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||William Shakespeare (1564-1616)|
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 pieces of the world. However, his early works did not match the artistic quality of Marlowe's dramas. Ben Jonson (1572-1637), another contemporary playwright, said 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 that 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 are few records of Shakespeare´s personal life. No significant discovery of his life has been made for over a hundred years. Rumors arise from time to time that he did not write his plays, instead suggesting the real author was Christopher Marlowe, or 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 not create such magnificent works. 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 140 other men, for failing to find surety to keep the peace. There is no 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 the 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." (in 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 his senior. Their first
child, Susannah, was born within six months, and twins Hamnet and
Judith were born in 1585.
Between 1585 and 1592, when Shakespeare's name came up in connection with the London theatrical scene, only one record of him has been found. 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 own personal feelings.
Hamlet was first printed in 1603. It is Shakespeare's largest drama, based on a lost play known as the Ur-Hamlet. The French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) once said that "Hamlet is a vulgar and barbarous drama," but he also saw that there are "some sublime passages worthy of the greatest genius." Prince Hamlet, an enigmatic intellectual, mourns both his father's death and his mother's remarriage. His father's ghost appears to him and reveals 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 stages 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."
According to a legend, Shakespeare left Stratford for London to
avoid a charge of poaching. After 1582 Shakespeare probably joined as
an actor one or several acting companies. He soon became a central figure in
London´s leading theater company, the Lord Chamberlain´s Company,
renamed later as the King´s Men. He wrote many great plays for the
group. A new theater, called The Globe, was built in 1599. What
happened in the "Lost years" between 1585 and 1592 is not known.
Shakespeare enjoyed a reputation of being a very rapid writer: "His mind
and hand went together," his publishers Heminges and Condell reported,
"and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce
received from him a blot in his papers." Despite all the praise, some
writers were not enthusiastic about his work. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)
called A Midsummer Night's Dream "the most insipid, ridiculous play that I ever saw in my life." Voltaire
wrote: "Shakespeare is a drunken savage with some imagination whose
plays please only in London and Canada," "Shakespeare is the Corneille
of London, but everywhere else he is a great fool..."
Shakespeare composed also two heroic narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594). Some of his 154 sonnets, which were first published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe, he circulated amongst his private friends. The sonnets refer cryptically to several persons, including a handsome young man, a woman called the 'Dark Lady', and a rival poet. Shakespeare's name was also on the title page of The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), issued by the publisher William Jaggard. The identity of the brunette, who was featured in Shakespeare's later poems, has been a mystery. According to one theory, she was the Countess of Pembroke. George Bernard Shaw believed she was one of Elizabeth I's ladies-in-waiting, Mary Fritton. Some have thought she was the mother of Shakespeare's supposed illegitimate son, Henry Davenant. Or she might have been Marie Mountjoy, Shakespeare's London landlady, or the black prostitute Luce Morgan, or Emilia Bassano, the daughter of a court musician and mistress of the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Hunsdon. And there is a theory that the Dark Lady was not a "she" at all, but Shakespeare's patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton.
"My only love sprung from my only hate!
More than third of Shakespeare's plays were set in Italy. Venice was one of his favorite places; for some reason he knew everything that is to be known about he city. A Sicilian professor sugggested in his book "Shakespeare era italiano" (2002), that Shakespeare was Sicilian and his name was Crollanza or Scrollalanza ("shake-speare"), before he moved to London. Romeo and Juliet was based on real lovers who lived in Verona, and died for each other in the year 1303. At that time the Capulets and Montagues were among the inhabitants of the town. Shakespeare found the tale in Arthur Brooke's poem 'The Tragical Historye of Romeus and Juliet' (1562). The play has inspired other works, such as Berlioz's dramatic symphony (1839), Tchaikovsky's fantasy-overture (1869-80), and Prokofiev's full-length ballet (1938). The profoundly anti-Semitic comedy The Merchant of Venice was used in Nazi Germany in the campaing against Jews. Shylock, the Jewish villain, has only 360 lines and sentences, but his character dominates the whole play. Because the interracial marriage between his only daughter Jessica and 'Aryan' Lorenzo violated race laws of the Third Reich, adjustments were made to the text: Jessica was an adopted daughter from a Christian family. Moreover, Shylock's famous speech in act 3.1: "Hat not a Jew eyes?" was eliminated.
