finally unresolveable business. When dates are assigned in this essay, they are simply best guesses based on the painstaking work of monumental scholars such as E. K Chambers and John Dover Wilson.
Shakespeare_s chief rival among early Elizabethan playwrights (then as now) was Christopher Marlowe, who had by this time (he was murdered in 1593) written his Tamburlain plays, Dr. Faustus and The Jew of Malta. Had Shakespeare died in the same year as Marlowe, his aaccomplishment would have been thought remarkable, but Marlowe would undoubtedly have been given the precedence as the better of the playwrights by subsequent critics. Fortunately for us, there was much more to come.
From the beginning of his theatrical career, Shakespeare seems to have been associated with several acting companies: The Queen_s Men, Pembroke_s Men and Lord Strange_s Men. He must have in some sense been a freelance dramatist and acted with several companies in a fluid (to say the least) wwork environment. However his work in the theater had proceeded through 1592, it all changed when in January 1593 the theaters in London were closed on account of the plague. From December 1592 until December 1593 Stow (the Elizabethan archivist) rreports 10,675 plague deaths–in a city of approximately 200,000. The theaters were allowed to open again briefly during the winter of 1594, but were closed again in February and remained closed until spring 1594.
This period of theater closures played havoc with the professional acting companies, which were forced into the hand to mouth existence of touring with much reduced companies. Shakespeare seems to have sought preferment in the mean time with the social connections he had made. In 1593 he dedicated the long narrative poem Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield (1573-1624), who was 19 years old at the time.
The dedication is courteous, self-deprecatory, but rather formal:
I know not how I shall ooffend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden; only, if your Honor seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honored you with some graver labor. But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather.
The „first hheir“ of his invention refers to Shakespeare_s first serious poetry–writing plays was not considered a serious literary endeavor and probably also to the first appearance of his work in print. Venus and Adonis was wildly popular (it was reprinted more than any other of Shakespeare_s works up to 1640–indeed, in Shakespeare_s life time he was probably best known for this poem and his play Titus Andronicus–another runaway hit–more than for any other works).
The „graver labor“ followed the next year with the publication of The Rape of Lucrece, whose dedication, to Wriothesley again, is much warmer:
The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end. The warrant I have of your honorable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines, makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours.
Obviously, Shakespeare had found himself in his Lord_s favor and vice versa. Many scholars identify Southampton as the young man of the sonnets, which were also probably largely composed during this period, perhaps initially at the instigation of Southampton_s mother in an effort to get her son to marry. (This is but one of many wwidely differing theories). Whatever their origin, Shakespeare obviously developed a deep relationship with the young man which is, perhaps, mirrored in the warmer dedication of Lucrece.
If Shakespeare was spending his efforts writing lyric poetry and sonnets, he probably was not writing for the stage during 1593-early 1594, but this does not mean he did not write plays with a view to the theaters reopening or for the private entertainment of his aristocratic friends. In fact, it is often speculated that Love_s Labour_s Lost belongs to this period and the puzzling allusions to the „school of the night“ and notable Elizabethans are inside jokes shared among the Southampton circle. I think perhaps Two Gentlemen of Verona may also belong to an earlier phase of this same period and may have been written as a private entertainment with an eye to eventual modification for the stage.
Shakespeare_s sonnets were part of a fashion for sonneteering which peeked in the mid-90s, provoked by the 1591 publication of Sir Phillip Sidney_s Astrophil and Stella.
Francis Meres_s in his commonplace book Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury, first published in 1598 says:
„As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras : so the sweet wittie soule oof Ovid lives in mellifluous & honytongued Shakespeare, witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private frinds, &c.“
The sonnets were not published until 1609, and probably then not by Shakespeare, but nonetheless, they were likely composed during the Southampton years 1592-95. Once again, this is not a certainty and there are many theories concerning the dating and circumstances of the Sonnets. Regardless of the time of the time and circumstance of their composition, several of the sonnets are without doubt among the most perfect poems ever written.
There is a story, first reported in Rowe (1709) and based on a story told by Sir William D_Avenant (a poet known for his exaggerations, one of which was that he, D_Avenant, was the bastard son of Shakespeare) that Southampton rewarded Shakespeare for his poetic labors with 1,000 pounds:
There is one Instance so singular in the Magnificence of this Patron of Shakespear_s, that if I had not been assur_d that the Story was handed down by Sir William D_Avenant, who was probably very well acquainted with his Affairs, I should not have ventur_d to have inserted, that my Lord Southampton, at one time, gave him a thousand Pounds, to
enable him to go through with a Purchase which he heard he had a mind to. A Bounty very great, and very rare at any time, and almost equal to that profuse Generosity the present Age has shewn to French Dancers and italian Eunuchs. [Rowe sec. 3]
A. L. Rowse, an important modern biographer (Shakespeare the Man, 1973), believes the story, but few other scholars do. It is often pointed out that we seem to have a rather full knowledge of SShakespeare_s investments throughout his life, and they do not total over Ј1,000, and furthermore that Southampton was having financial difficulties during these years. Nevertheless, if anything near so munificent a gift was given we need look no further for the source of the capital Shakespeare used to establish himself.
