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New Findings at Final Home of Shakespeare, Where he Wrote at the Height of his Career

New Findings at Final Home of Shakespeare, Where he Wrote at the Height of his Career

William Shakespeare owned the biggest, most lavish residence in the borough of Stratford-Upon-Avon, a home fitting his high status in the world. Archaeologists excavating the ruins of the 20-room mansion have found the kitchen with a hearth for cooking food and a brew house.

The home, called New Place, was the great playwright’s final home, and he and his family lived in it for almost 20 years at the height of his career, says a press release from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Researchers and experts are preparing to open the home to the public in 2016, 400 years after he died.

“Shakespeare’s New Place was the largest single residence in the borough of Stratford-upon-Avon, and was purchased for the considerable sum of £120 in 1597 (a Stratford school teacher at this time would have earned about £20 per annum). It had an impressive frontage, a Great Chamber and Gallery, over 20 rooms and 10 fireplaces,” says the press release.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has commissioned new drawings based on what archaeologists have found at the site depicting what the home looked like.

A Shakespeare Birthplace Trust rendering of New Place, Shakespeare’s final home

The trust’s website says, “The re-imagination of this unique site will be the single most significant and enduring Shakespearean project anywhere in the world to commemorate the anniversary of his death in 2016.”

Visitors to the site may walk through in the footsteps of the man himself, through a new threshold on the site of his gatehouse and learn the story of the world-famous playwright at the height of his success as a writer, family man and prominent citizen of Stratford, his hometown.

“Commissioned artworks and displays throughout the site will evoke a sense of family life and the 26 major works written during Shakespeare’s ownership of New Place. A new exhibition center will feature rare and important artifacts relating to Shakespeare’s life at New Place, many of them on display for the first time,” the press release says.

The renovations and public exhibition will cost 5.25 million British pounds or nearly U.S. $8 million. The 120 pounds he bought it for is equal to about $60,000 today.

John Taylor’s portrait of Shakespeare; Taylor died in 1651. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The kitchen included a fire hearth, a place where pickling and salting took place, and a brew house where the household made beer, which was safer than water. The brewing process removed impurities that could make people sick from drinking plain water.

The team, led by Staffordshire University’s Center of Archaeology, found fragments of kitchenware, including plates and cups. Next door to New Place is Nash House, which is undergoing renovations. Visitors will be able to handle replicas of plates and cups and cookware in Nash House when it reopens.

“Finding Shakespeare's ‘kitchen’ proved to be a vital piece of evidence in our understanding of New Place,” said Paul Edmondson, the trust’s director of research. “Once we had uncovered the family's oven we were able to understand how the rest of the house fitted around it. The discovery of the cooking areas, brew house, pantry and cold storage pit, combined with the scale of the house, all point to New Place as a working home as well as a house of high social status.

Julie Crenshaw, the New Place project manager, explains what the team found in the kitchen.

“A much richer picture of Shakespeare has emerged through the course of our excavations. At New Place we can catch glimpses of Shakespeare the playwright and country-town gentleman. His main task was to write and a house as impressive as New Place would have played an important part in the rhythm of his working life.”

Featured image: A well unearthed at New Place (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust photo)


William Shakespeare, his Life, Works and Influence


William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright who is considered one of the greatest writers to ever use the English language. He is also the most famous playwright in the world, with his plays being translated in over 50 languages and performed across the globe for audiences of all ages. Known colloquially as "The Bard" or "The Bard of Avon," Shakespeare was also an actor and the creator of the Globe Theatre, a historical theatre, and company that is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

His works span tragedy, comedy, and historical works, both in poetry and prose. And although the man is the most-recognized playwright in the world, very little of his life is actually known. No known autobiographical letters or diaries have survived to modern day, and with no surviving descendants, Shakespeare is a figure both of magnificent genius and mystery.

This has led to many interpretations of his life and works, creating a legend out of the commoner from Stratford-upon-Avon who rose to prominence and in the process wrote many of the seminal works that provide the foundation for the current English language.


&ldquoMen are April when they woo, December when they wed. Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.&rdquo Rosalind in As You Like It

William Shakespeare&rsquos personal life could be considered colorful at best. In the next three sections, we will discuss his wife, his kids and his rumored homosexuality, beginning first with Anne Hathaway. Shakespeare married Anne at Temple Grafton in November 1582. He was 18, she was 26 and pregnant. We can unpack several aspects of this to learn about the circumstances by which they came to marry and perhaps discover a little about the man himself and the wife that he would ultimately leave behind him when he sought fame and fortune in London.

That she was so much older than him at the time of their marriage implies that theirs might have been a love match: she was of much higher social standing, from a wealthier family &ndash admittedly since John Shakespeare was in the process of being ruined &ndash and, of course, older. Scholars have argued that William would have pursued Anne rather than the other way around and that, perhaps, the Hathaway family were less than pleased when the wedding was foisted upon them by her pregnancy. The alliance of the prosperous Hathaways with the failing Shakespeares certainly seems unlikely to have been made for the usual reasons behind family unions in Tudor England. That said, 26 was the average age for marriage among Tudor women, while 18 was below the usual age for men and William is likely to have had to seek permission from his father in order to wed.

