Shakespeare and His Plays
William Shakespeare was a supreme English poet and playwright,
universally recognized as the greatest of all the dramatists.
A complete, authoritative account of Shakespeare's life is lacking;
much supposition surrounds relatively few facts. His day of birth is
traditionally held on April 23, and he was baptized on April 24, 1564. He
was the third of eight children, and was the eldest son of John
Shakespeare. He was probably educated in a local grammar school. As the
eldest son, Shakespeare would of taken over his father's business, but
according to one account, he became a butcher because of reverses in his
father's financial situation. According to another account, he became a
school master. That Shakespeare was allowed considerable leisure time in
his youth is suggested by the fact that his plays show more knowledge of
hunting and hawking than do those of other dramatists. In 1582, he married
Anne Hathaway. He is supposed to have left Stratford after he was caught
poaching in a deer park.
Shakespeare apparently arrived in London about 1588 and by 1592 had
attained success as a playwright. The publication of Venus and Adonis, The
Rape of Lucrece and of his Sonnets established his reputation as a poet in
the Renaissance manner. Shakespeare's modern reputation is based mainly on
the 38 plays he wrote, modified, or collaborated on.
Shakespeare's professional life in London was marked by a number of
financially advantageous arrangements that permitted him to share in the
profits of his acting company, the Chamberlain's Men, and its two theaters,
the Globe and the Blackfriars. His plays were given special presentation
at the courts of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. After about 1608,
Shakespeare's dramatic production lessened and he spent more time in
Stratford. There he established a family in and imposing house, the New
Place, and became a leading local citizen. He died on April 23, 1616, and
was buried in the Stratford church.
Although the precise date of many of Shakespeare's plays is in doubt,
his dramatic career is divided into four periods: (1) the period up to
1594, (2) the years from 1594 to 1600, (3) the years from 1600 to 1608, (4)
the period after 1608. In all periods, the plots of his plays were
frequently drawn from chronicles, histories, or earlier fiction.
Shakespeare's first period was one of experimentation. His early plays
are characterized to a degre...