Shakespeare was the most famous and inspiring writer that was known in England,he was born and raised in Stratford, he learned Latin and Greek in school, and started a career with another play writer as an assistant. Shakespeare wrote plays and poems for the manager, in which her liked very much, after a couple of years Shakespeare built his own theater and he started as a play writer. He created many amazing plays and poems. The most famous to date would be "Romeo and Juliet" which was about two lovers but from two families who hated each other for a long time, to which they don't even know why they are fighting. In the end, they both die, to which both families find out and stop fighting afterwards, this play was the most popular and awarded.
shakespeare life in the first year
In his first period, Shakespeare’s use of language indicates that he was still struggling to develop his own flexible poetic style. For example, Shakespeare’s descriptive poetry in this period is apt to be flowery, rather than directly related to the development of the characters or the story. Speeches often use highly patterned schemes that involve word and sound repetitions.
Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III, are three related histories partly based on The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York (1548) by the English historian Edward Hall and on the Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577) by the English historian Raphael Holinshed, often called Holinshed’s Chronicles. Each part was probably first performed during the period from 1589 to 1592. Part I was published in 1623, Part II in 1594, and Part III in 1595.
The three parts of Henry VI present a panoramic view of English history in the 1400's. The action begins with the death of King Henry V in 1422. It ends with the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. The plays vividly mirror the Wars of the Roses—the series of bloody conflicts between the houses of York and Lancaster for control of the English throne. Part I deals largely with wars between England and France. But all three plays dramatize the plots and counterplots that marked the struggle between the two royal houses.
The Henry VI plays are confusing to read because of their large and shifting casts of characters. The plays are more successful on the stage. In performance, the constant action, exaggerated language, and flashes of brilliant characterization result in lively historical drama. The New Oxford Shakespeare (2016) lists English playwright Christopher Marlowe as co-author of the plays.
The play deals with the end of the Wars of the Roses. It opens with the hunchbacked Richard, Duke of Gloucester, confiding his villainous plans to the audience. He addresses the audience in a famous soliloquy that begins, “Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” Richard refers to the success of his brother Edward, Duke of York. Edward has overthrown Henry VI of the House of Lancaster and taken the English throne. Now weak and ill, he rules England as Edward IV. Richard wants to gain the crown for himself. He has his other brother, the Duke of Clarence, murdered. After King Edward dies, Richard sends the Prince of Wales, the dead king’s son, and the prince’s younger brother to the Tower of London. After seizing the throne as Richard III, he has the two boys murdered.
The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy possibly based on The Taming of a Shrew by an unknown English playwright and on Supposes (1566), a comedy by the English author George Gascoigne. Shakespeare’s version was probably first performed in 1593 and was first published in 1623.
This play dramatizes how Petruchio, an Italian gentleman, woos the beautiful butshrewish (bad-tempered) Katherine, whose biting tongue has discouraged other suitors. Petruchio marries her. But before and after the wedding, he systematically humiliates Katherine to cure her of her temper. After many comical clashes between the two, Petruchio’s strategy succeeds and Katherine becomes an obedient wife. At this point, Petruchio reveals himself to be genuinely fond of Katherine.
William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew is a broad and vigorous comedy that provides two outstanding roles in the characters of the battling lovers. The parts of Petruchio and Katherine have been a showcase for generations of gifted actors.
This play is a revenge tragedy, which was popular in the Elizabethan theater. The action takes place in and around ancient Rome and involves a succession of violent acts. The central conflict is between Tamora, the captured queen of the Goths, and Titus Andronicus, a Roman general. The exchange of insults and injuries reaches its climax at a feast in which Titus serves Tamora a pie containing the remains of two of her sons.
In spite of the play’s emphasis on spectacular violence, it does have moments of highly charged and effective poetry. The most complex character is Aaron the Moor, Tamora’s lover and a self-declared villain in the mold of Richard III. Aaron’s plotting drives much of the action, but when the child he has fathered with Tamora is threatened with death, he displays an unexpected warmth and humanity.
The play is a witty comedy of love and friendship set in Italy. Two friends from Verona, Valentine and Proteus, meet in Milan. They soon become rivals for the love of Silvia, the daughter of the Duke of Milan. Valentine discovers Proteus as his friend is about to force his attentions on Silvia. Proteus repents his action, and Valentine forgives him. Valentine then tells his friend that he can have Silvia. But Valentine’s generosity becomes unnecessary. Proteus learns that Julia, his former mistress, has followed him to Milan disguised as a page. Proteus realizes that he really loves Julia. He marries her at the end of the play, and Valentine marries Silvia.
In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Shakespeare introduced several features and devices that he later used so effectively in the great romantic comedies of his second period. For example, he included beautiful songs, such as "Who Is Silvia?"; scenes in a peaceful, idealized forest; and a young woman, disguised as a page, braving the dangers of the world.
King John is a history primarily based on The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England (1591), a play by an unknown English author. King John also uses Holinshed’s Chronicles and may draw on other historical sources as well. Shakespeare’s play was probably first performed about 1594 and was first published in 1623.
The story concerns the efforts of England’s King John to defend his throne against the claims of his older brother’s son, Arthur, the young Duke of Brittany. John defeats and captures Arthur, who is supported by the king of France. When the young prince dies under suspicious circumstances, many of John’s nobles abandon him and join an invading French force. The rebellious English lords only return to John when they learn that the French, if victorious, will execute their English supporters. A long war is avoided by the intervention of Pandulph, the papal representative, just as King John dies either from poison or illness.This refers to the first years of Shakespeare's earlier years of play writes and acting. His first play was The Comedy of Errors which was the act of Henry IV.This fits with my knowledge upon Shakespeare of his famous poems and his famous Globe Theater and his amazing literature with Latin and a little bit of Greek.
Shakespeare's second life
During his second period, Shakespeare brought historical drama and Elizabethan romantic comedy to near perfection. Particularly in his histories and comedies of this period, Shakespeare demonstrated his genius for weaving various dramatic actions into a unified plot, rather than writing a series of loosely connected episodes. Throughout the second period, Shakespeare steadily developed the matchless gift for characterization that marks the great tragedies he produced in the early 1600’s.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy probably based on several sources, none of which was a chief source. The play was probably first performed in 1595 and was first published in 1600.