The circumstances of the wedding itself also lead to the contention that it was not pre-planned. They were married in Temple Grafton, not Stratford, as might have been expected, and with good reason. The Church forbade marriages in Advent and in the immediate post-Christmas period, meaning that the couple had to marry in November to avoid Anne&rsquos pregnancy being obvious by the time of their wedding. William and two witnesses had to go to the town of Worcester to procure a special marriage licence that allowed them to marry in November, but, though both Anne and William were listed as being from Stratford, they chose to marry elsewhere.

Historians think that this might have been to avoid the shame of the marriage &ndash which, as we know, was forced upon them &ndash and because of the lack of standing that the Shakespeares now enjoyed in Stratford. There is also a theory that holds that, as the Reverend of the Church in Stratford was a staunch Protestant, holding the wedding elsewhere, particularly in Temple Grafton, where the vicar had once been a priest and was considered unreliably Protestant by authorities. Could he have agreed to marry the couple as Catholics?

The shame of Anne&rsquos pregnancy was real, but it was far from unusual. According to historian Michael Wood, a third of Tudor women were pregnant at the time of their marriage, a fact that is backed up by the extensive church records that display just how much Elizabethan society, or at least, the religious establishment within in, was preoccupied with sex. The records of sermons from the time of Shakespeare&rsquos wedding are filled with vitriol towards women for their sexual proclivities &ndash though, very rarely against the men whom they must obviously have required to perform these depraved acts, of course &ndash and it is clear from reading them that, in the perception of the authorities at least, premarital sex was a major issue.

Whether the marriage to Anne was happy or not has also vexed historians. There is little to back up the perception that has formed over the centuries that they did not get along, but it has persisted nonetheless. Shakespeare did live separately from his wife for the majority of their marriage, with Anne never leaving Stratford, though it is thought that William was a regular visitor back to his hometown and, when he gave up writing plays in his old age, it was to there that he retired. The famous quote from his will &ndash that he left his wife his &ldquosecond best bed&rdquo &ndash is often quoted as showing his disdain for his wife, but in fact, Tudor social mores held that the best bed in the house was the one that was given up to visitors: in giving his wife his &ldquosecond best bed&rdquo, he might well have been giving her the one that they actually shared.


Biography

an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. At the age of 18, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith. Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later known as the King's Men. He appears to have retired to Stratford around 1613 at age 49, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare's private life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about such matters as his physical appearance, sexuality, religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others.

Shakespeare produced most of his known work between 1589 and 1613. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the 16th century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest works in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances, and collaborated with other playwrights.

Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his lifetime. In 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the First Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works that included all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare's.

Shakespeare was a respected poet and playwright in his own day, but his reputation did not rise to its present heights until the 19th century. The Romantics, in particular, acclaimed Shakespeare's genius, and the Victorians worshipped Shakespeare with a reverence that George Bernard Shaw called "bardolatry". In the 20th century, his work was repeatedly adopted and rediscovered by new movements in scholarship and performance. His plays remain highly popular today and are constantly studied, performed and reinterpreted in diverse cultural and political contexts throughout the world.

William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare, an alderman and a successful glover originally from Snitterfield, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning farmer. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon and baptised there on 26 April 1564. His actual birthdate remains unknown, but is traditionally observed on 23 April, St George's Day. This date, which can be traced back to an 18th-century scholar's mistake, has proved appealing to biographers, since Shakespeare died 23 April 1616. He was the third child of eight and the eldest surviving son.

Although no attendance records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Shakespeare was probably educated at the King's New School in Stratford, a free school chartered in 1553, about a quarter-mile from his home. Grammar schools varied in quality during the Elizabethan era, but the curriculum was dictated by law throughout England, and the school would have provided an intensive education in Latin grammar and the classics.

At the age of 18, Shakespeare married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway. The consistory court of the Diocese of Worcester issued a marriage licence 27 November 1582. The next day two of Hathaway's neighbours posted bonds guaranteeing that no lawful claims impeded the marriage. The ceremony may have been arranged in some haste, since the Worcester chancellor allowed the marriage banns to be read once instead of the usual three times, and six months after the marriage Anne gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, baptised 26 May 1583. Twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith, followed almost two years later and were baptised 2 February 1585. Hamnet died of unknown causes at the age of 11 and was buried 11 August 1596.

