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William Shakespeare
Biography
William Shakespeare is considered to be the greatest playwright of the English language. No
other dramatist has influenced the world in such a way as him. Today, his plays can be seen in
many different languages. Cinamagoers can see his plays in moder-day films. No other writer
had such an impact on the English language as Shakespeare.
He lived and worked in the 16th century, in the period of Renaissance. Shakespeare’s parents,
John and Mary, were married about 1557. She was of the landed gentry, he was a glover
(glove maker) and merchant. They had eight children. By 1568, John held the position of high
bailiff, similar to mayor. William, the eldest son, was born in 1564, probably on April 23,
several days before his baptism on April 26, 1564, six years after Elizabeth I became Queen.
His actual birth house is still standing, although many experts believe that he was in fact born
in another house.
William attended the local grammar school in Stratford where his parents lived, and studied
primarily Latin rhetoric, logic, and literature. Grammar schools were the most common form
of education at that time and they were free. Young Shakespeare had plenty of opportunity to
see plays and players from verious travelling companies, because in the 16th century plays
were performed in the courtyards of inns. At the age of 18 (1582), William married Anne
Hathaway, a local farmer’s daughter eight years older than him. Their first daughter (Susanna)
was born six months later (1583), and twins Judith and Hamnet were born in 1585.
Shakespeare’s life can be divided into three periods: the first 20 years in Stratford, the next 25
years as an actor and playwright in London; and the last five in retirement back in Stratford.
The years linking the first two periods are marked by a lack of information about
Shakespeare, and are often referred to as the “dark years.
John Shakespeare had financial problems from William’s teen years until well into the height
of the playwright’s popularity and success. In 1596, John Shakespeare was granted a coat of
arms, almost certainly purchased by William, who the next year bought a sizable house in
Stratford, called New Place. By the time of his death, William had substantial properties.
Shakespeare probably left school at 15, which was the norm, and took some sort of job,
especially since this was the period of his father’s financial difficulty. William may have in
fact worked for his father.
At some point during the “dark years,” Shakespeare began his career with a London theatrical
company—perhaps in 1589. Shakespeare apparently wrote and acted for Pembroke’s Men, as
well as numerous others, in particular Strange’s Men, which later became the Chamberlain’s
Men (Služebníci Lorda komořího) (probably in 1594), with whom he remained for the rest of
his career. This group was a remarkable assemblage of excellent actors who were also
business partners and close personal friends.
All the theatre companies at that time were all-male – that means that there were no women
and the female characters were played by men. There were about 12 members in the company
and each actor played 2 – 3 roles in a single play. Very little time was given to group
rehearsals and actors were given only the words of their own parts.
When, in 1592, the Plague closed the theaters for about two years, Shakespeare turned to
writing book-length narrative poetry. Most notable were “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape
of Lucrece,” both of which were dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, whom scholars accept
as Shakespeare’s friend and benefactor. During this same period, Shakespeare was writing his
sonnets, which are more likely signs of the time’s fashion rather than actual love poems. He
returned to play writing when theaters reopened in 1594, and published no more poetry. His
sonnets were published without his consent in 1609, shortly before his retirement.
Shakespeare suffered the loss of his only son, Hamnet, who died in 1596 at the age of 11. But
Shakespeare’s career continued, and in London in 1599, he became one of the partners in the
new Globe Theater, built by the Chamberlain’s Men. Unfortunately, the theater later burnt
down during a performance, attended by the king (1613).
When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and was succeeded by her cousin King James of
Scotland, the Chamberlain’s Men was renamed the King’s Men, and Shakespeare’s
productivity and popularity continued uninterrupted. He invested in London real estate and,
one year away from retirement, purchased a second theater, the Blackfriars Gatehouse, in
partnership with his fellow actors. The Blackfriars was an indoor theatre, unlike the Globe,
which did not have a roof and the audience was seated almost entirely encircling the stage.
His final play was Henry VIII, two years before his death in 1616.