The play begins in Athens, Greece, with preparations for a wedding between Theseus, Duke of Athens, and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. But most of the action takes place in an enchanted forest outside Athens. In the forest, two young men, Lysander and Demetrius, and two young women, Hermia and Helena, wander about together after they become lost. Lysander and Demetrius both love Hermia and ignore Helena, who loves Demetrius. Oberon, king of the fairies, orders the mischievous elf Puck to anoint Demetrius’s eyes with magic drops that will make him love Helena. However, Puck mistakenly anoints Lysander’s eyes, creating much comic confusion. Puck finally straightens out the mix-up.
In a subplot, Oberon quarrels with Titania, his queen. He then anoints Titania’s eyes with the magic drops while she sleeps so that when she awakens, she will love the first living thing she sees. At this time, Nick Bottom, a weaver, and his comical friends are rehearsing a play they plan to present at the duke’s wedding. When Titania awakens, she sees Bottom and falls in love with him. To increase Titania’s humiliation, Puck gives Bottom the head of a donkey. Aided by her fairy attendants, Titania woos Bottom until Oberon takes pity on her and has Puck remove the spell. The play ends with the duke’s wedding. The two young couples—Lysander and Hermia and Demetrius and Helena—also marry during this ceremony. Bottom and his friends perform their hilariously silly play at the wedding celebration.
For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare wrote some of his most richly lyrical poetry. Oberon tells Puck, “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows / Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows.” The passage transports the audience in imagination to a magic wood where flowers bloom and fairies play. Shakespeare balanced this romantic fantasy with the rough humor of Bottom and his friends. The self-absorbed Bottom ranks as one of Shakespeare’s finest comic figures. The comedy also has a serious side. Gaily but firmly, it makes fun of romantic love. As Puck comments, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
Richard II is a history partly based on Holinshed’s Chronicles. The play was probably first performed in 1595 and was first published in 1597.
As the play begins, King Richard exiles his cousin Bolingbroke from England. Later, Richard seizes Bolingbroke’s property. While Richard fights rebels in Ireland, Bolingbroke returns to England and demands his property. After Richard learns of Bolingbroke’s return, he hurries back to England to find his cousin leading a force of nobles who are discontented with Richard’s rule. Instead of preparing the royal army to fight Bolingbroke, Richard wastes his time in outbursts of self-pity. He finally gives up his crown to Bolingbroke without a fight. Bolingbroke then orders that Richard be put in prison.
After Bolingbroke is crowned Henry IV, the imprisoned Richard is killed by a knight who mistakenly believed that the new king wanted Richard murdered. At the end of the play, Henry vows to make a journey to the Holy Land to pay for Richard's death.
In Richard II, Shakespeare seriously explored for the first time the idea that a person’s character determines his fate. The play is a study of a weak, self-centered man. Richard becomes so out of touch with reality that his only defense of his kingdom is the hope that his “master, God omnipotent, / Is mustering in his clouds on our behalf / Armies of pestilence.” When he faces the certain loss of his crown, Richard compares himself to Christ, who “in twelve, / Found truth in all but one; I, in twelve thousand none.”
Love's Labour's Lost is a comedy probably based on several sources, none of which was a chief source. The play was probably first performed in 1596 and was first published in 1598.
King Ferdinand of Navarre and his friends Berowne, Longaville, and Dumain vow to live in seclusion without the company of women for three years to pursue philosophical study. But the princess of France unexpectedly arrives at the king’s court with three female companions. The comedy centers on the efforts of the men to woo the women while pretending to keep their vow. At the play’s end, the men propose to their visitors, who promise to give their answer in a year and a day.
This witty comedy has more references to events of the day than do any of Shakespeare's other plays. Many of these references have lost their meaning for modern audiences, which makes numerous passages difficult to understand. In addition, much of the language is elaborate and artificial. But Shakespeare included two simple and lovely songs—"When Daisies Pied and Violets Blue" and "When Icicles Hang by the Wall." Love's Labour's Lost also has handsome scenes of spectacle and several entertaining comic characters.
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy based on The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet(1562), a poem by the English author Arthur Brooke. The play was probably first performed in 1596 and was first published in 1597.
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: Romeo
Romeo and Juliet deals with two teenage lovers in Verona, Italy, who are caught in a bitter feud between their families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo, a Montague, and his friends come uninvited to a masked ball given by the Capulets. At the ball, Romeo meets Juliet, a Capulet, and they fall in love. The next day, the couple are secretly married by Friar Laurence. Returning from the wedding, Romeo meets Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, who tries to pick a fight with him. But Romeo refuses to fight his new relative. To defend the Montague honor, Romeo’s friend Mercutio accepts Tybalt’s challenge. As Romeo attempts to part the young men, Tybalt stabs and kills Mercutio. In revenge, Romeo kills Tybalt. As a result, Romeo is exiled from Verona.
Juliet’s father, unaware that she is already married, tries to force her to marry a kinsman named Paris. To allow Juliet to escape from her father’s demand, Friar Laurence gives Juliet a drug that puts her into a deathlike sleep for 42 hours. The friar sends a messenger to the exiled Romeo to tell him of the drug, but the messenger is delayed. Romeo hears that Juliet is dead and hurries to the tomb where she has been placed. There, he takes poison and dies by Juliet’s side. Juliet awakens to find her husband dead and stabs herself. The discovery of the dead lovers convinces the two families that they must end their feud.
The popularity of Romeo and Juliet owes much to Shakespeare’s sympathy for the young people in the play. Although the play does suggest that the boldness of young love is dangerous, Shakespeare does not present Romeo and Juliet as responsible for their fate. Instead, the play draws attention to the violence and aggressiveness that shapes the adult world. The success of the play also comes from effective characterizations and intensely lyrical poetry. Shakespeare’s language shows signs of the simpler, more direct style he would use in his later tragedies.
The Merchant of Venice is a comedy partly based on a story in Il Pecorone, a collection of tales written about 1378 by the Italian author Giovanni Fiorentino. The play was probably first performed in 1597 and was first published in 1600.
Antonio, a merchant in Venice, Italy, borrows money from the Jewish moneylender Shylock to help his friend Bassanio. Antonio has promised Shylock a pound of his flesh if he does not repay the loan in three months. The three months pass, and Shylock demands his money. But Antonio cannot pay. Shylock then demands the pound of flesh.
Meanwhile, Bassanio has courted and married the beautiful and gifted heiress Portia. She has a plan to save Antonio from Shylock. Shylock goes to court to demand the flesh. Portia, disguised as a learned lawyer, asks him to reconsider in a famous speech that begins, “The quality of mercy is not strained.” Shylock remains firm. Portia then explains that he can, according to the contract, take one pound of flesh but not a drop of blood. If Shylock spills any blood, he will not only forfeit his own property but his life as well. Shylock drops his demand, and Antonio is saved.
