Voted the Man of the Millennium in 1999, William Shakespeare
is one of the greatest writers in the English language and one of the world’s
Possibly the writer the finest English
literature ever written, William Shakespeare came from comparatively humble
origins, William Shakespeare became the most famous dramatist of his age, mixed
with nobility and met royalty. He achieved all this through his skill with the
Shakespeare was born on 23rd April 1564 in Stratford-on-Avon
in Warwickshire. His father was a glove maker and wool merchant who took an
active part in local government. Although he had a fairly prosperous business,
Shakespeare’s father often experienced cash flow problems when his debtors
wanted their money before he was paid for work done. Nevertheless, Shakespeare
was given a good education and joined his father’s business. In 1582 he married
Anne Hathaway, a farmer’s daughter form nearby Shottery, and six months later
their first daughter was born. Twins followed in 1585 and young William decided
to seek a more reliable income than he could achieve helping his father.
Shakespeare knew the theatre from the London
troupes which came on tour to Stratford, and he began to earn some money
writing plays for them to perform. In 1592 Shakespeare’s King Henry VI part 1
was playing to packed audiences in London. The Rose Theatre put on several of
Shakespeare’s early works, including Richard III and the Taming of the Shrew.
then disaster seemed to strike Shakespeare’s new career. Plague broke out in
London and the authorities blamed its rapid spread on the large crowds at
theatres. Theatres were closed down.
Out of work as a playwright, Shakespeare turned
to poetry. The money was not so good, but his elegant treatment of love, honour
and revenge - subjects popular among the nobility - brought his work to the
attention of important men at court, and even to royalty.
When the theatres were allowed to reopen in 1594
Shakespeare’s new fame put him into a position to be a joint owner of a new
company, the Chamberlain’s Men. Performed the great tragic actor Richard
Burbage and the comic genius Will Kempe, Shakespeare’s plays reached new
heights of popularity. The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard
II and As You Like It all belong to this booming period. But Shakespeare’s
fortunes were about to get even better. In 1598 the Chamberlain’s Men opened a
new theatre in Southwark, south of the Thames. It was built to be bigger and
better than any other theatre, with a balcony and cellar to allow all manner of
stage effects. The Globe, as the theatre was called, was phenomenally
successful. For the next ten years, Shakespeare earned a large sum of money
from his writings and part ownership of the troupe.
In 1608, at the age of 44, Shakespeare gave up
full time employment in the theatre. His father was dead and his children were
marrying. Shakespeare felt it was time for him to assume his duties as head of
an increasingly large family. He used the money had earned from the London
stage to purchase houses and lands in and around Stratford. He died in 1616,
though it is not known from what cause.
Shakespeare’s writings gained enormous
popularity from his knack of appealing to popular tastes. When the public
wanted comedies, he wrote comedies. When a tame performing bear was available
he included a bear in the play. But his subsequent fame proved to be so
enduring because of his treatment of character. Shakespeare could create the
words and dialogue that revealed the true depth of his characters. Unlike some
other playwrights, Shakespeare did not allow the story to drive his characters.
Instead his characters created the storyline by their jealousies, loves and
ambitions. The unique gift of combining massive popular appeal with highly
skilled writing was unique to Shakespeare. There have been better playwrights
and there have been more popular playwrights, but nobody has outdone him in the
combination of the two.