- In a well-developed paragraph, please respond to the following, very open-ended question. What are two of the most interesting or curious things you have learned about Shakespeare? Be sure to personally react, as well. DO NOT JUST COPY FROM YOUR RESEARCH! It is important to me that you express what you've learned in YOUR OWN WORDS. And be sure to offer/share your opinion/reactions. See grading rubrics on the home page for grading criteria and expectations.
- If you would like, rent a copy of the DVD or video, Shakespeare in Love, and take the extra credit quiz
There are over 100 Shakespearean festivals or acting companies operating in the United States today! Truly, Shakespeare is a man for all ages and cultures. Who was William Shakespeare? In Shakespeare's Globe: His Intellectual & Moral Outlook, A.L. Rowse offers the following description:
Everything about William Shakespeare was surprisingly normal--except, of course, his genius...The surprising thing about Shakespeare is that he was so normal: a family man accepting the obligations (if not the restrictions) of family life, strongly heterosexual (no homosexual, like so many men of genius, his contemporaries, Marlowe and Bacon, for instance a neighbourly man well grafted into the life of his home town, where he was determined to make good; a good fellow in his profession, as the tributes to him from his fellow actors show.
In Shakespeare A to Z, Charles Boyce concurs:
Shakespeare exemplified the enterprising yeoman advancing to gentleman status, a common phenomenon in his day. Like many ambitious early modern Englishmen, he was attracted to London without surrendering his roots in the countryside. In terms of day-to-day life, the only unusual feature was that he was a part of the theatrical world. In his day, actors playwrights, and theatrical entrepreneurs were only just emerging from an era in which they were stigmatised by both law and custom. Though in the course of Shakespeare's lifetime, the courts of Queen Elizabeth and King James I gave prestige to acting, and a few theatre people--including Shakespeare--got rich, protest against drama and acting was still very strong in England.
The Production Notes from Miramax Films regarding Shakespeare In Love offer the following insights about Shakespeare's life and loves:
Although he wrote some of the world's most renown romances and comedies, William Shakespeare's personal life remains a great mystery. Little is known about the writer and what is thought to be known is hotly debated by scholars. Conspiracy theories and suggestions of hoaxes and false identities abound, but have resisted proof for centuries. What is known about Shakespeare is that whatever his identity, his works provide insight into human nature and the nature of love. His 38 plays, as well as his many sonnets, capture themes and emotions in story-telling that continue to be the most entertaining concepts of today.
The most widely agreed upon story of Shakespeare's life suggests that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1554 to a prosperous glovemaker. In 1582, when just a lad of 18, he married Anne Hathaway and had three children, including a son who died at the age of 11.
No documentation of Shakespeare's life between 1585 and 1592 exists, lending these "lost years" to great conjecture and controversy. He re-emerged as a public figure in 1592, working in London as an actor and playwright. Though he was not yet the writer he would become, already the playwright Robert Greene referred enviously to Shakespeare in 1592 as "the upstart crow" of the London theater. He was quickly drawing the attentions of hungry theater-owners in the burgeoning Bankside district and the jealousies of bitter rivals. He began spending his summers in London, returning to his family in Stratford every winter when the public theaters were closed due to fear of spreading plague.
Throughout 1593, Shakespeare published several of his most erotic sonnets, but it was in 1594 that he really made his career breakthrough, coming to the fore with his great work of romance, "Romeo and Juliet." He joined the Chamberlain's Men, a theatrical troupe which enjoyed the patronage of the royal court and which later built the famous Globe Theater.
What accounted for this sudden turn-around in Shakespeare's creative life? Did he have a real life muse in his hidden history that unlocked the secrets of the human heart? Several theories have been advanced by Shakespearean scholars and biographers, many involving a mysterious "dark lady" to whom the bard seems to pine for in several of his sonnets. As the Shakespearean scholar Arthur Aches writes:
I believe, from what I find in the Sonnets, that our poet's connection with [a] woman commenced at almost the same period as his acquaintance with Southampton, in about 1593, . . . I believe, also, that he genuinely loved her, and fired with the passion and intensity of his love, produced in those years the marvelous rhapsodies of love in "Romeo and Juliet," … and other of his love plays, which have so charmed the world, and still charm it, and shall continue to do so while the language lives. If ever a man lived who sounded the human heart to its depths, and gauged its heights, that man was Shakespeare, and such knowledge as he had, and shows us of life, may not be attained by hearsay, nor at second hand.
The true nature of Shakespeare's love will only ever be known through his enduring works. He is believed to have died in April 1616, on the anniversary of his birthday, after developing a fever whilst spending a night entertaining the playwright Ben Johnson. He is buried in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Today, Shakespeare is more critically acclaimed than he was in his own era. Shakespeare was not university educated. By contrast, many of his contemporaries were known as the University Wits. Highly educated at schools including Cambridge and Oxford, the University Wits such as Robert Greene and Christopher Marlowe viewed Shakespeare as a hack! In fact, Greene wrote that Shakespeare was "an upstart crow." Yet Shakespeare, then and now, is the most popular playwright with audiences. His plays are characterized by lots of action and characters who seem to come to life. There's something for everyone in the audience as he deals with universal conflicts and problems that still concern people. "Shakespeare's plays have been published, studied, and performed in almost every country in the world...Many professional theaters are devoted full-time to producing Shakespeare's works...Shakespeare is the most frequently produced playwright in the world today, and only the Bible has been translated into more languages than Shakespeare's plays (The Curtain Rises)."
So, what do we know about this remarkable playwright? Well, professionally, Shakespeare made his living in the theater. He wrote thirty-seven tragedies, comedies, and histories. He was a householder (partner) in the public (outdoor) Globe Theater and later in the private (indoor) Blackfriars Theater. He was an actor. Greene complained about this as well saying it was "presumptious of Shakespeare, an actor, to write plays." And he directed his own plays. Before we talk about Shakespeare's accomplishments as a writer, let's talk about talk about his life that influenced his writing.