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WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE His Life, Times, and Language
Shakespeares Life Perhaps the most brilliant author in the English language. Incredibly well-developed characters. He was tremendously perceptive in creating complex character with a full range of emotions and internal conflicts, intensely, deeply rich in psychological reality. Exquisite use of poetic language.
Shakespeares Life Plays are phenomenally well-crafted, and structurally, nearly flawless. Thematically, Shakespeare is unmatched in his ability to touch the human soul, and to speak lucidly and profoundly to human lives. Most quoted, most translated of any author on earth.
Born: April 23 (?) 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The town is about 80 miles northwest of London, on the Avon River. (His baptism is recorded on April 26 th ) Parents: John and Mary Arden Shakespeare. His father was a glove maker, who later served in the town government. They had eight children. He went to the Stratford Guild School, a grammar school and then to the Kings New School, where he learned Latin and studied classical literature, including the Bible and mythology. He completed the equivalent of an eighth grade education, leaving school at 14 or 15. Shakespeares Life
Shakespeare possibly worked for a while as a school teacher or tutor. He married Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26. She was three months pregnant! They had a daughter, Susanna, and later (1585) twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet died at age 11, an event that undoubtedly left Shakespeare with a new depth of grief to convey in his plays. The years from 1585 to 1592 are known as the lost years, since not much is known about him during this time. Shakespeare moved to London, and by 1592, was writing. Due to a plague in 1593 that closed the theaters, he wrote poetry. The sonnets were likely written around this time, although they were not published until He visited Stratford, likely in the summers, when travel there was more comfortable, and invested most of his money in the town. Shakespeares Life
He was an actor and a playwright, and he also produced his own plays later on. (Just like Spike Lee, today!) He is known to have played the parts of old men in his own plays: The ghost of Hamlets father and Adam in As You Like It. There is some evidence that he also played Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida, and Desdemona's father, Brabartio, in Othello. He became a member of the Lord Chamberlains Men, and later, The Kings Men. These were acting companies, and both performed for royalty. The Lord Chamberlains Men performed for Queen Elizabeth, the Kings men, for James I. They had the best actor (Richard Burbage) the best theaters (The Globe and the Blackfriars) the best clown (Robert Armin) and the best playwright! Shakespeare was very prosperous during his twenty years in London. Shakespeares Life
He wrote 37* plays, three long poems, and 154 sonnets. He may have had a mistress, a mysterious dark haired lady. He may have written some of his sonnets to her. He also likely addressed some of his sonnets to Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. It seems he was commissioned to write sonnets to help convince this young man to marry. Two of his longer poems, Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece, are dedicated to this young earl. Later, they seem to have had a falling out, either over the dark haired lady, or possibly due to Southamptons unfortunate association with the soon-to-be executed Earl of Essex. His plays consist of tragedies, comedies, history plays, and romance plays, which are not necessarily romantic, but make use of elements of medieval romance.** Shakespeares Life
He left London when he was about 50 years old, and went back to Stratford-upon-Avon, after investing in real estate, and buying the best house in town. He died in 1616, near his birthday, April 23 rd, at age 52. He is buried in Stratford, in Holy Trinity Church. He did not want to be buried in Westminsters Abbey, in London, where many of Englands famous artists are buried. On his tombstone is the following verse:* Good friend for Jesus sake forebear To dig the dust enclosed here Blest be the man who spares these stones And curst be he that moves my bones Shakespeares Life
