The ShakespearetimeThe time of Shakespeare is mostly equated with the Elizabethan era. But this is not really true because William´s most important works were written under James I.. The characteristic of William´s working time is that it is devived into two totally different parts.
The English writer William Shakespeare was baptized on April 23rd 1564 in the Stratford´s Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, about 100 miles northwest of London. The exactly date of his birth is quite unclear but April 23rd is the traditional determination. Six years ago Elizabeth I. became Queen.
William Shakespeare´s birthplace
Parents and Family
William´s parents were John and Mary Shakespeare who lived in Henley Street, Stratford.
John Shakespeare, 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 agricultual commodities. He was a solid, middle class citizen when William was born and a man on the rise. He served in Stratford´s government successively as a member of the Council, constable, chamberlain, alderman and finally high baliff (similar to town major). About 1577 John´s fortunes began to decline for unknown reasons.
Mary Arden of Wilmcote was aristocratic and the daughter of Robert Arden, who was a successful farmer and landowner.
Mary and John had eight children and William was their third child and the first son.
Education and Childhood
William probably began his education at the age of six or seven at the Latin school or Grammar School („The King´s New School“ dedicated by Edward VI.) in Stratford. The school was free and had a good reputation. Although he has never been to the university the profession of the father let suggest that he got a good education. On the focus of the school was Latin, history and poetry which were dedicated primarily by the beliefs of the reigning monarch. Latin was the primary language of learning. Although William likely had some lessons in English, Latin composition and the study of Latin authors like Seneca, Cicero, Ovid, Virgil and Horace would have been the focus of this literary thraining. His education was very strict and asked for discipline and for this reasons he did not like the school.
William is supposed to have worked for a butcher in addition to helping run his father´s office.
William´s grammar school
On November 28th 1582 he married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of Richard Hathaway of Shottery. The only mention of his wife in William´s will is the famous bequest of his „second best bed“. Whether as a tender remembrance or a bitter slight is not know. When they married Anne was eight years older than her new husband William. They had to rush because she was already pregnant. William and Anne had three children: Susanna borned in 1583 and the twins Hamnet and Judith (named after Hamnet and Judith Sadler, apparently lifetime friends to Willam) borned in 1585. William´s only son Hamnet died with only 11 years. It is difficult to make exactly statements about William during this. It is supposed that they lived in his father´s house but it could not say what his profession was.
Anne Hathaway´s House´s Garden Anne Hathaway´s House
The new place where Anne and William lived together
The lost years
No documentary record of William´s activities excist from the birth of the twins in 1585 until Robert Greene´s complaint in 1592. That is why these years are called the lost years.
Suggestions that he might have worked as a schoolmaster or lawyer or glover with his father and brother Gilbert are all plausible. It is also possible that William studied intensely to become a master at his literary craft and honed his acting skills while traveling and visiting playhouses outside of Stratford.
The lack of details has not stopped authors from inventing tales as to how William got from Stratford. The most commonly told story about William leaving Stratford is that he had to leave to escape the prosecution for poaching deer on the lands of Sir Thomas Lucy.
The Elizabethan Theatre
In the Elizabethan England the theatre achieved its heydays. But the word „theatre“ did not mean the same we understand now under this term. Most of the audience were pressed on the cheap, not covered with a roof standing places in the interior of the theatre. Around the standing places was a covered with a roof area in which were the rowes of seats. Like today trap-doors, props and changed decorations were used. Furthermore mostly a orchestra underlines the plot.
Most of the audience visited the theatre due to the entertaiment. There were no silence but the audience trunk, ate and commented on the plot.
The background of the English drama went back till the 12th century. During this time monks started to dramatize biblical scenes and started to show them the people of the curch as miracles or mystic plays.
The first constant theatre was the England´s „The Theatre“ which was built in 1576 by James Burbagde. In 1598 it was pulled down since the lease agreement was ended. These construction material were used for the building of the new „Globe“. It belonged to both sons and the heir of the builder (Richard Burbadge) and his brother Cuthbert.
Both shared the half of the interest, William and his actor colleagues Phillips, Pope and Kempe owned a tenth each.
In 1613 the „Globe“ burned down during the performance of „King Henry VIII.“, was rebuilt and in the end the Puritans pulled it down in 1644.
Besides the „Theatre“ and the „Globe“ it excisted nearly 20 public and private theatres. The most famous ones are the „Curtain“ (built: 1587), the „Swan“ (built: 1595) and the „Rose“ (built: 1587).
In London during this time 24 actor groups excisted. Each of these groups were subordinated to the patronage of a noble or the crown itself. The actors not belonging to a group had a doubtful reputation. The roles of women were played by boys spared of breaking of the voice.
In 1587 William went to London. He started as actor, became reviser and finally writer of plays.
Perhaps the most famous literary snarl 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 only Shake-scene in a countrey
This passage is famous because is clearly refers to William („Shake-scene“) and is the first documentary evidence for his rise to prominence in the London theatre world. He wrote the „Groats-worth of Witte“ as a bitter, dying man and in it he attacked his younger rivals Marlowe, Nashe and Peele as well as William. Its importance is explained due to the mentioning of several facts about William´s career as it had developed by 1592:
1.) He became successful enough to achieve Greene´s jealousy.