And establish himself he did, once for all, with the reassembling of the playing companies after the reopening of the theaters in 1594. We find Shakespeare, in December 1594, listed by tthe Treasurer of the Queen_s Chamber along with Will Kemp and Richard Burbage, the great clown and tragedian of the company, as receiving payment for two performances at Greenwich. These three, and four others–John Hemming, eventual co-editor of the First FFolio among them–were the charter members of the a new theater company organized under the patronage of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth. They were known as the Lord Chamberlain_s men. When they preformed publicly, it was at the Theatre, built by James Burbage (rather of Richard) in 1576 north of the city. Shakespeare became a sharer, or householder, in the company–meaning that he was part owner/manager and as such shared in the profits. This provided him the stability necessary for his most fruitful years, when he, as the company_s principal playwright, produced an average of 2 plays per year until about 1611-1612, when he seems to have retired to Stratford. If Southampton rewarded Shakespeare financially, it would eexplain how Shakespeare could have afforded to become a sharer in the Chamberlain_s men–an investment which formed the foundation of his lifelong financial success.
The years 1594-1599 were momentous for Shakespeare. He produced a steady stream of plays of the highest quality and verbal invention. He continued as a principal actor and manager in the Chamberlain_s men, blessed with a stable work environment in the all too unstable world of the theater. Consequently, he prospered financially and made investments in his nnative Stratford, assembling a comfortable life and a solid estate. Finally in 1599, he became part owner in the most prestigious public playhouse in London, the Globe.
The Works. Shakespeare_s early works, to mid-1594, can be divided into four groups:
1. The Classical plays: his first works which were heavily influenced by the classical examples he had learned as a student. Plautus served as the model for The Comedy of Errors, Seneca for Titus Andronicus. Both crude works when compared with Shakespeare_s later work, but better than most plays being performed on the English stage at the time.
2. The History plays: where Shakespeare took the rough materials he found in certain early chronicle plays, and virtually invented a new genre called the history play. His early works in this genre, of course, were the three Henry VI plays (the first part probably composed after parts 2 and 3) and Richard III.
3. The Narrative Poems and Sonnets: his favorite author Ovid served as the model for Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lucrece, both dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. It is also extremely probable that Southampton is the young man of the sonnets, and that the sonnet sequence (spurred by SSidney_s Astrophil and Stella in 1591) was begun (perhaps on commission) to encourage Southampton to marry. The sonnets were probably composed over a number of years, but were probably completed by 1597.
4. Experiments in comedy: The Taming of the Shrew, based on Italian comedy, Two Gentlemen of Verona, an experiment with plot and character, and the more mature Love_s Labour_s Lost, probably all belong to this period.
With the reopening of the playhouses in the summer of 1594 and the firm foundation of being a Chamberlain_s man, Shakespeare began an unprecedented output of works. Francis Meres, in his Palladis Tamia, Wits Treasury, published in 1598, mentions twelve plays of which he knew:
As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy among the Latines : so Shakespeare among y_ English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for Comedy, witnes his Ge_tleme_ of Verona, his Errors, his Love labors lost, his Love labours wonne, his Midsummer night dreame, & his Merchant of Venice : for Tragedy his Richard the 2. Richard the 3. Henry the 4. King John, Titus Andronicus and his Romeo and Juliet.
This list is the single most important tool in externally dating tthe plays. We can see from it that A Midsummer Night_s Dream (probably written in late 1594 or 1595), Romeo and Juliet (probably 1595) Richard II (probably 1595), King John (probably 1596) The Merchant of Venice (1596-97) and the Henry IV plays (probably 1597-98). This period is often called Shakespeare_s lyric period based on the poetry in plays such as Midsummer Night_s Dream, Romeo and Juliet and Richard II. The identity of Meres_ Loves Labour_s Won is not known, and much effort has been spent attempting to identify it. Taming of the Shrew (which Meres does not mention but certainly was in existence by this time) and Much Ado About Nothing are the leading contenders, though it is possible that there was a lost play by this name.
By 1599 Shakespeare must have composed Much Ado About Nothing (a character assignment in the quarto names Will Kemp in the part of Dogberry–Kemp left the Chamberlain_s men in 1599). He may well have also composed As You Like It in 1599. He certainly composed Henry V that year and began his string of great tragedies with Julius Caesar. There is a record of a performance of Julius Caesar at the Globe on
September 21, 1599. The Merry Wives of Windsor probably also belongs to this period, following upon the popularity of the Henry IV plays, though it may be slightly later. Had Shakespeare died in 1599, he would still be thought the greatest playwright the world had ever known, even before his most mature work had been accomplished.