A number of Shakespeare's plays came out during his lifetime, but none of the original
dramatic manuscripts have survived. There are two versions of Othello, the 1608 Quarto and the First Folio of 1623, which is longer. Love's Labour's Won was listed by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia: Wit's Treasury
(1598) among Shakespeare's plays. It may be a lost work or an
alternative title for another play. The original Globe burned down in
1613, and was rebuilt next year. Shakespeare's later plays were
also performed at the Blackfriars Theatre, which was run by a seven-man
syndicate. Shakespeare was one of its members. By comparing the quatro text of King Lear with the folio text Janet Clare arrived in Art Made Tongue-Tied by Authority: Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship
(1990) to the conclusion that the changes are more likely the result of
"the censor's direct intervention, or for self-censorship as distinct
merely from artistic revision." (Banned Plays: Censorship Histories of 125 Stage Dramas by Dawn B. Sova, 2004, p.138)
In 1788 censors banned the play because its depiction of the madness of
Lear came too close to the mental problems of the reigning King George
III. The play remained banished from the London stage until 1820.
used the Globe in the summer and the indoor Blackfriars in the winter. Under the patronage of
King James I, the company also performed at court, more often than during the reign of Queen
Elizabeth. The dramatist John Dennis (1657-1734) claimed, that The Merry Wives of Windsor
was written at her command. Macbeth,
with its witches and portrayal of the legendary ancestor of the Stuart
kings, Banquo, had a special appeal to James. He had also published a
book about demology. The British scholar Brian Vickers's has claimed
that the Additional Passages – some 325 lines – in the 1602 quarto
edition of Thomas Kyd's (1558-94) popular and influential play The Spanish Tragedy
were written by Shakespeare, as it was first suggested by Samuel Taylor
Coleridge in 1833. Vickers view was based on analysis of Shakespeare's
The Tempest, often considered Shakespeare's farewell to his theatrical art, has inspired Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, and Jean Sibelius, who wrote music for it in 1926. About 1610 Shakespeare returned to his birthplace, where he had a house, named New Place. He lived there as a country gentleman, drank beer, and co-wrote with John Fletcher The Two Noble Kinsmen, first published in 1634. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. Fifty years later John Ward, the vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon, tells in his notebooks that Shakespeare ate too many pickled herrings and drank too much Rhenish wine in a merry meeting with Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson. "Will may have been weak already," Anthony Burgess wrote in his biography of Shakespeare, "from venereal disease, from a seasonal cold, from Burger's arterial blockage or anything we wish upon him." His widow was legally entitled to a third of the estate. Shakespeare also bequeathed his "second-best bed" to his wife – at that time the best bed was the grand prize of a forfeited estate. Anne Hathaway died seven years after her husband. It has been said that she and her daughter wished to be buried in Shakespeare's grave.
A folio edition of Shakespeare's collected works – known as the First Folio, appeared in 1623. The volume was put together by his friends, John Heminges and Henry Condell. On Shakespeare's gravestone are four lines of verse. It is not certain that the Bard of Avon composed the famous epitaph: "Good friend, for Jesus´ sake forbeare / To digg the dust enclosed here! / Blest be ye man that spares thes stones / And curst be he that moues my bones." However, in the text there is an onomatopoetic to his name, with "sake" in the first line, and "spares" in the third.
For further reading: The Truth About William Shakespeare: Fact, Fiction and Modern Biographies by David Ellis (2012); Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate (2009); Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd (2006);Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt (2005); Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom (1999); William Shakespeare: His Life and Work by Anthony Holden (1999); William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life by S. Scoenbaum (1975); Shakespeare by Anthony Burgess (1970); How Shakespeare Spent the Day by Ivor Brown (1964); Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough (1957-1966); William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems by E.K. Chambers (1930); The Elizabethan Stage by E.K. Chambers (1924); Shakespeare's England by Walter Raleigh (1916); Outlines of the Life of William Shakespeare by J.O. Halliwell-Phillips (1887) - For further information: William Shakespeare biographies. See also: Geoffrey Chaucer's drama Troilus and Criseyde, Alexander Pope, Anton Tammsaare, Isaiah Berlin, Eugenio Montale. Suomeksi Shakespearelta on käännetty Kootut draamat I-IX, suomentajana Paavo Cajander. Muita suomentajia ovat olleet mm. Pietari Hannikainen, Yrjö Jylhä, Eeva-Liisa Manner, Veijo Meri, Matti Rossi, Kersti Juva ja Lauri Sipari.