2.) He was known as a man of various abilities („Johannes fac totem“ = Jack-of-all-trade), actor, play writer and play mender („beautified with our feathers“).
3.) He was well known as a poet („bombast out a blanke verse“).
The years 1594 – 1599 were momentous for Shakespeare. He produced a steady stream of plays of the highest quality and verbal invention. In 1594 he became a member of the „Lord Chamberlain´s Men“. This group had the best actor of this time (Richard Burbage), later the best theatre (Globe Theatre) and the best dramatist (Wiliam Shakespeare). Over the years 1594 – 1599 the Chamberlain´s Men became the most popular acting company in London, being invited to perform at court far more often than any other group. From 1599 the group played especially in their own, famous Globe Theatre which was built in 1598. During the years before 1599 the Chamberlain´s Men performed publicly primarily at The Theatre.
The Globe Theatre
Apparently William´s wife and children remained home in Stratford while he worked in London. Presumably he made the trip back and forth, a trip which would have taken about four days on foot or two days on horseback.
In 1603 Queen Elizabeth I. died and James VI. of Scotland became James I. of England. Its pratical impact was that the Chamberlain´s Men, the most famous acting group under the old queen, became the King´s Men and received royal patronage.
In 1608 the King´s Men were allowed to take possession and put on performance at their indoor theatre the Blackfriars.
The Blackfriars Theatre
At the end of his career he even got an English crest and thus he became a respectable man in Stratford. This crest is a evidence for William´s growing prosperity. He also bought a big house in Stratford in 1597 where he has gone since 1611. In the following years he sold his part of the Globe Theatre and the part of the Blackfriars-Theatre which he purchased in 1608. Although he wrote just for the theatre of the people he seemed to be appreciated by the court, especially from Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southhampton who William dedicated two epic works.
Many expressed the opinion that William left the stage about 1611, after „The Tempest“ and returned to Stratford, from where he wrote his parts of the final collaborations.
His eldest daughter Susanna had married Dr. John Hall in 1607. Hall settled in Stratford about 1600 where he founded a prosperous medical pratice and became one of the town´s leading citizens. The Halls had one child, Elizabeth.
William´s youngest daughter Judith who married in 1616 was not so lucky. She married with the age of 31 Thomas Quiney (age: 27), a vinter in Stratford. Before marrying Judith Quiney got another girl pregnant. A month after the wedding the girl died in childbirth with her child. They left no heirs.
After a little disease William died on March 25th 1616. He is burried in the choir of the community church of Stratford. On his grave is no name just the following lines which were probably written by himself:
Good friend, for Jesus´ sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones
His last will
1. He left 100 pound to his daughter Judith for a marriage portion and another 50 pound if she renounce any claim in the Chapel Lane cottage near New Place previously purchased by William. He left another 150 pound to Judith if she lived another three years but forbade her husband any claim to it unless he settled on her lands worth the 150 pound. If Judith failed to live another three years, the 150 pound was to have gone to William´s granddaughter Elizabeth Hall.
2. He left 30 pound to his sister Joan hart and permitted her to stay on for a nominal rent in the Western of the two houses on Henley Street which William himself inherited from his father in 1601. He left each of Joan´s three sons 3 pound.
3. He left all his plate except a silver bowl left to Judith to his granddaughter Elizabeth.
4. He left 10 pound to the poor of Stratford, a large amount considering similar bequests 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 is mentioned in this connection.
6. He does not mention his wife Anne (though it is commonly pointed out that it would have been her right though English common law of his estate as well as residence for life at New Place) except to leave her his „second best bed“.
7. „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.
William is one of the greatest writer due to different reasons. On the one hand he pondered over the big problems of the humans and on the other hand he used a language of indescriptable expressions. Indeed today´s reader have problems with this language and even his countrymen. It is not just difficult to understand his works due to the ancient language but sophisticated rhetoric which is full of allusions and puns.
William wrote altogether 36 dramas which were published by his actor colleagues Heming and Condell in 1623. The name of the First Folio is „Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories and Tragedies“.
In what way personal influences are involved in his works is an open question. William is a typical representative of the English Renaissance.
I think it is necessary to clear up what the words comedy, tragedy and historical play means before I number the several works.
During William´s lifetime the term comedy is understood as „generic term for all plays which are no tragedies or historical plays“.
William wrote early comedies (i. e. „Love´s Labour´s Lost“), happy comedies (i. e. „Much Ado about Nothing“), so-called problem comedies (i. e. „Measure for Measure“) and romances (i. e. „The Winter´s Tale“).
Dramas which contain national English tales.
During William´s lifetime the tragedy is formed by a simple formel: „For the average audience the tragedy is a drama in which are promises made and which ends with the dead of the main actor“.
The chronicle of the dramatic works are controversial that is why I decided to write the period William wrote the dramas into the brackets.
