William Shakespeare’s life story form his youth all the way to his days of fame is of great importance as it gives insight of how the world’s most impactful literary genius came to be.
The Life of Shakespeare
“However, a number of records exist that deal with Shakespeare’s life. They include church registers and accounts of business dealings. Although these records are few and incomplete by modern standards, they provide much information. By relating these records to various aspects of English history and society, scholars have constructed a believable and largely comprehensive account of Shakespeare’s life. However, gaps remain,”(Lander).
The conveys how there are just an ample amount of documents and records concerning the life of William Shakespeare. With many existing documents providing enough information about the playwright and poet. Through all of this many scholars have been able reconstruct a comprehensive account of Shakespeare's life.
Life in the Elizabethan Era
“Under Elizabeth, England advanced in many areas. Merchants formed a great trading company, the East India Company, in 1600. Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and other English adventurers explored the Caribbean region and the coasts of North and South America. English literature flowered during the Elizabethan Age, with the work of such writers as Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, andWilliam Shakespeare. Notable composers from the period included Thomas Tallis andWilliam Byrd,”(Bumgardner).
During this age under Queen Elizabeth I, England as a whole was able to advance in many major areas. Areas such as trading bloomed and prospered with the merchants forming the East India Company. Along with explorers and adventurers such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh who spread new knowledge about the world beyond England's reach. And most importantly, the growth of English literature through renowned writers such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and the great William Shakespeare.
“Popular pleasures during the Elizabethan Age included archery, bowls (similar to bowling), and dancing. People liked music, and wealthy people were expected to play musical instruments on social occasions. The English also enjoyed dressing up for masques, pageants, and plays at Christmas and other special times. Elizabeth’s court became a center for musicians, scholars, and writers,”(Burmgardner).
During this time of prosperity popular pleasures included archery, bowls, and dancing. Many people were into music, with many wealthy people being expected to play musical instruments on social events. And another thing the English enjoyed was dressing up for pageants and masquerades, along with plays at Christmas time and other special occasions. Queen Elizabeth's court was also home to many scholars, musicians, and writers.
“Not everyone prospered during the Elizabethan Age. Strict rules regulated clothing, land ownership, marriage, and religion. In the latter half of Elizabeth’s reign, she actively persecuted Catholics. Some radical forms of Protestantism also were not tolerated. A number of people were executed for activity opposing the established church. By law, such action could be regarded as treason. In 1587, Elizabeth executed her cousin Mary Stuart, the former Catholic queen of Scotland. Mary had been the willing focus of several Catholic plots against Elizabeth.
An Irish rebellion and a worsening economy darkened the final years of Elizabeth’s reign. The Elizabethan Age ended with Elizabeth’s death in 1603. Elizabeth was succeeded by James VI, the Protestant son of Mary Stuart,”(Burmgardner).
Although the time of Queen Elizabeth's reign seemed to be a prosperous and joyful time, there were things that were just to good to be true. Strict rules took over land ownership rights, clothing, marriage, and religion. With the Queen even continually persecuting Catholics during her latter years, along with radical forms of Protestantism. Plus, numerous executions, the most notable being Elizabeth's execution of her cousin, Mary Stuart. All of these factors were also increased with an Irish rebellion and the worsening economy.
Birth and Family
“We know that William was born the third of eight children around April 23, 1564, in Stratford, a market town about one hundred miles northwest of London,”(Anderson).
Through a few existing documents such as William's baptismal registration we are able to concur that Shakespeare was born around April 23, 1564. He was the third of eight children of Mary Arden and John Shakespeare. They lived in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon, located a hundred miles from London.
“The Shakespeares were a family of considerable local prominence. In 1565, John Shakespeare became an alderman. Three years later, he was elected bailiff (mayor), the highest civic honor that a Stratford resident could receive. Later, he held several other civic posts. But toward the end of his life, John Shakespeare had financial problems,”(Lander).
The Shakespeare family were not commoners, but middle-class citizens. This is due to considerable importance in their locality. John Shakespeare was an alderman for three years. He then was elected bailiff, the greatest honor any Stratford local can receive. As good as it seemed to be for John, he began to have financial problems towards the latter end of his life.