The Chamberlain_s Men. Over the years 1594-1599 the Chamberlain_s Men had become the most popular acting company in London, being invited to perform at court ffar more often than any other group. Shakespeare must have done a great deal of acting. He is listed by Ben Jonson in Jonson_s magnificent 1616 Folio of his Workes as having acted as the chief comedian in Every Man In His Humour in 1598:
The principall Comoedians were,
WILL SHAKESPEARE.AVG. PHILLIPS.HEN. CONDEL.WILL. SLYE.WILL. KEMP. RIC. BVRBADGE.IOH. HEMINGS.THO. POPE.CHR. BEESTON.IOH. DVKE
He is also listed by Jonson as one of the principal tragedians in the 1603 Sejanus:
The principall Tragedians were,
RIC. BVRBADGE.AVG. PHILLIPS.WILL. SLYE.IOH. LOWIN. WILL SSHAKE-SPEARE.IOH. HEMINGS.HEN. CONDEL.ALEX. COOKE.
The Construction of the Globe. During the years before 1599 the Chamberlain_s Men performed publicly primarily at The Theatre, which had been leased by James Burbage, father of Richard. The ground landlord was one Giles Allen, a ppuritan, and by no means in favor of theatrical activities. In 1597 the lease expired, and the Chamberlain_s men were forced to move to The Curtain, another public playing house near The Theatre. In the mean time the Theatre stood empty. (At this time, while considering alternative playing houses, Burbage purchased the Blackfriars for Ј600, within the city but under the control of the crown and not city officials, who were most assuredly anti-players. The local residents protested, however, so that it would be years before the players were allowed to use the Blackfriars as a playhouse.) Negotiations to move back in to The Theatre were at an impasse, the landlord being exceedingly avaricious. In the mean time James Burbage ddied, leaving the struggle to his two sons, Richard and Cuthbert. Allen formed plans to pull down The Theatre and „.convert the wood and timber thereof to some better use.“ (quoted from S. Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare A Documentary Life, Oxford, 1975). Since the players could not come to terms with Allen, and since a clause in their former lease allowed them to dismantle the building, the Burbages and their associates and workmen gathered by night and took The Theatre apart, ttransporting its timbers across the Thames to the Bankside where they were used to build the Globe. Allen was powerless to do anything other than vent his spleen, describing the dismantling work party as:
ryotous.armed.with divers and manye unlawfull and offensive weapons.in verye ryotous outragious and forcyble manner and contrarye to the lawes of your highnes Realme.and there pulling breaking and throwing downe the sayd Theater in verye outragious violent and riotous sort to the great disturbance and terrefyeing not onlye of your subjectes [that Allen claimed were attempting to stop them].but of divers others of your majesties loving subjectes there neere inhabitinge. (Schoenbaum, p.153)
The Globe, built by carpenter Peter Smith, was certainly the most magnificent Theater London had ever seen. It was situated just a few hundred yards from the Rose Theatre, run by Philip Henslowe and his son in law, the famous actor Edward Alleyn (famous for his portrayal of Marlowe_s great characters). Feeling the pressure of competition, a year later Henslowe and Alleyn moved to new quarters, building the Fortune Theater in St. Giles without Cripplegate.
The Globe was owned by a syndicate, a fact that gave it unique power and flexibility among the London playhouses. The syndicate wwas made up of Sir Nicholas Brend, the land owner, Richard and Cuthbert Burbage, and five members of the Chamberlain_s men: Shakespeare, John Heminges, Augustine Phillips, Thomas Pope, and William Kemp. It worked so that the Burbage brothers were responsible for half the lease on the land, and shared in half the profits, and the five players were responsible for the other half of the lease and shared among themselves in the other half of the profits. Therefore, Shakespeare_s share, as a „householder“ was one-fifth of fifty percent of the profits, or 10% of the total profits. Kemp soon departed the Chamberlain_s men, so Shakespeare_s share increased in value, but soon two new partners entered in, Will Slye and Henry Condell, so his share decreased again. In any event, these were the ownership provisions of the Globe and the foundation of Shakespeare_s prosperity. It is not possible to determine exactly how much Shakespeare earned, but the common consensus among scholars is that it was somewhere near Ј200 – Ј250 per year, a very substantial sum by Elizabethan standards.
Shakespeare_s Life in Stratford. Apparently Shakespeare_s wife and children remained home in Stratford while he worked in London. Presumably he made the trip bback and forth, a trip that would have taken about 4 days on foot or 2 days on horseback. In August, 1596 Shakespeare_s only son Hamnet died. It is often thought that the poignant lines from King John refer to this event:
Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form.
Then have I reason to be fond of grief.