In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare combined comic intrigue with a vivid portrait of hatred and greed. Although the play ends happily for everyone except Shylock and the melancholy Bassanio, it is not a light-hearted comedy. In Shakespeare’s time, both the church and the state considered moneylending at high interest a crime. Shylock was thus a natural object of scorn. On the surface, Shakespeare’s view of him reflected the attitudes of the day. But the dramatist treated the moneylender as a human and even sympathetic person. For example, Shakespeare provided Shylock with an eloquent statement of how it feels to be part of a harshly treated minority: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
Henry IV, Parts I and II, are two related histories based on Holinshed’s Chronicles and on The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, a play by an unknown English author. Part I was likely first performed in 1597 and was first published in 1598. Part II was probably first performed in 1598 and was first published in 1600.
The two parts of Henry IV dramatize events that follow the murder of England’s King Richard II. In Part I, the guilt-ridden Henry IV wants to go to the Holy Land in repentance for Richard’s death. But political unrest in England prevents him. At the same time, Prince Hal, his son, leads an apparently irresponsible life with his brawling friends, led by the fat, jolly knight Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff’s clowning provides most of the play’s humor. The king quarrels with Henry Percy, known as Hotspur, the fiery young son of the powerful Earl of Northumberland. As a result of the quarrel, the Percy family revolts. At the Battle of Shrewsbury, Hal reveals himself to be a brave warrior and kills Hotspur.
Part II of Henry IV also has many scenes of Falstaff’s clowning. These scenes are set against the background of the continuing Percy rebellion and the approaching death of Henry IV, who is ill. Hal’s brother, Prince John, finally defeats the rebels. The king dies, and Hal takes the throne as Henry V. He quickly reveals his royal qualities and rejects Falstaff and his friends, telling them to stay away until they have abandoned their wild living.
Of the two plays, Part I is more memorable. It introduces Falstaff, best characterized by his comment in Part II that “I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.” Falstaff is a bragging, lying, and thievish drunkard. But his faults are balanced by his clever sense of humor, his contagious love of life, and his refusal to take either himself or the world seriously. Falstaff is one of the great comic roles in the theater.
As You Like It is a comedy partly based on Rosalynde (1590), a novel by the English author Thomas Lodge. The play was probably first performed in 1599 and was first published in 1623.
Rosalind and her cousin Celia leave the court of Celia’s father, Duke Frederick, after he unjustly banishes Rosalind. Accompanied by Touchstone, the court jester, the two young women take refuge in the Forest of Arden. Also in the forest are Orlando, who loves Rosalind; Jaques, a melancholy philosopher; Audrey, a goatherd; Silvius, a shepherd; and Phebe, a shepherdess. Duke Frederick’s brother, who is Rosalind’s father and the rightful ruler of the land, also lives in the forest with a band of merry outlaws.
Rosalind, disguised as a young shepherd named Ganymede, meets Orlando in the forest. Not recognizing the young woman in disguise, Orlando agrees to pretend that Ganymede is Rosalind so he can practice his declarations of love. Rosalind finally reveals her identity and marries Orlando. Oliver, Orlando’s formerly wicked brother, marries Celia, Touchstone marries Audrey, and Silvius marries Phebe. The news that Rosalind’s father has been restored to his dukedom completes the comedy’s happy ending.
Like many other Elizabethan romantic comedies, As You Like It concerns young lovers who pursue their happy destiny in a world seemingly far removed from reality. Although evil threatens, it never harms. Shakespeare enriched the play with beautiful poetry as well as several charming songs.
Shakespeare consistently balanced the merry laughter of As You Like It with notes of seriousness and even sadness. Touchstone’s wit and Jaques’s remarks question the nature of love and the values of society. The play discusses the advantages and disadvantages of city and country life. Jaques adds a strong note of melancholy to the play with his famous description of the seven ages of man. At the end of the description, he claims that man’s final fate is “second childishness and mere oblivion, / Sans [without] teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
William Shakespeare's Henry V
Henry V is a history partly based on Holinshed’s Chronicles and on The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, a play by an unknown English author. Henry V was probably first performed in 1599 and was first published in 1600.
The play continues the action of Henry IV, Part II, and presents an idealized portrait of England’s King Henry V. The king decides to press a claim he believes he has to the French throne. He heads an army that lands in France. Inspired by Henry’s leadership, the outnumbered English troops defeat the French at the town of Harfleur. The two armies then meet in battle near the village of Agincourt. Against overwhelming odds, the English win a great victory. The triumphant Henry is received at the French court. There he is promised the throne and the hand of Katherine, the French princess.
The play consists of loosely related episodes unified by the character of the brave but modest king. Shakespeare filled Henry V with patriotic passages, especially the king’s famous address to his troops at Harfleur. It begins, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” The speech concludes, “The game’s afoot! / Follow your spirit; and upon this charge / Cry ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’”
Henry claims to hate war in general. Yet he finds himself carried away by the glamour and glory of the French campaign. Although the play occasionally seems to glorify war, Shakespeare sets the heroics against a background of political treachery and empty honor. Comic scenes mock the vanity of the royal court. These scenes remind audiences that monarchs and their councils plan wars, but ordinary people must fight and die in them.
Julius Caesar is a tragedy partly based on Lives by the ancient Greek biographer Plutarch, as translated by the English writer Sir Thomas North. The play was probably first performed in 1599 and was first published in 1623.
The play takes place in ancient Rome and concerns events before and after the assassination of the Roman ruler Julius Caesar. In spite of its title, the play’s central character is Brutus, a Roman senator and Caesar’s best friend. Brutus reluctantly joins a plot to murder Caesar because he believes Rome’s preservation requires Caesar’s death. The conspirators attack Caesar in the Roman Capitol, and his final words are “Et tu, Brute? [You too, Brutus?] Then fall, Caesar!”
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Antony
Brutus defends the assassination to a crowd of Romans. But he unwisely allows the clever and eloquent Mark Antony to deliver a funeral speech over Caesar’s body. Antony tells the people, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” He then describes the plotters with heavy sarcasm as “honorable men.” At the same time, Antony points out Caesar’s virtues and thus gradually turns the crowd into a mob ready to avenge Caesar’s death. The conspirators are forced to flee Rome.
