Shakespeare Overall Essay: History And Effects On History Essay, Research Paper
Let me tell you a story of two young lovers torn apart by the wrath of their parents? oh, you’ve heard this one already? How about the story of the evil villain plotting to overthrow his king? Heard that one too? Surprisingly enough, these stories came into creation over two hundred years ago. The wonder lies not in the stories, but in the man behind them. William Shakespeare is really the defining icon for modern literature. Because of his plays, prose, and poems; the works of Shakespeare are considered to be some of the finest literature ever written. His stories established a foundation off which thousands of dramas, romances, and histories have been based. During his fifty-two year life, Shakespeare produced plays that have been the models for books and movies for hundreds of years. One of Shakespeare’s outstanding points as a writer was his colorful mastery of the English language, which was nothing short of genius. Shakespeare’s keen annotations into the 16th century granted historians a glimpse into traditional 16th century life. The one quality in Shakespeare’s writing that never fails to astound me is his ability at capturing the essence of human passion and feeling. My goal for this paper is to convince you, reader, that William Shakespeare had the greatest affect on the future of modern literature. Wish me luck.
Before I begin to verify my thesis, I shall give you little history of the Shakespeare family. William’s family was fairly well off, and their wealth fluctuated as according to John Shakespeare’s income. John Shakespeare was William’s father. John Shakespeare came to Stratford from Snitterfield some time before 1532. He came as a leather tanner’s apprentice, although he later became involved in dealing wool and farm products. In 1582, Shakespeare married Mary Arden, William’s mother. Throughout William’s life, John had a number of professions, but was predominantly a trader in farm products and wool. Prior and after William’s birth, John Shakespeare was an exceptional member of the Stratford community. He was elected to several high civic positions, such as ale-taster to the borough, chamberlain of the borough, alderman, chief alderman, and high bailiff, or mayor. However, by 1578, John Shakespeare was behind in his taxes and became an absentee on the civic council. Finally, he was forced to mortgage his wife’s estate; and was even fined for missing church. John Shakespeare’s business ventures would affect William’s future. John began as a leather tanner, became a farm products and wool dealer, and later a justice of the peace. However, luckily for literature, it was John’s later financial difficulties that would prevent William from becoming an apprentice to his father.
The now world-renowned author began his life with humble beginnings. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, on April 26, 1564, (St. George’s Day) to John and Mary Shakespeare. William’s accepted birthplace was John Shakespeare’s home on Henley Street. William faced many obstacles while growing up, and was lucky to have lived till adulthood at all. During Shakespeare’s childhood, plague and pestilence was running rampant throughout England and Europe. Although we are certain William did survive childhood, little information is known about William’s education. It is assumed he began Stratford Grammar School, because of its proximity to his house, and because of John Shakespeare’s social status. If Shakespeare did attend school there, he would have learned reading and writing from a hornbook. This would be an accomplishment, since most scholars believe both John and Mary Shakespeare were illiterate. Assuming William did attend Stratford Grammar School, he would have been trained in English literature as well as been familiarized with Latin authors such as Seneca, Cicero, Ovid, Virgil, and Horace. Shakespeare’s grasp of Latin evidently expanded beyond what he was taught in school, for both his Latin vocabulary as well as grammar is both used cleverly and eloquently in his writings. Aside from Latin, Shakespeare had the tendency to incorporate events from his own life into his writings. In some of his later stories, William recounts events which are taken as those from his own childhood schooling. Unfortunately, because of his father’s financial troubles, William had to be removed from Stratford Grammar School at the age of thirteen. After being removed from school, fragmented sources say William worked for a butcher as well as helping his father with his business. After Shakespeare left school at 13, and before he re-emerged as an actor in the late 1580’s, historians have no firm ideas of what was happening in his life. This period in Shakespeare’s life was known as the “lost period.” The next significant event Shakespeare’s life was his marriage to Anne Hathaway in 1582; Shakespeare registered a marriage license in the Episcopal Church in Worchester for himself and Anne. When Shakespeare married Hathaway, she was eight years his elder, and Hathaway was already several months pregnant. After the couple married, Anne moved into the home of John Shakespeare on Henley Street, as was custom at the time. For some reason, this greatly aggravated the tenant sharing the house with the Shakespeare’s, actor Richard Burbage. A fight ensued between Shakespeare and Burbage, (how Shakespearian) and Shakespeare