After the birth of the twins, Shakespeare left few historical traces until he is mentioned as part of the London theatre scene in 1592, and scholars refer to the years between 1585 and 1592 as Shakespeare's "lost years". Biographers attempting to account for this period have reported many apocryphal stories. Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare’s first biographer, recounted a Stratford legend that Shakespeare fled the town for London to escape prosecution for deer poaching in the estate of local squire Thomas Lucy. Shakespeare is also supposed to have taken his revenge on Lucy by writing a scurrilous ballad about him. Another 18th-century story has Shakespeare starting his theatrical career minding the horses of theatre patrons in London. John Aubrey reported that Shakespeare had been a country schoolmaster. Some 20th-century scholars have suggested that Shakespeare may have been employed as a schoolmaster by Alexander Hoghton of Lancashire, a Catholic landowner who named a certain "William Shakeshafte" in his will. No evidence substantiates such stories other than hearsay collected after his death, and Shakeshafte was a common name in the Lancashire area.

London and Theatrical Career

It is not known exactly when Shakespeare began writing, but contemporary allusions and records of performances show that several of his plays were on the London stage by 1592. He was well enough known in London by then to be attacked in print by the playwright Robert Greene in his Groats-Worth of Wit:

. there is an 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 factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.

Scholars differ on the exact meaning of these words, but most agree that Greene is accusing Shakespeare of reaching above his rank in trying to match university-educated writers such as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe and Greene himself (the "university wits"). The italicised phrase parodying the line "Oh, tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide" from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3, along with the pun "Shake-scene", identifies Shakespeare as Greene's target. Here Johannes Factotum—"Jack of all trades"— means a second-rate tinkerer with the work of others, rather than the more common "universal genius".

Greene's attack is the earliest surviving mention of Shakespeare’s career in the theatre. Biographers suggest that his career may have begun any time from the mid-1580s to just before Greene's remarks. From 1594, Shakespeare's plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new king, James I, and changed its name to the King's Men.

In 1599, a partnership of company members built their own theatre on the south bank of the River Thames, which they called the Globe. In 1608, the partnership also took over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Records of Shakespeare's property purchases and investments indicate that the company made him a wealthy man. In 1597, he bought the second-largest house in Stratford, New Place, and in 1605, he invested in a share of the parish tithes in Stratford.

Some of Shakespeare's plays were published in quarto editions from 1594. By 1598, his name had become a selling point and began to appear on the title pages. Shakespeare continued to act in his own and other plays after his success as a playwright. The 1616 edition of Ben Jonson's Works names him on the cast lists for Every Man in His Humour (1598) and Sejanus His Fall (1603). The absence of his name from the 1605 cast list for Jonson’s Volpone is taken by some scholars as a sign that his acting career was nearing its end. The First Folio of 1623, however, lists Shakespeare as one of "the Principal Actors in all these Plays", some of which were first staged after Volpone, although we cannot know for certain which roles he played. In 1610, John Davies of Hereford wrote that "good Will" played "kingly" roles. In 1709, Rowe passed down a tradition that Shakespeare played the ghost of Hamlet's father. Later traditions maintain that he also played Adam in As You Like It and the Chorus in Henry V, though scholars doubt the sources of the information.

Shakespeare divided his time between London and Stratford during his career. In 1596, the year before he bought New Place as his family home in Stratford, Shakespeare was living in the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, north of the River Thames. He moved across the river to Southwark by 1599, the year his company constructed the Globe Theatre there. By 1604, he had moved north of the river again, to an area north of St Paul's Cathedral with many fine houses. There he rented rooms from a French Huguenot called Christopher Mountjoy, a maker of ladies' wigs and other headgear.

Rowe was the first biographer to pass down the tradition that Shakespeare retired to Stratford some years before his death but retirement from all work was uncommon at that time and Shakespeare continued to visit London. In 1612 he was called as a witness in a court case concerning the marriage settlement of Mountjoy's daughter, Mary. In March 1613 he bought a gatehouse in the former Blackfriars priory and from November 1614 he was in London for several weeks with his son-in-law, John Hall.

After 1606–1607, Shakespeare wrote fewer plays, and none are attributed to him after 1613. His last three plays were collaborations, probably with John Fletcher, who succeeded him as the house playwright for the King’s Men.

Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616 and was survived by his wife and two daughters. Susanna had married a physician, John Hall, in 1607, and Judith had married Thomas Quiney, a vintner, two months before Shakespeare’s death.

In his will, Shakespeare left the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna. The terms instructed that she pass it down intact to "the first son of her body". The Quineys had three children, all of whom died without marrying. The Halls had one child, Elizabeth, who married twice but died without children in 1670, ending Shakespeare’s direct line. Shakespeare's will scarcely mentions his wife, Anne, who was probably entitled to one third of his estate automatically. He did make a point, however, of leaving her "my second best bed", a bequest that has led to much speculation. Some scholars see the bequest as an insult to Anne, whereas others believe that the second-best bed would have been the matrimonial bed and therefore rich in significance.

Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death. The epitaph carved into the stone slab covering his grave includes a curse against moving his bones, which was carefully avoided during restoration of the church in 2008:

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,

To digg the dvst encloased heare.

Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones,

And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.

"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear,"

"To dig the dust enclosed here."