Mark Antony leads an army that defeats the conspirators at the Battle of Philippi. At the end of the battle, Brutus commits suicide. Over his corpse, Antony states, “This was the noblest Roman of them all.” Antony says that the other plotters killed Caesar out of envy but only Brutus acted with “honest thought / And common good to all.”
Julius Caesar has become a popular play because of its magnificent language and sharp character portraits. For example, Caesar describes the plotter Cassius as having a “lean and hungry look.” But the real interest in Julius Caesar centers on the character of Brutus. A thoughtful, withdrawn man, he is torn between his affection for Caesar and his strong sense of duty to the Roman republic.
Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy partly based on Orlando Furioso (published in 1516, revised in 1521 and 1532), an epic poem by the Italian author Ludovico Ariosto, and on a story in Novelle (1554-1573), a collection of tales by the Italian author Matteo Bandello. The play was probably first performed in 1599 and was first published in 1600.
This romantic comedy concerns the attempts by the villainous Don John to slander the virtue of Hero, the daughter of the governor of Messina, Italy. Hero is about to be married to Claudio, a young lord from Venice. Don John manufactures an accusation of infidelity that causes Claudio to jilt Hero at the altar. After much intrigue, Don John’s plot is exposed and the couple happily marry. Much of the interest in the play centers on the relationships between Beatrice, Hero’s cousin, and Benedick, a lord of Padua. These two witty characters trade insults for much of the play, but they come together in an attempt to restore Hero’s damaged honor and soon realize that they are themselves in love. This combination of sharp intelligence and lack of self-knowledge produces rich comedy. Broad humor is supplied by the talkative village constable, Dogberry, and his assistant, Verges.
Twelfth Night is a comedy partly based on a story in Barnabe Riche: His Farewell to Military Profession (1581), a collection of tales by the English author Barnabe Riche. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was probably first performed in 1600 and was first published in 1623.
Viola and Sebastian, who are twins, become separated during a shipwreck. Viola finds herself stranded in the country of Illyria. She disguises herself as Cesario, a page, and enters the service of Duke Orsino. The duke sends the page to woo Countess Olivia for him. But the countess falls in love with Cesario. Meanwhile, Viola only complicates matters further by falling in love with the duke.
The romantic action alternates with scenes of realistic comedy involving the fat knight Sir Toby Belch and his friends. One friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, fights Cesario in a comic duel. Maria, Countess Olivia’s lady-in-waiting, tricks the countess’s steward, Malvolio, into thinking that Olivia loves him. The plot becomes increasingly tangled when Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother, appears and readily agrees to marry Olivia. In the final scene, Viola, still disguised, is confronted by Olivia, who is confused by the youth’s refusal to acknowledge their recent marriage. Duke Orsino is enraged by the treachery of “Cesario” and threatens violence. But all is resolved when Sebastian reappears and Viola reveals her identity. Viola and Orsino then declare their mutual love, and the play concludes anticipating their marriage. Only Malvolio is left unhappy.
In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare created a perfect blend of sentiment and humor. In addition, he provided Feste, Olivia's clown, with witty comments on the foolish ways of people. Feste's songs contribute both gaiety and sadness to the mood of the play. In one famous song, he reminds the audience that they should enjoy the present because nobody can know what the future will bring:
What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty!
Youth's a stuff will not endure.
Only Malvolio, who thinks he is more moral than other people, spoils the gentle mood of the play. Sir Toby Belch angrily asks him, “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy possibly based on an unknown source or sources. The play was probably first performed in 1600 and was first published in 1602.
According to a popular though unproven story, Queen Elizabeth requested the play. She so enjoyed the comic character Sir John Falstaff in the Henry IV plays that she asked Shakespeare to write a comedy portraying Falstaff in love. The comedy dramatizes Falstaff’s efforts to make love to Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, two honest housewives in the town of Windsor. Instead of winning their love, Falstaff ends up the victim of a number of comical tricks invented by the women.
Although The Merry Wives of Windsor lacks the romantic poetry of most Shakespearean comedies, the play is highly entertaining. The Falstaff in this work has less imagination and wit than the Falstaff in the Henry IV plays. But the character remains theatrically effective, even though the audience laughs at him rather than with him, as in the earlier plays.
Shakespeare's third life
Shakespeare wrote his great tragedies during the third period of his artistic development. Except possibly for Pericles, every play of this period shows Shakespeare's awareness of the tragic side of life. Even the period's two comedies—All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure—are more disturbing than amusing. For this reason, they are often called "problem" comedies or "bitter" comedies. Periclesrepresents Shakespeare's first romance—a drama that is generally serious in tone but with a happy ending.
During this period, Shakespeare’s language shows remarkable variety and flexibility, moving easily back and forth between verse and prose. The verse shows an increasing tendency to allow sentences to extend past the end of the verse line. Shakespeare used a rhythmic pattern called iambic pentameter in most of his writing. This pattern, or meter, consists of 10 syllables alternately unaccented and accented in each line. In the third period, he shows a marked tendency to vary the standard iambic pentameter line, creating an overall effect of increased verbal fluidity. The writing of this period also is marked by especially dense descriptive language. Shakespeare’s language becomes a flexible dramatic tool that makes possible the skillful psychological portraits that mark this period.
Hamlet is a tragedy partly based on Hamlet, a lost play by an unknown English author, and on a story in Histoires Tragiques (1559-1580), a collection of tales by the French author François de Belleforest. Shakespeare’s Hamlet was probably first performed in 1601 and was first published in 1603.
Prince Hamlet of Denmark deeply mourns the recent death of his father. He also resents his mother’s remarriage to his uncle Claudius, who has become king. The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears to the prince and tells him he was murdered by Claudius. The ghost demands that Hamlet take revenge on the king.
Hamlet broods about whether he should believe the ghost. In his soliloquies, he criticizes himself for not acting against his uncle. He also considers suicide. Hamlet decides to have a band of traveling actors perform “something like the murder of my father” before the king to see if Claudius will show any guilt. The king’s violent reaction convinces Hamlet that the ghost has told the truth. But Hamlet rejects a chance to kill Claudius while the king is on his knees in prayer.
Polonius, the king’s adviser, decides to eavesdrop on Hamlet while the prince is visiting his mother in her sitting room. He hides behind a curtain, but Hamlet becomes aware that someone is there. Hamlet stabs Polonius through the curtain and kills him.