“Windows were smashed and boys, such as William, might pay for 'a wyndowe at the shuttinge of of [ their ] Master forthe'. William knew a festive, topsy-turvy world of inverted authority in school and his comedies were to explore the more subtle and complex inversions, and deep releases, of antic mishap,”(Schoenbaum).
Shakespeare's school life seems to have been not at all boring, as he even participated with others in smashing windows at his school for fun. This proves that the young Shakespeare enjoyed his childhood very much and had fun within the authority of his school with his "comedies" defined as messing around. As he used these to explore the fun in pranks.
“Beginning at about the age of 7, William probably attended the Stratford grammar school with other boys of his social class. The school’s highly qualified teachers were graduates of Oxford University. Students spent about nine hours a day in school. They attended classes the year around, except for three brief holiday periods. The teachers enforced strict discipline and physically punished students who broke the rules. The students chiefly studied Latin, the language of ancient Rome. Knowledge of Latin was necessary for a career in medicine, law, or the church. In addition, the ability to read Latin was considered a sign of an educated person. Young Shakespeare may have read such outstanding ancient Roman authors as Cicero, Ovid, Plautus, Seneca, Terence, and Virgil,”(Lander).
At seven years old Shakespeare attended the Stratford grammar school with many other boys of his social status. Students were taught by highly qualified teachers and graduates from Oxford University. Classes spent nine hours in school learning rhetoric and Latin all year round, with the exception of of holidays. Teachers were able instill strict discipline among students, who were even physically punished for breaking rules. Students studied prominently Latin, the knowledge of this language was necessary in gaining a career in medicine, law, or of the church. The ability to speak Latin was also a sign of an educated person.
“On Nov. 27, 1582, Shakespeare received a license to marry Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a local farmer. The two families knew each other, but the details of the relationship between William and Anne have been a source of speculation. At the age of 18, William was young to marry, while Anne at 26 was of normal marrying age,”(Lander).
On Nov. 27, 1582, Shakespeare finally gained the license to marry the daughter of a local farmer, Anne Hathaway. Licenses were a required item in order to marry a woman. The relationship between Anne and William has been much of a blur due to a lack of details expressing each others love life. It is also important to note that William was quite young, at 18 yrs. old to marry the 26 yr. old Anne.
“The marriage appears to have been hurried, and the birth of their first child, Susanna, in May 1583 came only six months after marriage. Some scholars have suggested that William may have been forced to marry Anne because she was pregnant. However, birth and marriage records indicate that many women in England at that time were already pregnant before they married, and so Shakespeare’s marriage was not unusual. Early in 1585, Anne gave birth to twins, Judith and Hamnet,”(Lander).
Although, their matrimony may have been rushed, Anne gave birth to their first child Susanna, in May, six months after her and William's marriage. Some theories suggest that William could have been forced into marrying Anne simply because she was already pregnant prior to their marriage. Although, birth records have already dispelled this theory. And in 1585 Anne gave birth to twins, Judith and Hamnet.
Working in a Theater
“Scholars do not know which of the various companies first employed Shakespeare. Scholars have noted connections between Shakespeare’s early plays and a number of plays that were performed by the Queen’s Men, a company that played in Stratford in 1587. What is certain is that by 1594 Shakespeare was a sharer in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. As a sharer, Shakespeare was a stockholder in the company and entitled to a share in the company’s profits,”(Lander).
Although, research can not tell which of the numerous theaters hired Shakespeare after his move to London, scholars were able note the connections he had with a number of early plays and plays by the Queen's Men. But what is certain is that Shakespeare was a sharer in the Lord Chamberlin's Men and was able to gain ample profits.
“The Lord Chamberlain’s Men were one of the most popular companies in London. In large part because of Shakespeare’s talents, they would go on to become the dominant company in England during the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. Shakespeare’s position as sharer allowed him to achieve a level of financial success unmatched by other dramatists of the age, many of whom lived in poverty. Most playwrights were free-lancers who were paid a one-time fee for their plays and usually worked for several companies. After 1594, Shakespeare maintained a relationship with a single company,”(Lander).
The Lord Chamberlain's Men were one of the most recognized and popular theatrical companies in London. This was due to Shakespeare's literary talents, in which they would move on to be the top dog of all the other companies in the whole of England. Shakespeare's position as a stockholder gave him a great level of financial success, unlike many of the other playwrights of his age.