In the same year the College of Heralds granted the John Shakespeare a coat of arms. The application must have been paid for by the playwright for his own as well as his father_s benefit. The motto was NON SANZ DROICT–not without right–but seems never to have been used. It does not appear with the crest on the Shakespeare monument in Stratford church nor anywhere else. In May 1597 Shakespeare purchased New Place, the second largest house in Stratford, along with barns, orchards and gardens. By his artistic efforts and business acumen, and by pure good fortune, Shakespeare had grown prosperous. From this foundation of financial security, his next few years are unprecedented for
creativity in the life of any artist.
In 1603 Queen Elizabeth died and James VI of Scotland became James I of England. The Jacobean age was initiated. Its practical impact was that the Chamberlain_s Men, the most popular acting company under the old queen, became the King_s Men, receiving royal patronage. And no company performed more at court over these years. From November 1, 1604 to October 31, 1605, the King_s Men performed 11 performances before the King. (Seven of the pperformances were plays by Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, Love_s Labour_s Lost, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello, Measure for Measure, and The Merchant of Venice–twice). In spite of the emphasis on comedy, the new reign was known for its cynicism. We also see a shift to darkness in Shakespeare_s works of this period.
Works. Will Kemp, the renowned clown, left the Lord Chamberlain_s Men, being replaced as chief comedian by Robert Armin, for whom Shakespeare wrote more thoughtful, philosophical parts, llike that of Feste in Twelfth Night and the fool in King Lear. Twelfth Night, or What You Will (probably written in 1600) was also Shakespeare_s last „happy“ comedy, and even Twelfth Night leaves a lingering shadow of unhappiness with tthe disgruntled and much put upon Malvolio uttering curses against all the characters and refusing to be reconciled to them in the end.
Sometime between 1599 and 1601 Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, and from Hamlet on, until about 1608 when he began writing the great Romances Cymbeline, Winter_s Tale and The Tempest, Shakespeare_s vision turned to tragedy. The comedies he produced over the next couple of years are distinctly un-funny, and have been called „problem plays“: All_s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure (both probably written in the period 1603-1604). Troilus and Cressida (probably written in 1602) is such a problem play that it has perennially confused audiences and critics, and may well never have been performed in Shakespeare_s life ttime. After Measure for Measure Shakespeare_s vision seems to turn unrelentingly to the tragic, with his great string of tragedies Othello (probably 1604), King Lear (probably 1605) Macbeth (probably 1605), Antony and Cleopatra (probably 1607), Coriolanus and Timon of Athens (probably 1606-8). (These last two plays, along with Troilus and Cressida, surely Shakespeare_s least liked and performed plays).
What caused the shift in vision, from the sparkling comedies of the 90_s, A Midsummer Night_s Dream, Much Ado, As You Like It, TThe Merry Wives, and the overheated wit of the Henry IV plays, to the somber period that followed? Comedy (and this could be extended to most of Shakespeare_s history plays as well) is social–leading to a happy resolution (usually a marriage or marriages) and social unification. Tragedy is individual, concentrating on the suffering of a single, remarkable hero–leading to individual torment, waste and death. What were the shifts in his life or in society that caused Shakespeare to abandon the social for the individual–unity for disaster?
Many have been suggested, perhaps all are true:
1. In 1601 (probably the year Hamlet was composed) Shakespeare_s father died.
2. In 1601 the Essex rebellion flared and failed, leaving Essex and Shakespeare_s patron Southampton condemned to death in the tower. Essex–a larger than life, charismatic spirit of the late Elizabethan age–was executed, Southampton reprieved. In any event, it may have marked an end to Shakespeare_s involvement with the Southampton circle.
3. An end of an age malaise afflicted London during the opening of the seventeenth century, accentuated by the death of the Queen in 1603.
4. Shakespeare_s comedies of the late 90_s depended very much on a strong woman_s part and engage the battle of the sexes–Beatrice in MMuch Ado, Rosalind in As You Like It, Viola in Twelfth Night. After Twelfth Night, there are no more great women_s roles until Cleopatra, seven or eight years later. Since boys played the women_s parts on the Elizabethan stage, perhaps Shakespeare_s very talented boy had grown up, or left, or died, and out of necessity he had to change genres to suit the makeup of his company.
5. Tragedies became more popular, along with the growing pessimism of the age, and drew large audiences.
6. A personal psychological crisis, perhaps associated with the stress of writing Hamlet, led to a period of depression and brooding which could not but be reflected in his works.
7. Having the security of being the principal dramatist for the most prestigious acting company in London, Shakespeare could afford to turn to deeper psychological themes that interested him and did not need to write entertainments that catered as much to popular tastes as in his early years. Since tragedy was considered the „higher“ art form, Shakespeare was following his life long proclivities and interests in writing the great tragedies.
