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Shakespeare Unleashed

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 collaborative.

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.

It is 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 Macbeth.

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.
 

 

About Cathy: She and her Doberman Trooper conduct research into all kinds of topics and produce articles like the one you see here. To contact Cathy, write to thecathyfactor@yahoo.com. Get the facts from Cathy, and let the Cathy Factor give you an edge.

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