Claudius exiles Hamlet to England for killing Polonius. He also sends secret orders that the prince be executed after he arrives in England. But Hamlet intercepts the orders and returns to Denmark. He arrives in time to see the burial of Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius. The young woman, whom Hamlet had loved, had gone insane following her father’s death and drowned after falling into a river.
Laertes, Ophelia’s brother, blames Hamlet for the deaths of his sister and father. He agrees to a plot suggested by Claudius to kill Hamlet with a poisoned sword in a fencing match. Laertes wounds Hamlet during the duel and, in turn, is wounded himself by the poisoned weapon. While watching the match, Hamlet’s mother accidentally drinks from a cup of poisoned wine Claudius had prepared for Hamlet. Although dying from his wound, Hamlet kills Claudius. At the end of the play, Hamlet, his mother, Claudius, and Laertes all lie dead.
Shakespeare handled the complicated plot of Hamlet brilliantly. In this play, he also created perhaps his greatest gallery of characters. The role of Hamlet in particular is considered one of the theater’s greatest acting challenges. Shakespeare focused the play on the deep conflict within the thoughtful and idealistic Hamlet as he is torn between the demands of his emotions and the hesitant skepticism of his mind. Hamlet reveals this conflict in several famous and eloquent soliloquies. The best known is the soliloquy that begins, “To be, or not to be.”
Troilus and Cressida is a dark comedy based on several sources, none of which was a chief source. The play was probably first performed in 1602 and was first published in 1609.
The story takes place during the Trojan War, fought between ancient Greece and the city of Troy. It dramatizes the disastrous love affair between two Trojans, Troilus, one of the king’s sons, and Cressida, a woman whose father has joined the Greeks. Cressida is suddenly sent to the Greek camp in exchange for a Trojan prisoner. Despite her promise to be faithful to Troilus, she accepts the love and protection of the Greek warrior Diomedes in the enemy camp. The play ends with the death of Troilus’s brother, the great Trojan hero Hector.
In spite of its heroic setting, Troilus and Cressida is neither noble nor stirring. The play’s satirical account of the heroic virtue associated with the epic tradition results in dark cynicism. Although the play has some splendid language, no single character provides an authoritative vision of the events shown. This atmosphere of moral confusion, along with the play’s extreme shifts between sexual humor and psychological realism, have led many critics to classify it as one of Shakespeare's "problem plays" because it does not seem to fit neatly into any recognized dramatic category.
All's Well That Ends Well is a comedy partly based on a story in The Palace of Pleasure(1567, revised in 1575), a collection of tales by various European authors, translated by William Painter, an English author. The play was probably first performed in 1603 and was first published in 1623.
This play takes place in France and Italy. Helena, the beautiful orphaned daughter of a physician, loves Bertram, a nobleman. In Paris, Helena cures the French king of an illness and wins Bertram as her husband in reward. But Bertram considers Helena beneath him socially and deserts her immediately after the wedding. He tells her in a letter that she can never call him husband unless she gets a ring from his finger and becomes pregnant by him. In Florence, Bertram attempts to seduce the young Diana. But Helena, having followed her husband, intervenes. She has Diana demand Bertram’s ring in exchange for meeting him. Using the bed trick, Helena substitutes herself for Diana and makes love to Bertram. When Bertram finds that Helena has fulfilled both conditions, he is forced to accept her as his wife.
On the surface, All’s Well That Ends Well resembles other Elizabethan comedies of romantic intrigue. But unlike Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, it has little gaiety and romance. Helena has many of the virtuous traits found in other Shakespearean heroines, but her dogged pursuit of the unworthy Bertram puzzles some critics. Although the play does not emphasize character development, Helena’s struggle to save Bertram from his own worst inclinations does present a complex vision of human nature. The play anticipates elements of the late romances in its use of such fairy-tale elements as miraculous cures, and its emphasis on reconciliation.
Measure for Measure is a comedy partly based on Promos and Cassandra (1578), a play by the English author George Whetstone. Shakespeare’s play was probably first performed in 1604 and was first published in 1623.
Vincentio, Duke of Vienna, turns over the affairs of the city to Angelo, his stern deputy. The duke hopes Angelo will introduce needed moral reforms in Vienna. In one of his first acts, Angelo sentences Claudio to death for making Juliet, his fiancée, pregnant. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, pleads with Angelo for Claudio’s life. Overcome by her beauty, Angelo agrees to save Claudio if she will allow him to make love to her. Isabella refuses, preferring to let her brother die rather than yield her honor. After much intrigue and plotting, including a bed trick like the one that appears in All’s Well,Claudio is saved, Isabella keeps her virtue, and Angelo’s wicked deeds are exposed.
Many critics have objected to the happy ending of Measure for Measure. They consider it false to the spirit of the play. The first part of the play is serious, almost tragic. The latter part becomes a typical romantic intrigue. This lack of artistic unity creates problems. The first part of the play, for example, raises serious questions about the nature of justice that remain unanswered at the play’s end. Because of these perplexing moral entanglements, Measure for Measure is another play that critics have classed as a "problem play" that cannot easily be categorized.
In spite of its flaws, Measure for Measure has many excellent features. Shakespeare drew the characters of Angelo and Isabella with keen understanding. He also included much broad comedy that is highly effective. In addition, his dramatic poetry at times equals that of the best in his tragedies.
Othello is a tragedy partly based on a story in Hecatommithi (about 1565), a collection of tales by the Italian author Giambattista Giraldi, who wrote under the name Cinthio. The play was probably first performed in 1604 and was first published in 1622.
Othello, a noble black Moor (North African), has spent his life as a soldier and become a general in the army of Venice, then a self-governing area called a city-state, ruled by nobles. Othello elopes with Desdemona, the beautiful daughter of a Venetian senator. Immediately after the marriage, Othello is ordered to Cyprus to defend against an expected attack from the Turks. Desdemona insists on accompanying her new husband. Iago, Othello’s aide, declares his hatred of the Moor and begins to plot his downfall. The play’s dramatic core consists of scenes in which Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Michael Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant. A master of psychological manipulation, Iago prefers insinuation to outright lying. He successfully exploits Othello’s insecurity over his race, age, and lack of sophistication. Tormented by thoughts of Desdemona’s infidelity, Othello murders her. After the Moor learns he has been tricked, he stabs himself and dies, describing himself as “one that loved not wisely, but too well.”
Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most powerful tragedies. The action moves rapidly without any unimportant plot developments. The language is also direct and forceful. Both Othello and Iago use especially vivid images, but when Othello is enraged, his language becomes fractured and incoherent. The play is centered on the impossibility of truly knowing the mind of another and insists on the fragility of human goodness and love.
