In April 1564 a son was born to John and Mary Shakespeare at Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon. His mother was the daughter of Robert Arden, an important farmer in Warwickshire. His father was a rich citizen whose business was making and selling leather gloves.
The parents didn’t guess that their son, William, was going to be such an important figure in English poetry and drama, and that his plays would still be acted 400 years later all over the world.
While still a teenager of 19, William married Anne Hathaway,a farmer’s daughter some years older than himself.
We don’t know how he earned his living during these early years. He may have helped his father in the family business or he may have been a country schoolmaster for a time. During these years his 3 children were born: Susannah, the eldest, then twins – a son, Hamnet, and another girl, Judith. In 1587 Shakespeare went to work in London, leaving Anne and the children at home. One story says this is because he killed some deer which belonged to a rich landowner nearby, and that he had to run away from the law.
Shakespeare soon began to act and write plays. By 1592 he was an important member of a well-known acting company, and in 1599 the famous Globe Theatre was built on the south bank of the river Thames. It was in this theatre that most of his plays were performed and, like all Elisabethan theatres, it was a round building with the open-air stage in the centre.
By 1603, the year when Queen Elisabeth I died, Shakespeare was already the leading poet and dramatist of his time. He continued to write for the next ten years, but in 1613 he finally stopped writing and went to live in Stratford where he died in 1616. He’s buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.
· The First Part of King Henry VI (1591)
· The Second Part of King Henry VI
· The Third Part of King Henry VI
· The Life and Death of King Richard II
· Richard III
· The Comedy of Errors (1592)
· The Taming of the Shrew (1594)
· The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1594)
· The Merchant of Verona
· A Midsummer-Night’s Dream
· Twelfth Night
· Much Ado About Nothing (1599)
· The Merry Wives of Windsor (1600-01)
· What You Will
· As You Like It (1599)
· The Life and Death of Julius Caesar
· The Tragedy of Macbeth (1605)
· Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
· Romeo and Juliet
· Othello, The Moor of Venice (1604)
· King Lear
· The Winter’s Tale (1610)
· The King of Britain (1609)
· The Tempest (1612)
AND HIS SONETS….
HAMLET, PRINCE OF DENMARK
Hamlet suspects that his dead father, King of Denmark, had been murdered by his uncle CLAUDIUS. Claudius has become king and has married Hamlet’s mother. The ghost of Hamlet’s dead father appeares to him in the castle of Elsinore and tells him about his murder. Hamlet decides on revenge; but then he begins to think too much, and to hesitate. Was the ghost telling the truth? Hamlet must try to find a proof of murder, which he suceeds in but still hesitates…
Old king thrown out of his home by two wicked daughters, and treated so badly that he goes mad and dies. It is perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest work, reaching in to the deepest places of human spirit; but as a play on the stage it is very difficult to act. Lear’s weakness is his openness to flattery. He gives his kingdom to the two evil daughters who flatter him, and nothing to the youngest girl, who tells him the truth and loves him best.
The hero, Macbeth, must be considered together with his wife, LADY MACBETH. Three old witches tell him that he will recieve high honours and then become king. Th high honours come, and he decides to help fate to make him king. King DUNCAN stays with him at his castle, and he and Lady Macbeth murder the king; but Duncan’s sons, MALCOLM and DONALBAIN, escape. Malcolm brings an army against Macbeth, who is killed. Lady Macbeth is already dead.
It is the story of a brave Moorish commander in Cyprus who has a beautiful wife, DESDEMONDA. IAGO, an evil old soldier, has seen CASSIO in rank above him, and tries to make Othello believe that Cassio and Desdemonda are lovers. Othello too easily believes this, and kills Desdemonda.
ROMEO AND JULIET
Romeo and Juliet are from two enemy families from Verona, Montagues and Capulets. They become secret lovers and decided to get married. Juliet knew an old priest, BROTHER LAWRENCE and he agrees on helping them as he wants to quit the long-lasting conflict between the families. The plot ends targically when Romeo drinks a poison and Juliet, seeing him die, kills herself with a knife.
