William Shakespeare (1564-1616) -biography
November 3, 2006 9:25pm CST
English poet, dramatist, and actor, considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time. Some of Shakespeare's plays, such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, are among the most famous literary works of the world. However, his early works did not match the artistic quality of Marlowe's dramas. Ben Jonson (1572-1637), another contemporary playwright, wrote that Shakespeare's "wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too". Shakespeare possessed a large vocabulary for his day, having used 29,066 different words in his plays. Today the average English-speaking person uses something like 2,000 words in everyday speech. "It may be that the essential thing with Shakespeare is his ease and authority and thay you just have to accept him as he is if you are going to be able to admire him properly, in the way you accept nature, a piece of scenery for example, just as it is." (Ludwig Wittgenstein in Culture and Value, 1980) There is not much records of Shakespeare´s personal life. Rumors arise from time to time that he did not write his plays, but the real author was Christopher Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth or Edward De Vere (1550-1604), whom T.J. Looney identified in 1920 as the author of Shakespeare's plays. A large body of 'Oxfordians' have since built on this claim and the reluctance to believe that a man of humble origins could be such a great author. According to some numerologists, Shakespeare wrote The King James Version of the Bible at the age of 46. Their "evidence": Shake is the 46th word of the 46th Psalm, Spear is the 46th word from the end in the 46th Psalm. William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small country town. Stratford was famous for its malting. The black plague killed in 1564 one out of seven of the town's 1,500 inhabitants. Shakespeare was the eldest son of Mary Arden, the daughter of a local landowner, and her husband, John Shakespeare (c. 1530-1601), a glover and wood dealer. John Aubrey (1626-1697) tells in Brief Lives that Shakespeare's father was a butcher and the young William exercised his father's trade, "but when he kill'd a Calfe he would do it in a high style, and make a speech." In 1568 John Shakespeare was made a mayor of Stratford and a justice of peace. His wool business failed in the 1570s, and in 1580 he was fined ¤40, with other 140 men, for failing to find surety to keep the peace. There is not record that his fine was paid. Later the church commissioners reported of him and eight other men that they had failed to attend church "for fear of process for debt". The family's position was restored in the 1590s by earnings of William Shakespeare, and in 1596 he was awarded a coat of arms. Very little is known about Shakespeare early life, and his later works have inspired a number of interpretations. T.S. Eliot wrote that "I would suggest that none of the plays of Shakespeare has a "meaning," although it would be equally false to say that a play of Shakespeare is meaningless." (from Selected Essays, new edition, 1960). Shakespeare is assumed to have been educated at Stratford Grammar School, and he may have spent the years 1580-82 as a teacher for the Roman Catholic Houghton family in Lancashire. When Shakespeare was 15, a woman from a nearby village drowned in the Avon. Her death was ruled accidental but it may have been a suicide. Later in Hamlet Shakespeare left open the question whether Ophelia died accidentally or by her own hand. At the age of 18, Shakespeare married a local girl, Anne Hathaway (died 1623), who was eight years older. Their first child, Susannah, was born within six months, and twins Hamnet and Judith were born in 1585. Hamnet, Shakespeare's only son, died in 1596, at the age of 11. It has often been suggested, that the lines in King John, beginning with "Grief fills the room of my absent child", reflects Shakespeare's grief. Hamlet was first printed in 1603. It is Shakespeare's largest drama, based on a lost play r-Hamlet. Prince Hamlet, an enigmatic intellectual, mourns both his father's death and his mother's remarriage. His father's ghost appears to him and tells that Claudius, married to Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, poisoned him. Hamlet, fascinated by cruelly witty games, swears revenge. "The time is out of joint; O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!" He arranges an old play whose story has a parallel to that of Claudius. Hamlet's behavior is considered mad. He kills the eavesdropping Polonius, the court chamberlain, by thrusting his sword through a curtain. Polonius's son Laertes returns to Denmark to avenge his father's death. Polonius's daughter Ofelia loves Hamlet, but the prince's sadistically brutal behavior drives her to madness. "Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?" he tells Ophelia who dies by drowning. Before the slaughter that ends the story, Hamlet says to his friend Horatio: "I shall win at the odds. But thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart." A duel takes place and ends with the death of Gertrude, Laertes, Claudius, and Hamlet, whose final words are "the rest is silence."
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