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William Shakespeare
(baptized 26 April 1564; died 23 April 1616)

William Shakespeare

Some Shakespearean scholars believe there is no contemporary portrait of William Shakespeare. However, the above portrait, unveiled on March 8, 2009, by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, is thought to have been painted in 1610. six years before Shakespeare's death in 1616.

According to Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the exhibition of this portrait, called the Cobbe portrait because it was owned by the Cobbe family, marks a defining moment in the history of Shakespeare’s posthumous reputation.

Over the centuries, a number of images have been put forward as life portraits of the great writer, but according the Trust,, none of them is generally accepted as such. They believe the only two likenesses with strong claims to authenticity are: the engraving in the First Folio of 1623, by Droeshout and the bust on Shakespeare's monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon.

With the unveilling of this Cobbe portrait, the Trust maintains a contemporary portrait now exists that has strong claims to represent the dramatist as he appeared to his contemporaries. Some experts are sceptical and doubt its authenticity.

William Shakespeare

Painted during Charles II's reign and attributed to Gerard Soest (1637-81), this portrait is also in the collection of the Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon.

William Shakespeare

This controversial 'Chandos' portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and is attributed to John Taylor. Named after James Brydges, 3rd Duke of Chandos, an early owner, it has not been possible to determine with certainty, who painted the portrait, nor whether it really depicts Shakespeare. It is thought by some that the earring was added to it later.

Engraved portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout

Objections have been raised that the Droeshout engraving looks too different. Droeshout was just twenty-two at the time and he: simplified it for his brass plate; updated the fashion of the collar and gave Shakespeare less hair. (There is already a receding hairline in the Cobbe portrait.) Engravers usually did simplify and update. Droeshout was sharp enough to capture the cast in the left eye and the composition of his engraving perfectly fits that of the portrait.

It was used on the title page of the first publication of his works, the First Folio and it is claimed it shows distinct similarities when compared to the Chandos oil painting.

clockwise from top left:
John Sanders, 1603
Cornelis Jansson, 1610
Chandos - 1600-1610 - artist unknown
Gerard.Soest 1660s

There is no concrete evidence that William Shakespeare ever commissioned a portrait and there is no written description of his physical appearance. There are only two commonly accepted portraits of William Shakespeare, both of which are posthumous: the one on First Folio by Droeshout and the one on his monument

Like everything else regarding this mystery man, little is known for certain about what Mr. Shakespeare actually looked. George Bernard Shaw summed him up in this way. "Everything we know about Shakespeare can be got into a half-hour sketch." He is elusive in every way: in his politics, religion, sexuality and in everything else that matters. All one can do is to examine any evidence about him and his world that exists. We can begin by associating him with specific places in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Places marked by numerals are properties associated with William Shakespeare and his family and are preserved and administered as a national memorial to the Poet by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust promotes the life & works of Shakespeare and offers a unique Shakespeare-centred experience, that includes: outstanding collections; literary programmes and 5 unique Shakespeare houses. Created in 1847, it purchased William Shakespeare's birthplace for preservation as a national memorial.

1. Shakespeare's Birthplace on Henley Street.
This is a half-timbered house where William was born. It contains information about the history of the house as well as exhibits illustrating his life and work.

Entrance to William Shakespeare's Birthplace
photo by
B. Wilson

Front of William's Birthplace
photo by
G. Wilson

William's Birthplace
photo by
B. Wilson

Back of William's Birthplace
photo by
G. Wilson

Inside the house
photo by

Known as 'Shakespeare's Desk'
It is displayed in the museum at the Birthplace

2. New Place
William Shakespeare owned the large house called New Place. It burned down in 1759 and only the foundations and gardens remain. Nash's House adjoining is furnished in period style; it is also a museum of local archeological and historical materials.