"Blessed be the man that spares these stones,"

"And cursed be he who moves my bones."

Sometime before 1623, a funerary monument was erected in his memory on the north wall, with a half-effigy of him in the act of writing. Its plaque compares him to Nestor, Socrates, and Virgil. In 1623, in conjunction with the publication of the First Folio, the Droeshout engraving was published.

Shakespeare has been commemorated in many statues and memorials around the world, including funeral monuments in Southwark Cathedral and Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Most playwrights of the period typically collaborated with others at some point, and critics agree that Shakespeare did the same, mostly early and late in his career. Some attributions, such as Titus Andronicus and the early history plays, remain controversial, while The Two Noble Kinsmen and the lost Cardenio have well-attested contemporary documentation. Textual evidence also supports the view that several of the plays were revised by other writers after their original composition.

The first recorded works of Shakespeare are Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI, written in the early 1590s during a vogue for historical drama. Shakespeare's plays are difficult to date, however, and studies of the texts suggest that Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona may also belong to Shakespeare’s earliest period. His first histories, which draw heavily on the 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, dramatise the destructive results of weak or corrupt rule and have been interpreted as a justification for the origins of the Tudor dynasty. The early plays were influenced by the works of other Elizabethan dramatists, especially Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe, by the traditions of medieval drama, and by the plays of Seneca. The Comedy of Errors was also based on classical models, but no source for The Taming of the Shrew has been found, though it is related to a separate play of the same name and may have derived from a folk story. Like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which two friends appear to approve of rape, the Shrew's story of the taming of a woman's independent spirit by a man sometimes troubles modern critics and directors.

Shakespeare's early classical and Italianate comedies, containing tight double plots and precise comic sequences, give way in the mid-1590s to the romantic atmosphere of his greatest comedies. A Midsummer Night's Dream is a witty mixture of romance, fairy magic, and comic lowlife scenes. Shakespeare's next comedy, the equally romantic Merchant of Venice, contains a portrayal of the vengeful Jewish moneylender Shylock, which reflects Elizabethan views but may appear derogatory to modern audiences. The wit and wordplay of Much Ado About Nothing, the charming rural setting of As You Like It, and the lively merrymaking of Twelfth Night complete Shakespeare's sequence of great comedies. After the lyrical Richard II, written almost entirely in verse, Shakespeare introduced prose comedy into the histories of the late 1590s, Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. His characters become more complex and tender as he switches deftly between comic and serious scenes, prose and poetry, and achieves the narrative variety of his mature work. This period begins and ends with two tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, the famous romantic tragedy of sexually charged adolescence, love, and death and Julius Caesar—based on Sir Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives—which introduced a new kind of drama. According to Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro, in Julius Caesar "the various strands of politics, character, inwardness, contemporary events, even Shakespeare's own reflections on the act of writing, began to infuse each other".

In the early 17th century, Shakespeare wrote the so-called "problem plays" Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and All's Well That Ends Well and a number of his best known tragedies. Many critics believe that Shakespeare's greatest tragedies represent the peak of his art. The titular hero of one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, Hamlet, has probably been discussed more than any other Shakespearean character, especially for his famous soliloquy "To be or not to be that is the question". Unlike the introverted Hamlet, whose fatal flaw is hesitation, the heroes of the tragedies that followed, Othello and King Lear, are undone by hasty errors of judgement. The plots of Shakespeare's tragedies often hinge on such fatal errors or flaws, which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves. In Othello, the villain Iago stokes Othello's sexual jealousy to the point where he murders the innocent wife who loves him. In King Lear, the old king commits the tragic error of giving up his powers, initiating the events which lead to the torture and blinding of the Earl of Gloucester and the murder of Lear's youngest daughter Cordelia. According to the critic Frank Kermode, "the play offers neither its good characters nor its audience any relief from its cruelty". In Macbeth, the shortest and most compressed of Shakespeare's tragedies, uncontrollable ambition incites Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder the rightful king and usurp the throne, until their own guilt destroys them in turn. In this play, Shakespeare adds a supernatural element to the tragic structure. His last major tragedies, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, contain some of Shakespeare's finest poetry and were considered his most successful tragedies by the poet and critic T. S. Eliot.

In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more major plays: Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, as well as the collaboration, Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than the comedies of the 1590s, but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially tragic errors. Some commentators have seen this change in mood as evidence of a more serene view of life on Shakespeare's part, but it may merely reflect the theatrical fashion of the day. Shakespeare collaborated on two further surviving plays, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, probably with John Fletcher.

It is not clear for which companies Shakespeare wrote his early plays. The title page of the 1594 edition of Titus Andronicus reveals that the play had been acted by three different troupes. After the plagues of 1592–3, Shakespeare's plays were performed by his own company at The Theatre and the Curtain in Shoreditch, north of the Thames. Londoners flocked there to see the first part of Henry IV, Leonard Digges recording, "Let but Falstaff come, Hal, Poins, the rest. and you scarce shall have a room".] When the company found themselves in dispute with their landlord, they pulled The Theatre down and used the timbers to construct the Globe Theatre, the first playhouse built by actors for actors, on the south bank of the Thames at Southwark. The Globe opened in autumn 1599, with Julius Caesar one of the first plays staged. Most of Shakespeare's greatest post-1599 plays were written for the Globe, including Hamlet, Othello and King Lear.