King Lear is a tragedy partly based on Holinshed’s Chronicles; on The True Chronicle History of King Leir, a play by an unknown English author; and on Arcadia (1590), a romance in prose and verse by the English author Sir Philip Sidney. King Lear was probably first performed in 1605 and was first published in 1608.
The main plot concerns Lear, an aged king of ancient Britain. He prepares to divide his kingdom among his three daughters—Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia. Lear becomes angry when Cordelia, his youngest daughter, refuses to flatter him to gain her portion of the kingdom. Lear rashly disinherits her, but the king of France agrees to marry her even though she has no dowry. Lear also exiles his trusted adviser, Kent, for supporting Cordelia.
Regan and Goneril soon show their ingratitude. They deprive Lear of his servants and finally force him to spend a night outdoors during a storm accompanied only by his jester, called the Fool. Lear’s mind begins to snap under the strain. But as he descends into madness, he finally sees his errors and selfishness. Cordelia returns from France leading an army and finds the king insane. Lear recovers his sanity and recognizes her. Armies raised by the wicked sisters capture Lear and Cordelia, who is put to death. Meanwhile, Goneril has poisoned Regan in a bitter quarrel over a man they both love and then killed herself. Order is finally restored in the kingdom. But Lear dies of a broken heart as he kneels over the body of Cordelia.
Shakespeare skillfully wove a subplot into the main story of Lear and his daughters. Gloucester, a nobleman in Lear’s court, makes the mistake of banishing his faithful son, Edgar, and trusting his wicked son, Edmund. Edmund soon betrays his father, who is blinded by Regan’s husband. Edgar, disguised as a beggar, discovers his blind father and comforts him. Having realized his error in rejecting Edgar, Gloucester wants only to commit suicide. Edgar remains in disguise and attempts to teach his father the importance of patience and optimism. But after the battle between Cordelia’s forces and those of her sisters, Edgar reveals himself to his father, who dies overwhelmed by joy and grief.
In King Lear, Shakespeare created the brilliant characterizations that mark his dramas at their best. The characters realize their mistakes, which reflects Shakespeare’s basic optimism. But they do so too late to prevent their destruction and that of the people around them. Lear is widely regarded as the bleakest of Shakespeare's tragedies.
Macbeth is a tragedy partly based on Holinshed’s Chronicles. Macbeth was probably first performed in 1606 and was first published in 1623.
This play is set in Scotland. Returning from battle with his companion Banquo, the nobleman Macbeth meets some witches. They predict that Macbeth will first becomethane (baron) of Cawdor and then king of Scotland. After the first part of the witches’ prophecy comes true, he begins to think the second part may also come true. King Duncan visits the Macbeths. Encouraged by Lady Macbeth, Macbeth murders Duncan and throws suspicion on the king’s two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain. The princes, fearing for their lives, flee, and Macbeth is crowned king of Scotland.
But Macbeth has no peace. Malcolm has escaped to England, where he seeks support against Macbeth. In addition, the witches had also predicted that Banquo’s descendants would be kings of Scotland. Macbeth therefore orders the murder of Banquo and his son, Fleance. Macbeth’s men kill Banquo, but Fleance escapes. Macbeth is now hardened to killing. He orders the murder of the wife and children of his enemy Macduff, who has fled to England. Macduff joins Malcolm, who leads an army against Macbeth. By this time, Lady Macbeth, burdened with guilt over the murders, has become a sleepwalker. She finally dies. At the end of the play, Macduff kills Macbeth in battle. Duncan’s son Malcolm is then proclaimed king of Scotland.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare wrote a tragedy of a man’s conscience. During the course of the play, Macbeth changes from a person of strong but imperfect moral sense to a man who will stop at nothing to get and keep what he wants. By the play’s end, he has lost all emotion. He cannot even react to his wife’s death, except to conclude that life is only “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” On the other hand, Lady Macbeth encourages murder in the beginning. But her conscience grows as her husband’s lessens. In addition to its psychological insights, Macbeth has many passages of great poetry. The play is also noted for its bitter humor, which reinforces the tragic action.
Timon of Athens is a tragedy partly based on Plutarch’s Lives as translated by Sir Thomas North. The play was probably first performed in 1607 and was first published in 1623. Some scholars believe that Thomas Middleton wrote part of the play.
Timon is a nobleman in ancient Athens. Surrounded by flatterers, he spends his money extravagantly. But after he becomes penniless, his friends desert him. Their ingratitude turns Timon into a bitter person who hates humanity. Timon leaves Athens and goes to live in a cave near the sea, where he finds a buried treasure. But his new-found wealth brings him no happiness. He dies, still bitter, in his cave.
Although Timon of Athens has flaws, it also has passages of great eloquence. Several such passages occur when Timon pours out his scorn for humanity. Throughout the play, Shakespeare portrays people at their worst, with few of the noble qualities that lighten the gloom in his great tragedies.
Pericles is a romance partly based on a story in Confessio Amantis (1390), a collection of European tales retold by the English poet John Gower. Pericles was probably first performed in 1607 and was first published in 1609. Some scholars believe that George Wilkins wrote part of the play.
This play consists of many loosely related episodes and is uneven in quality. The action in Pericles covers many years and ranges over much of the ancient Mediterranean world. The plot deals with the adventures of Prince Pericles of Tyre. Upon discovering that the beautiful woman he has been courting is corrupt and vicious, Pericles flees, only to become shipwrecked. Poor and unknown, he comes ashore at Pentapolis. Despite his tattered appearance, the king’s daughter, the virtuous Thaisa, recognizes his basic nobility, and they marry. They have a daughter, Marina, but soon the three family members are separated. The loss of his wife and daughter causes Pericles to fall into a deep melancholy from which he recovers only when reunited first with his daughter and then with his wife.
Pericles shares a number of qualities with the later romances Cymbeline,The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest. Character development is less important than a complex plot that threatens to end in tragedy only to come to an almost miraculous happy conclusion. Along the way, there is real suffering and even death, but all difficulties are redeemed by the joy of recovery and reunion. The two characters who are most fully portrayed are Pericles and Marina, whose radiant and saintly virtue protects her from the evils of the world.
Antony and Cleopatra is a tragedy partly based on Plutarch’s Lives as translated by Sir Thomas North. The play was probably first performed in 1607 and was first published in 1623.