One can devide William´s works into four periodes:
1. Appenticeship: 1586 – 1593
William´s early works can also be devided into four groups:
a) The Classical plays
His first works were heavily influenced by the classical examples he had learned as a pupil. Plautus served as the model for „The Comedy of Errors“ (1590 – 1594), Seneca for „Titus Andronicus“ (blood-soaked melodrama, 1589 – 1594). Both plays were quite crude when one compared it with William´s later works but better than most plays being performed on the English stage at the time.
b) The History plays
Where William took the rough material he found in certain early chronicle plays and virtually invented a new genre called the history play. His early works in this genre were the three „Henry VI.“ plays (1590 – 1592, the first part is probably composed after part 2 and 3) and „Richard III.“(1592 – 1593).
c) The Narrative Poems and Sonnets
His favourit author Ovid served as the model for „Venus and Adonis“ and the „Rape of Lucrece“. Both were dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southhampton. The sonnets were probably composed over a number of years but were probably completed in 1597.
d) Experiments in Comedy
„The Taming of the Shrew“ (1589 – 1594) was based on Italian comedy and „The Two Gentlemen of Verona“ (1590 – 1598) was an experiment with plot and character.
2. Growing success: 1594 – 1599
William´s second period included his most important plays concerned with English history his so-called joyous comedies and two of his major tragedies. His syle and approach became highly individualized.
Historical plays of this period were: „King John“ (King´s Drama, 1591 – 1598),
„Richard II.“ (King´s Drama, 1594 – 1595),
„Henry IV.“ (King´s Drama, 2 parts, 1596 – 1598) and
„Henry V.“ (King´s Drama, 1599).
Further plays are: „Love´s Labour Lost“ (1593 – 1595),
„Romeo & Juliet“ (tragedy, 1591 – 1597),
„A Midsummer´s Night Dream“ (farce, 1594 – 1598),
„The Merchant of Venice“ (1594 – 1597),
„The Merry Wives of Windsor“ (1597 – 1602),
„Much Ado About Nothing“ (comedy, 1598 – 1600),
„As You Like It“ (comedy, 1598 – 1600) and
„Twelfth Night“ (1600 – 1602).
3. The tragic phase: 1599 – 1608
The comedies he produced over the next couple of years are distinctly un-funny and are called „problem plays“. Such a problem play was „Troilus and Cressida“ (1602) because it confused audience and critics and maybe it was never performed in William´s lifetime.
Moreover he produced his greatest tragedies.
Other plays of this periode are „Julius Caesar“ (tragedy, 1599),
„Hamlet“ (tragedy, 1599 – 1601),
„Troilus and Cressida“ (1601 – 1603),
„All´s Well That Ends Well“(comedy, 1601 – 1604),
„Measure for Measure“ (comedy, 1603 – 1604),
„Othello“ (tragedy, 1603 – 1604),
„King Lear“ (1605 – 1606),
„Macbeth“ (tragedy, 1606 – 1611),
„Antony and Cleopatra“ (Roman drama, 1606 – 1608),
„Timon of Athens“ (Roman drama, 1605 – 1608) and
„Coriolanus“ (Roman drama, 1605 – 1610).
4. The last plays: 1608 – 1613
1608 marks a change in tone in Shakespeare´s work from the dark mood of the tragedies to one of light, magic, music, reconcilation and romance. Many say that the view expressed in the romances is the amture William´s view having lived long enough to see his way through tragedy to resurrection. Others say he, as a master showman, just followed the fashion and presented the most popular sort of play for the years 1608 – 1611.
Plays of this time are „Pericles“ (1606 – 1608),
„The Prince of Tyre“ (1607/´08),
„Cymbeline“ (1608 – 1611),
„The Winter´s Tale“ (1610 – 1611) and
„The Tempest“ (1609 – 1611).
William´s final three plays were written in collaboration with the King´s Men´s new dramatist, John Fletcher: „Henry VIII.“ (1612 – 1613),
„Two Noble Kinsmen“ (1613 – 1614),
„Cardenio“ (now lost).
I want to say something more to this work of William Shakespeare. I like this story in a special way and fortunately I had the opportunity to watch a movie which deals with the tragedy „Hamlet“.
Probably the fundament of this tragedy is a older Hamlet-drama which was known by William and maybe William and his theatre group even performed it. After William ended his worked at Hamlet it was brought to Germany and a performance was vounched in Dresden in 1626.
Hamlet is William´s longest play and Hamlet speaks approximately the half of the whole text. A reason for the popularity of this play is probably the topic of it: Hamlet is subjected to his destiny and thus the audience can identify themselves with Hamlet.
In the early 16. century Sir Thomas Wyarr and the count of Surrey got to know Petrarcas Canzoniere during their travel through Italy and later they created with the help of this model works in their own language. A sonnet is mostly about love to a beloved. One wrote oneself or let someone wrote and finally such poem circulated between the friends.
Between 1593 and 1599 Shakespeare picked up this poetric form and continued to develop it in 154 sonnets. A sonnet of William contains 14 lines which have the following rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg.
Besides Hamlet the sonnets caused the most discussions.
As a example the sonnet no. 87:
Farewell! Thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know´st thy estimate.
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thy self though gav´st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gav´st it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Come home again, on better judgement making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter:
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.