After the Lord Chamberlain's Men were renamed the King's Men in 1603, they entered a special relationship with the new King James. Although the performance records are patchy, the King's Men performed seven of Shakespeare's plays at court between 1 November 1604 and 31 October 1605, including two performances of The Merchant of Venice. After 1608, they performed at the indoor Blackfriars Theatre during the winter and the Globe during the summer. The indoor setting, combined with the Jacobean fashion for lavishly staged masques, allowed Shakespeare to introduce more elaborate stage devices. In Cymbeline, for example, Jupiter descends "in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt. The ghosts fall on their knees."

The actors in Shakespeare's company included the famous Richard Burbage, William Kempe, Henry Condell and John Heminges. Burbage played the leading role in the first performances of many of Shakespeare's plays, including Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. The popular comic actor Will Kempe played the servant Peter in Romeo and Juliet and Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, among other characters. He was replaced around the turn of the 16th century by Robert Armin, who played roles such as Touchstone in As You Like It and the fool in King Lear. In 1613, Sir Henry Wotton recorded that Henry VIII "was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and ceremony". On 29 June, however, a cannon set fire to the thatch of the Globe and burned the theatre to the ground, an event which pinpoints the date of a Shakespeare play with rare precision.

In 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare's friends from the King's Men, published the First Folio, a collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. It contained 36 texts, including 18 printed for the first time. Many of the plays had already appeared in quarto versions—flimsy books made from sheets of paper folded twice to make four leaves. No evidence suggests that Shakespeare approved these editions, which the First Folio describes as "stol'n and surreptitious copies". Alfred Pollard termed some of them "bad quartos" because of their adapted, paraphrased or garbled texts, which may in places have been reconstructed from memory. Where several versions of a play survive, each differs from the other. The differences may stem from copying or printing errors, from notes by actors or audience members, or from Shakespeare's own papers. In some cases, for example Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida and Othello, Shakespeare could have revised the texts between the quarto and folio editions. In the case of King Lear, however, while most modern additions do conflate them, the 1623 folio version is so different from the 1608 quarto, that the Oxford Shakespeare prints them both, arguing that they cannot be conflated without confusion.

In 1593 and 1594, when the theatres were closed because of plague, Shakespeare published two narrative poems on erotic themes, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He dedicated them to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. In Venus and Adonis, an innocent Adonis rejects the sexual advances of Venus while in The Rape of Lucrece, the virtuous wife Lucrece is raped by the lustful Tarquin. Influenced by Ovid's Metamorphoses, the poems show the guilt and moral confusion that result from uncontrolled lust. Both proved popular and were often reprinted during Shakespeare's lifetime. A third narrative poem, A Lover's Complaint, in which a young woman laments her seduction by a persuasive suitor, was printed in the first edition of the Sonnets in 1609. Most scholars now accept that Shakespeare wrote A Lover's Complaint. Critics consider that its fine qualities are marred by leaden effects. The Phoenix and the Turtle, printed in Robert Chester's 1601 Love's Martyr, mourns the deaths of the legendary phoenix and his lover, the faithful turtle dove. In 1599, two early drafts of sonnets 138 and 144 appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim, published under Shakespeare's name but without his permission.

Published in 1609, the Sonnets were the last of Shakespeare's non-dramatic works to be printed. Scholars are not certain when each of the 154 sonnets was composed, but evidence suggests that Shakespeare wrote sonnets throughout his career for a private readership. Even before the two unauthorised sonnets appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, Francis Meres had referred in 1598 to Shakespeare's "sugred Sonnets among his private friends". Few analysts believe that the published collection follows Shakespeare's intended sequence. He seems to have planned two contrasting series: one about uncontrollable lust for a married woman of dark complexion (the "dark lady"), and one about conflicted love for a fair young man (the "fair youth"). It remains unclear if these figures represent real individuals, or if the authorial "I" who addresses them represents Shakespeare himself, though Wordsworth believed that with the sonnets "Shakespeare unlocked his heart". The 1609 edition was dedicated to a "Mr. W.H.", credited as "the only begetter" of the poems.

It is not known whether this was written by Shakespeare himself or by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, whose initials appear at the foot of the dedication page nor is it known who Mr. W.H. was, despite numerous theories, or whether Shakespeare even authorised the publication. Critics praise the Sonnets as a profound meditation on the nature of love, sexual passion, procreation, death, and time.