Mark Antony shares the rule of the Roman Empire with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus. Antony lives in Roman-conquered Egypt, where he pursues a love affair with Cleopatra. Political problems in Rome and the death of his wife force Antony to leave his life of pleasure and return home. In Rome, he marries Octavius’s sister Octavia for political reasons. But Antony soon returns to “his Egyptian dish.” Octavius then prepares for war against him.
Antony decides unwisely to fight Octavius at sea. During the battle, Cleopatra’s fleet deserts him, and Antony flees with the queen. After Cleopatra’s ships desert him in a second battle, Antony finally realizes that he has lost everything. Cleopatra deceives him into thinking that she is dead, and Antony attempts suicide. But before he dies, he learns that Cleopatra is still alive. Antony returns to her and dies in her arms. Cleopatra is captured by Octavius, who plans to lead her in triumph through Rome. Although under guard, Cleopatra obtains poisonous snakes and uses them to commit suicide. She dies anticipating her reunion with Antony in the afterlife.
Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra: Enobarbus
The dazzling poetry of Antony and Cleopatra is one of the play’s most notable features. Early in the play, Enobarbus, one of Antony’s officers, gives a famous description of Cleopatra that begins, “The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne, / Burned on the water.” Cleopatra is a wonderfully complex character. She goes from playfulness to irritation, from sweet intimacy to fierce anger, all in an instant. At the same time, she shows courage and determination. As Enobarbus says, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety.”
When Enobarbus becomes convinced that Antony has abandoned reason, he deserts him to join the realist Octavius. In a grand gesture, Antony sends Enobarbus the treasure he has left behind. Enobarbus, overwhelmed by his own disloyalty, dies of a broken heart.
Shakespeare’s dramatic use of poetry creates portraits of the play’s two main characters that are filled with ambiguity. From the perspective of the Romans especially, they appear to be nothing more than aging pleasure seekers. But the lovers describe themselves in lofty poetic language. The play suggests that there is something noble about them.
Coriolanus is a tragedy partly based on Plutarch’s Lives as translated by Sir Thomas North. The play was probably first performed in 1608 and was first published in 1623.
Caius Marcius, a general in ancient Rome, wins the name Coriolanus after he captures Corioli, the capital city of a people known as the Volscians. Coriolanus returns to Rome in triumph and is nominated for the important office of consul. But he cannot hide his scorn for the common people, whose support he needs to become consul. Coriolanus’s superior attitude leads to his exile. He joins forces with his old enemy, the Volscian general Tullus Aufidius, and heads an army against Rome. Coriolanus’s mother, wife, and young son meet him outside the city and beg him to spare it. Moved by their pleas, Coriolanus withdraws his troops. Aufidius denounces him as a traitor and has him murdered.
In Coriolanus, Shakespeare raised issues that remain particularly important today. The tragedy questions the values of personal popularity and political success. It also debates the conflicting interests of public and private life. Shakespeare’s direct and dramatic verse contributes to the play’s power.Shakespeare writes a story about the bad times for his poems and for his plays. He also starts making comedies and romance plays. He creates more perfect plays and also some historical plays about the past kings. He starts to be more famous and artistic.I wonder of how he got any of his ideas for his plays and how he had enough time to build the theater and care for his children.
Shakespeare's fourth life
During his final period, Shakespeare wrote five plays—four romances and a history. Scholars believe Shakespeare collaborated with John Fletcher, who took over for Shakespeare as the lead dramatist for the King’s Men, on two of these plays—Henry VIIIand The Two Noble Kinsmen.
The four romances are beautifully constructed, and their poetry ranks among Shakespeare’s finest writing. But unlike his masterpieces of the third period, the romances seem detached from reality. Scholars disagree on the reason for this change in Shakespeare’s works. Some claim he was calmly looking back on his life and philosophically summing up his career. Other scholars believe that the romances are a response to the growing popularity of plays that mixed comic and serious elements and that in writing them Shakespeare was adapting his work to the changing tastes of his audience. These claims are not, however, mutually exclusive. Throughout his career, Shakespeare was attentive to the desires of his audience. At the same time, his work never appears merely commercial.
Cymbeline is a romance partly based on several sources, none of which was a chief source. Cymbeline was probably first performed in 1609 and was first published in 1623.
Cymbeline, king of Britain, angrily exiles the poor but honorable Posthumous after the young man marries Imogen, the king’s daughter. The treacherous Iachimo bets Posthumous that Imogen is not virtuous. Iachimo then tries to seduce her. He fails but tricks Posthumous into believing that he has succeeded. Posthumous orders his wife killed, but she escapes disguised as a court page. After many adventures, Imogen and her husband are happily reunited. Iachimo, filled with regret, confesses his wickedness.
Cymbeline is a lively mix of historical elements. It includes portrayals of ancient Britons, classical Romans, and, in Iachimo, an Italian plotter who appears modern. Cymbeline’s queen is the sort of wicked stepmother found in fairy tales. Her son, Cloten, is a cowardly clown. Although Posthumous is brave and virtuous, the play’s most appealing character is the loyal and resourceful Imogen.
The play includes a subplot that involves the recovery of Imogen’s two brothers, who had been stolen in infancy. These elements unfold against the background of an international conflict between Britain and the Roman Empire. The resolution of all these conflicts allows the play to end in a celebration of global peace.
The Winter's Tale is a romance partly based on Pandosto (1588), a prose romance by the English author Robert Greene. The play was probably first performed in 1611 and was first published in 1623.
Leontes, king of Sicilia, becomes uncontrollably jealous of his faithful wife, Hermione, and suspects her of sleeping with his boyhood friend Polixenes. Polixenes is now the king of Bohemia, and he has been visiting Sicilia for the past nine months. Leontes tries to have Polixenes murdered, but he escapes and returns to Bohemia. Leontes then orders his wife to prison, where she gives birth to their daughter, Perdita. Leontes declares the child illegitimate and orders that she be abandoned in a deserted place. Leontes sends agents to consult the oracle of Apollo and puts Hermione on trial for adultery. As the trial begins, a report arrives from the oracle declaring Hermione’s innocence. But Leontes rejects the oracle and immediately learns that his young son has died of grief. At this news, Hermione falls into a deathlike faint. Suddenly convinced of his error, Leontes is left to mourn the loss of his wife, daughter, and son.