In his will, he mysteriously left his wife his second best bed. His property largely went to his eldest daughter, Susanna. Shakespeare did not think of himself as an intellectual, and during his life didnt go out of his way to have his plays published. Although during his life some of the plays were published as quartos, individual versions of plays that folks could buy and read. He did publishwith great successhis longer poems, and he published his sonnets in 1609; some believe they are autobiographical, although there is no concrete support for this, as Shakespeare left almost no personal correspondence or diaries. For the most part, Shakespeare felt that plays were meant to be performed rather than read. After his death, his more intellectual friends did publish his plays in folio versionssomething like a modern collection.* Shakespeares Life
Elizabethan England Shakespeares life straddles the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. This was Englands Renaissance. The word renaissance means rebirth. During this time in Europe, there was a rebirth of humanism, or the classical ideal that humans were heroic, although certainly below the gods. England, in a battle with Spain, had sunk the Spanish Armada in 1588, and had established itself as a world power. To control the seas meant control of world power, for there was an enormous economic expansion based largely on maritime trade. This was a time of prosperity in Europe. Individual countries were gaining autonomy and power. They were actively trading with each other, with Russia, the New World, and the Far East and India. It was a time of nationalism, exploration and discovery. Joint stock companies were begun around this explosion in trade. Among these were the Virginia Company, the East India Company, and the Muscovy Company.*
During this time, England became the most powerful country in the Western world, and would remain so until the end of the 19 th century. England was beginning to colonize the new world. The discovery of America and the presence of inhabitants very different from themselves in other parts of the world was a wonder to Europeans. Elizabeth commissioned Sir Francis Drake ( ) to circumnavigate the world, which he does in a really tiny little boat, The Golden Hind. He reportedly landed in San Francisco, and crossed the Pacific to return to England and glory. Shakespeares play, The Tempest, was inspired by a shipwreck bound for Jamestown colony in This new wealth and rising merchant class fed into the intellectual pool of Elizabethan England. This rising bourgeoisie were interested purchasing tickets for plays, and sponsoring poets, musicians, and the arts.* Elizabethan England
The discoveries were not only of new continents and new wealth. The Protestant Reformation had come about in 1517, and the authority of the Roman Catholic church was eroded. Kings and nations were making decisions on their own. Henry VIII, Elizabeths father, was instrumental in dismantling the control of the Church over everyday affairs in England. He established the Church of England, and placed himself at the head of it, destroying all relics of Catholicism in churches, and ending ecclesiastic courts. He seized all lands and property of the clergy, greatly increasing his own personal wealth, but also adding to the overall economy of England. Religious uprisings in Europe such as the Saint Bartholomews Massacre in Paris resulted in many Protestants or free-thinkers emigrating to London, creating a backlash of anti- immigration sentiment. The door was now open to question Church teachings in areas of science as well as theology.* Elizabethan England
Copernicus had questioned the belief that the earth was at the center of the universe. He recanted his Treatise on the Revolution of Heavenly Spheres (1514) when the Church threatened to imprison him for heresy. On his deathbed, he allows it to be published (1543). It isnt banned until 1616, the year Shakespeare dies. Galileo, born the same year as Shakespeare (1564) by the end of Shakespeares life had used a new instrument, the telescope, to see the moons of Jupiter, and would mathematically validate Copernicus treatise. His Dialogue would be published in 1632, and despite the protestations of the Church, was widely read. (Tycho Brache and Johannes Kepler are also contemporaries.) Galileo would also suffer from the wrath of the Church, but the 17 th century would also bring the birth of Isaac Newton, who is born the year after Galileo dies. He would transform science for centuries to come – and would be knighted for his discoveries.* Elizabethan England
The world was opening up to new ideas, and in Shakespeares plays you see some of the old concepts questioned: The Divine Right of Kings Chain of Being Divine Providence More and more, the individual human being was seen as taking a more active role in his or her own life. In theater, especially notable in Shakespeares plays, was a new depth of characterization, requiring a new type of acting style. Now, actors had to embody the character, rather than simply orate lines. This was reflected in Renaissance art as well as literature, where the human figure is more prominent, more realistically portrayed, and more powerfully depicted than ever before.* Elizabethan England
