“To be, or not to be: that is the question”
Let’s talk Shakespeare!
Do I even have to explain who Shakespeare is? Everyone I know has at the very least heard about him through plays like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello among many others. In any case, I will share the basic information, you know, just for the sake of it.
William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England’s national poet, and the “Bard of Avon”. He was born April 26, 1564 and lived for 52 years. He is the most widely read of all Authors and the popularity of the Life and Works of Shakespeare, in English speaking countries, is second only to the Bible. From roughly 1594 onward he was an important member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men Company of theatrical players. This Company later came to be known as the King’s Men.
Known throughout the world, the works of William Shakespeare have been performed for more than 400 years. And yet, the personal history of William Shakespeare is somewhat a mystery. There are two primary sources that provide historians with a basic outline of his life. One source is his work—the plays, poems and sonnets—and the other is official documentation such as church and court records.
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582, at the age of 18. Anne was 26, and, as it turns out, pregnant. Their first child, Susanna, was born on May 26, 1583. Two years later, on February 2, 1585, twins Hamnet and Judith were born. Hamnet later died of unknown causes at age 11.
After the birth of the twins, there are seven years of William Shakespeare’s life where no records exist. Scholars call this period the “lost years,” and there is wide speculation on what he was doing during this period.
In just 23 years, between approximately 1590 and 1613, he is attributed with writing 38 plays, Famous Shakespearean sonnets and 5 other poems. Shakespeare’s plays are difficult to date, however, and studies of the texts suggest that Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona may also belong to Shakespeare’s earliest period.
The wit and wordplay of Much Ado About Nothing, the charming rural setting of As You Like It, and the lively merrymaking of Twelfth Night complete Shakespeare’s sequence of great comedies. However, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which two friends appear to approve of rape, the Shrew’s story of the taming of a woman’s independent spirit by a man sometimes troubles modern critics and directors.
Two of his most famed tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, the famous romantic tragedy of sexually charged adolescence, love, and death and Julius Caesar introduced a new kind of drama. In the early 17th century, Shakespeare wrote the so-called “problem plays” Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and All’s Well That Ends Well and a number of his best known tragedies. Many critics believe that Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies represent the peak of his art.
The titular hero of one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, Hamlet, has probably been discussed more than any other Shakespearean character, especially for his famous soliloquy which begins “To be or not to be; that is the question“. The plots of Shakespeare’s tragedies often hinge on fatal errors or flaws, which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves. In Othello, the villain Iago stokes Othello’s sexual jealousy to the point where he murders the innocent wife who loves him. In King Lear, the old king commits the tragic error of giving up his powers, initiating the events which lead to the torture and blinding of the Earl of Gloucester and the murder of Lear’s youngest daughter Cordelia. In Macbeth, the shortest and most compressed of Shakespeare’s tragedies, uncontrollable ambition incites Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder the rightful king and usurp the throne, until their own guilt destroys them in turn.
In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more major plays: Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, as well as the collaboration, Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
The Work He “Borrowed” From
Let’s start with Othello, which stands among the pinnacle works of Shakespeare’s remarkable career. Chronicling the misadventures of a noble but fantastically naive Moorish captain of Venice, the play is a legendary tragedy of racism, distrust, jealousy, and betrayal. A little-known Italian novelist and poet named Giovanni Battista Giraldi, also known as Cinthio, wrote a short story in 1565 titled Un Capitano Moro, which historians have noticed shares certain elements with Shakespeare’s Othello. Which elements, you ask? Oh, nothing major; just the plot, characters, certain names, setting, and moral.
Romeo and Juliet was noticeably “inspired” by a 1562 narrative poem called The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. While The Bard generally stuck to ancient historical or oral legends when researching his plays, Othello and Romeo and Juliet stand out for being fairly contemporary works that he adapted without citation. There’s also the fact that they’re two of his most successful tragedies, but that’s surely just a coincidence.
The reason history doesn’t know Shakespeare as the first serial plagiarist is that he wasn’t technically doing anything wrong. Shakespeare published his plays during the final decade of the 16th century, which predated the Statute of Anne in 1710 by over 100 years. The Statute of Anne was the first piece of legislation that granted intellectual property rights and protection to owners of creative works, which means that Shakespeare could not be blamed for plagiarism!
Tradition has it that William Shakespeare died on his birthday, April 23, 1616, though many scholars believe this is a myth. Church records show he was interred at Trinity Church on April 25, 1616.
Are you a Shakespeare fan? Have you read any of his literary work or watched adaptations of his plays?
(Facts Source: Wikipedia and Biography.com)