Shakespeare's first plays were written in the conventional style of the day. He wrote them in a stylised language that does not always spring naturally from the needs of the characters or the drama. The poetry depends on extended, sometimes elaborate metaphors and conceits, and the language is often rhetorical—written for actors to declaim rather than speak. The grand speeches in Titus Andronicus, in the view of some critics, often hold up the action, for example and the verse in The Two Gentlemen of Verona has been described as stilted.

Soon, however, Shakespeare began to adapt the traditional styles to his own purposes. The opening soliloquy of Richard III has its roots in the self-declaration of Vice in medieval drama. At the same time, Richard’s vivid self-awareness looks forward to the soliloquies of Shakespeare's mature plays. No single play marks a change from the traditional to the freer style. Shakespeare combined the two throughout his career, with Romeo and Juliet perhaps the best example of the mixing of the styles. By the time of Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and A Midsummer Night's Dream in the mid-1590s, Shakespeare had begun to write a more natural poetry. He increasingly tuned his metaphors and images to the needs of the drama itself.

Shakespeare's standard poetic form was blank verse, composed in iambic pentameter. In practice, this meant that his verse was usually unrhymed and consisted of ten syllables to a line, spoken with a stress on every second syllable. The blank verse of his early plays is quite different from that of his later ones. It is often beautiful, but its sentences tend to start, pause, and finish at the end of lines, with the risk of monotony. Once Shakespeare mastered traditional blank verse, he began to interrupt and vary its flow. This technique releases the new power and flexibility of the poetry in plays such as Julius Caesar and Hamlet. Shakespeare uses it, for example, to convey the turmoil in Hamlet's mind:

Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting

That would not let me sleep. Methought I lay

Worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly—

And prais'd be rashness for it—let us know

Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well.

After Hamlet, Shakespeare varied his poetic style further, particularly in the more emotional passages of the late tragedies. The literary critic A. C. Bradley described this style as "more concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical". In the last phase of his career, Shakespeare adopted many techniques to achieve these effects. These included run-on lines, irregular pauses and stops, and extreme variations in sentence structure and length. In Macbeth, for example, the language darts from one unrelated metaphor or simile to another: "was the hope drunk/ Wherein you dressed yourself?" (1.7.35–38) ". pity, like a naked new-born babe/ Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd/ Upon the sightless couriers of the air. " (1.7.21–25). The listener is challenged to complete the sense. The late romances, with their shifts in time and surprising turns of plot, inspired a last poetic style in which long and short sentences are set against one another, clauses are piled up, subject and object are reversed, and words are omitted, creating an effect of spontaneity.

Shakespeare combined poetic genius with a practical sense of the theatre. Like all playwrights of the time, he dramatised stories from sources such as Plutarch and Holinshed. He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and to show as many sides of a narrative to the audience as possible. This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama. As Shakespeare’s mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and distinctive patterns of speech. He preserved aspects of his earlier style in the later plays, however. In Shakespeare's late romances, he deliberately returned to a more artificial style, which emphasised the illusion of theatre.

Shakespeare's work has made a lasting impression on later theatre and literature. In particular, he expanded the dramatic potential of characterisation, plot, language, and genre. Until Romeo and Juliet, for example, romance had not been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy. Soliloquies had been used mainly to convey information about characters or events but Shakespeare used them to explore characters' minds. His work heavily influenced later poetry. The Romantic poets attempted to revive Shakespearean verse drama, though with little success. Critic George Steiner described all English verse dramas from Coleridge to Tennyson as "feeble variations on Shakespearean themes."

Shakespeare influenced novelists such as Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner, and Charles Dickens. The American novelist Herman Melville's soliloquies owe much to Shakespeare his Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick is a classic tragic hero, inspired by King Lear. Scholars have identified 20,000 pieces of music linked to Shakespeare's works. These include two operas by Giuseppe Verdi, Otello and Falstaff, whose critical standing compares with that of the source plays. Shakespeare has also inspired many painters, including the Romantics and the Pre-Raphaelites. The Swiss Romantic artist Henry Fuseli, a friend of William Blake, even translated Macbeth into German. The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud drew on Shakespearean psychology, in particular that of Hamlet, for his theories of human nature.

In Shakespeare's day, English grammar, spelling and pronunciation were less standardised than they are now, and his use of language helped shape modern English. Samuel Johnson quoted him more often than any other author in his A Dictionary of the English Language, the first serious work of its type. Expressions such as "with bated breath" (Merchant of Venice) and "a foregone conclusion" (Othello) have found their way into everyday English speech.

Shakespeare was not revered in his lifetime, but he received his share of praise. In 1598, the cleric and author Francis Meres singled him out from a group of English writers as "the most excellent" in both comedy and tragedy. And the authors of the Parnassus plays at St John's College, Cambridge, numbered him with Chaucer, Gower and Spenser. In the First Folio, Ben Jonson called Shakespeare the "Soul of the age, the applause, delight, the wonder of our stage", though he had remarked elsewhere that "Shakespeare wanted art".