New Place
photo by
G. Wilson

New Place
photo by
B. Wilson

William Shakespeare's final residence was passed to his daughter Susanna Hall after his death in 1616. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust acquired New Place and Nash's House in 1891. According to the Trust, archeological experts were brought in to carry out excavations at the site of New Place, Shakespeare’s final home. Starting in March 2010, they began digging in three locations to learn more about the original house, its domestic arrangements and Shakespeare himself. They hope to piece together the bigger picture of the last years of his life.

3.Hall's Croft
On Chapel Street is a fine Tudor beautifully-furnished house with a walled garden, where Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna and her husband, Dr. John Hall, lived.

4. Circled
Holy Trinity Church on the bank of the River Avon.

Holy Trinity Church

Hall's Croft
Susanna Shakespeare's Home
photo by
B. Wilson

Timber-Framed Almshouses, Stratford-upon-Avon
photo by
G. Wilson

Probably the best known group of almshouses in Stratfore-upon-Avon is this fifteenth century timber-framed building in Church Street. It provided low-cost accommodation for needy, eligible, elderly people over state retirement age and doubtless, acqaintances of the Shakespeare's often took shelter here.

John Shakespeare and Mary Arden were wed in 1557 and it is thought their marriage raised a few eyebrows, for their social positions varied considerably. John was of Yeoman stock and Mary was a member of the aristocratic Arden family. They had one thing in common: both families were staunch Catholics, a fateful faith at the time, for England was fiercely Protestant and Catholics were viewed with suspicion and often hatred.

Their first son, William was born in late April 1564 and christened in Stratford parish church.The vicar's entry says simply: "26 April William son of John Shakespeare." William's early education began at home, where his mother was his first teacher and the Bible, the only book in the house. As bailiff of Stratford, John Shakespeare was able to send his son to the town's school, which boys began at age seven. William eventually moved on to the grammar school and for seven years from 1571, he attended Big School (as opposed to petty school) in Church Lane between the almshouses and the guild chapel. Students were expected to be able to read and write basic English and have basic reading skills in a little Greek and Latin. One person speculated that the buttocks were created in order to facilitate learning Latin. School started early and it was strict, for beatings were the norm, and lots of literature had to be learned by heart. The room where William learned by rote the Tudor grammar school curriculum is above the guild hall and still used for teaching.

Shakespeare's School Room

Plays were part of Shakespeare's life. The Town accounts record that John Shakespeare, as mayor, welcomed players to Stratford and paid donations to them from the public purse. Education included acting and plays, so William would have performed as a child, even doing some of the plays in Latin.

A favourite was dramatist Seneca, poet and tutor of Nero. He was forced to commit suicide since he was falsely considered to have conspired to kill Nero - tyranny's toll on writers.

Seneca's response:
"The kingdom of the mind, unshaken by tyranny.
Not riches makes a king ... .
A king is he that hath laid fear aside,
And all affects that in the breast are bred ... .
It is the mind only that makes a king.
The kingdom each man bestows on himself.

Shakespeare never forgot this.

Trouble arose for the Shakespeares in 1578, when John became heavily in debt and was being sued by his creditors. He and his wife Mary were forced to sell off much of their properties and John was obliged to give up his civic position. With five children under twelve to support, the eldest son, William, was forced to leave school and become another breadwinner.

William, added to their woes when in 1582, the eighteen-year old came home with the news that 26 year old Anne Hathaway was three months pregnant with his child. The Hathaways knew the Shakespeares and William often walked the mile to visit with the pretty milk-maid.

Is this Anne Hathaway?
A 1708 sketch from a Tudor portrait
from (Shakespeare by Michael Wood)

Anne Hathaway lived in a small village called Shottery and Stratford-upon-Avon would have been the nearest town a mile away. She was the daughter of Richard Hathaway, one of eight children, who lived in a cottage called Hewland Farm in Shottery. Anne would not have attended any school and was therefore illiterate.

Although called a cottage, the childhood home of Shakespeare's wife Anne is anything but. In fact, it was a spacious twelve-roomed farmhouse with several bedrooms. In Shakespeare's day, it was known as Newlands Farm, and remained in the Hathaway family for many generations. Built on a stone foundation, it is made of timber-framed wattle-and-daub. The oldest part dates from the 14th century. It was acquired by the Trust in 1892 and is open to public visitors as a museum.

