Shakespeare\'s World


Almost every nation on earth reads, studies and performs the works of
William Shakespeare. No writer of any country, nor any age, has ever enjoyed
such universal popularity. Neither has any writer been so praised. As William
Hazlitt observed, "The most striking peculiarity of Shakespeare\'s mind was it\'s
generic quality, its power of communication with all other minds." It is perhaps
this quality that has earned Shakespeare the supreme accolade, that of lending
his name to an era. Other than a monarch or an emperor, few can boast that a
time or place is so exclusively theirs. As we talk about Napoleonic Europe or
Victorian England, so we speak of Shakespearean London or the Age of Shakespeare.
No other artist, let alone writer, has had their name inscribed on such a
towering edifice. "Thou in our wonder and astonishment, hast built thyself a
long-live monument," wrote Milton, in praise of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare is by far and without doubt the most popular and successful
writer of all time. But what of the man himself? Who was William Shakespeare?
The life of William Shakespeare is shrouded in mystery. There is no
record of him receiving an education, buying a book or writing a single letter,
and no original manuscript of a Shakespeare play survives. There is no direct
record of his conversations, and no one in his home town seems to have known
that he was a successful playwright while he was alive. There is not even a
contemporary portrait to reveal his true appearance. Although a number of
mentions of William Shakespeare the poet-dramatist appear on record during the
1590\'s and early 1600\'s, they comment only briefly on his writings, telling us
nothing about the man. Less is known about Shakespeare than almost any other
playwright of his time.
The orthodox version of William Shakespeare\'s life is probably the most
widely accepted Shakespeare legend of them all. According to it, he was born on
23 April 1564, in an upstairs room of a Stratford house in Warwickshire. He was
born to John and Mary Shakespeare, and was baptized Gulielmus filius Johannes
Shakspere (William, son of John Shakespeare) three days later. His father ran a
successful glove making business on Henley Street. In 1565, his father was
elected alderman, and three days later he became chief magistrate. William began
his education at the local grammar school, learning to read and write. By his
early teens, he had mastered Latin and the art of acting. He took part in the
school\'s annual play every Whitsun. By his early teens he had moved into the
upper school where he studied logic, poetry and history.
In November 1582, at eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, and by twenty-
one he had fathered three children: twins, Hamnet and Judith, and their older
sister Susanna. In 1587, when Shakespeare was twenty-three, the premier acting
company The Queens Men visited Stratford. Just before their performance one of
the players died and Shakespeare stood in for that person. His natural talent so
impressed the players that he was offered a permanent place in the troupe.
Shakespeare began his new career at James Burbage\'s Theatre in London,
where he made extra money by looking after the patrons\' horses. Before long his
writing potential was noticed by the Earl of Southampton, who used his influence
to make Shakespeare a full-time actor and eventually a dramatist. In 1592 the
playwright Robert Greene warned the country\'s most distinguished dramatists
that Shakespeare was their greatest potential rival.
On 18 April 1593 Shakespeare\'s first poem, Venus and Adonis was
patronized by Lord Southampton, and over the next few years he wrote well over
150 published poems. By 1595, Shakespeare was one of the most accomplished
dramatists of his day. In March of that year two of his plays were performed
before the Queen herself. Over the next twenty years he wrote no fewer than
thirty-seven plays.
By the late 1590\'s Shakespeare acquired shares in many theatres. In 1599,
he bought shares in the newly built theatre in Southwark. His financial acumen
had already reaped rewards. As early as 1597 Shakespeare returned to buy New
Place, the second largest house in the town of Stratford.
In 1599 Shakespeare\'s company moved to the Globe theatre, heralding his
finest hour. In 1603 his company earned the highest accolade of all. The new
King, James I, honoured the company with the title, The King\'s Men.
Unfortunately, on 29 June 1613 the Globe burned to the ground, and although it
was rebuilt the following year, Shakespeare retired to Stratford.
Shakespeare led a peaceful retirement, and hardly returned to London at
all. Sadly, on his birthday in