Life. Shakespeare continued in these years investing in Stratford real estate. In May 1602 he paid Ј320 for 127 aacres in Old Stratford–as suburb of Stratford proper. Later that year he bought a cottage opposite his great house New Place. In 1605 he invested Ј440 in a lease of tithes–an agricultural commodities investment–around Stratford. Those who see Shakespeare as the lofty artist separated from the hustle-bustle of the world would do well to track his growing portfolio of investments. After all, a literary genius can also be an astute business man.
Beginning in 1608, the King_s Men were allowed to take possession and put on performances at their indoor theater the Blackfriars, the lease to which had been obtained in 1599 by Richard Burbage in his efforts to find a place to continue playing when their original lease on the Theatre had expired. 1608 also marks a change in tone in Shakespeare_s work from the dark mood of the tragedies to one of light, magic, music, reconciliation and romance. Beginning with Pericles, Prince of Tyre (probably written 1607-08–the text of which is certainly mangled, accounting for its not being played frequently), and moving through Cymbeline, The Winter_s Tale and finally in The Tempest Shakespeare conducted a grand experiment in form and poetry that took advantage of these elements, shaping them
into an enduring art that has at its heart acceptance and the beneficence of providence.
Many feel that the view expressed in the romances is the mature Shakespeare_s view, having lived long enough to see his way through tragedy to resurrection. Others say he, as a master showman, was just following the fashion and presenting the most popular sort of play for the years 1608-1611. At court, the masque–extravaganzas of song and spectacle featuring courtiers in the performance–were popular. Ben JJonson as playwright and Inigo Jones as masque designer were the artists of the moment. Elements of the masque were therefore brought into the public stage. The fact that the players were now playing at two venues–performances at the Globe continued regularly until 1613 when it was burned down during a performance of Shakespeare_s (and Fletcher_s) Henry VIII–itself a play large on spectacle–made it possible to take advantage of elements of the drama, such as artificial lighting, music and stage eeffects, that had been impossible on the outdoor stage. The indoor theater also allowed higher admissions and plays aimed at a more sophisticated audience. More was charged for admission to the Blackfriars than to the Globe, and plays at the GGlobe were less frequent from 1603-1610 due to the once again ravages of the plague. All of these factors may have gone in to turning Shakespeare to the romance plots of his final plays, had he not by temperament been so inclined.
Shakespeare, returning to the world of Midsummer Night_s Dream, chose enchantment and magic as the world he wished to dramatize in The Tempest (probably written in 1611). Many feel that this play is Shakespeare_s valedictory, and that Prospero_s speech revealing all encompasses Shakespeare_s own attitudes:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors
As I foretold you were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped tow_rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, tthe great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
and that Prospero_s great speech, where he abjures his magic, expressed Shakespeare_s own farewell to the stage:
.I_ll break my staff
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I_ll drown my book.
Whether this was Shakespeare_s intention in writing the play is an open qquestion. The Tempest was not the last play on which he worked, but the nature of his work had clearly changed, and The Tempest is certainly his last great play.
Plays. Shakespeare_s final three plays were written in collaboration with the King_s Men_s new dramatist , John Fletcher. Henry VIII (1613), Two Noble Kinsmen (probably also written in 1613 or 1614) and the now lost Cardenio were the plays. The former two are no one_s favorites, combining elements of spectacle, romance, and tragicomedy. Little is known of the last, except that in 1653 the printer Humphrey Moseley entered in the Stationers_ Register several plays including „The History of Cardenio, by Mr. Fletcher and Shakespeare.“, and that in 1613 Heminges received payment on two occasions for performances at court of a play at one time called „Cardenno“ and another „Cardenna.“ There are later supposed versions of the play, but little is known of the original.
Many have expressed the opinion that Shakespeare left the stage around 1611, after The Tempest, and returned to Stratford, from where he wrote his parts of the final collaborations. This may be true, but it is worth noting that in 1612 Shakespeare purchased the Blackfriars gate house in LLondon. On the other hand, perhaps it was only purchased as another investment.
During the summer of 1614 we find Shakespeare swept up in an enclosure dispute in Stratford, but his role is unclear, as are his views on enclosure in general. In these final years Shakespeare seems to have been content to surround himself with his family and, as Rowe would have it,
The latter Part of his Life was spent, as all Men of good Sense will wish theirs may be, in Ease, Retirement, and the Conversation of his Friends. He had the good Fortune to gather an Estate equal to his Occasion, and, in that, to his Wish; and is said to have spent some Years before his Death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable Wit, and good Nature, engag_d him in the Acquaintance, and entitled him to the Friendship of the Gentlemen of the Neighbourhood [Rowe sec. 13]
His eldest daughter Susanna, „Witty above her sexe“ according to her memorialist, had married Dr. John Hall in 1607. Hall had settled in Stratford around 1600, where he founded a prosperous medical practice and became one of the town_s leading citizens. His leanings were puritan. He became widely famous for his sskill as a doctor, and after his death, James Cooke published 200 of Hall_s case histories in 1657 as Select Observations on English Bodies. Dr. Hall and Susanna inherited and moved into New Place after Shakespeare_s death. The Halls had one child, Elizabeth.
