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Shakespeare & Elizabethan England

A quick biographical landscape of William Shakespeare's life and legacy.

SP Mullen

on 11 December 2013

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Transcript of Shakespeare & Elizabethan England

William Shakespeare is the most famous writer of all time!
& Elizabethan England
Brief Biography
Because record keeping was sketchy, we can't be certain of exact dates of Shakespeare's birth and death. All we need to know right now is he was born in 1564 (we can be certain of that).
He grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon (S-u-A), about 100 miles northwest of London
He came from a working class family--there was really nothing in his childhood to suggest he would one day become known as the greatest writer in the English language.
We don't hear much about young Will growing up; in fact, the next time we hear from him, is when he's 18 years old and just married an older woman, Anne Hathaway, 26 years old. She was already pregnant when they got married.
They end up having three kids. First up is Susanna, followed by a set of twins Hamnet (Hamlet?) and Judith (Juliet?). Hamnet dies at the age of 11 from an illness.
In London, he most likely worked as an actor and started to write plays. He wasn't a star in either right away. Some suggest he may have travelled (as his plays feature a good knowledge of a vast range of places), but others say he couldn't have because he didn't have any money. Either way, all we do know is that around 1592, he started to become known in London for his acting and his writing.
Three big things happen:
1. His acting company, Lord Chamberlain's Men, become the leading acting company in London. They perform Shakespeare's plays and, after the death of Queen Elizabeth, they are appointed by King James (not LeBron) to be the official acting group in London.
2. Because of the distinction of being the official acting group, Shakespeare becomes wealthy. In fact, he buys the second biggest house in S-u-A (he still went back there occassionaly).
3. The Globe Theatre is built with help from Shakespeare's funding. This becomes a place where all can enjoy plays (rich and poor alike). Sometimes the fun is stopped because of the plague, which occassionaly closes the theatre.
Retirement didn't happen during Shakespeare's time, but his output definitely slowed down. He spent time in both S-u-A and London, until his death. He was buried in S-u-A, with an inscription on his grave ending with: blessed be the man that spares these stones, and curse be he that moves my bones.
Lasting Legacy
The "So what?" Part
Simply stated, because he was so talented. He wrote about universal themes--things that you and I can relate to 400 years after they were written. He was funny, insightful, and innovative. And his characters, they could be people in your class right now, as they share the same dreams and fears.
You may have heard Shakespeare invented words in his plays (words like bloody, eyeball, and lonely). And he may have invented them, but when people say Shakespeare invented words, the first place those words appear written down in a text are in Shakespeare's plays.
Shakespeare's plays are constantly produced and because of this, directors take different interpretations on the plays and make it something unique. To help you understand this, here's some movies that have been based on Shakespeare's writings.
One is that Shakespeare didn't actually write his plays. Since record keeping was shabby, there are theories that the William Shakespeare from S-u-A is different than the Shakespeare who is the actor/writer from London. The main argument is that Shakespeare, a man from a common family, could not have the knowledge he did regarding locations, foreign languages, astronomy, medicine, politics, and law. Further, he had an enormous vocabulary--more than double of the normal person during his time. To have this knowledge, one would have to had travelled Europe, gone to university, and been from a family above the rank of commoners.
Not that Anne Hathaway
Romeo & Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
12th Night
Full transcript