Henry VIII had six wives. He divorced two, executed two, one died, and one outlived him. Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, whom Henry had executed. No wonder Elizabeth never married! Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558 after her half-brother Edward VI and half-sister Mary I (Bloody Mary) died, and a usurper to the throne, Lady Jane Grey (granddaughter to Henrys sister) is executed. Elizabeths reign, remarkably, would be irenic. The Elizabethan Age is the time that she ruled, Elizabeth was known as The Virgin Queen, although she did have many admirers. The Commonwealth of Virginia is named for her. Before she reached menopause, she was pressed to marry. She refused, although there were efforts to wed her to princes of France and Spain. When these and other suitors failed to win her, and she passed the age of childbearing, the spin doctors of the time hailed her virginity. She never publicly discussed her choice of who would succeed her. * Elizabethan England
James I, who succeeded her in 1603, was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, a distant cousin of Elizabeth, whom Elizabeth also had executed for treason. James had been King of Scotland, and his coronation united the two countries, ending centuries of strife between them. During his reign, he commissioned the King James Bible, which is why this translation of the Bible sounds so much like Shakespearean English. Prior to Henry VIII and the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church had forbidden translation of the Bible into the vernacular. This was why, although no longer spoken, Latin was taught at the elementary school levelin order to read the Holy Scriptures. Although James reign is relatively peaceful, he is not a man of the people, as was Elizabeth. He also advocates the absolute power of kings, which will not help his heir, Charles I, who will lose his head for such notions.* Elizabethan England
Life in London during Elizabethan times was pretty dirty. The city contained around 400 thousand people by Shakespeares time, who crowded into a very small part of the present day city. People rarely bathed, and there was no indoor plumbing. When the water supply became tainted, typhus and cholera spread mercilessly through the town. London was also hit by recurrences of the Black Plague, and when there were outbreaks, the theaters would close down. Smallpox, sexually transmitted disease, and malaria were also popular killers. People used chamber pots for toilets, and would toss the contents out the window into the streets, occasionally on top of people below! Beer was the drink of choice, for the water was far too polluted to consider drinking! Beer was very popular in Southwark, and was sold in the theaters, along with nuts and other snacks. Elizabethan England
There was no refrigeration, and you had to watch what you bought in the market, especially since there were chronic food shortages in London, due to a series of bad harvests and an increase in population. For a time, Shakespeare lived in London on the corner of Silver and Muggle (Monkwell) Streets, which was a very international and prosperous part of town north of the river, in the area known as Cripplegate.* London had its share of wealthy royal people, since the royal family lived there, but there was also a new, rising merchant class, a rising middle class of artisans, who were members of guilds, and many lower class folks who might be poor farmers or salespeople. Education was improving. Towns frequently had church run grammar schools, and upper class members of the society went to Oxford and Cambridge University. Still, literacy rates were fairly low, although this was changing. Books were published and sold to support poets and playwrights alike. St. Pauls was a popular place to buy these small texts. Elizabethan England
Criminals were often tortured, homeless were whipped, and public executions were common sources of amusement: only the rich and famous had the comfort of a swift and private beheading behind the walls of the Tower of London, although often their heads would be later mounted on the London Bridge for public viewing. A soldier in Henry V laments that the wounded would go home to torture in the streets. The Poor Laws were enforced, and those who were destitute were punished severely. In those violent times, suffering was looked upon as punishment by God. During Elizabethan times, England had suffered from a series of bad harvests compounded with an expanding population. The resulting food shortage was not felt by the rising merchant class. Inflation fed into the problem: the rich were getting richer, and the poor in Shakespeares time were suffering more. * Elizabethan England