The first English plays told religious stories and were performed in or near churches. Many events in religious history were suitable subjects for drama. These early plays called Miracle or Mystery Plays, are in 4 main groups, according to the city where they were acted:
They were acted by people of the town on a kind of stage on wheels called pageant. This was moved to different parts of the town. Often several different ones were being performed at the same time.
Although they were serious, English comedy was born in them because there was a natural tendency for the characters in the play to become recognizably human in their behavior.
Other plays, in some respects not very different from the Miracles, were the Morality Plays. The characters weren’t people but virtues and bad qualities. For this reason we find these plays duller these days. They presented moral truths in a new and effective way.
One of the best-known fifteenth-century Moralities is „Everyman“, which was translated from Dutch. It is the story of the end of Everyman‘s life, when Death calls him away from the world. Among the characters are Beauty, Knowledge, Strenght, and Good Deeds. When everyman has to face Death, all his friends leave him except Good Deeds.
Another kind of play, the Interlude, was common in the 15th and 16th centuries. The origin of the name is uncertain; perhaps the Interludes were played between the acts of long Moralities; perhaps in the middle of meals; or perhaps the name means a play by two or three performers. They’re often funny, and were performed in colleges or rich men’s houses. One of them is „The Four P’s“. In one part of this play, a prize is offered for the greates lie; and it is won by a man who says that he never saw and never knew any woman out of patience.
The chief literary glory of the Elizabethan age was its drama, but they weren’t very good plays. In general the comedies were better than tragedies.
NICHOLAS UDALL was a headmaster of Westminster School. He wrote the first regular English comedy, „Ralph Roister Doister“, probably for his boys to act. It’s in rough verse and contains the sort of humour that may be found among country people.
Another comedy was „Gammer Gurton’s Needle“, acted at Cambridge University, also in a rough verse. It is about the loss and the finding of a needle with Gammer Gurton’s mends clothes. Quarrels, broken heads, and a drinking song are important parts of it.
Lyly’s prose comedy „Campaspe“ and his allegorical play „Andimion“ are an improvement on this. They were performed in front of Queen Elizabeth, by ‚Children of Paul’s‘ and caused a lot of fun.
The first regular English targedy was „Gorbodue“, in blank verse, performed in 1564. The first 3 acts were written by THOMAS NORTON, the other 2 by THOMAS SACKVILLE. It is very dull, and is about King Gorbodue of England and his family. The blank verse is a poor stuff, and nothing is done on the stage except some movements in silence. The story of the play is told.
„The Spanish Tragedy“ by THOMAS KYD is an example of the tragedy of blood, popular at time. It is in some ways simillar to Shakespeare’s Hamlet – a ghost appeares, but to a father of the murdered son; mad girl and a man called Horatio.
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE was the first great dramatist of that time. His first tragedy, „Tamburlaine the Great“, is in 2 parts, written in the splendid blank verse. The first part deals with the rise to power of Tamburlaine, a shepperd and a robber. His terrible ambition drives him ever onwards to more power and more cruelty.
„The Jew of Malta“ is again violentThe governor of Malta taxes the Jews there, bu BARBAS, a rich Jew, refuses to pay. His money and house are therefore taken away from him and in revange he begins a life of violence. He poisons his own daughter, abigail, and causes her lover to die too. He helps the Turks when they attack Malta, and so they make him governor; but he decides to kill all the Turkish officers, but they find out and they kill him by his own weapon – falling floor.
„Dr. Faustus“ is based on the well-known story of a man who sold his soul to the devil so as to have power and riches in this life. The end of the play, when death is near and Faustus is filled with fear, is a highlight of terrible descripcion.
„Edward the Second“, perhaps his best play, deals with English history. It is possible that he helped Shakespeare with the writing his early plays and set an example for other dramatists by using the powerful blank verse lines to strnghten the drama, and the development of character to heighten the sense of tragedy.