By Cathy Richey, the Cathy Factor
Shakespeare Quick Facts
- Nationality: British; English
- Birth Date: April 23, 1564
- Death Date: April 23, 1616
William Shakespeare is considered by many to be one of the
finest playwrights in history. The influence of his work extends
to the modern day, and his stories are often reworked into
modern plots. It is not that his plots were particularly unique,
it was the language and characters that are so fascinating. He
has been called the “master” of English Literature, but there is
only sketchy biographical information regarding Shakespeare.
And there is dispute about the authorship of several of his
plays, and whether some of the plays may have been
Most information about the life of Shakespeare is taken from
church records. For example, that he was born in 1564, and most
date his birthday as April 23. It is fairly certain that Shakespeare
was baptized on April 26. The death of Shakespeare is often
dated as April 23, 1616. He attended a local school. He was
married to Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children.
When Shakespeare was about 20, he left his wife and children
and went to London where he worked as an actor and playwright.
He also wrote a number of sonnets and several book-length poems
around 1592, when the spread of the plague closed down theaters
for a few years.
He is noted for both “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of
Lucrece.” Most of his plays were not published, but were rather
written down as tracts so the actors could memorize lines. So
publication of the plays today is based on collected folios, and
critics differ on when each play was published.
Many of the plays of Shakespeare were performed at the Globe
Theater in London. Private plays were given for royalty. Queen Elizabeth I, in
particular. Her successor, King James, also saw these plays but was not so
ardent a fan as the Queen had been.
thought Shakespeare spent 25 years in London before retiring to
his home in Stratford on Avon, where he lived the remaining 5
years of his life.
It would be impossible to describe the plots of every
Shakespeare play, since they are so complex. They do fall into
several categories. Like his
contemporaries, Shakespeare wrote histories, comedies,
tragedies, and romances.
It's obvious what a history is, and these took the form of plays because
literacy was non-existent among the peasant classes. A play was the only medium
available for teaching them. This is similar to modern day America, where
functional literacy is extremely poor (the USA is at the bottom among
industrialized countries) and most people get their (dis)information from
television, movies, and videos rather than from books.
Comedies ended with marriage, tragedies with death.
This is not so similar to modern life, in which people often consider their
marriage to be a tragedy (thus the high rate of divorce). The last class, the romances, are neither comedy nor tragedy.
Today of course, real-life romances tend to be both--the tabloids are full of
crazy stories that amuse us to no end. And we circulate those in e-mail with
such brilliant commentary as LOL, WTF, and RFLOL.
In the tragedies, Shakespeare gives us some of the most
villainous characters ever. These include:
- Lago the devious plotter of Othello.
- The horrible elder daughters of Lear.
- Power-mad Lady
His comedies are equally memorable for their wonderful
funny characters, Puck from Midsummer, Kate from Shrew, and
Falstaff from Wives. The romances blend comedy and tragedy,
representing a mature frame of mind and a wish to further the
art form of the play.
Regardless of where you start in reading Shakespeare, the
rich language, the complex characters, and exciting plots can
leave you breathless. Today, there are wonderful modern
interpretations or traditional productions of his work, which
will give you Shakespeare as he was meant to be understood, by
watching the performance of his art.