Between the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the end of the 17th century, classical ideas were in vogue. As a result, critics of the time mostly rated Shakespeare below John Fletcher and Ben Jonson. Thomas Rymer, for example, condemned Shakespeare for mixing the comic with the tragic. Nevertheless, poet and critic John Dryden rated Shakespeare highly, saying of Jonson, "I admire him, but I love Shakespeare". For several decades, Rymer's view held sway but during the 18th century, critics began to respond to Shakespeare on his own terms and acclaim what they termed his natural genius. A series of scholarly editions of his work, notably those of Samuel Johnson in 1765 and Edmond Malone in 1790, added to his growing reputation. By 1800, he was firmly enshrined as the national poet. In the 18th and 19th centuries, his reputation also spread abroad. Among those who championed him were the writers Voltaire, Goethe, Stendhal and Victor Hugo.

During the Romantic era, Shakespeare was praised by the poet and literary philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the critic August Wilhelm Schlegel translated his plays in the spirit of German Romanticism. In the 19th century, critical admiration for Shakespeare's genius often bordered on adulation. "That King Shakespeare," the essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote in 1840, "does not he shine, in crowned sovereignty, over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet strongest of rallying signs indestructible". The Victorians produced his plays as lavish spectacles on a grand scale. The playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw mocked the cult of Shakespeare worship as "bardolatry". He claimed that the new naturalism of Ibsen's plays had made Shakespeare obsolete.

The modernist revolution in the arts during the early 20th century, far from discarding Shakespeare, eagerly enlisted his work in the service of the avant-garde. The Expressionists in Germany and the Futurists in Moscow mounted productions of his plays. Marxist playwright and director Bertolt Brecht devised an epic theatre under the influence of Shakespeare. The poet and critic T. S. Eliot argued against Shaw that Shakespeare's "primitiveness" in fact made him truly modern. Eliot, along with G. Wilson Knight and the school of New Criticism, led a movement towards a closer reading of Shakespeare's imagery. In the 1950s, a wave of new critical approaches replaced modernism and paved the way for "post-modern" studies of Shakespeare. By the eighties, Shakespeare studies were open to movements such as structuralism, feminism, New Historicism, African American studies, and queer studies.

Speculation about Shakespeare

Main article: Shakespeare authorship question

Around 150 years after Shakespeare's death, doubts began to be expressed about the authorship of the works attributed to him. Proposed alternative candidates include Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Several "group theories" have also been proposed. Only a small minority of academics believe there is reason to question the traditional attribution, but interest in the subject, particularly the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, continues into the 21st century.

Some scholars claim that members of Shakespeare's family were Catholics, at a time when Catholic practice was against the law. Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, certainly came from a pious Catholic family. The strongest evidence might be a Catholic statement of faith signed by John Shakespeare, found in 1757 in the rafters of his former house in Henley Street. The document is now lost, however, and scholars differ as to its authenticity. In 1591 the authorities reported that John Shakespeare had missed church "for fear of process for debt", a common Catholic excuse. In 1606 the name of William's daughter Susanna appears on a list of those who failed to attend Easter communion in Stratford. Scholars find evidence both for and against Shakespeare's Catholicism in his plays, but the truth may be impossible to prove either way.

Few details of Shakespeare's sexuality are known. At 18, he married the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, who was pregnant. Susanna, the first of their three children, was born six months later on 26 May 1583. Over the centuries some readers have posited that Shakespeare's sonnets are autobiographical, and point to them as evidence of his love for a young man. Others read the same passages as the expression of intense friendship rather than sexual love. The 26 so-called "Dark Lady" sonnets, addressed to a married woman, are taken as evidence of heterosexual liaisons.

There is no written description of Shakespeare's physical appearance and no evidence that he ever commissioned a portrait, so the Droeshout engraving, which Ben Jonson approved of as a good likeness, and his Stratford monument provide the best evidence of his appearance. From the 18th century, the desire for authentic Shakespeare portraits fuelled claims that various surviving pictures depicted Shakespeare. That demand also led to the production of several fake portraits, as well as misattributions, repaintings and relabelling of portraits of other people.


Childhood and Education

Scant records exist of Shakespeare&aposs childhood and virtually none regarding his education. Scholars have surmised that he most likely attended the King&aposs New School, in Stratford, which taught reading, writing and the classics. 

Being a public official&aposs child, Shakespeare would have undoubtedly qualified for free tuition. But this uncertainty regarding his education has led some to raise questions about the authorship of his work (and even about whether or not Shakespeare really existed).


Shakespeare’s Death and Legacy

Shakespeare died at age 52 of unknown causes on April 23, 1616, leaving the bulk of his estate to his daughter Susanna. (Anne Hathaway, who outlived her husband by seven years, famously received his “second-best bed.”) The slabstone over Shakespeare’s tomb, located inside a Stratford church, bears an epitaph—written, some say, by the bard himself—warding off grave robbers with a curse: 𠇋lessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.” His remains have yet to be disturbed, despite requests by archaeologists keen to reveal what killed him.


