William Shakespeare: The man of Thoughts

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William Shakespeare
(Courtesy: Wikipedia)
William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564 – died 23 April 1616)[a] was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's preeminent dramatist.[1] He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon".

Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, who bore him three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as the King's Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare's private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.[4]
Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613.[5][d] His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the sixteenth century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.
Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. In 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare's.

Early life

William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare, a successful glover and alderman originally from Snitterfield, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer.[7] He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and baptised on 26 April 1564. His actual birthdate is unknown, but is traditionally observed on 23 April, St George's Day.
At the age of 18, Shakespeare married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway. The consistory court of the Diocese of Worcester issued a marriage licence on 27 November 1582. Two of Hathaway's neighbours posted bonds the next day as surety that there were no impediments to the marriage.[14] The couple may have arranged the ceremony in some haste, since the Worcester chancellor allowed the marriage banns to be read once instead of the usual three times.[15] Anne's pregnancy could have been the reason for this. Six months after the marriage, she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, who was baptised on 26 May 1583.[16] Twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith, followed almost two years later and were baptised on 2 February 1585.[17] Hamnet died of unknown causes at the age of 11 and was buried on 11 August 1596.[18]
  

London and theatrical career

"All the world's a stage,
and all the men and women merely players:
they have their exits and their entrances;
and one man in his time plays many parts..."
It is not known exactly when Shakespeare began writing, but contemporary allusions and records of performances show that several of his plays were on the London stage by 1592.[26] He was well enough known in London by then to be attacked in print by the playwright Robert Greene:

Greene’s attack is the first recorded mention of Shakespeare’s career in the theatre. Biographers suggest that his career may have begun any time from the mid-1580s to just before Greene’s remarks.[31] From 1594, Shakespeare's plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London.[32] After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new king, James I, and changed its name to the King's Men.[33]
In 1599, a partnership of company members built their own theatre on the south bank of the Thames, which they called the Globe. In 1608, the partnership also took over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Records of Shakespeare's property purchases and investments indicate that the company made him a wealthy man.[34] In 1597, he bought the second-largest house in Stratford, New Place, and in 1605, he invested in a share of the parish tithes in Stratford.[35]

Later years and death

Rowe was the first biographer to pass down the tradition that Shakespeare retired to Stratford some years before his death;[47] but retirement from all work was uncommon at that time,[48] and Shakespeare continued to visit London.[47] In 1612 he was called as a witness in a court case concerning the marriage settlement of Mountjoy's daughter, Mary.[49] In March 1613 he bought a gatehouse in the former Blackfriars priory;[50] and from November 1614 he was in London for several weeks with his son-in-law, John Hall.[51]

After 1606–1607, Shakespeare wrote fewer plays, and none are attributed to him after 1613.[52] His last three plays were collaborations, probably with John Fletcher,[53] who succeeded him as the house playwright for the King’s Men.[54]
Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616[55] and was survived by his wife and two daughters. Susanna had married a physician, John Hall, in 1607,[56] and Judith had married Thomas Quiney, a vintner, two months before Shakespeare’s death.[57]


Plays

Most playwrights of the period typically collaborated with others at some point, and critics agree that Shakespeare did the same, mostly early and late in his career.[67] Some attributions, such as Titus Andronicus and the early history plays, remain controversial, while The Two Noble Kinsmen and the lost Cardenio have well-attested contemporary documentation. Textual evidence also supports the view that several of the plays were revised by other writers after their original composition.
The first recorded works of Shakespeare are Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI, written in the early 1590s during a vogue for historical drama. Shakespeare's plays are difficult to date, however,[68] and studies of the texts suggest that Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona may also belong to Shakespeare’s earliest period.[69] His first histories, which draw heavily on the 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland,[70] dramatise the destructive results of weak or corrupt rule and have been interpreted as a justification for the origins of the Tudor dynasty.[71] The early plays were influenced by the works of other Elizabethan dramatists, especially Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe, by the traditions of medieval drama, and by the plays of Seneca.[72] The Comedy of Errors was also based on classical models, but no source for the The Taming of the Shrew has been found, though it is related to a separate play of the same name and may have derived from a folk story.

Poems

In 1593 and 1594, when the theatres were closed because of plague, Shakespeare published two narrative poems on erotic themes, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He dedicated them to Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton. In Venus and Adonis, an innocent Adonis rejects the sexual advances of Venus; while in The Rape of Lucrece, the virtuous wife Lucrece is raped by the lustful Tarquin.[115] Influenced by Ovid's Metamorphoses,[116] the poems show the guilt and moral confusion that result from uncontrolled lust.[117] Both proved popular and were often reprinted during Shakespeare's lifetime. A third narrative poem, A Lover's Complaint, in which a young woman laments her seduction by a persuasive suitor, was printed in the first edition of the Sonnets in 1609. Most scholars now accept that Shakespeare wrote A Lover's Complaint. Critics consider that its fine qualities are marred by leaden effects.[118] The Phoenix and the Turtle, printed in Robert Chester's 1601 Love's Martyr, mourns the deaths of the legendary phoenix and his lover, the faithful turtle dove. In 1599, two early drafts of sonnets 138 and 144 appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim, published under Shakespeare's name but without his permission.

Style

Shakespeare's first plays were written in the conventional style of the day. He wrote them in a stylised language that does not always spring naturally from the needs of the characters or the drama.[128] The poetry depends on extended, sometimes elaborate metaphors and conceits, and the language is often rhetorical—written for actors to declaim rather than speak. The grand speeches in Titus Andronicus, in the view of some critics, often hold up the action, for example; and the verse in Two Gentlemen of Verona has been described as stilted.
Shakespeare's poetic genius was allied with a practical sense of the theatre.[137] Like all playwrights of the time, Shakespeare dramatised stories from sources such as Petrarch and Holinshed.[138] He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and show as many sides of a narrative to the audience as possible. This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama.[139] As Shakespeare’s mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and distinctive patterns of speech. He preserved aspects of his earlier style in the later plays, however. In his late romances, he deliberately returned to a more artificial style, which emphasised the illusion of theatre.

Influence

Shakespeare's work has made a lasting impression on later theatre and literature. In particular, he expanded the dramatic potential of characterisation, plot, language, and genre.[141] Until Romeo and Juliet, for example, romance had not been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy.[142] Soliloquies had been used mainly to convey information about characters or events; but Shakespeare used them to explore characters' minds.[143] His work heavily influenced later poetry. The Romantic poets attempted to revive Shakespearean verse drama, though with little success. Critic George Steiner described all English verse dramas from Coleridge to Tennyson as "feeble variations on Shakespearean themes."


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