The Hathaway's Cottage
photo by
G. Wilson

Young Will had little to offer but poetry, so he wooed Anne with what some scholars think may very well have been his first verse.

Those lips that love's own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said, "I hate"
To me that languished for her sake,
But, when she saw my woeful state,
Straight to her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
"I hate," she altered with an end
That followed it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From Heaven to Hell is flown away.
"I hate" from hate away she threw
And saved my life, saying, "not you."

The scandal to the family caused by the conception of a child with a much older woman outside marriage, caused immense gossip in the community and blackened the family name still further. William and Anne eventually married on 27 November 1582 at Temple Grafton, a village just five short miles (8 km) from Stratford. There are two documents regarding the marriage - but the names conflict! There are 2 different entries mentioned in the Episcopal Register at Worcester on November 27th 1582 and November 28th 1582. The entry on 27th November refers to the marriage of "Wm Shaxpere et Annam Whateley de Temple Grafton" The entry on 28th November refers to the marriage of "William Shagspeare and Anne Hathwey"

While family spellings were flexible in those days, scholars have had a field day conjecturing that Will really loved a lass named Whateley, but had to settle for one named Hathaway. Taking up the cause of Anne, her supporters say she saved Will from making a terrible mistake. This is simply one more of the many conundrums concerning the world's greatest playwright.

After their hasty marriage, the young couple moved in with the Bard's family. where their three children were born. Susanna was born in May 1583, six months after their wedding. Two years later, twins were born: Hamnet and Judith, named after the Shakespeare's neighbours. The children were raised in their grandfather's house, predominantly by their mother Anne, as William's work in the theatre was based in London.

The ten years between 1582 and 1592 have become known as "The Lost Years," for the only reliable record of William's whereabouts during this period is the baptism records of his children. As was the case involving most writers of the time, little is known about William's life after he left home. With prospects for work in Stratford minimal, William decided to seek his fortune in London, He joined a company of actors and a few years later he became a playwright and wrote various plays including Titus Andronicus. By the end of 1592 he had created his first great character, the villainous Richard III and his fame took flight.

Because Shakespeare had what appears to have been a very limited, rudimentary education and because so little is known about the during his developing period, other writers, particularly the 17th Earl of Oxford, have frequently been proposed as the actual authors of his plays and poems. Despite extensive and ongoing research into this matter, no one has ever been able to solve the mystery of the man. The hunt for the real Shakespeare is a fruitless act.

Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus,
And we petty men walk underneath his huge legs,
And peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars,
But in ourselves that we are underlings.

An Elizabethan same age - 24 - as William in London
(Shakespeare Michael Wood)

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of an Elizabethan theatre where some of William Shakespeare's plays were first performed. The remains of the Curtain Theatre, which opened in 1577, were found behind a pub in Shoreditch, east London, as part of regeneration works. The Curtain was operated by theatre manager James Burbage and was home to Shakespeare's Company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, from 1597 until The Globe opened two years later. Plays thought to have premiered there include: Henry V, Romeo and Juliet and Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour.

Curtain Theatre

The venue was immortalized as "this wooden O" in this precious prologue to Henry V.

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder
: Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;

For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass:
for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

By 1582, John and Mary's errant son had made a name for himself in the Theatres of London. He had arrived in London without any outward signs of promise. He had no money, no status and no university degree and he was reared in a forbidden religion. By 1594 he had become a rising playwright in London and an actor in a leading theatre company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later King’s Men,) and that same year, he even played before the Queen. William mixed with the elite, was envied by university men and had the admiration of aristocrats and kings. Nobles of the Realm were his friends. From the moment of his father's decline, Shakespeare had never been free from anxiety. The genius was deeply insecure and he prudently stored up wealth like a squirrel. When he retired he owned the biggest house in Stratford and had his own coat-of-arms.