Selected plays: (the dates of Shakespeare's earlier plays are uncertain)
FILM ADAPTATIONS - Shakespeare's plays have been adapted to screen many hundred times. Here are some films: The Taming of the Shrew, 1929, starring Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks - A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1935, dir. Max Reinhardt-William Dieterle - Romeo and Juliet, 1935, dir. George Cukor - As You Like It, 1936, dir. Paul Czinner (script adaptation: J.M.Barrie and Robert Cullen) - Henry V, 1945, dir. Lawrence Olivier - Hamlet, 1948, dir. Lawrence Olivier - Macbeth, 1948, dir. Orson Welles - Othello, 1952, dir. Orson Welles - Julius Caesar, 1953, dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz - Romeo and Juliet, 1954, dir. Renato Castellani - Richard III, 1955, dir. Lawrence Olivier - Othello, 1956, dir. Sergei Jutkevitsh - Forbidden Planet, 1956, dir. Fred M. Wilcox (based on The Tempest) - Throne of Blood/The Castle of the Spider's Web/Cobweb Castle, 1957, dir. Akira Kurosawa (based on Macbeth) - Hamlet, 1964, dir. Grigori Kozintsev (translation of the play: Boris Pasternak) - Falstraff, 1965, dir. Orson Welles - The Taming of the Shrew, 1967, dir. Franco Zeffirelli, starring Elisabeth Taylor and Richard Burton - Romeo and Juliet, 1968, dir. Franco Zeffirelli - King Lear, 1970, dir. Peter Brook - King Lear, 1970, dir. by Grigori Kozintsev - Macbeth, 1972, dir. Roman Polanski - The Tempest, 1982, dir. Paul Mazursky - Ran, 1985, dir. Akira Kurosawa (based on King Lear) - King Lear, 1987, dir. Jean-Luc Godard - Hamlet liikemaailmassa/Hamlet Goes Business, 1987, dir. Aki Kaurismäki - Henry V, 1989, dir. Kenneth Branagh - Hamlet, 1991, dir. Franco Zeffirelli - Prospero's Books, 1991, dir. Peter Greeneway - Men of Respect, 1991, dir. William Reilly (based on Macbeth) - As You Like It, 1992, dir. Christine Edzard - Much Ado about Nothing, 1993, dir. Kenneth Branagh - Othello, 1995, dir. Oliver Parker - Hamlet, 1996, dir. by Kenneth Branagh - William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1996, dir. Baz Luhrman - Twelfth Night, 1966, dir. Trevor Nunn - Looking for Richard, dir. Al Pacino, 1996 - Shakespeare in Love, 1998, dir. John Madden (partly based on Romeo and Juliet) - 10 Things I Hate About You, 1999, dir. Gil Junger (based on The Taming of the Shrew) - William Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, 1999, dir. Michael Hoffman - Love's Labour Lost, 2000, dir. Kenneth Branagh - O aka The One, 2001, dir. Tim Blake Nelson (based on Othello) - The Merchant of Venice, 2004, dir. Michael Radford, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Lynn Collins, Joseph Fiennes - Hamlet, 2005, dir. Stephen Cavanagh, starring James Lecky, Yvonne Richardson, Stephen Cavanagh - As You Like It, 2006, dir. Kenneth Branagh, starring Takuya Shimada, Brian Blessed, Richard Clifford - The Banquet, 2006, dir. Feng Xiaogang, starring Zhang Ziyi (loosely based on Hamlet) - Macbeth, 2007, dir. Geoffrey Wright, starring Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill, Lachy Hulme, Steve Bastoni - Hamlet, 2007, dir. Aleksandar Rajkovic - Hamlet, 2007, dir. Alexander Fodor - Le roi Lear, TV movie 2007, dir. Don Kent, starring Michel Piccoli - Henry V, 2007, dir. Peter Babakitis - The Merchant of Venice, 2009, dir. Douglas Morse - The Tempest, 2010, dir. Julie Taymor - The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2011, dir. Christopher Luscombe, starring Christopher Benjamin, Serena Evans and Sarah Woodward - Coriolanus, 2011, dir. Ralph Fiennes, starring Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler and Brian Cox - King Lear, 2012, dir. Michael Radford, starring Al Pacino - Much Ado about Nothing, 2012, dir. Joss Whedon, starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion - Romeo and Juliet, 2013, dir. Carlo Carlei, starring Stellan Skarsgård and Hailee Steinfield - Romeo n' Juliet, 2014, dir. Maris Martinsons, starring Valeriy Yaremenko, Dita Lurina, German Andrejev - As You Like It, 2014, dir. Carlyle Stewart, starring Graham Greene, Tom Bower, Joseph Haro, Branton Box - Macbeth, 2014, dir. Justin Kurzel, starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis, Sean Harris