would not allow Burbage to abandon his lease. After the fight between Burbage and Shakespeare, Burbage sued Shakespeare until both sides agreed to release Burbage from the lease. Hathaway and Shakespeare lived contentedly in John Shakespeare’s house after the trial until the birth of their children. On May 26, 1583, when Shakespeare was nineteen years old, he became a father. His first child was a girl, Susanna. Two years later, on February 2, 1585, Hathaway gave birth to twins, Hamnet and Judith. The twins were named after the Shakespeare’s neighbors, the baker Hamnet and his wife Judith. Sadly, on August 11, 1596, Hamnet, at the age of eleven, died. Passages from plays give us little insight on Shakespeare’s reaction to Hamnet’s passing. “How I may be deliver’d of these woes, and teaches me to kill or hang myself.” (King John 1595) By the early 1590’s, Shakespeare was a distinguished playwright and player in London, and probably worked for an acting company. So begins the literary and dramatic influence of William Shakespeare. (www.shakespeare-online.com 1-6)
The works of Shakespeare can be divided into four periods of literary development. Each period was characterized by Shakespeare’s elaboration in his writing, and his development in his personal style. The first period of Shakespeare’s writing career was really his experimental stage. Shakespeare followed traditional formatting, and did not venture beyond what was considered typical writing in the 16th and 17th centuries. Most of Shakespeare’s works in the first period were chronicle history plays. These were basically plays based on facts chronicling the life of a person, or in the case of Shakespeare, most likely a king. The first period was also characterized by Shakespeare’s plays concerning the Lancastrian and Yorkist kings. This allowed Shakespeare’s plays to be more factual than fictitious, and contain valuable insight into the royal histories of the time. ‘Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III,’ (1595) ‘King John’ (1596) and ‘Richard III’ (1598) are all based on the lives and times of the kings themselves. Because many of the kings’ lives were corrupt and violent, not a bit of drama was lost on these plays. Shakespeare’ second period began in the mid and late 1590’s, while he was still working in London. During the second period, Shakespeare’s writing became very individualized, and he strayed from traditional writing methods. The second period included mainly tragedies and comedies, and experimentation with mixing the two to give a greater depth to the humanity of the characters. Two of his most famous tragedies were written during the second period, ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ (1595) and ‘Julius Caesar.’ Although Shakespeare did progress in his writing, he retained some characteristics from the first period, such as continuing the chronicle dramas, as is demonstrated by ‘Julius Caesar.’ Shakespeare’s comedies blossomed during his second period, and characters took on whole new meanings. Shakespeare’s comedic characters really distinguished themselves from his other characters, and at the same time, broadened Shakespeare’s literary perception of humanity. The comedic characters in Shakespeare’s plays each are well-developed personalities, each possessing foibles and strengths. The interesting thing about this is, in Shakespeare’s tragedies, his characters resemble his comedic characters, in that they each contain strengths and weaknesses that affected the outcome of the characters, as well as the play. Several notable comedies that Shakespeare wrote during the second period were ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream,’ (1595) ‘As You Like It,’ (1599) and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (1599) An interesting commentary about Shakespeare’s second period comedies is that the heroines stand out and are just as outstanding as the heroes. Heroines such as Beatrice in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and Titania in ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’ are examples of strong ambitious women in Shakespearean literature. This is a noteworthy feature, because during the time Shakespeare wrote, women had little or no power in society, and were never given admirable qualities in literature. “All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.” (Hamlet) So began the third stage of Shakespeare’s writings, the period of tragedies. During the third stage, Shakespeare produced eternal works such as ‘Hamlet,’ (1601) ‘Macbeth.’ (Macbeth) ‘Othello,’ (1604) and ‘King Lear.’ (1605) During the third stage, Shakespeare touched base with the essence of human feeling and misery. This achievement shows itself in the characters. “In securing the Scottish throne, Macbeth dulls his humanity to the point where he becomes capable of any amoral act.” (Encarta 99) The fourth and final period included the romantic ‘tragi-comedies,’ plays which are more optimistic with humanity than his previous plays. By this I mean Shakespeare exhibits more of man’s redeeming qualities, and grants the characters happier ending. Critics are uncertain whether this is a reflection of Shakespeare’s personal life, or the change in dramatic writing at the time. Needless to say, the stages Shakespeare’s literary development underwent each were vital to history. Weather in capturing the essence of a 17th century kingdom, creating strong female characters, or just crafting a new writing style, each change William Shakespeare made certainly affected literary history. (Encarta 99)