His acquisition of that occurred in 1596 by which time the family's fortunes had taken off. William, 32 and famous, left for London with his father to try to obtain a coat-of-arms. Their submission in the files of the Royal College of Arms survives along with rough notes. That day William recalled that long ago, an ancestor had won a reputation and "lands and tenements" when he had done King Henry VII "valiant and faithful" service. This signified deeds in wartime and implied that the Bard's ancestor had supported Henry Tudor against Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. Little wonder William was fascinated with British history.

The Shakespeares achieved a long-held ambition. John Shakespeare and his children were granted permission to display a coat-of-arms. It was gold with a black banner bearing a silver spear and motto, 'Not without right'.

Shakespeare Coat of Arms
Non sans droit

Now officially part the Gentry, John and his sons were entitled to put "gentleman" after their name. The coat-of-arms could be displayed on their door and all their personal items. By 1599 William's father was reinstated on the Stratford Town Council and he had regained his social standing and former wealth. The coat-of-arms appears with the crest on the Shakespeare monument in Stratford church, but does not appear anywhere else. John Shakespeare enjoyed his new status until 1601, when the father of the great Bard died at the age of 70. Mary, the mother of the great Bard, lived for a further seven years until her death in 1608.

William Shakespeare died of an unknown illness in his 52nd year. He knew for four months that he was dying.

Tombstone of William Shakespeare

Good friend for Jesvs sake forbear
To digg the dust encloased heare
Blese be ye Man Ye spares hes stones
And cvrst be he ye Moves my bones

The monument in the wall of the church bears the same inscription as the tombstone, the inscription described by a bulletin of the Holy Trinity Church as, "mischievous words."

While this curse is like many found on ancient Latin epitaphs, it is thought William wrote it himself, for he dashed off similar doggerel for friends and relatives. The last line might seem to suggest he feared his bones would share the same fate as those of many others in the area, that is, added to the great pile of human bones deposited in the charnel-house in Stratford.

Holy Trinity Church
photo by
G. Wilson

Holy Trinity Church in Stratford on the banks of the River Avon, The church dates from the early 13th century and it is likely that a wooden church existed on the site as early as the 9th century. It welcomes many thousands of visitors annually, which has something to do with the fact that William Shakespeare was baptized here, served as a lay rector of the church and is buried here. Surely a man of his stature deserved a better burial in Westminster Abbey, the repository of England's great literary giants, but it seems Bill had no interest in being interred in that august place. His wife, Ann Hathaway, daughter Susanna, son-in-law Dr John Hall and Thomas Nash (first husband of his grandaughter Elizabeth) are buried beside him.

"He dyed a Papist," declared a clergyman, who heard that the great writer's last rites had been performed by a Catholic priest. To be a Papist then was perilous. Even though Queen Elizabeth steered a more moderate course through the religious conflicts that often raged, her Act of Uniformity sounded the death knell for English Catholics. It was the government's intention to stamp out Catholicism. As a result, religious conviction for most was hard to come by during those tense, often troubled times and Shakespeare was no different.

The religious uncertainties he suffered were reflected in descriptions of him by scholars that included: an outward conformist (that is Protestant) with inward regrets, a reverent agnostic and a humanist who found solace in the pagans. When he finally faced death, he may simply have longed for the loyalty of the past, remembered the religion of his parents and his ancestors and opted for the ancient rite of passage.

Holy Trinity Church Chancel

In the chancel on the left is the monument erected after Shakespeare's death. It is a somewhat crude affair carved by a stonemason not a carver, but it appears to have been approved by Shakespeare's wife.

Shakespeare's Monument in Holy Trinity Church Chancel

Mounted on the north wall of the Holy Trinity Church is Shakespeare's monument. Designed by Gerard Johnson, the bust of the poet is holding a quill pen in one hand and a piece of paper in another, his arms resting upon a cushion. The Shakespeare family's coat of arms is above him and on either side two allegorical figures: one, representing Labour, holds a spade; the other, representing Rest, holds a torch and a skull.

