This Day In Literary History
On April 23rd, 1564, the legendary English writer William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. No attendance records survived, but scholars believe that he began his formal education at the King's New School in Stratford.
In 1582, at the age of eighteen, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior and pregnant with his daughter, Susanna.
Two years later, the couple would have twins - son Hamnet and daughter Juliet. Hamnet would die of unknown causes at the age of eleven, devastating Shakespeare and affecting his writing.
There are few if any historical traces of Shakespeare's life between 1585 (when the twins were born) and 1592, when he appeared on the scene (no pun intended) as an actor and playwright.
As a young actor, Shakespeare belonged to a company of players known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men. They would become the leading theatrical troupe in London. In 1603, when James I became king following the death of Queen Elizabeth, he awarded Shakespeare's company a royal patent.
The company changed its name to the King's Men. They had already built their own theater - the Globe - on the banks of the Thames. They later took over the Blackfriars indoor theater.
These theaters were built on the outskirts of London so as to avoid the city's strict censorship laws. Still, Shakespeare found his plays thoroughly scrutinized for subversive political content by the English government.
Shakespeare acted in his own plays as well as in the works of others, but he soon quit acting and devoted himself exclusively to play writing. When he acted in his own plays, he preferred to play kings. He made a tradition of playing the ghost of Hamlet's murdered father in his productions of Hamlet.
Beginning in 1594, Shakespeare's plays were published in quarto editions (magazine sized volumes) and became bestsellers. His first recorded plays were Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI. These plays were part of his histories.
More than just chronicles of historical events, Shakespeare's histories were also morality plays like his other works, depicting kings Richard III, Henry IV, and Henry V as having the same flaws as other men, though on a larger and more tragic scale.
He was also known for his classic comedies and tragedies. His comedies included such masterpieces as A Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Taming of the Shrew.
His tragedies - the plays he was most famous for - included such masterworks as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and Julius Caesar.
Shakespeare was also famous as a poet. Of course, the lines in his plays were poetry - literally, as they were written in blank verse - but as a poet, he was most famous for his narrative poems and sonnets.
His narrative poems included epic works such as Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. His sonnets were numbered, from 1 to 154. They addressed three different characters, which scholars have labeled The Fair Youth, The Dark Lady, and The Rival Poet.
In his Fair Youth sonnets, Shakespeare addresses the young man in loving and romantic language, which has led some scholars to speculate that the author may have been bisexual.
The Dark Lady sonnets were supposedly addressed to the author's mistress, and the Rival Poet was most likely one of his contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe or George Chapman.
Although Shakespeare's sonnets were first published in 1609 and have been republished ever since, evidence suggests that Shakespeare never wanted them to be published. He intended to share them privately with his friends.
By 1607, Shakespeare wrote few plays. The last known work attributed to him appeared in 1613. He died on April 23rd, 1616 - his 52nd birthday. He achieved fame and fortune during his lifetime, but it wouldn't be until over a century after his death that he was recognized as the greatest dramatist of all time.
Scholarly works on Shakespeare and his writings published in the 18th century by such famous academics as Samuel Johnson and Edmond Malone brought attention to Shakespeare's genius. In the 19th century, Shakespeare was enshrined as England's national poet.
He was championed throughout Europe by legendary writers such as Voltaire, Goethe, Stendhal, and Victor Hugo. As the Eastern world opened itself to the West, Shakespeare became an ambassador of Western culture. To this day, his works remain hugely popular throughout Asia.
Beginning in the mid-19th century, a small minority of scholars started to question if William Shakespeare had actually written the plays that bear his name. Some have speculated that other authors of the time, such as Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe, may have written them.
Marlowe, a great playwright second only to the Bard, had been a secret agent for the English government. A popular theory suggests that he faked his death for reasons of safety, then used an actor named William Shakespeare as a front for his future plays.
A more mundane theory states that Shakespeare's plays were a collaborative effort, written by Shakespeare and the actors in his company. All these theories are just that - theories that currently cannot and may never be proven.
The timeless themes of Shakespeare's plays make them adaptable at any time and by any culture. In 1957, the legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa released his classic film Throne of Blood - an adaptation of Macbeth set in feudal Japan. A more recent adaptation of Macbeth, starring Patrick Stewart, sets Shakespeare's classic tragedy in Soviet Russia during World War II.
William Shakespeare's writings had a lasting impact on the very language we speak. Scholars say that the evolution of Middle English (1066-1500) into Early Modern English (1500-1800) owes itself mostly to Shakespeare, whose writings added a thousand new words to the English language.
As Hamlet once said, the play's the thing.
Quote Of The Day
"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..." - William Shakespeare, from his classic play, As You Like It.
Today's video features a complete reading of William Shakespeare's sonnets. Enjoy!