Shakespeare’s characters encompassed humanity. Earlier this year, I read ‘Othello’ in English class. Although the language was difficult to understand, the book was a captivating read. One point that Ms. Vincent emphasized the most while reading ‘Othello’ was to remember that the characters are just characters, and not real people. Although this is indeed true, readers feel differently. “He writes real people,” one actress said after acting in an Oscar-winning Shakespearean movie just last year. (http://www.geocities.com/fiver_1/Articles/newsweek.html Dench, Judy) While reading ‘Othello,’ or any Shakespearean play for that matter, readers tend to lose themselves in the rich plots and intricate characters, and completely forget that the stories are for the most part, fiction. One of the reasons that Shakespeare’s characters are so genuine is that they are not limited to one emotion or characteristic. A character may start off with a sincere attitude of goodness, and as the plot thickens, unravel a scheme to murder the king. Characters such as Othello and Macbeth each acted out upon personality and raw emotion, each coping with multiple emotions as well as their own consciences. Characters don’t behave according to the play; they behave according to their own individual personalities. It was once said of Shakespeare’s characters, “we know to such a degree as we know few if any persons alive.” (http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/1/0,5716,117521+12,00.html Shaw, George Bernard) For example, in the play Othello, the main character exhibits intense feeling and passion while debating between both reason and action. Because of Othello’s personality, action prevailed over reason, and Othello ended up making a mistake that cost him his wife. Although many heroes in stories end up saving the day and getting the girl, Shakespearean heroes are not invisible; they all contain one tragic fault, which always leads to their downfall. The Achilles heel of the hero, all depends on the character’s personality, again emphasizing reality. The faults of the heroes are used in the plays to make the characters seem more human and realistic. Shakespearean plots are another factor that adds realism to the dramas or comedies. Murder, lust, greed and revenge are themes that have remained enticing since biblical times, and remain enticing today. Shakespeare’s plots center around universal issues that have no right or wrong answers. Readers identify with the stories, even several hundred years later. Because of this, the plays have remained entertaining and accepted for hundreds upon hundreds of years. So, I think it’s safe to conclude that Shakespeare has remained popular for so many years because his universal themes, and his very personalized characters.
Shakespeare’s writing has been unparalleled throughout history. William Shakespeare was not only famous for his stories; he was famous for how he wrote them. Shakespeare employed poetic verse in his comedies, tragedies, histories as well as his poems. (Encarta 99) “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, and summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” (Encarta 99 Sonnet 18) Shakespeare’s usages of metaphors have made his works able to interpret on many levels, for the casual playgoer, to the literary scholar. Shakespearean lines usually contain insight into the plot, hero, or villain. Despite the heavy use of metaphors, Shakespeare’s plays do not have a set form, however they do have a rhyme scheme. Shakespeare is also credited with being the first writer to ever use modern prose in his writing. Shakespeare’s intellect was so expansive, he found the English vocabulary he had to work with limiting, so he invented new words for his writings. Some of the words which came into existence because of Shakespeare are “lackluster,” “amazement,” “dislocation,” and “premeditated.” (www.shakespeare-online Ashlee Jensen) Shakespeare’s capture of the English language has been neither rivaled nor repeated throughout history. Several favorite themes in sonnets and plays are time, truth, life and love, other universally appealing issues that still remain in the favor of most modern audiences. These plays attracted both the pauper and the prince to the theaters, both two hundred years ago, and two days ago. Most modern playwrights have borrowed Shakespeare’s plots, weather realizing so or not. Hero faces villain, love struck teenagers torn apart by parents, racial injustice in society, many Shakespearean issues re found in most modern-day forms of entertainment. “We are faced with the infuriating fact that Shakespeare is still our model.” (http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/1/0,5716,117521+12,00.html Brooks, Peter) “Today in England, it is extremely difficult for an actor to reach prominence without having acted in at least one of Shakespeare’s plays. “Post-MTV Shakespeare has also come into style lately, with the releases of movies like the 1997 ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and 1999’s ‘Ten Things I Hate About You.’ Not only is Shakespeare being tolerated in the classroom, he is being enjoyed outside of it. This just goes to show Shakespeare’s amazing talent at reaching all levels of age, intellect, social ranking, and individual taste.