Aside from attending executions, many, many people amused themselves by attending the theater. Londons famous theaters, the Globe, the Rose, and the Swan, were located in the seedy side of town, along the south bank of the Thames River, in an area known as the Liberty of the Clink.* This section of town, known as Bankside or Southwark, could be reached by crossing the London Bridge, the only bridge across the Thames, or by taking a boat across the river. The neighborhood was also the place to place bets on animal sports such as cockfighting, bear baiting and bull baiting. Other gambling, on cards and dice, was also common. There were many pubs and taverns, where people could drink strong beers, and there were many thieves and prostitutes as well. This was the wrong side of the river!* Elizabethan England
Since there was no electricity, the Globe and Rose theaters were open air theaters. Plays were performed only during the day, and if the weather was bad, the show was cancelled. A flag at the top of the theater would indicate if a play was performing that day different colors for different genres of plays! These theaters did operate during the winter, although the Globe closed, since in the winter Shakespeares company moved to the Blackfriars Theater, which was enclosed. Women wore long dresses, and covered their arms and legs. Men, on the other hand, wore leggings and short pants. Women were not allowed to perform on stage, and all of Shakespeares female characters were acted by young men or boys. Often, the audience who went to the theater, and stood in the yard in front of the stage were pretty rowdy, and would throw offal and other foul things at actors they didnt care for. These folks were called, groundlings or stinkards.* Elizabethan England
Shakespeare didnt shy away from pleasing this crowd. In sword fights, the combatants would carry sacks of animal blood and guts that would add realism when a character was wounded or killed. The Blackfriars theater was an enclosed theater that was lit by candles. It had been originally part of a Dominican medieval monastery. It was located on the north side of the Thames, and its admission fees were high, the audience wealthier and better educated than the average playgoer. Shakespeares players performed here during the winter, and for special occasions.* Shakespeare also, notably, performed for Queen Elizabeth in the Temple Court, which was where the Knights Templar had once been housed in London. Today, you can still visit this large room where the Lord Chamberlains Men performed Twelfth Night for the Queen! The Lord Chamberlains men had originally performed at a theater called, the Theater, which was built by the famous theater family, the Burbages, on the north side of the Thames.* Elizabethan England
Some time in 1597, the company dismantled the old Theater, and moved its components to Southwark, to build the Globe. It opened with great fanfare in * Although Shakespeare is the chief playwright for the theater, it is likely others plays were also performed there, including those of Ben Jonson, John Webster, John Fletcher and John Marston. Other plays by other Elizabethan playwrights, such as Christopher Marlowe, might have also been featured there. Much of the history of this Globe theater is unknown, for in 1613, it burned to the ground during a performance of Henry VIII, when the wadding of a ceremonial cannon shot lands on the thatched roof. Within a year, a new Globe was built proudly in its spot, without thatch, supporting an image of Hercules holding up the Globe on its flag. This one would be closed (1642) and then torn down (1655) during the Commonwealth Era, when theaters were closed due to the fervor of the Puritan faith.* Elizabethan England
Conventions of Shakespearean Drama and Comedy The ideals of Renaissance humanism are evident in typical aspects of Shakespeares plays: The plays follow the pattern for classical (Greek) drama: Five acts, a dynamic plot structure, and a protagonist whose course is steered by fate – and by his own hamartia, or tragic flaw. (Note: These act and scene divisions were included in later publications. They are evident only as changes in action, time and place in Shakespeares original works.) In Greek and Latin tragedy, the protagonists fate is largely predetermined by the gods. Remember, no one, not even Zeus, can alter the plan sewn into place by the Fates.* Hamartia plays its part in how the tragic hero copes with the inevitable fate thrust upon him.