It is not known exactly when the monument was erected, but it must have been before 1623. In that year, the First Folio of Shakespeare's works was published and it is prefaced by a poem by Leonard Digges that mentions, "thy Stratford moniment" [sic]. The monument was restored in 1748-9 and has been repainted several times.

The inscription reads as follows.


The first line translates:
"A Pylus in judgement," comparing Shakespeare to Nestor the wise King of Pylus;
"A Socrates in genius," comparing him to the Greek philosopher Socrates.
"A Maro in art," comparing him to the Roman poet Virgil (whose last name, or cognomen was Maro).

The second line translates:
"The earth buries him,"
"The people mourn him,"
"Olympus possesses him," the latter referring to Mount Olympus, the home of the Greek gods.

The inscription in old and modern English reads as follows:


Stay, passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read, if thou canst, whom envious Death hath placed
Within this monument: Shakespeare, with whom
Quick nature died, whose name doth deck this tomb
Far more than cost, sith [i.e. since] all that he hath writ
Leaves living art, but page, to serve his wit.

On 25 March, 1616, Shakespeare executed his will, on three sheets of parchment, each signed by him.

Shakespeare made no provision in his will to pay for a monument to celebrate his name and fame. It is not known who covered the monument's cost.

Shakespeare's will was equally delinquent when it came to his wife's inheritance. She certainly suffered by comparison with their daughters. This is just one more mystery regarding the Bard that has befuddled scholars across the years. Why was Will seemingly so parsimonious with his widow? Or was he? What is the significance of "the second best bed"? To his young man and dark lady, William devoted dozens of sonnets, while about his wife he was conspicuously silent. It is hard to imagine Shake maintaining intimacy with a woman, who could not even read what he wrote.

Will Shakespeare's Will (excerpts)
In the name of god Amen I William Shackspeare, of Stratford upon Avon in the countrie of Warr., gent., in perfect health and memorie, God be praysed, doe make and ordayne this my last will and testamentin manner and forme followeing, that ys to saye, ffirst, I comend my soule into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and assuredlie beleeving, through thonelie merites, of Jesus Christe my Saviour, to be made partaker of lyfe everlastinge, and my bodye to the earth whereof yt ys made.

Item, I gyve unto my wief my second best bed with the furniture,
Item, I gyve and bequeath unto my saied sister Jone and all my wearing apparrell,
Item, I gyve and bequeath unto my [sonne and] daughter Judyth one hundred and fyftie poundes of lawfull English money,
Item, I gyve and bequeath unto my saied daughter Judith one hundred and fyftie poundes more, if shee or anie issue of her bodie by lyvinge att thend of three yeares next ensueing the daie of the date of this my will,
Item, I gyve, will, bequeath, and devise, unto my daughter Susanna Hall, for better enabling of her to performe this my will, and towards the performans thereof, all that capitall messuage or tenemente with thappurtenaunces, in Stratford aforesaid, called the New Place, wherein I nowe dwell, and two messuages or tenementes with thappurtenaunces, scituat, lyeing, and being in Henley streete, within the borough of Stratford aforesaid; and all my barnes, stables, orchardes, gardens, landes, tenementes, and hereditamentes, whatsoever, scituat, lyeing, and being, or to be had, receyved, perceyved, or taken, within the townes, hamletes, villages, fieldes, and groundes, of Stratford upon Avon,

Shakespeare was "extraodinarily negligent" about collecting all of his plays into a single folio for posterity. He left behind "the typical mess of a busy artist." The task of creating order out of this chaos was done after his death by his close friends one being Ben Jonson, whom Shakespeare had ridiculed for creating a folio of his own works. They gathered all of Shakespeare's writings into what was called, First Folio. It was "a stout, unadorned leather binding, resembling nothing so much as a fine slab of old oak." [*] Had they not done so, it could have been as though, "some of the greatest works of English literature had never been written." Five hundred copies were sold for a pound apiece and they elicited little public interest.