Shakespeare_s youngest daughter, Judith, who married in February of 1616, was not so lucky. She, at age 31, married Thomas Quiney, age 27, a vintner in Stratford. Though Quiney came from a good family, known to Shakespeare, the wedding began sadly. Before marrying Judith Shakespeare, Quiney got another girl pregnant. A month after the wedding, the girl died in childbirth with her child. These terrible events were probably the cause of Shakespeare summoning his lawyer and modifying his will that month. The Quineys had three children. The first, named Shakespeare, died in infancy. The other two sons, Richard and Thomas, died in 1639, at ages 21 and 19 respectively. They left no heirs.
Undoubtedly Shakespeare_s son-in-law, Dr. Hall, attended him, but the nature of his final illness is unknown. A legend has grown up, based on an entry in John Ward, a Stratford vicar_s, diary. Ward wrote that „Shakspear Drayton and Ben Jhonson had a merry meeting and
it seems drank too hard for Shakespear died of a feavour there contracted.“ The problem is that the report came from a diary half a century after Shakespeare_s death, and cannot be confirmed otherwise. Undoubtedly Ward was privy to local gossip and knew Judith Shakespeare in her later years, but we cannot know if this story amounts to anything more than gossip.
Shakespeare_s Will. Whatever the cause of Shakespeare_s death, we find him calling for his attorney to revise his will oon March 25 (new years day, old style) of 1616. The marriage of his daughter Judith to the unsavory Thomas Quiney made need of amendments. The will is, as G. E. Bentley says, „a characteristic will of a man of property in the reign of James I.“ (Shakespeare: A Biographical Handbook, 1961). Its provisions are numerous and complicated, but in sum:
1. He left Ј100 to his daughter Judith for a marriage portion and another Ј50 if she renounce any claim iin the Chapel Lane cottage near New Place previously purchased by Shakespeare. He left another Ј150 to Judith if she lived another three years, but forbade her husband any claim to it unless he settled on her lands worth the ЈЈ150. If Judith failed to live another three years, the Ј150 was to have gone to Shakespeare_s granddaughter Elizabeth Hall.
2. He left Ј30 to his sister Joan Hart, and permited her to stay on for a nominal rent in the Western of the two houses on Henley Street, which Shakespeare himself inherited from his father in 1601. He left each of Joan_s three sons Ј5.
3. He left all his plate, except a silver bowl left to Judith, to his granddaughter Elizabeth.
4. He left Ј10 to the poor of Stratford, a large amount considering similar bequeaths of the time.
5. He left his sword and various small bequests to local friends, including money to buy memorial rings. His lifelong friend Hamnet Sadler iis mentioned in this connection.
6. He singles out „my ffellowes John Hemynges Richard Burbage & Henry Cundell,“ leaving them 26s8d to „buy them Ringes.“ Heminges and Condell were, seven years later, to become the editors of the First Folio.
7. He does not mention his wife Anne (though it is commonly pointed out that it would have been her right through English common law to one-third of his estate as well as residence for life at New Place), except to leave hher his „second best bed.“
8. „All the Rest of my goodes Chattels Leases plate Jewels & household stuffe whatsoever after my dettes and Legasies paied & my funerall expences dischared“ he left to his son-in-law John Hall and his daughter Susanna.
It is often wondered that no books or play scripts are mentioned in the will, but of course Shakespeare would have owned no play scripts, since they were the property of the King_s Men. Any books would not have been itemized in the will but would have been part of his „goodes.“
Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 and was buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church April 25. On the slab over his grave appear the words:
GOOD FREND FOR JESUS SAKE FORBEARE,
TO DIGG THE DUST ENCLOASED HEARE.
BLESTE BE Ye MAN Yt SPARES THES STONES,
AND CURST BE HE Yt MOVES MY BONES.
His wishes have been honored, at least by men, though the grave is near the Avon and work of the river underground may have had no respect for the curse. A painted funerary bust was also erected in the church early in the seventeenth century that has lasted to today.
The First Folio. Seven years after his death, SShakespeare_s fellows Heminges and Condell brought forth the First Folio: Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies. It published 36 plays, 18 of which were published therein for the first time. The volume was probably inspired by the 1616 folio edition of Ben Jonson_s Workes. It takes time to compile and edit such a large volume, and Heminges and Condell were otherwise busy men.
In the prefatory material to the First Folio was printed the Martin Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare, one of only two likenesses we have of the dramatist that can make claim to any sort of authenticity.
To the Reader.