Shakespeare’s chronicle histories have done more than just provide us with an interesting story about a corrupt king or a murderous son, they have given historians a second-hand glimpse at events and times which would have otherwise been lost. Plays such as ‘Richard III,’ ‘King John,’ ‘King Henry VI,’ and ‘Hamlet’ have reflected on actual European history during the times they were written. The play ‘King Henry VI’ was based on the Tudor family during the War of the Roses in the early 1450’s in England. Although the play was written accurately, many events were exaggerated to support the Lancastrian side. ‘Richard III’ was the story of the son of King Edward, who came to be prince at the tender age of eleven. Although Edward’s brothers were the appropriate ages and had enough political knowledge to be able to be king, the deeply rooted English traditional clearly stated that “it was the right of the eldest son or his immediate male heir to inherit the throne to the exclusion of the younger sons.” (http://orathost.cfa.ilstu.edu/shakespeare/research/ISFr2.html) And so Richard became king. The theme of the play “Richard III’ presents another universal problem. The problem is whether to persist with tradition, despite bad conditions, or to do what is best at the time. For the nation of England, having a ten-year-old king would not be a smart political move. However, the reins of tradition hold tight. So comes forth this question, “If a king rules unconscionably, do his subjects have the right to replace him?” (http://www.dartmouth.edu/~engl24/essays/fleming.html Fleming, Brian) Remember that although these plays are historical, they are also drama, and present not only information but also a cause for interest. Shakespeare’s chronicle histories not only present information of Shakespeare’s time, but they also have an even more important underlying message; how average people viewed the situations happening around them. This reflects not only the change in world culture since the times of the plays, but also how values and thinking have changed as well.
Over the years, William Shakespeare, as all writers, has suffered literary criticism for his plays and his writing style. I am going to present to you, reader, several arguments against Shakespeare so that you may come to a conclusion yourself about my thesis. One argument that has been made about the writings of Shakespeare attacks his ambiguity with his meanings. Prof. Hawkins of the University of Wales Cardiff believes Shakespeare “lacks necessary distinction” in his plays, or a clear interpretation. The argument is essentially that since there is no clear meaning for Shakespeare, then he is a “black hole” into which we throw our meanings. (http://svpaserver.perform.utas.edu.au/resources/unit_resource/drama2/shakes1.html Hawkins, Terence) Kristie Bush disputes the belief that readers identify with Shakespeare’s characters easily, which explains for his endurance over time. She uses the character Othello as an example, “?a mentally healthy person usually will not be able to relate to many of Shakespeare’s lead characters because, as their motivations and actions reveal, many of them had what are now diagnosed as serious mental disorders and even psychoses.” (http://student.cscc.edu/ENGL/Engl264/res.htm#Bush: Bush, Kristie) Bush goes on to diagnose Othello with delusional disorder, jealousy type, and explosive disorder. Bush believes that Shakespeare’s characters are not easily identifiable because they have mental disorders. Naturally this begs the question, if people do identify with Shakespeare’s characters, does that imply they’re crazy?
To conclude, I think that yes, Shakespeare is the best modern author yet. I believe this because of three reasons. Shakespeare’s eloquent writing style, namely his use of prose, metaphors, and his open interpretations allows the reader to take what they want out of his play, rather than have it forced at them. Shakespeare’s characters and plots are so richly developed; the characters behave by their own personalities, an element foreign to prior literature. The plots wrangle with universal questions of morality and tradition, while the characters are very realistic and genuine. Shakespeare’s historical plays are an area of interest, not only for the history, for they provide a mirror for society. Over the years, society’s views have changed on many issues. Plays such as ‘Richard III’ and ‘King Henry VI’ demonstrate how culture and people have changed over a matter of a few hundred years. Imagine, someone in three hundred years may read “Richard III” and react totally differently than you or I would react to the play today. So, all in all, Shakespeare’s literary achievements made him the most significant modern author in the history of the English language.