The First Folio was published seven years following Shakespeare's death with these words.

"We have but collected them and done an office to the dead ... without ambition either of self-profit or fame, only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our Shakespeare ... And there we hope, to your diverse capacities, you will find enough both to draw and hold you; for his wit can no more lie hid than it could be lost. Read him, therefore, and again and again, and if then you do not like him, surely you are in some manifest danger not to understand him."

The more Shakespeare you get, the more he matters to you. No writer`s work supports more, Italo Calvino`s definitition of a classic as, "a book that has never finished saying what it has to say." The first magic of Shakespeare is his use of language - "No one ever drew on a deeper well of English." He also had an uncanny understanding of human nature expressed in the range of his characters.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge said of him; "He is of no age, or religion, or party, or profession. The body and substance of his works come out of the unfathomable depths of his oceanic mind. What a piece of work was this man!"

Many of the Players (actors) praised Shakespeare and commented that it was an honour that of all he wrote, "he never blotted out a line," Jonson said," I honoured his memory (on this side of Idolatry) as much as any, but would he had blotted out a thousand."

Shakespeare was, said Jonson, "Indeed honest and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy; brave notions and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped. Sufflaminandus erat. (Put a lid on it!)

Claiming he surpassed even the great Greek and Roman writers, Jonson, a Latin scholar of note, was contemptuous of his old rival's grammar school Greek and Latine and jibed him for knowing, "small Latin and less Greek." Despite their notoriouly prickly relationship. the irascible Jonson paid the ultimate compliment to Shakespears. " He was not of an age, but for all time." He knew whereof he spoke for over four centuries later, people around the world still pay to see 'players' perform his plays.

Shakespeare is the world's greatest dramatist. Four hundred and forty-six years after his birth, his work is still read and performed on stages throughout the world. It came as a bit of a shock, therefore, to learn that he was not always held in high regard. His reign as the writer without peer did not begin until he had been dead a century. In his early years, he had his detractors, one of whom, a distinguished writer, took him to task.

In 1592, the most popular author of his time, Robert Greene, considered young Bill "an upstart crow, beautified by the feathers of others. He supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you and is in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country." He had grown too big for his britches and Greene decided to take him down a notch or two. Shakespeare was an actor and Greene did not like actors. "Trust them not," he warned his readers, for they had power to persuade with their performances. Greene was one of the 'University Set,' a member of the Cambridge/Oxford trained literary scholars. Its members, who included Christopher Marlowe and Sir Walter Raleigh, were considered to be the only authors with real ability to write poetry. Will was not of the 'University Set.'

Regardless of his scholarship, Shakespears's rank as a writer was obviously well recognized and shortly after Greene died, Greene's publisher and printer issued a public apology to the "Upstart Crow." Perhaps he foresaw profits from the plays to come.

Shakespeare’s plays, all of them written largely in iambic pentameter verse, are marked by extraordinary poetry; vivid, subtle, and complex characterizations; and a highly inventive use of English. Their hallmarks are tangled relationships, women disguised as men and intrigue laced with tragedy and comedy. Imagery allusion metaphor and ambiguity are his stock-in-trade.

The earliest plays seem to date from the late 1580s to the mid-1590s and include the comedies: Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. History plays based on the lives of the English kings include: Henry VI (parts 1, 2 and 3), Richard III and Richard II. The tragedy is Romeo and Juliet.

The plays apparently written between 1596 and 1600 are mostly comedies that include: The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It. The histories include: Henry IV (parts 1 and 2), Henry V and Julius Caesar.


During the winter of 1598-99, Shakespeare and his colleagues made the move from The Theatre located in Shoreditch to Bridewell. On a plot of land there, using, in part, pieces of the dismantled The Theatre, they carried the remains across the Thames and had constructed over the next six months a theatre called the Globe. The new playhouse, the finest in London, opened on 12 June 1599 with Julius Caesar.It was Shakespeare's 21st play and marked ten years of success for the playwright. During the performance of Henry VIII on 29 June, 1613, the Globe burned down when paper stuffed inside one of the cannons that had just been fired off, broke into flames and within less than an hour, the whole house had burned to the ground. Some said symbolically the fire also ended the career of the dramatist, for afterwards, Shakespeare returned to Stratford. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site by June 1614 and closed in 1642.