For Greek and Latin classical playwrights, the drama turned on how the protagonist would act, in the face of inexorable doom. In Shakespeare, there is a real balance between fate and human choices, based on character flaws: Humans being are depicted as being in control of their own destiny. (Somewhat. Fate always plays a role!) Renaissance playwrights also included many sub plots, and included scenes of comic relief in tragedies. In classical tragedy, the action is limited to one place and one day. There are limits to the numbers of characters, as well. Shakespeare freely breaks these rules in his plays, while neoclassical playwrights in France, such as Racine, adhere to them strictly. Conventions of Shakespearean Drama and Comedy
In the late 1800s a literary critic named Gustav Freytag noted that Shakespeares plays were tightly structured by act into five separate plot segments. This is now called, Freytags pyramid whereby in Act One there is Exposition; in Act Two, there is Rising Action; Act Three is Turning Point; Act Four is Falling Action; and Act Five is Resolution. We will be closely examining these plot elements as we read the play. Conventions of Shakespearean Drama and Comedy
Of course, in tragedy, the turning point of the play is where the goals of the tragic hero seem within reach. The catastrophe at the end spells disaster for the tragic hero, who is in some ways responsible for his own demise, although his plan was noble. In Shakespeares comedies, the low point happens in the middle of the playwhere the protagonists seem destined for failure and loss. Of course, Alls Well That Ends Well, and a marriage (or two or three!) is usually the ending. Shakespeares history plays usually follow the pattern of tragedy. His romance playsthose that end happily, but dont have the problems of young lovers as a central themefollow the pattern of comedy.* Conventions of Shakespearean Drama and Comedy
Shakespeares comedies are good examples of what is considered high comedy. However, they are really a mix of medieval low comedy, and elevated medieval romance. They are, therefore, called romantic comedies. The elements include: A pair of star-crossed lovers. A blocking agent, who stands in the way of the lovers love. (A jealous husband, an angry father, opposing families or countries) A go-between who helps the lovers. An escape to a green world or magical place, a distant land, or peaceful country, where the difficulties of the lovers are resolved. A huge wedding at the end, and all that stood in the way of their love is removedat least temporarily. Conventions of Shakespearean Drama and Comedy
Why is Shakespeares English So Weird? Dont be fooled by the excellence of the language! This is Modern English! It is, however, about 400 years old, and things do change over time. The most obvious of changes is the use of distinct second person familiar pronouns. Today, we call this you, singular. But once this was not the same as you, plural. These singular pronouns are: Thou, Thee, Thy and Thine. (I, me, my, mine See pronoun handout!) Another change is obvious in the conjugation of certain verbs: hadst; wouldst; and the like. Verbs occasionally took inflected endings in the past participle: closèd, blessèd, loathèd
Shakespeare often inverts the syntax of his sentences for poetic reasons, and this sometimes confuses students: Many a morning hath he there been seen, / With tears augmenting the fresh mornings dew. ( ). Make sure you can tell where the subject and verb of the sentence are. Also, follow the pronouns and make sure you know which nouns they reference. Shakespeare also uses many, many words, and is credited with creating about six thousand new words, many that are now in common usage.* He is also good at making one word serve two purposes by using more than one meaning of a word at a clip! (Double entendres, or puns.) You will need a good dictionary when reading Shakespeare! Why is Shakespeares English So Weird?
Actually, with these few variations, the basic grammatical structure of the language and the word definitions are not at all significantly different from todays language. Before Shakespeare, however, the English language was different, and was called, respectively, Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and Middle English! Lets look at a Brief Timeline of the English Language! 5000 – 55 BCEBarbaric Tribal People. Theirs was an Indo-European language. If there was a written form, it has been lost. Some of these folks were responsible for building Stonehenge, and other standing rock circles. Why is Shakespeares English So Weird?
55 BCE 43 ACE The tribal people grouped together are known as Celtic, some of whom practiced the Druid religion. Julius Caesar invades! Yes, THE Julius Caesar! And he writes about it. He doesnt stay long. Claudius invades…Queen Boudicca of the Iceni…* Britain is a Roman colony. The Celts are chased to the edges of the British Islands. *
Why is Shakespeares English So Weird? – 600 Today, the languages known as Welsh, Gaelic, and Scottish Gaelic are derived from the ancient tongue of the Celts. The Romans leave as their empire crumbles. * The Anglos, Saxons, and Jutes immigrate from mainland Europe, when their friends and relations tell them to come. The Germanic language that develops is called, Old English or Anglo-Saxon.