Incredibly, most of Shakespeare’s plays had never been published in anything except
pamphlet form. Only the efforts of two of Shakespeare’s company, John Heminges and Henry
Condell, preserved his 36 plays in the First Folio. Heminges and Condell published the plays,
they said, “only to keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive as was our
Shakespeare” . Theater scripts were not regarded as literary works of art, but only the basis
for the performance.
In 1612, Shakespeare probably went home to Stratford. He was quite rich and his house was
the second largest in Stratford. He spent the rest of his life with his family, although he
remained friends with actors and poets and visited London from time to time. William
Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, after an enjoyable evening with his friends, and was
buried two days later in Holy Trinity Church where he had been baptized exactly 52 years
earlier.
Chronology
1564: William Shakespeare is born in Stratford-upon-Avon. His notice of baptism is entered
in the parish register at Holy Trinity Church on April 26th. While the actual date of his birth is
not known, it is traditionally celebrated on April 23rd.
1582: Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway of Shottery. The eighteen-year-old Shakespeare
and twenty-six-year-old Hathaway are married on November 27th at Temple Grafton, a
village about five miles from Stratford.
1583: Susanna, the first child of William and Anne Shakespeare, is born. Susanna's birth
occurs five months after Shakespeare and Hathaway wed. Susanna dies in 1649.
1585(?): Shakespeare leaves Stratford sometime between 1585 and 1592, and joins a
company of actors as a performer and playwright.
1585: Twins Hamnet and Judith Shakespeare born. Hamnet dies in 1596. Judith dies in 1662.
1589-90: Shakespeare probably writes Henry VI, Part One.
1590-91: Shakespeare probably writes Henry VI, Part Two and Henry VI, Part Three.
1592: Shakespeare was known in London as an actor and playwright by this time. London
theaters are closed due to plague.
1592-93: Shakespeare probably writes Venus and Adonis, Richard III, and The Two
Gentlemen of Verona (Dva šlechtici veronští).
1592-94: Shakespeare probably writes The Comedy of Errors (Komedie plná omylů)..
1593: Shakespeare probably begins composing his sonnets. He will eventually write 154
sonnets.
Shakespeare's narrative poem Venus and Adonis is published.
1593-94: Shakespeare probably writes The Rape of Lucrece, Titus Andronicus, and The
Taming of the Shrew (Zkrocení zlé ženy).
1594: Shakespeare performs with the theater troupe the Lord Chamberlain's Men. 1594-95:
Shakespeare probably writes Love's Labour's Lost (Marná lásky snaha).
1594-96: Shakespeare probably writes King John.
1595: Shakespeare probably writes Richard II. The play is first performed the same year.
Shakespeare probably writes A Midsummer Night's Dream (Sen noci svatojánské). The play is
probably composed for performance at a wedding.
Shakespeare probably writes Romeo and Juliet.
1596: Shakespeare probably writes The Merry Wives of Windsor (Veselé paničky windsorské).
The play was performed before the Queen during the Christmas revels.
1596-97: Shakespeare probably writes The Merchant of Venice (Kupec benátský), and Henry
IV, Part One.
1597: Shakespeare purchases New Place and the grounds surrounding the spacious Stratford
home.
1598: Shakespeare probably writes Henry IV, Part Two.
1598-99: Shakespeare probably writes Much Ado About Nothing (Mnoho povyku pro nic).
1599: Shakespeare probably writes Julius Caesar, Henry V, and As You Like It.
1600-01: Shakespeare probably writes Hamlet.
1601: Shakespeare probably writes the narrative poem The Phoenix and Turtle.
1601-02: Shakespeare probably writes Twelfth Night (Večer tříkrálový); or, What You Will
and Troilus and Cressida.
Shakespeare probably writes All's Well That Ends Well (Konec vše napraví - Konec dobrý,
všechno dobré).
1603: Queen Elizabeth dies. The new king, James I (James VI of Scotland), arrives in London
a month later, and proves to be a generous patron of the theater and of acting troupes.
Lord Chamberlain's Men take the name the King's Men to honor the new king.
The King's Men enact a play, probably As You Like It, before King James at Wilton.
An epidemic of the Black Death kills at least 33,000 in London. This is the worst outbreak of
disease in London until the plague recurs in 1608.