Exterior of the Globe Playhouse

Introducing Shakespeare by G.B. Harrison)

When the modern reconstruction of the Globe, named Shakespeare's Globe, opened in August 1996, a notable mame was not in the audience. The driving force behind its construction was Sam Wanamaker. He believed the Globe was the most important theatre of our civilization and his herculean efforts fighting legal battles, civic obstruction, government apathy and seeking funding for its construction dated from 1970, when he founded the Globe Theatre trust. He envisioned a Globe duplicating the original in its self-same location. His dream came true for the modern Globe is approximately 230 metres (750 ft) from the site of the original theatre. Sam died in 1993

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
(Shakespeare by Michael Wood)

Approximately between 1600 and 1607, he wrote the comedies: Twelfth Night, All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure, as well as the Hamlet, the break through play in which he "perfected the means to represent inwardness," interiority being the hallmark of modern art. Other great tragedies (probably begun in 1599) are Othello, Macbeth and King Lear. Experts believe these mark the summit of his art.




King Lear

Among his later works (about 1607 to 1614) are the tragedies Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Timon of Athens, as well as the fantastical romances The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.

His 154 sonnets, published in 1609 but apparently written mostly in the 1590s, often express strong feeling within an exquisitely controlled form.

Shakespeare retired to Stratford before 1610 and lived as a country gentleman until his death. The first collected edition of his plays or First Folio, was published in 1623.

Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare's Six Signatures

These are the six purported signatures of Shakspere, all on legal documents.

a) Belott-Mountjoy Affidavit, 1612. Public Records Office.
b) Blackfriars Conveyance, 1613. Guildhall Library.
c) Blackfriars Mortgage, 1613. British Library.
d) the will. Public Records Office.
e) the will. Public Records Office.
f) the will. Public Records Office.

The latter three appear on the will, dated 25 March 1616 and their shakiness is sometimes justified by speculation that Will was terminally ill or had had a stroke. There is also some question about the last signature being in a different and more proficient hand, possibly the lawyer's. Infirmity doesn't explain the first three even more primitive signatures and do not appear to represent the handwriting of a very literate person.

The rest of Shakespeare's family seems to have been illiterate, signing their names with an X. Note that none of these signatures is spelled "Shakespeare" nor indicates a long 'a' in pronunciation. "Shake-speare," the designation of the author of his works, is a pseudonym, something that apparently would have been rather obvious to the Elizabethans.

"His characters are its kings and queens, priests and witches, mothers and fathers, clowns and fairies. This no doubt helps explain his great popularity in the eyes of his own audience, but it also helps us understand his continuing relevance today. He brings back to life the world we have lost. Shakespeare's humanity, his language, his humour and his toughness of mind will become all the more valuable to us as our own 'revolution of the times' unfolds."

"More so, perhaps, than any other writer before or since, Shakespeare held the keys that opened the hearts and minds of others, even as he kept the lock on what he revealed about himself."

[*] There are about 230 (verified) copies of this 900-page book, the earliest reliable published edition of Shakespeare's plays. They are scattered around the world. While one copy was on display at Durham University in 1998, it was stolen. It turned up later at Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., where it had been taken by a man from Durham County to have it "verified" and staff thought it just might be the one stolen from display. The individual was arrested for theft; he claimed he had found it while visiting his financee, a 21-year old dancer in a night club in Havana The 1623 book, believed to be worth up to 15 million pounds, has been described as one of the most important printed works in the English language. First Folio No. 1, a priceless tome, is in Folger Library in Washington, D.C.

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare 1599 by James Shapiro; Introducing Shakespeare by G.B. Harrison;Shakespeare by Michael Wood; Shakespeare's Wife by Germaine Greer


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