600 – 1066 Old English flourishes as a language. Many, many things are written in this language, including poetry, Beowulf, histories, and business and government documents. England as a nation, with this language at its base, emerges as a whole, ruled by Alfred the Great. During this time, the Vikings invade and settle. A bit of Scandinavian (Old Norse) melds into the language, and Latin is reintroduced as Christianity arrives. Why is Shakespeares English So Weird?
The Norman Invasion. This is the famous Battle of Hastings, where William the Conqueror of France comes in and beats King Harold. From this point on, there is nothing but bad blood between the French and the English. William brings all his friends and relations with him. For about three hundred years, the court of England will not speak English, but French! However…. Why is Shakespeares English So Weird?
…the common people are speaking a meld of Old English and Old French…and it sounds like Franglish! Eventually, especially with the certain kind of freedom that illiteracy offers, the language of Old English changes dramatically. The language spoken during these years is a meld now of the Romance languages of Latin and French and the Germanic languages of the Anglos, Saxons and Norse. Why is Shakespeares English So Weird?
The result is that the English dictionary is perhaps the largest in Europe. The emerging language during this time is called, Middle English, and it is the language of Chaucer, Spencer, and Thomas Mallory. It is the language that Edward III will officially adopt, in 1363, as the language of the Court of England. During this time period and beyond, an event known as The Great Vowel Shift was also taking place. Why is Shakespeares English So Weird?
1450 to Modern Times During the Middle Ages, the Black Death caused many people to move to different locations, mixing up extremely different dialects. As folks became more urbanized, the pronunciation and lexicon of the language shifted, becoming more uniform. The language that derives from this solidification is now known as Modern English. In 1450, William Caxton set up a printing press in London, and begins to correct dialect differences, and fix in place spellings, word meanings, and grammar. Dictionaries and grammar books are subsequently published. Why is Shakespeares English So Weird?
1450 to Modern Times This is the language of Shakespeare, and of us, here in America, in the 21 st century. During Shakespeares life, more words entered the English language than at any other time in history (Leher 141). This can be attributed not only to Shakespeare, but to the multicultural, mercantile, ideological, educational and scientific expanses that were born with the Renaissance. I imagine that the 21 st century will see a similar expansion, for OMG! language after all, is a living entity. Why is Shakespeares English So Weird?
Example of Old English, from Beowulf 1.Đā cōm of mōre under mist-hleoþum 2.Grendel gongan, Godes yrre bær, 3.mynte se mān-scaða manna cynnes 4.summe besyrwan in sele þām hēan. 5.Wōd under wolcnum, tō þæs þe hē wīn-reced, 6.Gold-sele gumena gearwost wissse, 7.fættum fāhne. Ne wæs þæt forma sīð 8.þæt he Hrōþgāres hām gesōhte. 9.Næfre hē on aldor–dagum ær nē siþð an 10.heardran hæle heal-ðegnas fand. 11.Cōm þā tō recede rinc sīðian 12.drēamum bedæled. Duru sōna onarn 13.fўr-bendum fæst syþðan hē hire folmum gehrān: 14.onbræd þā bealo-hўdig, ðā hē gebolgen wæs, 15.recedes mūþan. Raþe æfter þon 16.on fāgne flōr fēond treddode, 17.ēode yrre-mōd; him of ēagum stōd 18.ligge gelīcost lēoht unfæger. (Heaney )
Example of Middle English, from Chaucers Canterbury Tales Whan that Aprill with his shoures sote The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne, And smale fowles maken melodye, That slepen al the night with open ye (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages): Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
Second Witch: Ill give thee a wind. First Witch: Thourt kind. Third Witch: And I another. First Witch: I myself have all the other, And the very ports they blow, All the quarters that they know Ithshipmans card. Ill drain him dry as hay; Sleep shall neither night nor day Hang upon his penthouse lid; He shall live a man forbid. Weary sevn-nights, nine times nine, Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine; Though his bark cannot be lost, Yet it shall be tempest-tossed. Example of Modern English, from Shakespeares Macbeth,