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A Brief Introduction. William Shakespeare. Where to start?. He’s been dead for over 400 years but he’s still the name on all the cool kids’ lips! He’s a playwright....a poet....keen on tragedy....but also comedy.

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a brief introduction

Brief Introduction

William Shakespeare

where to start
Where to start?
  • He’s been dead for over 400 years but he’s still the name on all the cool kids’ lips!
  • He’s a playwright....a poet....keen on tragedy....but also comedy.
  • He never left England but you can see his plays on stage in places like Tokyo and on screen in places like New Delhi.
  • Plenty is known about his work, but his life story is full of pot holes and dead ends....some people even (gasp) suggest he didn’t even write the plays and poems we know as his work (double gasp).
william shakespeare childhood
William Shakespeare – childhood
  • Date of birth thought to be April 23 1564.
  • Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, about 150kms north west of London.
  • Brought up in fairly comfortable circumstances (i.e. good education, access to theatrical performances).
william shakespeare
William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s house from his childhood – Stratford Upon Avon

  • Married Anne Hathaway in 1582….at only 18!
  • Three children: Susanna and twins Hamnet(boy with odd name) and Judith (another girl).
  • Wife and children lived in Stratford in a mansion called New Place, bought from his earnings.
anne hathaway
Anne Hathaway

Anne’s cottage from her childhood – Stratford Upon Avon

anne hathaway1
Anne Hathaway
  • It is not clear if Shakespeare and Ms Hathaway married for love or because they were obligated to.
  • Some of his poetry may give us a clue about their relationship (Sonnet 130):

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

  • What do you think that the poem means?
  • 1587 – Moved to London, may have become an apprentice actor.
  • Became involved with a foremost theatrical company ‘The Chamberlain’s Men’.
  • 1592 – Began to write (adapting scripts, taking stories from other sources and putting into scripts).
work continued
Work continued
  • Became main playwright of company, producing an average of two full length works per year…this earned him about 200 pounds a year (which was a healthy amount).
  • Wrote comedies, tragedies and histories.
  • Romeo and Juliet was his tenth play, written before the age of 30.
  • 1596 – Granted a coat of arms, officially became a ‘gentleman’.
globe theatre
Globe Theatre
  • 1598 – put up money to build the company’s own theatre.
  • Built not far from London Bridge, on the River Thames.
  • Holds up to 2 500 people.
  • Opened February 1599 with performance of Julius Caesar.
  • Burnt down in 1613
what is so great about him
What is so great about him?
  • Famous in his own time (not just after death).
  • Used more English words than any other writer before or since.
  • Conjured up phrases still used in everyday life (‘quick as a flash, blinking idiot’).
  • Created great literary masterpieces…yes, they really are masterpieces!
  • Many great political upheavals in England during the previous two centuries.
  • Henry VIII (1509-1547) – notorious problems created by attempts to have a male heir.
  • Succeeded by Queen Mary – wanted to restore Catholicism, ‘Bloody Mary’.
politics continued
Politics continued
  • Queen Elizabeth I succeeded her – Protestant. Consolidated her power and by shrewd policies built England into the foremost nation of the time. The period she ruled (1558-1603) is referred to as the Elizabethan period.
  • James I (James VI of Scotland) succeeded in 1603 as only legitimate successor.
  • Perceived as weak, rebellion a real possibility (Guy Fawkes plot to kill the King).
excitement and appeal yes it is appealing
Excitement and Appeal! (yes, it is appealing)
  • Created many of the words we use today (bandit, green-eyed monster, bloodstained, numb, scuffle, fitful, dwindled….I could go on for days!)
  • The ultra cool use of blank verse (poetic form) – no one really spoke that way!
  • Rhythmic pattern of iambic pentameter (most lines contain five feet, with each foot containing a stressed and an unstressed syllable).
  • Many of his characters hurled some awesome insults – there are as many as 10 000 insults in his plays