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Shakespeare 101

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

Dave Kunkle

on 30 January 2015

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Transcript of Shakespeare 101

Shakespeare 101
Note: His head wasn't
that large. This is not a
photograph.
A Mr. Kunkle Production
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
THE EARLY YEARS
1564-1585
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, it's when he's 18 years old and just knocked up an older woman, Anne Hathaway, 26 years old. They get married six months before the child is born.
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.
THE LOST YEARS
1585-1592
The next stage of Shakespeare's life is filled with a lot of question marks. We know he left S-u-A, probably headed to London (some theories believe it was because he was being tracked down by the police for illegal deer poaching).
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 traveled (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.
THE BIG TIME
1592-1610
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 occasionally).
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 occasionally closes the theatre.
THE END
1610-1616
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
WHY IS HE STILL FAMOUS?
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. There's a difference there I think (I hope) you understand.
Shakespeare's plays are the most produced worldwide. I tried to find a list of most produced plays in the U.S. during 2014, but all the lists I could find don't count Shakespeare plays because they would take too many of the positions.
INTERPRETATIONS
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.
FINAL THOUGHTS
So that's it. There's your really quick run through of Shakespeare's life and influence. We'll discuss some of these things as we continue through the class. If you have any questions, please let me know. I don't know everything about Shakespeare's life, but I can do my best to find the answers for you.
CONTROVERSY
What good would this be without a bit of controversy?
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.
I'm couldn't decide on the final stop on this voyage, so there are two of them. Enjoy.
Poor girl--she's going to have a lifetime of parental humiliation.
The real Shakespeare?
Edward de Vere--Earl of Oxford
Sir Francis Bacon
Full transcript