Information about the life of William Shakespeare is often open to doubt. Some even doubt whether he wrote all plays ascribed to him. From the best available sources it seems William Shakespeare was born in Stratford on about April 23rd 1564. His father William was a successful local businessman and his mother Mary was the daughter of a landowner. Relatively prosperous, it is likely the family paid for Williams education, although there is no evidence he attended university.
In 1582 William, aged only 18, married an older woman named Anne Hathaway. Soon after they had their first daughter, Susanna. They had another two children but William’s only son Hamnet died aged only 11.
After his marriage, information about the life of Shakespeare is sketchy but it seems he spent most of his time in London writing and performing in his plays. It seemed he didn’t mind being absent from his family – only returning home during Lent when all theatres were closed. It is generally thought that during the 1590s he wrote the majority of his sonnets. This was a time of prolific writing and his plays developed a good deal of interest and controversy. Due to some well timed investments he was able to secure a firm financial background, leaving time for writing and acting. The best of these investments was buying some real estate near Stratford in 1605, which soon doubled in value.
Some academics known as the “Oxfords” claim that Shakespeare never actually wrote any plays they suggest names such as Edward de Vere. They contend Shakespeare was actually just a successful businessman. Nevertheless there is some evidence of Shakespeare in theatres as he received a variety of criticism from people such as Ben Johnson and Robert Greene.
Shakespeare the Poet
William Shakespeare wrote 154 Sonnets mostly in the 1590s. Fairly short poems, they deal with issues such as lost love. His sonnets have an enduring appeal due to his characteristic skill with language and words.
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:”
– Sonnet CXVI
The Plays of Shakespeare
The plays of Shakespeare have been studied more than any other writing in the English language and have been translated into numerous languages. He was rare as a play-write for excelling in tragedies, comedies and histories. He deftly combined popular entertainment with a rare poetic capacity for expression which is almost mantric in quality.
“This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!”
-Lord Polonius, Hamlet Act I, Scene 3
During his lifetime, Shakespeare was not without controversy, but he also received lavish praise for his plays which were very popular and commercially successful.
Shakespeare died in 1664; it is not clear how he died although his vicar suggested it was from heavy drinking. His tombstone is marked with the following epitaph;
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare
Blessed by y man y spares hes stones
And curst be he y moves my bones
It is true to say that each line of Shakespeare has been poured over by scholars and students – no idea or concept has been left unturned. Shakespeare has left a profound and lasting impact on literature, cinema and theatre.
Quotes on Shakespeare
“Shakespeare, no mere child of nature; no automaton of genius; no passive vehicle of inspiration possessed by the spirit, not possessing it; first studied patiently, meditated deeply, understood minutely, till knowledge became habitual and intuitive, wedded itself to his habitual feelings, and at length gave birth to that stupendous power by which he stands alone, with no equal or second in his own class; to that power which seated him on one of the two glorysmitten summits of the poetic mountain, with Milton ?s his compeer, not rival.”
– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (1817)
The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works 2nd Edition
- The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works 2nd Edition at Amazon.com
- The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works 2nd Edition at Amazon.co.uk