This Figure, that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the Graver had a strife
with Nature, to out-doo the life :
O, could he but have drawne his wit
As well in brasse, as he hath hit
His face ; the Print would then surpasse
All, that was ever writ in brasse.
But, since he cannot, Reader, looke
Not on his Picture, but his Booke.
Commendation of the
First published 1623.
Martin Droeshout, the engraver, was 15 when Shakespeare died and never knew him. He must have worked from a sketch, for Ben Jonson, in his fine dedicatory poem, says that the engraving caught the llikeness of the man exactly. The other likeness with a claim to authenticity is from the funerary bust in Holy Trinity Church, produced by Gheerhart Janssen who was a stonemason who had a shop in Southwark near the Globe. The Shakespeare Monument, as it is known, shows a man similar in appearance to the Droeshout engraving, yet older and heavier.
Shakespeare_s Stratford Monument
The First Folio prefatory material contains Ben Jonson_s encomium to Shakespeare, a fine poem in itself:
To the memory of my beloved,
MR. W I L L I A M S H A K E S P E A R E :
A N D
what he hath left us.
To draw no envy (Shakespeare) on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy Booke, and Fame;
While I confesse thy writings to be such,
As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much.
_Tis true, and all men_s suffrage. But these wayes
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise;
For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but eccho_s right;
Or blinde Affection, which doth ne_re advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance;
Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,
And thine to ruine, where it seem_d to raise.
These are, as some
infamous Baud, or Whore,
Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more?
But thou art proofe against them, and indeed
Above th_ ill fortune of them, or the need.
I, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age !
The applause ! delight ! the wonder of our Stage !
My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye
A little further, to make thee a roome :
Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth llive,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses ;
I meane with great, but disproportion_d Muses :
For, if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,
I should commit thee surely with thy peeres,
And tell, how farre thou dist our Lily out-shine,
Or sporting Kid or Marlowes mighty line.
And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke
For names; but call forth thund_ring Жschilus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to uus,
Paccuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To life againe, to heare thy Buskin tread,
And shake a stage : Or, when thy sockes were on,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison
Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughtie Rome
Sent forth, or since did ffrom their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britaine, thou hast one to showe,
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time !
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When like Apollo he came forth to warme
Our eares, or like a Mercury to charme !
Nature her selfe was proud of his designes,
And joy_d to weare the dressing of his lines !
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other Wit.
The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please;
But antiquated, and deserted lye
As they were not of Natures family.
Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part;
For though the Poets matter, NNature be,
His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he,
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses anvile : turne the same,
(And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
Or for the lawrell, he may gaine a scorne,
For a good Poet_s made, as well as borne.
And such wert thou. Looke how the fathers face
Lives in his issue, even so, the race
Of Shakespeares minde, and manners brightly shines
In his well ttoned, and true-filed lines :
In each of which, he seemes to shake a Lance,
As brandish_t at the eyes of Ignorance.
Sweet swan of Avon! what a fight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
And make those flights upon the bankes of Thames,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere
Advanc_d, and made a Constellation there !
Shine forth, thou Starre of Poets, and with rage,
Or influence, chide, or cheere the drooping Stage;
Which, since thy flight fro_ hence, hath mourn_d like night,
And despaires day, but for thy Volumes light.
Historical Perspective. Aside from the commissioned opinions in the First Folio, we get a more personal look at Shakespeare from Ben Jonson_s notebooks, called Timber, or Discoveries by Ben Jonson (1640):
De Shakespeare nostrat.I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn_d) hee never blotted out line. My answer hath beene, would he had blotted a thousand. Which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who choose that circumstance to commend their friend by, wherein he most faulted. And to justifie mine owne candor, (for I lov_d the mman, and doe honour his memory (on this side Idolatry) as much as any.) Hee was (indeed) honest, and of an open, and free nature: had an excellent Phantsie; brave notions, and gentle expressions: wherein hee flow_d with that facility, that sometime it was necessary he should be stop_d: Sufflaminandus erat; as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his owne power; would the rule of it had beene so too. Many times hee fell into those things, could not escape laughter: As when hee said in the person of Cжsar, one speaking to him; Cжsar thou dost me wrong. Hee replyed: Cжsar did never wrong, but with just cause: and such like; which were ridiculous. But hee redeemed his vices, with his vertues. There was ever more in him to be praysed, then to be pardoned.
Coming from the never self-effacing Jonson, this is high praise indeed. This passage seems to sum up the consensus on the man Shakespeare. No one, it seems (except the jealous Robert Greene in 1592) had anything bad to say about him. He is always described as honest, easy, pleasant, gentle, sweet, and the like.
As the seventeenth century wore on and Shakespeare the man bbecame further removed from living memory John Dryden (Of Dramatic Poesie by John Dryden – 1668) summarized the literary view:
To begin then with Shakespeare; he was the man who of all Modern, and perhaps Ancient Poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the Images of Nature were still present to him, and he drew them not laboriously, but luckily : when he describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him the greater commendation: he was naturally learn_d; he needed not the spectacles of Books to read Nature; he look_d inwards, and found her there.
