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Shakespeare: Life & Times

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Shakespeare: Life & Times. English Renaissance. Elizabeth I (Protestant) in power Rose to power after death of her older half sister ‘Bloody Mary' (Catholic) Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn who was executed by husband Henry VIII

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english renaissance
English Renaissance
  • Elizabeth I (Protestant) in power
  • Rose to power after death of her older half sister ‘Bloody Mary' (Catholic)
  • Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn who was executed by husband Henry VIII
  • Music, Art, & Literature began to flourish-artisans came from smaller towns to London to market their talents
  • Artists considered vagabonds until Queen Elizabeth accepted them in her court (later King James would follow her footsteps)
english renaissance1
English Renaissance
  • Hygine was not of utmost importance (open gutters, raw sewage, etc)
  • Onset of BlackDeath in major cities from 1563-1603 then in London in 1592 and theatres and other public venues were closed
  • Theatre enterprise in disfavor with religious/political authorities who were afraid of
    • propaganda in plays
    • immorality/profanity
    • Contagions
Bubonic Plague
  • Top: Illustration of medieval impressions of the plague
  • Bottom: Cross section of plague carrying flea
english renaissance2
English Renaissance
  • Theatres built on outskirts of city out of county jurisdiction
  • Areas called “Liberties”
  • Naturally also a breeding ground for thieves, pickpockets, criminals, etc: slum areas
  • Employers often reluctant to allow workers to go see plays because of the “Liberties” demographics
  • Other popular forms of entertainment included: bear/bull-baiting, cock fights…anything bloody and gory!
  • One of the main draws of the theatre was the hope of seeing bloody fight scenes and deaths (real animal blood used in death scenes)
  • Commoners were main theatre patrons
shakespeare s life or what little we know of it
Shakespeare’s Life (or what little we know of it!)
  • Lived from April 23, 1564-April 23, 1616 in Stratford on Avon
  • Went to school at Stratford Grammar school where he got ideas for plays from Greek/Roman history, Plautus, Seneca, and learned Latin (school was very rigorous-9 hours per day all year round!)
  • Married Anne Hathaway when he was 18 (she was 26 and pregnant!)
  • Anne gave birth to daughter Susanna 6 months after they were married
Top:Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace
  • Bottom: Anne Hathaway’s cottage before she married Shakespeare
shakespeare s life
Shakespeare’s Life
  • Later had twins Judith and Hamnet
  • Little is known of his life between when he left Stratford and arrived in London: it was speculated he was poaching and therefore was driven out of Stratford
  • During these “Lost Years” he could have done anything: sailor, soldier (helped defeat the Spanish Armada), printer, gardener, etc.
  • The first time documentation of his whereabouts surfaced was in 1592 by Robert Greene (see handout)
shakespeare s life1
Shakespeare’s Life
  • Shakespeare was a part of the the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later, when James I took over the throne, they became the King’s Men)
  • Between 1589-1613, Shakespeare wrote 36 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 narrative poems (sonnets and poems mostly written during time of plague when theatre were shut down in 1592)
  • He retired a wealthy man having invested in real estate
  • His death is something of a mystery, though alcohol is suspect
shakespeare s tombstone
Shakespeare’s Tombstone





Why do you think Shakespeare had these word engraved on his tombstone?

the globe theatre
The Globe Theatre

Can this cockpit hold

The vastly fields of France? Or may we cram

Within this wooden O the very casques

That did affright the air at Agincourt?

-Prologue, Henry V: referring to the Globe Theatre

globe theatre
Globe Theatre
  • Opened in 1599
  • Theatre advertising was forbidden (Puritan pressure) so a flag was raised and a trumpet blasted before every performance, red for histories, white for comedies, black for tragedies
  • Ticket priced depended on the location of the seat-groundlings had penny seats (groundlings) and royalty and wealthy sat onstage
  • Performances were only during the day
  • Environment was very boisterous, loud, and riotous, audience often threw food, beer, and other items at performers
  • There were no bathrooms (imagine all that ale!)
globe theatre1
Globe Theatre
  • Scenery and props were minimal, focus was on the LANGUAGE! Although props and costumes were often elaborate.
  • No women actors were allowed, female parts played by young men: this explains Shakespeare’s lack of female roles…and love scenes! (it wasn’t until 1660 that women were allowed onstage)
  • In 1613 the Globe was destroyed by cannon fire as part of a production of Henry IV. It was then rebuilt and then closed in 1642. The theatre was torn down 2 years later when all theatres were closed down.
shakespeare s works
Shakespeare’s Works
  • In 1623, 36 of his plays were collected by 2 of his friends into what is now known as the First Folio
  • Shakespeare wrote in Early Modern English
  • He wrote in Blank verse or Iambic Pentameter:
    • Iamb: a poetic unit with one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable
    • Pentameter: ten syllables or beats in each line

(However, he also utilizes prose when fitting)

shakespeare s works1
Shakespeare’s Works
  • Audiences back then wanted what audiences of today want: violence, mystery, sex, deceit, romance, and comedy
  • Shakespeare borrowed plots from other playwrights (TV producers of today do the same thing…they go with what already works…oops, did someone say ‘Reality TV?’)
types of plays
Types of Plays

Shakespeare’s plays are divided into 5 categories: comedies, histories, tragedies, problem plays, & romances

Comedy (genre):

Concerns lovers, treats characters and situations humorously, concludes happily, ‘festive’ plays

History Plays (genre):

Large-scale chronicles of English history, concerned with social order and monarchies (Tudor point of view) his early plays were histories

types of plays1
Types of Plays
  • Tragedy (genre):

Tell story of noble hero with a character flaw which eventually brings his downfall in circumstances which overpower him (usually involving other characters conspiring against him) Hero usually makes insights that make him a fuller human being. Tragedies end in (usually multiple) deaths

types of plays2
Types of Plays
  • Problem Plays =Comedy+Tragedy:

Describes 3 plays in which Shakespeare’s intention is ambiguous. Some have humorous content, but end tragically or vice versa. Alls Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Troilus and Cressida fall into this category.

types of plays3
Types of plays
  • Romances (genre):

“tragicomedies” Have potentially tragic beginnings which give way to peace. Powerful evil forces are overcome, involve a reunion of family members (4 of his last five plays were romances, parallel to his life)

  • Aside:

A theatrical convention: a speech heard by the audience but not by other characters onstage

  • Soliloquy:

A theatrical convention: a speech by a character who is alone onstage or whose presence is unrecognized by the other characters.

  • Theatrical Convention:

Established theatrical techniques or plot devices that audiences and performers even though they are not realistic Ex: Aside, soliloquies, and the convention that a character who is disguised, no matter how thinly will not be recognized by the other characters.

  • Blank Verse:

Unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter (a meter made up of 5 ‘feet’, each foot consisting of a stressed and unstressed syllable)

  • Imagery:

Language that appeals to the senses and major image patterns which reoccur throughout the play (ex: Day and Night in R& J)

  • Prologue:

Speech delivered by a member of the chorus before the action starts which sets the scene for the play

  • Epilogue:

A final address to the audience delivered by a character from the play which wraps up the action