Sunday, March 13, 2011

But Who was William Shakespeare?

By Jacob Waring

Over the years I‘ve read an enormous amount of novels, plays and other forms of written literature. This has given me diverse tastes in reading materials. As such I've cultivated a decided  favoritism toward certain genres and authors. I have read some literature that should seriously have been displayed as the literal definition of mediocre.

Alternatively I’ve also read literary pieces akin to great works of art. So much so that they should have their own exhibits in the Louvre Museum! I am incredibly captious when it comes to whom I concern to be exceptional authors.

I consider Stephanie Meyer of the Twilight saga to be a hack. Her characters are stereotypical to a breaking point and riddled with cliches that should be considered a felony. Charles Dickens is the polar opposite of Meyer as in his “Tales of Two Cities” he has woven a story that is captivating to its core, with the characters being complex souls.

Seemly among all these hacks and skillful authors I ve read, stands one gentleman who stands out as a visionary. Someone whose mind was pulsing with creative genius. An author whose work transcends the annals of time. That man is the one and only, trailblazing William Shakespeare! 

To really understand how magnificent these works of Shakespeare truly are, we must travel back in time to the sixteenth century. The trip is to a bygone era of English history, that of the Elizabethan times. Let it be duly noted of the follow points. 

Simply it is the sheer irony of how, regardless of such instant recognition, international popularity and fame these works of Shakespeare enjoys. How his most faithful fans can recite those famous lines by heart. Shakespeare himself, we barely know the man. 

All historians, those Shakespearean scholars have to go on about the man is basically legal, church records and obviously many world renown works. There are many notable gaps in the time line of Shakespeare existence which leads to an abundance in speculations on his life.

Shakespeare did not even appear to have a diary or journal which means we all left to  speculate on his personality and habits of the man, himself. Not even the school he attended had kept records of any kind academically or otherwise on this man. 

So between some legal and church documents, mixed with various phenomenal works, here is what we have. The details paints us the portrait of an individual, who is world renowned for his works, but nothing is really known of Shakespeare, himself aside from a few bare essentials. 

Let’s look at what the legal and church documentation reveals of Shakespeare little known life. Historians can’t with absolute certainty, say which day he was born on, but the majority state his birth occurred on or about April 23, 1564. For what it’s worth he was baptized on April 26, 1564 at the Holy Trinity Church.

John and Mary (Arden) are the lucky parents to give birth to a future brilliant playwright! Shakespeare was the third of eight children which sadly three died during their respective childhood.We would all be stupid to assume William Shakespeare did not attend grammar school and the most likely place he attended it was in Stratford.

Just by reading any of Shakespeare’s works  we would have observed that he had natural talent. That talent was formed out of some good old fashion form of education. That he was well schooled is as solid as a brick wall.
By eighteen years of age William was no slacker in getting married as he wed Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582 and at that time they were already expecting a child. That child was born on May 26, 1583. Their daughter was beautifully named Susanna. 

A few years later  William hit the jackpot when he and Anne  had not one but TWO children on February 2, 1585 These twin girls were given the names Hamnet and Judith. Sadly enough Hamnet life was short as she passed on August 11, 1596 at the very young age of eleven.
After the birth of his twins roughly for seven years Shakespeare seemly disappeared as no records exist. Roughly at some point during the “lost years” Shakespeare started his acting and playwriting career. It was during this time  William apparently ended up getting a bad addiction to poaching. The rumor had it that he poached deer and rabbits belonging to a fellow named Sir Thomas Lucy. 

Shakespeare arrived London around 1588 give or take a few years.  By 1594 he joined the Lord Chamberlain's Men where he wrote and acted for the group which renamed itself the King's Men in 1603 as to honor (or in my opinion brown nose) James I who considered the group one of his favorites.

  As loved as Shakespeare was he did have his fair share of criticism such as one by Robert Greene, " upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country." 
Shakespeare gained a heck of a lot of fame for being both a playwright.and an actor. Aside from criticism every now and then, he was very beloved by many peers. His fans were nobles, merchants as well as by people who'd seen his plays. He was not rich in any means but he retired  well enough to live comfortable to the end of his days.

The day that William Shakespeare died is stuck between reality and myth. It is believed that as some say he died on his birthday April 23, 1616. We will no doubt, have to thank John Heminges and Henry Condell for preserving Shakespeare’s thirty six plays. 

Those two gentlemen formed the First Folio as a way to preserve their fellow actor/playwright celebrated works! I’m pretty sure that if it was not for those two men we would not have some of Shakespeare’s plays as some may have just vanished. 
 Now that you’ve been briefed on the highlights of Shakespeare’s mysterious but fascinating life let me provide you some of my analytical thoughts on his overall works. First of all Shakespeare had a very good understanding on how people interacted. 

The proof is his  written fluid portrayals of characters harboring love, hate and jealousy towards one another. I've seen relationships that are like Romeo and Juliet, where somehow their love fails or their parents never approved.   
 Also Shakespeare simply loved using metaphors and similes in his plays and poems  which was very obvious at times. For example when Romeo speaks of Juliet he states, "O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night, Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear".

  Seriously no human being can teach a torch to burn bright even if Juliet had a masters degree in communications. It simply a fancy way to say that she so radiant an individual that touches should be like her in that aspect. 
I can’t say for certain that aspects of Shakespeare’s life were used in the plays as we have so few records. However the political atmosphere of that time was used in plays just as King Henry VIII (Part I,II,III). Obliviously he could not speak negatively of Queen Elizabeth nor of King Richard the First as the old, “off with his head” would have been declared so he used  Monarchs of the past in these plays to avoid losing his head.

Universal themes such as Love, Hate and Jealousy etc. were used abundantly in his plays and are their strength upon which the popularity of these works rely. Even though these works where of a previous time and its culture was so very different, all generations that have read or seen these plays could connect to those characters. 

They are timeless because they all fall in love and sometimes it worked or failed. We all have had people jealous at our success or vice versa! It’s because of the themes used, that thirteen generations have been inspired by his works. Shakespeare may be dead but his plays and poems have been popular nonstop for four hundred freaking years. 

When cinema was starting up in the early 20th century Shakespeare’s plays were used to be made into films. There were some duds but others were epically awesome. Television have used his plays for parodies in commercials or in TV movies.  Hell, I’ve even seen comics on Shakespeare plays. The writings of Shakespeare influenced probably hundreds of thousands of writers over the years. 

Stephanie Meyer basically used aspects of Midsummer night dream as a template in her Twilight saga. William Shakespeare transcends the typical author who fades with time as he’s now a imbedded in the global pop culture for years to come.
    This man,William Shakespeare, had influenced me throughout my life even before I'd ever read his works yet. From the unforgetable “To be, or not to be: that is the question” ~Hamlet's soliloquy  to  Juliet’s classic lines” O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love And I'll no longer be a Capulet.”

I seriously, know those lines by heart, as I heard them growing up from family, friends and of course  my beloved television set! Shakespeare inspires me to be strive to be as good as him, maybe even better!  With him as my model I can only try! When it comes to writing poems or writing anything , I want to leave a legacy as wondrous as William Shakespeare!

Henry, A. (1994). The complete works of Shakespeare, Barnes and Noble, Inc.
Interviewed Professor Pia Taavila, PH.D
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