From such stuff Shakespeare_s reputation rightfully has grown. Today he is certainly the world_s most read and studied author and most performed dramatist. The works are such that the fascination continues.
A Shakespeare Timeline Summary Chart
Year Life Works1 Events & Publications2
1564 Shakespeare Born Christopher Marlowe bornJohn Hawkins second voyage to New WorldGalileo Galilei bornJohn Calvin diesThe Peace of Troyes
1565-1581 1567(?) Richard Burbage, the greatest tragedian of the age, who would eventually portray Hamlet, Lear, Othello and all Shakespeare_s great parts born 1576 James Burbage (father of Richard) obtains a 21 year lease and permission to build The Theatre
in Shoreditch1577 The Curtain, a rival theater near The Theatre, opens in Finbury 1565 Golding_s translation of Ovid_s Metamorphoses (1-4)1566 Gascoigne_s The Supposes1567 Thomas Nashe born1571 Tirso de Molina born1572 Thomas Dekker born1572 John Donne & Ben Jonson born1577 Holinshed publishes The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, Shakespeare_s primary source for the history plays1579 John Fletcher born1580 Thomas Middleton born1580 Montaigne_s Essais published
1582 Shakespeare Married Hakluyt_s Dievers Voyages Touching the Discovery of America
1583 Birth of daughter SusannaThe Queen_s Company is formed in London
1585 Birth oof twins, Judith and Hamnet 1586 Mary Queen of Scots tried for treason
1587(?)-1592 Departure from StratfordEstablishment in London as an actor/playwright The Comedy of ErrorsTitus AndronicusThe Taming of the ShrewHenry VI, 1,2,3Richard III 1587 Mary Queen of Scots executed1587 Marlowe_s Tamburlaine 1588 Defeat of the Armada1588 Greene_s Pandosto1588 Marlowe_s Dr. Faustus1590 Spenser_s Faerie Queen (1-3)1590 Marlowe_s The Jew of Malta1591 Sidney_sAstrophil and Stella1592 Robert Greene dies1592 Kyd_s The Spanish Tragedy
1593 Preferment sought through aristocratic connections – dedicates Venus and Lucrece to Henry Wriothsley, Earl of SSouthampton – possibly the youth of the Sonnets 1593 Venus and AdonisBegins writing the Sonnets, probably completed by c.1597 or earlierTwo Gentlemen of VeronaLove_s Labour_s Lost 1593-94 Theaters closed by plague 1593 Marlowe dies
1594 Founding member of the Lord Chamberlain_s Men 1594 The Rape oof Lucrece
1594-1596 The Lyrical masterpieces Prosperity and recognition as the leading London playwright.1596 John Shakespeare reapplies successfully for a coat of arms 1596 Hamnet Shakespeare dies at age 11 Midsummer Night_s DreamRomeo and JulietRichard IIMerchant of Venice 1594 Greene_s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay 1594 Marlowe_s Edward II 1595 Thomas Kyd dies1595 Sidney_s An Apologia for Poetrie 1595 Sir Walter Raleigh explores the Orinoco1596 Spenser_s Faerie Queen (4-6)1596 George Peele dies.
1597-1599 Artistic Maturity Purchases New Place, Stratford with other significant investments1599 The Globe Theater built on Bankside from the timbers of The Theatre. Shakespeare is a shareholder and receives about 10% of the profits Henry IV,1,2The Merry Wives of WindsorAs You Like ItMuch Ado About NothingHenry VJulius Caesar 1597 Bacon_s Essays, Civil and Moral1598 Phillip II oof Spain dies1598 Francis Meres Palladis Tamia1598 John Florio_s A World of Words (English-Italian dictionary)1598 Ben Jonson _s Every Man in his Humour1599 Essex sent to Ireland and fails, is arrested on return1599 Edmund Spenser dies
1600-1608 The Period of the Great Tragedies & Problem Plays 1600 The Fortune Theater opens1601 Shakespeare_s father dies1603 The Lord Chamberlain_s Men become The King_s Menwho perform at court more than any other company1607 Susanna Shakespeare married Dr. John Hall1608 The King_s Men begin playing at tthe Blackfriars1608 Shakespeare_s mother dies Twelfth NightHamletTroilus & CressidaAlls Well That Ends WellMeasure for MeasureOthelloKing LearMacbethAntony and ClepatraCoriolanusTimon of Athens 1600 Kemp_s Nine Daies Wonder1600 Dekker_s Shoemaker_s Holiday 1601 Essex rebels against Elizabeth, fails and is executed1601 Thomas Nashe dies1603 Elizabeth dies, James VI of Scotland becomes