1604: Shakespeare probably writes Measure for Measure (Pujčka za oplátku). The play is
staged at court before King James.
Shakespeare probably writes Othello. The play is first performed at Whitehall on November
1st.
1605: Shakespeare probably writes King Lear.
The Merchant of Venice is performed at court. The play is performed twice and is
commended by the king.
Shakespeare probably writes Macbeth. This play's Scottish background was almost certainly
intended to celebrate the new king's ancestry.
1606: Shakespeare probably writes Antony and Cleopatra.
1607: Hamlet and Richard III are performed. The plays are acted aboard the British ship
Dragon at Sierra Leone.
1607-1608: Shakespeare probably writes Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, and Pericles.
1608: The King's Men lease the Blackfriars Theatre. The Blackfriars was the first permanent
enclosed theater in London. Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Cuthbert Burbage, Thomas
Evans, John Hemminges, Henry Condell, and William Sly lease the theatre for a period of
twenty-one years. Stage directions indicate that Shakespeare wrote The Tempest with specific
features of the new playhouse in mind.
London theaters are closed due to plague. This is one of the longest periods of theater closure
due to plague: the playhouses are shut from spring 1608 throughout 1609.
1609: Shakespeare's sonnets are published. This publication of Shakespeare's sonnets is
unauthorized.
1609-10: Shakespeare probably writes Cymbeline.
1610: The King's Men perform Othello at Oxford College during the summer touring season.
1610-11: Shakespeare probably writes The Winter's Tale (Zimní pohádka).
1611: Shakespeare probably writes The Tempest (Bouře).
1612-13: Frederick V (Fridrich Falcký – Zimní král!!!), the elector platine and future king of
Bohemia, arrives in England to marry Elizabeth, King James's daughter. The King's Men
perform several plays, including Othello and Julius Caesar.
Shakespeare probably writes Henry VIII, most likely collaborating with John Fletcher, another
highly reputed dramatist, on this history play.
Shakespeare probably writes Cardenio, the only play of Shakespeare's that has been
completely lost.
1613: Shakespeare probably writes The Two Noble Kinsmen (Dva vznešení příbuzní). The
Globe Theatre burns down.
1614: The Globe Theatre reopens on the opposite bank of the Thames.
1616: Shakespeare dies on April 23rd. His burial is recorded in the register of Stratford's Holy
Trinity Church on April 25th.
1619: Hamlet and several other of Shakespeare's plays are performed at court as part of the
Christmas festivities.
1623: Anne Hathaway Shakespeare dies.
Shakespeare's fellow actors, John Hemminges and Henry Condell, compile and publish thirtysix of the dramatist's works. This collection is known as the First Folio.
Shakespeare’s plays:
Tragedies:
Romeo and Juliet (1594)
Hamlet (1601)
Othello (1604)
King Lear (1605)
Macbeth (1605)
Comedies
The Taming of the Shrew (1593) – Zkrocení zlé ženy
A Midsummer’s Night Dream (1595) – Sen noci svatojánské
The Merchant of Venice (1596) – Kupec benátský
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1598) – Veselé paničky windsorské
As You Like It (1599) – Jak se vám líbí
Twelfth Night (1600) – Večer tříkrálový
Historical plays:
Richard III (1592)
Henry IV – I, II (1597)
Julius Caesar (1599)
Anthony and Cleopatra (1606)
Romances
The Winter’s Tale (1610) – Zimní pohádka
The Tempest (1611- 1612) – Bouře
and many others…
Synopsis:
Romeo and Juliet
Tragedy, 1595
The play begins with a street fight between Montagues and Capulets. The Prince of Verona
intervenes and declares that further breach of the peace will be punished by death.
Meanwhile, Count Paris talks to Lord Capulet about marrying his daughter, but Capulet is
wary of the suit because Juliet is still only thirteen. Capulet asks Paris to wait another two
years and invites him to attend a planned Capulet ball. Lady Capulet and Juliet's nurse try to
persuade Juliet to accept Paris' courtship. After the fight, Benvolio talks with his cousin
Romeo, Lord Montague's son, about Romeo's recent depression. Benvolio discovers that it
stems from unrequited love for a girl named Rosaline, one of Lord Capulet's nieces.
