William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is the greatest English-language playwright of all time. Many of his plays are required reading in school curricula throughout the English speaking world and beyond; those taught in schools often include Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer-Night's Dream and Hamlet.
Shakespeare spent his early years in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire and is also known as "the bard of Avon." Because of sharing the name "Stratford," the towns of Stratford, Ontario, in Canada and Stratford, Connecticut, have become the homes of Shakespeare festivals where his plays are performed on a regular basis. Evidenced by the majority of his sonnets being addressed to a man (notably sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day?) Shakespeare had romantic feelings for men. He likely was bisexual.
Shakespeare did not become famous until late in his life and consequently historians and biographers know very little about his earlier life. There are few pictures of him and the accuracy of the pictures is disputed.
The idea of an ill-educated (to his contemporaries) person coming among them and making a success was upsetting to the University-educated playwrights of the time. It is believed that the poet, Philip Green, was referring to Shakespeare when he wrote
"There is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers that, with his 'tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide,' supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you; being an absolute Johannes Factotum, in his conceit the only shake-scene in a country."
His plays seem to show so much education and erudition that there are even theories that they must have been written by someone else, famous candidates being the Earl of Oxford and Sir Francis Bacon. Most scholars do not believe these theories, but there are enough questions that new theories of Shakespearean authorship continue arise over the years.
A long-standing theatrical superstition holds that it is bad luck to refer to Macbeth directly by its name while inside a theatre, and accordingly, actors traditionally refer to it obliquely as "the Scottish play." It is considered acceptable to voice the play's name only while rehearsing or performing the production itself.
Because Shakespeare's plays are so familiar, there are innumerable references to them in British literature. Sometimes his stories are recast into a different form. The musical West Side Story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, and the classic science-fiction movie Forbidden Planet is a transformed version of The Tempest. The motion picture Shakespeare in Love, which won the 1998 Academy Award as Best Picture is not a history or biography, but is enjoyed for evoking a sense of what Shakespeare's time and place might have been like.
The reverence in which Shakespeare is held, and the language of his plays (which come from the same era as the King James translation of the Bible) should not obscure the fact that his plays were (and still are) fabulously successful.
He is also famous for his 154 sonnets, short poems written in a very strict rhyme scheme. The sonnets fall into series or sequences. Most of them are usually read as expressions of romantic or platonic love; some appear to be written to a married woman known in the sonnets as the "Dark Lady," some to a young man known as the "Fair Lord."
In common with the majority of the population at the time, Shakespeare wrote in his will, "I commend my soul into the hands of God, my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ, my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting."
His tomb in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon, England, reads as follows:
- Good Friend For Jesus Sake Forbeare, To Digg The Dust Enclosed Heare. Blese Be Ye Man Spares Thes Stones, And Curst Be He Moves My Bones.
List of Plays by Shakespeare
- Two Gentlemen of Verona (1589)
- A Comedy of Errors (1589)
- The Taming of the Shrew (1593)
- Love's Labour's Lost (1594)
- A Midsummer-Night's Dream (1595)
- The Merchant of Venice (1596)
- The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597)
- Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
- As You Like It (1599)
- Twelfth Night (1601)
- All's Well That Ends Well (1602)
- Measure for Measure (1603)
- Pericles, Prince of Tyre (1607)
- Cymbeline (1609)
- A Winter's Tale (1609)
- The Tempest (1610)
- The Two Noble Kinsmen (1611)
- The Life and Death of King John (1590)
- The First Part of King Henry VI (1590)
- The Second Part of King Henry VI (1592)
- The Third Part of King Henry VI (1593)
- The Tragedy of King Richard III (1593)
- The Tragedy of King Richard II (1595)
- The First Part of King Henry IV (1596)
- The Second Part of King Henry IV (1597)
- The Famous Life of King Henry V (1599)
- The Famous Life of King Henry VIII (1613)
- Titus Andronicus (1591)
- Romeo and Juliet (1594)
- Julius Caesar (Play) (1599)
- Troilus and Cressida (1600)
- Hamlet (1600)
- Othello (1603)
- Timon of Athens (1604)
- King Lear (1605)
- Macbeth (1606)
- Coriolanus (1608)
- Antony and Cleopatra (1608)
- "Shakespeare" was spelled many ways before English spelling was standardized. Some of the more unexpected forms are "Shaxper," "Shaxberd," and "Shaksper."
- Great Books, Shakespeare: I, Edited by Mortimer J. Adler, 1952.