Apr 27, 2010

Random Shakespeare

William was born to a Stratford tanner named John Shakespeare. His mother Mary was the daughter of a wealthy gentleman-farmer named Robert Arden.

Nobody knows Shakespeare’s true birthday. The closest we can come is the date of his baptism on April the 26th, 1564. By tradition and guesswork, William is assumed to have been born three days earlier on April the 23rd, a date now commonly used to celebrate his birthday.

Legend has it that at the tender age of eleven, William watched the pageantry associated with Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth Castle near Stratford and later recreated this scene many times in his plays.

Although he was one of literature’s greatest figures, Shakespeare never attended university.

Most academics agree that William wrote his first play, Henry VI, Part One around 1589 to 1590 when he would have been roughly 25 years old.

It is believed Shakespeare started writing the first of his 154 sonnets in 1593 at age 29. His first sonnet was Venus and Adonis, published in the same year.

Of the 154 sonnets the playwright penned, his first 26 were said to be directed to an aristocratic young man who did not want to marry. William’s 126th sonnet contains a farewell, to "my lovely boy" a phrase taken to imply possible homosexuality by some postmodern Shakespeare academics. Sonnets 127 - 152 talk about a dark woman, the Bard seems to have had mixed feelings for.

Shakespeare lived through the Black Death, which took place when he was 39. This epidemic killed over 33,000 in London alone in 1603 and later returned in 1608.

William never published any of his plays. We read his plays today only because his fellow actors John Hemminges and Henry Condell, posthumously recorded his work as a dedication to their fellow actor in 1623, publishing 36 of William’s plays. This collection known as The First Folio is the source from which all published Shakespeare books are derived and is an important proof that he authored his plays.

Shakespeare and wife (Anne Hathaway) had eight children, including daughter Susanna, twins Hamnet, Judith, and Edmund. Susanna received most of the Bard's fortune when he died in 1616, age 52. Hamnet died at age 11, Judith at 77. Susanna died in 1649, at the age of 66.

The Bard's will gave most of his property to Susanna, his first child and not to his wife Anne Hathaway. Instead his loyal wife infamously received his "second-best bed". The Bard's second best bed wasn’t so bad, it was his marriage bed; his best bed was for guests.

William Shakespeare died in 1616 at the age of 52. He wrote on average 1.5 plays a year since he first started in 1589. His last play The Two Noble Kinsmen is reckoned to have been written in 1613 when he was 49 years old.

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Suicide occurs an unlucky thirteen times in Shakespeare’s plays. It occurs in Romeo and Juliet where both Romeo and Juliet commit suicide; in Julius Caesar where both Cassius and Brutus die by consensual stabbing, as well as Brutus’ wife Portia; in Othello where Othello stabs himself; in Hamlet where Ophelia is said to have "drowned" in suspicious circumstances; in Macbeth when Lady Macbeth dies; and finally in Antony and Cleopatra where suicide occurs an astounding five times (Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Charmian, Iras and Eros).

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Racism crops up frequently in Shakespeare’s work as well. In Othello, the lead character, a Moor of African descent, is continuously insulted for his heritage and appearance (especially in Act I) by his enemies and even his supporters (Lodovico) at the play’s conclusion when Othello murders his wife for mistakenly believing she cheated. Racism also occurs in Titus Andronicus (towards the Moor named Aaron), The Tempest where the misformed giant Caliban is called "this thing of darkness" (Act V, Line 275), and in Richard II.

The Bard's characters frequently debase those of colored skin. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, the character King Ferdinand, King of Navarre, racially remarks that "Black is the badge of hell, the hue of dungeons and the scowl of night" (Act IV, Scene III, Lines 254-255).

Anti-Semitism also crops up. The Jewish moneylender Shylock in the Merchant of Venice is portrayed as greedy and calculating. At the play’s conclusion he is forced to change religion to Christianity as punishment for wanting "a pound of flesh" from Antonio who agreed to this if his friend forfeited a debt to Shylock. Being a Jew is used as a curse in Henry the First, Part Two (Act II, Scene IV, Line 178), in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Act II, Scene V, Line 53), The Merchant of Venice, Anthony and Cleopatra, Much Ado about Nothing , Macbeth and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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Shakespeare introduced more words into English literature than all the other writers of his time combined, over 1,700 by some estimates, though in the past critics have credited him with introducing over 8000 words. If you’d like to see a list of these words, go HERE


Jamie D. said...

Ah, Shakespeare. I read his complete works at 12 yrs old, including the sonnets (which I've always loved). His use of the language was so poetic and yet fairly simple in concept (IMO)...

Thanks for digging up all this info - always good to know more about him. :-)

C R Ward said...

Wow, I'm impressed! Even at my age I still haven't read his complete works. I have, however, seen both MacBeth and Richard III performed at Stratford (Ontario, not England). :-)