Persuaded by Benvolio and Mercutio, Romeo attends the ball at the Capulet house in hopes of
meeting Rosaline. However, Romeo instead falls for Juliet. After the ball, in what is now
called the "balcony scene", Romeo sneaks into the Capulet courtyard and overhears Juliet on
her balcony vowing her love to him in spite of her family's hatred of the Montagues. Romeo
makes himself known to her and they agree to be married.
With the help of Friar Lawrence, who hopes to reconcile the two families through their
children's union, they are married secretly the next day. Juliet's cousin Tybalt, however, is
offended that Romeo snuck into a Capulet ball and challenges him to a duel. Romeo,
considering Tybalt a kinsman to his wife, refuses to fight him. Mercutio accepts the duel on
Romeo's behalf. Mercutio is fatally wounded and Romeo, angered by his friend's death, kills
Tybalt. The Prince exiles Romeo from Verona for the killing. He also adds that if Romeo
comes back, "that hour is his last". Lord Capulet, misinterpreting Juliet's grief, agrees to
marry her to Count Paris and threatens to disown her when she refuses to become Paris's
"joyful bride". Her mother coldly walks away from her when she pleads for her to delay it for
even a month.
Juliet visits Friar Lawrence for help, and he offers her a drug which will put her into a deathlike coma for "two and forty hours". She takes it and, when discovered apparently dead, she is
laid in the family crypt. While she is sleeping the Friar sends a messenger to inform Romeo of
the plan, so that he can rejoin her when she awakens.
The messenger, however, does not reach Romeo and he learns of Juliet's apparent death from
his servant Balthasar. Grief-stricken, Romeo buys poison from an apothecary and goes to the
Capulet crypt. He encounters Paris who has come to mourn Juliet privately. Paris confronts
Romeo believing him to be a vandal, and in the ensuing battle Romeo kills Paris. Still
believing Juliet to be dead, he drinks the poison. Juliet then awakens and, finding Romeo
dead, stabs herself with her lover's dagger. The feuding families and the Prince meet at the
tomb to find all three dead. Friar Lawrence recounts the story of the two "star-cross'd lovers"
and Montague reveals that his wife has died of grief after hearing of her son's exile. The
families are reconciled by their children's deaths and agree to end their violent feud. The play
ends with the Prince's elegy for the lovers: "For never was a story of more woe / Than this of
Juliet and her Romeo."
Hamlet
Hamlet, the son of the late king of Denmark, learns the truht about his father’s death from his
father’s ghost. But to make sure he pretends madness and test the ghost’s story by having a
play – resembling his father’s murder – acted before the king (his uncle Claudius, now
husband of his mother and supposed murderer of his father), and the king betrays himself.
Then the king decides to destroy Hamled – he sends him to England to have him killed there.
Hamlet’s love, Ophelia, commits suicide. But Hamlet returns and almost all the characters die
in the end, including Hamlet, who is killed by a sword, dipped in poison.
Othello
The theme of Othello is jealousy. Othello, a Moor who is a Venetian general, marries
Desdemona. Iago, one of his officers, is disappointed at not being promoted. This totally evil
man is resolved on revenge.
In Cyprus – a Venetian possession which Othello and his army have been sent to derend
against a Turkish fleet – Iago’s revenge begins.
He contrives for Cassio to be dismissed from the army by making him drunk. Then, though
the great middle scenes of the play, he goads Othello into believing that Desdemona is
Cassios’s lover. Othello is enraged by unjustified jealousy. He strangles |Desdemona. Iago’s
wife finds out her husband’s plot and discloses it. In an agony of remorse, Ohtello kills
himself. Iago stabs his wife to death and is arrested.
Famous quotations from Shakespeare:
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (Hamlet)
My kingdom for a horse! (Richard III)
All the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players. (As you like it)
To be or not to be – that is the question. (Hamlet)
Cowards die many times before their deaths. (Julius Caesar)
SOURCES: www.shakespeare.com, www.wikipedia.org and other materials
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