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Great Literature

Much Ado About Shakespeare

Portrait of William Shakespeare - The Bard
1564 - 1616

23 April, 1564, in the picturesque Tudor market town of Stratford-on-Avon, on the traditional birth date of St. George, the patron saint of England, William Shakespeare was born to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. He was to become the world's most famous playwrite. In the course of a quarter century, Shakespeare wrote thirty-eight plays.

Shakespeare lived in England at a time when it was mostly rural and industrialism was not a concept. Modes of transport available were the horse, carriage, on foot or by boat. People married earlier than they do now and they also died earlier. The average life expectancy at birth was about 37 years. By the time the Bard was born, capital punishment via hanging was ruled to be more humane than boiling people alive. Life could still be rough, but things were starting to improve for even those of the lower classes.

England at this time was strictly a monarchy. Though the king or queen ruled without question though that rule had to be exercised within limitations. It was not a despotic regime but, it could be autocratic.

This was a period of new thought as the Reformation movement had already swept through most of Europe which challenged the authority structure between the Church and the Ruling Monarch Class. Europeans had learned about a new continent being ripe for conquest and headed West to start new colonies which would eventually break ties with their Motherland.

John Shakespeare was of the yeoman class, a few notches below the gentry, and worked as a tenant farmer. Mary Arden was from a wealthier family and stepped down the social ladder when she married. John Shakespeare was talented and hard working thus would rise in status as he became a burgess member of the town council. They were considered wealthy and priviliged. In spite of his fortune, the family did have some financial setbacks which caused young William to drop out of school. Shakespeare attended Stratford Grammar School until the age of 15 and did not pursue formal education any further. He was not considered to be a truly learned man.

In 1582, William got married to 26 year old Anne Hathaway and they had their first child, Susanna six months later. It has been speculated he was forced into this marriage out of obligation.

Shakespeare began his career in the London theater as an actor where he had the nerve to challenge critics who did not believe a "mere actor" could have the talent to write a play.

Although many of the plays Shakespeare wrote were about tyrannical rulers who were overthrown, there is no evidence in his real life that he had any particular political leanings. His plays were enjoyed by upper and lower class alike because of his ability to tell a story in which all could relate.

The details of the nature of his death are unknown, but he died 23 April, 1616 and was buried 3 days later. He had already retired from writing about 2-3 years before his death.

Today The Globe Theater is a faithful reconstruction of the open-air playhouse designed in 1599, where Shakespeare worked and for which he wrote many of his greatest plays.