Shakespeare In Life Essay, Research Paper
Shakespeare in Life
Wherever we go today, we just can’t seem to get away from him. He is in movies, in the theater, even on TV. Whether modernized or set back in Elizabethan times, his influence is everywhere in the things we use for our entertainment. We think we know who he really was, what his life has all about. He almost seems immortal in our eyes. Who was William Shakespeare? Who was this man we still have placed on a pedestal almost four thousand years after he lived? Was he really the man that Hollywood glamorized? Shakespeare’s life, work and controversies come together to form our beliefs of who this great writer
William Shakespeare is clouded with mystery. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England in 1564. Although his exact birth date is not know, there is a record of his baptism on April 26, 1954 (Kay 13). His date of birth would have fallen shortly before that day. He was born to John Shakespeare and his wife, Mary Arden and was the oldest of three sons. He also had four sisters. Shakespeare was educated at the local grammar school. Other than that, there really is not much known about Shakespeare’s youth. The next concrete piece of evidence about Shakespeare’s life is his marriage to Anne Hathaway
in November 1582, when he was just eighteen years old. It was a marriage of inconvenience. Anne was eight years older than he was and pregnant at the time so they had no choice but to marry. Their first daughter, Susanna, was born in 1583 and twins Hamnet and Judith were born in 1585. Shakespeare is said to have felt trapped by this marriage. Soon after he left for London. That is where he stayed until he returned to Stratford in 1610 for the last few years of his life. He died April 23, 1616. After his death, none of his personal papers or books survived or their whereabouts are unknown.
It is not know when exactly Shakespeare arrived in
London. It is speculated to be sometime around 1591
(Biography.com). It is here that Shakespeare the actor
came to be known. The first evidence of Shakespeare
appearing on stage was in 1594 with Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It is also not known when he started writing for sure, but he rapidly established himself as an actor and scriptwriter, probably freelance, working for several theater troops (Kay 141). His first official publication appeared in 1593 while all of the theaters were closed for the plague. This was Venus and Adonis, which will be discussed later.
The most information we have about Shakespeare is the plays and poems he has written. His plays are probably the best well known. His imagination was stirred greatly by a wide range of theatrical models such as mystery plays, ancient drama and the drama of the generations immediately preceding him (Kay 43). The histories and tragedies almost always claim at some level to be true, to be based on real events. His comedies often stress fictional situations and
proclaim their relation to literary traditions. The first recorded play written by Shakespeare is thought to be Two Gentlemen of Verona. Love’s Labour’s Lost was the first script to have Shakespeare’s name printed on it as the author in 1598. His name was never even mentioned publicly as a playwright until Frances Meres made the statement that Shakespeare was the best of the English for both tragedy and comedy, and listed eleven plays that he had written (Ogburn 1974). Some of his more memorable plays include
Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Taming of the Shrew. When all of Shakespeare’s plays were written cannot be exactly pinned down. Researchers have only been able to estimate the dates from the records of performances of the plays or of someone discussing them in writing. Shakespeare wrote thirty-eight plays in all. Many of the plays have been made into movies. They are set in either Elizabethan England or in contemporary times. Most recently there was 10 Things I Hate About You, an updated version of Taming of the Shrew set in an American high school in 1998. Others choose a more traditional approach Romeo and Juliet. That story was also modernized in a 1996
version that used Shakespeare’s language but was set to
gang violence in the future.
Not only was Shakespeare a poet, but he was also a playwright. As mentioned before, his first poem Venus and Adonis was published in 1593 during the plague (Kay 144). It was dedicated to Sir Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. It is a tale of love, lust and the classic romantic chase. Instead of the usual boy-chases-girl routine, the beautiful and desirous Venus pursues the young and disinterested Adonis. The more vigorously she chases, the harder he pulls away. His other poem was The Rape of Lucrece. Venus and Adonis was not the only work that Shakespeare dedicated to the Earl. His sonnets are like letters to the Earl (McMahon website). Sonnets are short, songlike poems. The sonnets were written from the spring of 1592 to March of 1605. There are 154 sonnets in total. Many address issues dealing with the Earl except for sonnets 127 to 154 which are the “dark lady” sonnets. These sonnets are Shakespeare’s praise of some unidentified women who he seemed to be very much in love with (McMahon website). The sonnets were well known by 1598, but were not published until 1609. They were probably the only works Shakespeare published that had personal meaning to him.
Like any famous figure, Shakespeare also had his share of controversy. Although, none of it ever surfaced while he as alive. The biggest debate is over authorship. Did Shakespeare really exist and write his own work or was there someone else behind Shakespeare. There has been a lot of research on the life of a man named Gulielmus Shaksper. He was a poor man born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 (Ogburn 1974). Research has found that there is proof to back up either side of the argument, “but what Shakespeare tell us of himself in his plays and sonnets, of
his background, interests and character, is altogether
different from Shaksper as he appears on the record,”
Charlton Ogburn stated in his article about the
controversy. The characters he considers to be his best work are undoubtedly of royalty. Shaksper on the other hand was nearly illiterate. There is no record of anyone having met, seen or talked to a man he identified at Shakespeare the writer. Even the Earl of Southampton never met him despite all of the letters and dedication of sonnets and poems. On the other hand, it appears that the Earl bought Shaksper’s cooperation the pretend to be Shakespeare for one thousand pounds (Ogburn 1974). Out of all the evidence for each argument, the strongest piece of
evidence shows that Shakespeare’s plays were written too early to be credited to Shaksper and were the work of an older man. There can be no doubt that Shakespeare compounds two very different men.
The next controversy deals not with Shakespeare’s life or works but of a young man who forged some of Shakespeare’s work. In 1795, an eighteen year old named William Henry Ireland was able to fool people into believing he held some of Shakespeare’s original works and writings (Keevak 167-89). These included legal deeds, promissory notes, letters to and from Shakespeare, and a “lost” tragedy called Vortigern. People actually believed that these were Shakespeare’s documents, even the educated
public and some of the leading scholars and critics of the day. William Henry was mainly driven by his desire to please his father, Samuel Ireland. He was trying to make himself be seen as the next young bard and every as a true descendent of Shakespeare artistically and genealogically (Keevak 167-89). After Vortigern was laughed off the stage, William Henry was forced to confess to the forgeries of Shakespeare in 1796 (Kahan 204). He published many
confessions. He also went on to write other books under a pseudonym, but was never able to achieve the fame that he wanted.
What is it about Shakespeare that makes people cling to the thought of his greatness? Even Hollywood seems to hold him up as an amazing person. The movie Shakespeare in Love shows him as a romantic struggling with writer’s block until a beautiful girl of noble blood comes into his life. It shows him as being Romeo while Viola is his Juliet and all the while he is writing the play. It does show his flaws but only to add to the drama of the plot of this movie. When I graduated from high school, I received a book called Lessons on Living From Shakespeare edited by Michael Macrone. It is filled with lines from the plays and sonnets that are supposed to help people cope with
everyday life and the difficulties they face. They have turned Shakespeare into a psychiatrist. The love affair with Shakespeare, or the myth of Shakespeare, has to be that people want to believe that someone who came for so little could actually achieve such great success.
Shakespeare’s life, work and controversies come
together to form our beliefs of who this great writer
really was. It does not seem to matter when the
controversies are brought up or the fact that we know so little about him. People still love the man who can
entertain them almost four thousand years after his death. And he will always remain on that pedestal that he was placed on all of those years ago.
Kahan, Jeffery. Reforging Shakespeare. Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 1998.
Kay, Dennis. William Shakespeare: His Life and Times.
New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.
Keevak, Michael. “Shakespeare’s queer sonnets and the
forgeries of William Henry Ireland.” Criticism 40.2 (Spring 1998): 167-89.
McMahon, Robert. “CobblerRob’s Guide to Shakespeare’s
Sonnets.” Website. http://www2.crosswinds.net/rapid-city/~cobblerrob/refdesk/Sonnets.txt 20 April 1999.
Ogburn, Charlton. “The Man Who Shakespeare Was Not (and Who He Was).” Harvard Magazine Nov. 1974 Frontline. AOL. 7 April. 1999.
“Shakespeare, William.” Biography.com website.
17 April 1999.