Meanwhile, Perdita has been saved by an old shepherd. She grows into a lovely young woman and wins the love of Florizel, prince of Bohemia. But Florizel’s father, Polixenes, angrily disapproves of their romance, and the couple flee to Leontes’s court for protection. There, Leontes discovers that Perdita is his daughter. The king’s happiness is complete when he is also reunited with his wife, who was thought to be dead. Instead, with the help of a lady-in-waiting, she had been living in seclusion, hoping for Perdita’s return.
Like Cymbeline,The Winter’s Tale concerns exile, women suffering from male jealousy, and the reuniting of loved ones. Also like the earlier play, The Winter’s Tale takes a potentially tragic situation and uses it to stress recovery rather than destruction. Still, there is loss. The young prince and the lord sent to dispose of Perdita are both dead. The play’s conclusion includes a wonderful piece of theater in which a supposed statue of Hermione comes to life. The conclusion is finely balanced between the joy of reconciliation and the painful knowledge of loss.
The Tempest is a romance partly based on several sources, none of which was a chief source. The Tempest was probably first performed in 1611 and was first published in 1623.
Prospero, the wrongfully deposed Duke of Milan, Italy, lives on an enchanted island with his beautiful daughter, Miranda. The mischievous spirit Ariel and the monster Caliban serve Prospero, who is a skilled magician. Using magic, Prospero creates atempest (storm) that causes a ship carrying his enemies to be wrecked on the island. The ship also carries the young prince Ferdinand. Miranda loves him at first sight and cries out, “O brave new world that hath such creatures in it.” With his magic, Prospero brings Miranda and Ferdinand together and upsets plots laid against him by his shipwrecked enemies. Prospero appears before his enemies and forgives them. He decides to give up his magic and return to Italy, where Ferdinand and Miranda can marry.
Like Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale,The Tempest tells a story in which old injuries are forgiven and the characters begin a new and happier life. In The Tempest, Shakespeare blended spectacle, song, and dance with a romantic love story, beautiful poetry, and broad comedy. The result of this blending is a brilliant dramatic fantasy. In one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, Prospero tells the audience:
Prospero from The Tempest
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
Many scholars have taken these lines to be Shakespeare's farewell to his profession. But no one knows if he intended the speech to be autobiographical.
Henry VIII is a history partly based on Holinshed’s Chronicles and on The Book of Martyrs (1563), a religious work by the English author John Foxe. The play was probably first performed in 1613 and was first published in 1623. Many scholars believe that John Fletcher wrote part of the play.
The play dramatizes the events that led to England’s break with the Roman Catholic Church. It deals with King Henry VIII's annulment (cancellation) of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (spelled Katherine in the play) and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. The play also covers the fall of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey as the king’s adviser and the rise of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer as Wolsey’s replacement. Henry VIII is a loosely constructed drama and better known for its pageantry than for its characterization. But the play attempts to move beyond the anger found in almost all the historical accounts of England’s split from Catholicism available during Shakespeare’s lifetime. The play’s alternate title, All Is True, suggests a mildly ironic attempt to create an account of the country’s recent past that covers all the major events and invites agreement among the various sides.
The Two Noble Kinsmen is a romance chiefly based on “The Knight’s Tale” from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The play was probably first performed in 1613 or 1614 and was first published in 1634. Most scholars believe Shakespeare wrote it with John Fletcher.
The play tells the story of two young aristocrats from Thebes, Palamon and Arcite. Although Thebes is ruled by the tyrant Creon, the two friends decide that loyalty requires them to help defend their city against the attack of Theseus, king of Athens. The two are captured in battle and taken to Athens. In prison, Palamon sees and falls in love with Emilia, the sister of Hippolyta, the wife of Theseus. Arcite, too, falls in love with Emilia.
The two friends argue bitterly over their claims to Emilia. Arcite is released from prison and exiled, but he remains in Athens in disguise. Palamon manages to escape from prison and encounters the disguised Arcite in the woods. The two are about to fight a duel over Emilia when they are discovered by Theseus, who condemns them both to death. The king is talked into sparing the two on the condition that they return in a month to fight each other. The winner will marry Emilia, and the loser will be executed.
In preparation for the fight, Arcite prays to Mars, the god of war. Palamon prays to Venus, the goddess of love, and Emilia prays to Diana, the goddess of virginity. Arcite wins the fight but afterward is thrown from his horse and fatally injured. Palamon, on the verge of execution, is permitted a final interview with his dying friend, who confesses that he has wronged Palamon and urges him to take Emilia. Theseus spares Palamon and agrees to his marriage to Emilia.
The Two Noble Kinsmen, like other late romances, has an artificial quality and an improbable plot designed to highlight the guiding role of Providence in human affairs. Like Henry VIII, the play emphasizes courtly ceremony and pageantry. However, the play’s central focus is on a friendship between two men that is jeopardized by their rivalry for the same woman. Some of the play’s best dialogue concerns the qualities and claims of friendship.
Shakespeare's Last Years
During his last eight years, Shakespeare was the sole author of only three plays—Cymbeline,The Tempest, and The Winter’s Tale. He collaborated with John Fletcher, another English dramatist, in writing three more plays. In the past, some scholars argued that The Tempest, written about 1610, was Shakespeare’s last play. Such a theory was encouraged by the presence in the play of passages that sound like a farewell to the stage. However, in 1612 and 1613, Shakespeare worked closely with Fletcher, who replaced him as the chief dramatist for the King’s Men, on Cardenio (now lost), King Henry VIII, and Two Noble Kinsmen. In addition, Shakespeare purchased a house in the Blackfriars district of London in 1613. The evidence thus suggests that Shakespeare gradually reduced his activity in London rather than ending it abruptly.
By 1612, Shakespeare had become England’s most successful playwright. He apparently divided his time between Stratford and London. He had lodgings in London at least until 1604 and probably until 1611. Such family events as his daughter Susanna’s marriage in 1607 and his mother’s death in 1608 would likely have called him back to Stratford. By 1612, he may have spent much of his time in the comforts of New Place in Stratford.
On Feb. 10, 1616, Shakespeare’s younger daughter, Judith, married Thomas Quiney, the son of his Stratford neighbor Richard Quiney. Six weeks later, Shakespeare revised his will. Within a month, he died. He was buried inside the Stratford parish church. His monument records the day of death as April 23, the generally accepted date of his birth.
Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, died in 1596 at the age of 11. The playwright’s daughter Susanna had one child, Elizabeth, who bore no children. Shakespeare’s daughter Judith gave birth to three boys, but they died before she did. Shakespeare’s last direct descendant, his granddaughter Elizabeth, died in 1670.