William Shakespeare is recognized as being the greatest writer of the English language. Shakespeare was a popular playwright of his time. He established the Globe theatre, which was a meeting place and entertainment venue for men and women of all classes.
Not much is known of the life of William Shakespeare. He was baptized on April 26, 1564. He was married and had three children. Shakespeare is remembered for the large body of work he created: his plays and poetry.
Shakespeare’s plays are often divided into three main categories; comedy, tragedy and history.
This was Elizabethan times, a period of great religious unrest. People did not enjoy the same freedoms as we enjoy today. But through comedy, Shakespeare was able to make comment on his society without great fear of punishment. Many of Shakespeare’s comedies play with the theme of mistaken identities, twins separated at birth, or women who disguise themselves as men. The true joke here was that women were still not permitted to perform on stage so the actor portraying the woman pretending to be a man, was usually a man to begin with. Very confusing, but outrageously funny. Of the many Shakespearean comedies, the most famous include; As You Like It, The Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors.
These were hard times and Shakespeare’s tragedies reflect the tragedy of the times. Some of Shakespeare’s most powerful and most famous plays fall in this category. The first of Shakespeare’s tragedies to be written was Titus Andronicus, perhaps the most admired of Shakespeare’s plays. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth were all great tragedies. The tragedies follow a theme of great injustice being done, and they could be quite bloody, often ending with a sea of bodies strewn over the stage.
Also an important style of Shakespearian plays is what are known as the histories. These plays follow the histories of British Kings. They are filled with great social commentary. The most famous of these historical plays are those that together make up what is known as the War of the Roses cycle. The War of the Roses, describes a period of Civil War in English history between the Lancastrian and Yorkist dynasties. The War of the Roses Cycle of plays includes; Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI Part 1, Henry VI Part 2, Henry VI Part 3, and Richard III.
Also among Shakespeare’s greatest work are his sonnets. The volume of sonnets may very well have been published against Shakespeare’s wishes; it is a series of 154 poems addressed to a young man, urging him to marry and expressing his love for him.
The language which Shakespeare used is complex, but vibrant and emotive. His plays are still popular today. As they were described by a contemporary of Shakespeare, Ben Johnson, they are “not of an age, but for all time.”
The cause of Shakespeare’s death is not known, but he was buried on April 25, 1616. Grave robbery being quite common, his tombstone bears the following inscription:
Good friend for Jesus sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here!
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
“Shakespeare, William.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 25 Mar. 2007
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