“From mid-1592 to 1594, London authorities frequently closed the theaters because of repeated outbreaks of plague. Without the income provided by acting and playwriting, Shakespeare turned to poetry. In 1593, Venus and Adonis became the first of Shakespeare’s works to be published. The publisher was Richard Field, a native of Stratford who may have known Shakespeare in childhood. As was customary at the time, Shakespeare dedicated his volume to a noble patron, in this case Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. Venus and Adonis proved to be extremely popular and was reprinted at least 15 times in Shakespeare’s lifetime,”(Lander).
The period from the mid-1592 to 1594, authorities continually shut down theaters due to repeated outbreaks of the plague. Because of this Shakespeare's income from acting and playwriting took a halt. In result he turned to poetry, with Venus and Adonis, becoming the first of to be several works to be published. This early poem proved to be a crowd pleaser and was reprinted at least 15 times during Shakespeare's life.
“Despite the commercial success of these early publications, Shakespeare made no effort to make a career of poetry. When the theaters reopened, he returned to acting and playwriting,”(Lander).
Although, his poems brought him commercial success, Shakespeare was able to pickup on poetry quick. He was able to make an easy move into poetry, And as the theaters began to reopen he was able to comeback to acting and playwriting.
The Wooden “O”
"In 1599, Burbage's theater was torn down and its timbers were used by Shakespeare and his company to build the Globe Theatre. This was the theater for which Shakespeare wrote most of his plays,"(Anderson 3).
This shows that the Globe was built with the salvaged timbers from England's first theater by Shakespeare and his company. Also the Globe was able to influence him in the writing of plays, in which Shakespeare first presented his plays.
“Little is known about the Globe's design except what can be learned from maps and evidence from the plays presented there. The Globe was round or polygonal on the outside and probably round on the inside. The theater may have held as many as 3,000 spectators. Its stage occupied the open-air space, with a pit in front for standing viewers. The stage was surrounded by several levels of seating,”(Lander).
Less is known about the Globe's inner workings, but through maps the evidence of plays shown in the theater we are able to tell that the Globe had a round, polygonal shape. It was would have been able to seat as many as 3,000 spectators, with an open-air stage. Along with a space in the middle meant for standing viewers, mainly commoners, and levels of seats within the shade of the wooden "O" for the wealthy.
The King’s Men
“In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died and was succeeded by her cousin James VI of Scotland. As king of England, he became James I. James enjoyed and actively supported the theater. He issued a royal license to Shakespeare and his fellow players, which allowed the company to call itself the King’s Men. In return for the license, the actors entertained the king at court on a more or less regular basis,”(Lander).
After Queen Elizabeth I died she was succeeded by Jame VI of Scotland. He enjoyed the theater and quite actively supported it. He then issued a license to Shakespeare's company of fellow players. This enabled the company to change their name from the Lord Chamberlin's Men to The King's Men. In which the company exchanged entertainment at the king's court in return for their license.
“The King’s Men achieved unequaled success and became London’s leading theatrical group. In 1608, the company leased the Blackfriars Theatre for 21 years. The theater stood in a heavily populated London district called Blackfriars. The Blackfriars Theatre had artificial lighting, mainly candles. The theater was probably heated and served as the company’s winter playhouse. The King’s Men performed at the Globe during the summer,”(Lander).
The King's Men gained much success and became the most prominent theatrical group within the whole of London. And, in 1608 the group was able to lease the Blackfriars Theater, located in the heavily populated district of Blackfriars. This theater became the King's Men playhouse during the winter, with its heating and candle lighting and the Globe became their summer playhouse.
“The period from 1599 to 1608 was a time of extraordinary literary activity for Shakespeare. During these years, he wrote several comedies and almost all the tragedies that have made him famous. Shakespeare’s masterpieces during this period include the comedies Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night; the history Henry V;and the tragedies Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Macbeth, and Othello,”(Lander).
From 1599 to 1608, Shakespeare was having immense activity and transcendence into many literary ventures. It was during these years that he produced the numerous comedies and tragedies that gave him great recognition. Masterpieces such as the comedies Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night; along with the tragedies Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet.