Life Of Shakespeare Essay, Research Paper
Life of William Shakespeare
Around 1568, a group of actors visited Stratford and put on a play before the
entire town, with permission from John Shakespeare, the mayor of the town. The
people loved the play, especially the small children. All of them looked up to
the actors, as they returned each year to perform different plays. They had
dreams of one day becoming actors, but only one of these children fulfilled this
dream. This child was the mayor’s son, William Shakespeare.
At this time, actors in England usually spent their careers traveling to new
towns, performing plays at city buildings or local inns. However, with the help
of James Burbage, this all changed. James Burbage designed and built the first
theatre in England. The actors could then settle down in one place and perform
in a place built for plays. The theatre was a huge success, and many more began
popping up over England, but this theatre built by James Burbage was forever
known as The Theatre.
The layout of the stage consisted of five levels. The lowest level was for trap
doors built into the stage. The next level was the main stage, where the actors
did most of their performing. Above this was the balcony level, which could be
used to represent anything from a city wall to a mountain. The next level
contained pulleys which could raise or lower anything from above. The top level
was used for creating sounds of rain or thunder, or dropping important objects
from the sky.
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway at age 18. In two years, they had
three children, a daughter named Susanna, and twins, Hamnet and Judith. He
didn’t stay in Stratford long after this though. He left his family to pursue a
career as an actor in London.
Shakespeare wrote his first play in 1592. It was a historical play called Henry
VI, which was one of the biggest successes of the year. Some scholars
criticized him because he did not have a university education like most
playwrites, but probably the only reason he was criticized for this was because
his play was so popular.
After the success of his historical play, he wrote a tragedy called Titus
Andronicus, and then The Comedy of Errors, a humorous comedy. Not many
playwrites wrote so many different types of plays in so short a time, but
Shakespeare was certainly not like any other English playwrite.
Very early in Shakespeare’s career, however, many theatres closed due to the
plague in England, and playwrites were not in high demand. Shakespeare then
turned to another type of writing and wrote a narrative poem entitled Venus and
Adonis. This was a huge success and he received praise for it by the scholars
who gave him no respect as a playwrite. His next poem was called Lucrece, which
was just as successful as his first. In spite of his success as a poet, he gave
up poetry after Lucrece was published. He joined Lord Chamberlain’s Acting
Company in 1594, and for the rest of his career, he only wrote plays for this
Other actors in Shakespeare’s company included Will Kempe, the most popular
comic of his time, and Richard Burbage, son of James Burbage, the designer of
The Theatre. Other important members of the company were John Heminges, who was
their permanent business manager, and Henry Condell, another actor in the
company. These two men later published the first complete edition of
Shakespeare’s play, after Shakespeare’s death.
Shakespeare wrote many plays which were adaptations of earlier plots. Some of
these include King John, The Taming of The Shrew, and Romeo and Juliet. Some
said he could turn a flat, one-sided plot into a masterpiece. In Romeo and
Juliet, Shakespeare mixes the humor of Mercutio and Juliet’s nurse into a
serious tragedy. Not many playwrites of this time mixed comedy with tragedy,
but he did this because the two elements combine in real life and he felt they
were free to combine in his plays.
None of the critics who had praised his poems ever mentioned his plays. However,
he was singled out by Francis Meres, a London writer. Meres stated,
“Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds of the
stage.” Meres was not a distinguished literary critic, but he reassured the
middle class readers who were already fans of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s acting company was doing what no other acting company had ever
done. Usually acting companies bought plays from writers, and the writer had no
further input in the production of the play. However, Shakespeare wrote,
produced, and sometimes even acted in his own plays. He helped design costumes
and props for the play, so it was presented exactly as he intended.
Although times were bad in England, and the company struggled with money, Queen
Elizabeth supported the actors, and they were always able to make money. However,
a few years after the company was formed, The Theatre Richard Burbage had
inherited from his father was in financial trouble. The lease on his land had
expired, and the owner would not renew it. The company had to find a new place
to perform their plays. Instead of finding another theatre, they decided to
dismantle The Theatre and move it to a different location. Each member paid a
part of the expenses, and each member received partial ownership of their new
theatre, called The Globe. They made The Globe the finest and by far the most
memorable theatre in England.
In the early days of The Globe, Shakespeare wrote three of his best romantic
comedies: Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and Much Ado About Nothing. All are
known for their highly improbable plots. Shakespeare, however, could make the
characters in his plays so believable and human, that the plots seemed perfectly
After many comedies, Shakespeare wrote the Roman tragedy Julius Caesar.
Although many stories had been done about Caesar, and the story was a legend in
England, Shakespeare’s version surprised many people by it’s originality. The
play centers around Marcus Brutus, Caesar’s friend, who eventually kills Caesar.
It explores what drives a group of well-respected men to commit murder, and the
events that take place afterwards.
One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and one of the most praised plays of
the English language is Hamlet. This melodrama centers around the main
character, Hamlet, who had the great ability to express in words emotions that
many people only slightly felt. This character won the crowd over quickly and
it was an instant success. It received praise by many critics who weren’t fond
of Shakespeare before this time.
Hamlet was published in 1603, the same year Queen Elizabeth died, ending the
Elizabethan era. The new ruler was King James, who was as much of a fan of
acting as Queen Elizabeth. In fact, one of the first things he did as the new
ruler of England was make a list of the best actors in England and form an
acting company. The new group was actually just Lord Chamberlain’s company with
the edition of Lawrence Fletcher, King James’ favorite actor. This group of
actors now were called the King’s Men.
Shakespeare’s next great tragedy was Othello, which was a tragedy of jealousy.
It is about a man who believes that his wife is unfaithful to him. This
jealousy finally turns into rage and he kills her. After Othello, Shakespeare
wrote Macbeth, a tragedy of ambition. This is about Macbeth and his wife, who
believe that they can kill the King of Scotland and quietly take the throne.
They find, however, that this murder leads to other murders and they are
consumed with guilt. Macbeth would have been very controversial if it had been
any other playwrite, but Shakespeare at this time could write whatever he wanted.
He was thought of as the “Lord of Language”. This, as well as his friendship
with King James, allowed him to conquer any topic without fear of being censored.
In 1608, the King’s Men purchased a theatre at Blackfriars. They now had access
to two theatres, and the people who couldn’t travel far enough to get to one,
could visit the other.
The Tempest, probably the last play written by Shakespeare before his retirement,
was a fairy tail. It contained many enchantments and spirits, and a monster.
By the time it opened in December of 1611 however, Shakespeare had retired from
the King’s Men.
After his retirement, he wrote only one play, Henry VIII. The premiere of this
play was a huge event in England, and many people crowded into The Globe to
watch it. During the play however, a cannon which was used for effects misfired
and caused a fire inside the theatre. No one was hurt, but The Globe was ruined.
It had burned to the ground before anyone could stop it.
Considering the success of the company, they were quick to rebuild The Globe.
Shakespeare helped pay for the repairs, but he never gave the company another
play. He died on April 23, 1616, in Stratford and was buried at a local church.
After Shakespeare’s death, Henry Condell and John Heminges published the first
complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays. This was the first time many of the
plays were available to be read. Some plays were published before he died. They
were done on cheap pamphlets and some didn’t even contain his name. Heminges and
Condell, in fear of the plays being lost, decided to publish the plays instead
of selling them to other acting companies. They probably lost a lot of money
doing this, but they believed that their “friend and fellow” deserved the best.
Ben Jonson summarized it best by stating, “He was not of an age, but for all