William Shakespeare



1564 – 1616

Who was William Shakespeare? More has been written about him than about any other writer. Yet we know very little about his life, and there are some things in his biography that historians cannot state with any degree of certainty.

William Shakespeare was born at Stratford – upon – Avon, a small town in the middle of England. His grandfather was a farmer, his father was a wool and leather merchant who, unable to write, used a simple crross instead of a signature, while Shakespeare himself became a playwright. A note made in the church register at Stratford reads that on the 26th af April, 1564, was christened William, son of John Shakespeare. This shows that he was born on the 23rd of April, because at that time children were usually christened the third day after birth. According to popular belief, on the very same date, the 23rd af April, 52 years later, William Shakespeare died.

At the age of seven Shhakespeare went to the local grammar school which he attended for six years. Besides reading and writing, he was taught Latin and Greek. In 1577 William was taken from the school by his father whose affairs took a turn for the wo

orse. William now had to help his father. John Shakespeare had often business to do with butchers, and when the time came to kill an animal, his son used to recite a sad monologue. Such is the legent. According to another legent Shakespeare for some time taught at a school; yet others say he poached in the forests of rich landowners.

When Shakespeare was young , a girl, Anne Hathaway, was growing up in the village of Shottery, just a mile away. William married her at the end of 1582. Like Romeo in his famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet , Shakespeare was eighteen then. The church register confirms the birth of their first child Susanna in 1583. Twins, Judith and Hamnet, were born two years laater. Soon afterwards the young Shakespeare left Stratford for London, probably to seek his fortune. And here breaks off the chain of documentary facts in his biography. What did the young man do during the first seven years of his lefe in London? Nobody can say. The only thing we know for certain is that Shakespeare, in one way or another, became acquainted with the theatre and several theatrical companies. By the end of the 1580s he is known to ha
ave been an actor and playwright in one of the leading companies of players – The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Very many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed in a London theatre called The Globe.

The theatres in those times were quite different from our modern theatres. The Globe was a round wooden building. Its floor where the spectators were consisted of ordinary beaten earth. In the middle there was a kind of house where the actors dressed and kept the things which were used in the performance. In front of it there was a platform. This platform, together with the balcony over it, was the stage on which the actors played. They came out of the house onto the stage through two large doors. In front of the stage was a large yard. Round the yard there were three balconies, one over the other. By the main entrance there was a picture of the globe with these words on it: “All the world is a stage”.

Performances always began at three o’clock in the afternoon. From beginning to end, people could see a flag fluttering over the theatre. Londoners liked The Globe very much, so the theatre was always full of people. Those who co
ould not pay much for their tickets stood in the yard. If they were tired they could sit on the ground because there were no benches or chairs there. Rich men and their wives sat in the balconies, and aristocrats were even allowed to sit on the stage. They had hats with long feathers on, and poor men were often angry with them because they could not see the performance well. There was very little scenery. Sometimes there was a notice on the stage which told where the action was taking place. Sometimes an actor used to come on the stage and say: “You shall have Asia on one side and Africa on the other”, or “We must believe the stage to be a garden”. Though the scenery was poor, the clothes of the actors were very fine indeed. Large sums of money were spent on them. A king’s costume sometimes cost more than the writing of the play in which he appeared. The actors were often very good. They could play, sing and dance. No woman appeared on the stage of The Globe nor of any other London theatre. Women’s parts were played by boys or young men.

In a sh
hort time Shakespeare’s plays became extremely popular in London. As early as 1590 the poet Spenser who was considered to be the best judge on matters of art, praised Shakespeare highly in one of his poems. However, there are no facts to tell us of his life at that time. It is known only that while living in London Shakespeare often visited his native town, and took great interest in its affairs. In 1612 he returned to Stratford and bought the finest house in town. Here, together with his family, he spent the last few years of his life. He died at the age of fifty–two. In the beautiful church at Stratford, beside the winding Avon River, he was buried under an inscription that reads:

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here;

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

Who wrote these lines is not known, they don’t seem to be Shakespeare’s, although the threat of such a curse has left the playwright’s remains undisturbed since his death. A much better and often quoted epitaph is one of Shakespeare’s own from his tragedy Julius Caesar:

“His life was gentle, and the elements

So mixed in him that nature might stand up

And say to all the world, ‘This was a man’ ”.

Shakespeare’s most famous comedies are: The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night. The most famous tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra and others.

Used literature: Gražvydas Kirvaitis
Angelė Šurnaitė
“English Literature”
Course: English

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