Shakespeare



Born in Stratford-on-Avon in April, 1564, William Shakespeare was the son of a distinguished citizen who was to become an alderman and bailiff, although he later had to contend with financial difficulties.

It's presumed that Shakespeare attended Stratford Grammar School. He could have studied Latin there, but he never continued his studies as might be supposed, in Oxford or Cambridge.
As an autodidact, no doubt he knew that one's studies never end on being awarded diplomas, and on donning mitres and gowns.
Time's scythe has its physical effect, but no effect whatsoever otherwise in Shakespeare's case. He himself was generally confident that his work would always be beyond Time's reach.

The only established record of Shakespeare's early life since his christening, is of his marriage to Anne Hathoway in 1582. In 1583 a daughter was born, and in 1585 twins were born, a boy and a girl.

Again there are no known records of his life from then on until 1592 when he was acting in London, and by then already known as a playwright. Robert Greene alludes to him scornfully, which soon would have been much more to his own discredit than to Shakespeare's.*
He had a long and productive association with 'The Lord Chamberlain's Men', who later, under James, were to become 'The King's Men'. He was by then not only the leading playwright and shareholder, but also a contributing actor. 

Already by 1597 Shakespeare was prosperous enough to buy 'New Place', a fine house in Stratford. The previous year his father had been granted a coat of arms. Shakespeare was by then a gentlemen in all respects.

Of his work as a playwright, in Francis Mere's Palladis Tamia: Wit's Treasury (1598) he writes "As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage." He goes on by listing several examples of Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies.

Shakespeare apparently retired in 1610, to Stratford where he continued to write: The Tempest, and Henry VIII, the latter in collaboration with another playwright. This period also included the works of Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale.

When he died at the age of 52, six years later, there was still no collected edition of his plays available for publication. There were only some unedited 'quartos' from manuscripts or prompt books, or from pirated texts written from shorthand or from memory of plays.
John Heminges and Henry Condell, members of the Shakespeare company, finally brought together and published the complete collection of plays considered authentic in the 'First Folio'. They took great care that the best texts they had be printed and published.

In the 'First Folio' is also document written by Shakespeare's greatest rival and critic, Ben Jonson.

   Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show
To whom all scenes of Europe owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time!

Perhaps this was the first and finest tribute that Shakespeare could ever have wished for, but no doubt it has been sweetly echoed throughout the centuries by millions of people of all nationalities, who in homage to Shakespeare's genius and timeless opera magna, continue to laugh, smile, shed a tear, and dream.

*In 'A groatsworth of wit', Roberte Greene refers to Shakespears as "an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, being an absolute Johannes Factotum, (Jack of all trades, master of none) is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in the country."
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The following sonnet N° 94 may not be as well known as others, but in today's world where tyranny still defiles humanity, it seems particularly appropriate.

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show°        °seem to do
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces
And husband nature's riches from expense;°         °they don't waste nature's gifts
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer's flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weeds outbraves° his dignity :                °surpasses
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.°     °line from Edward III (2.1.451)
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References to The Taming of the Shrew
                                                King Lear
                      Sonnet N° 18 and parody
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Biography text © Mirino. Source- The Norton Anthology English Literature, with many thanks. The 'Chandos portrait', painted from life perhaps by John Taylor in 1610 (National Portrait Gallery, London). Image and signature from Wikipedia Commons. (Image modified by Mirino). With grateful thanks. June, 2011.

2 comments:

petrolio-muso said...

Shakespeare is one of my favorite authors. I have read almost all his works.

Mirino said...

Certainly one of the best, if not the best in the history of world literature.
He must have travelled fairly widely in Europe, certainly he was influenced by Italy- The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, etc. The Veronese seem to be proud of their historic connection with him, and what is alleged to be the famous balcony of Juliet, makes one dream and smile nostalgically.

The power of art. That a brilliant 16th century writer can bring together two nations with his pen, like the two opposing families (The Montagues and the Capulets).

One can read Shakespeare again and again. Like seeing a very good film. One keeps discovering subtleties perhaps too glossed over, or maybe less appreciated before, because we never stop learning.