Shakespeare also spelled SHAKSPERE, byname BARD OF AVON, or SWAN OF AVON
English poet, dramatist, and actor, often called the English national poet and
considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time.
Shakespeare occupies a position unique in world literature. Other poets, such as
Homer and Dante, and novelists, such as Leo Tolstoy and Charles Dickens, have
transcended national barriers; but no writer's living reputation can compare with that
of Shakespeare, whose plays, written in the late 16th and early 17th centuries for a
small repertory theatre, are now performed and read more often and in more countries
than ever before. The prophecy of his great contemporary, the poet and dramatist Ben
Jonson, that Shakespeare was not of an age, but for all time, has been fulfilled.
It may be audacious even to attempt a definition of his greatness, but it is not so
difficult to describe the gifts that enabled him to create imaginative visions of pathos
and mirth that, whether read or witnessed in the theatre, fill the mind and linger there.
He is a writer of great intellectual rapidity, perceptiveness, and poetic power. Other
writers have had these qualities, but with Shakespeare the keenness of mind was
applied not to abstruse or remote subjects but to human beings and their complete
range of emotions and conflicts. Other writers have applied their keenness of mind in
this way, but Shakespeare is astonishingly clever with words and images, so that his
mental energy, when applied to intelligible human situations, finds full and memorable
expression, convincing and imaginatively stimulating. As if this were not enough, the
art form into which his creative energies went was not remote and bookish but
involved the vivid stage impersonation of human beings, commanding sympathy and
inviting vicarious participation. Thus Shakespeare's merits can survive translation into
other languages and into cultures remote from that of Elizabethan England.
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