Samuel Johnson: Poems Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson was born on 18 September 1709, to Sarah (née Ford) and Michael Johnson, a bookseller.[8] The birth took place in the family home above his father's bookshop in Lichfield, Staffordshire. His mother was 40 when she gave birth to Johnson. This was considered an unusually late pregnancy, so precautions were taken, and a "man-midwife" and surgeon of "great reputation" named George Hector was brought in to assist.[9] The infant Johnson did not cry, and there were concerns for his health. His aunt exclaimed that "she would not have picked such a poor creature up in the street".[10] The family feared that Johnson would not survive, and summoned the vicar of St Mary's to perform a baptism.[11] Two godfathers were chosen, Samuel Swynfen, a physician and graduate of Pembroke College, Oxford, and Richard Wakefield, a lawyer, coroner, and Lichfield town clerk.[12]

Johnson's health improved and he was put to wet-nurse with Joan Marklew. Some time later he contracted scrofula,[13] known at the time as the "King's Evil" because it was thought royalty could cure it. Sir John Floyer, former physician to King Charles II, recommended that the young Johnson should receive the "royal touch",[14] and he did so from Queen Anne on 30 March 1712. However, the ritual proved ineffective, and an operation was performed that left him with permanent scars across his face and body.[15] With the birth of Johnson's brother, Nathaniel, a few months later, their father was unable to pay the debts he had accrued over the years, and the family was no longer able to maintain its standard of living.[16]

.mw-parser-output .quotebox.mw-parser-output .quotebox.floatleft.mw-parser-output .quotebox.floatright.mw-parser-output .quotebox.centered.mw-parser-output .quotebox.floatleft p,.mw-parser-output .quotebox.floatright p.mw-parser-output .quotebox-title.mw-parser-output .quotebox-quote.quoted:before.mw-parser-output .quotebox-quote.quoted:after.mw-parser-output .quotebox .left-aligned.mw-parser-output .quotebox .right-aligned.mw-parser-output .quotebox .center-aligned.mw-parser-output .quotebox cite@media screen and (max-width:640px)<.mw-parser-output .quotebox> When he was a child in petticoats, and had learnt to read, Mrs. Johnson one morning put the common prayer-book into his hands, pointed to the collect for the day, and said, 'Sam, you must get this by heart.' She went up stairs, leaving him to study it: But by the time she had reached the second floor, she heard him following her. 'What's the matter?' said she. 'I can say it,' he replied and repeated it distinctly, though he could not have read it more than twice.[17]

Johnson displayed signs of great intelligence as a child, and his parents, to his later disgust, would show off his "newly acquired accomplishments".[18] His education began at the age of three, and was provided by his mother, who had him memorise and recite passages from the Book of Common Prayer.[19] When Samuel turned four, he was sent to a nearby school, and, at the age of six he was sent to a retired shoemaker to continue his education.[20] A year later Johnson went to Lichfield Grammar School, where he excelled in Latin.[21] During this time, Johnson started to exhibit the tics that would influence how people viewed him in his later years, and which formed the basis for a posthumous diagnosis of Tourette syndrome.[22] He excelled at his studies and was promoted to the upper school at the age of nine.[21] During this time, he befriended Edmund Hector, nephew of his "man-midwife" George Hector, and John Taylor, with whom he remained in contact for the rest of his life.[23]

At the age of 16, Johnson stayed with his cousins, the Fords, at Pedmore, Worcestershire.[24] There he became a close friend of Cornelius Ford, who employed his knowledge of the classics to tutor Johnson while he was not attending school.[25] Ford was a successful, well-connected academic, and notorious alcoholic whose excesses contributed to his death six years later.[26] After spending six months with his cousins, Johnson returned to Lichfield, but Mr Hunter, the headmaster, "angered by the impertinence of this long absence", refused to allow Johnson to continue at the school.[27] Unable to return to Lichfield Grammar School, Johnson enrolled at the King Edward VI grammar school at Stourbridge.[25] As the school was located near Pedmore, Johnson was able to spend more time with the Fords, and he began to write poems and verse translations.[27] However, he spent only six months at Stourbridge before returning once again to his parents' home in Lichfield.[28]

During this time, Johnson's future remained uncertain because his father was deeply in debt.[29] To earn money, Johnson began to stitch books for his father, and it is likely that Johnson spent much time in his father's bookshop reading and building his literary knowledge. The family remained in poverty until his mother's cousin Elizabeth Harriotts died in February 1728 and left enough money to send Johnson to university.[30] On 31 October 1728, a few weeks after he turned 19, Johnson entered Pembroke College, Oxford.[31] The inheritance did not cover all of his expenses at Pembroke, and Andrew Corbet, a friend and fellow student at the college, offered to make up the deficit.[32]

Johnson made friends at Pembroke and read much. In later life, he told stories of his idleness.[b] His tutor asked him to produce a Latin translation of Alexander Pope's Messiah as a Christmas exercise.[34] Johnson completed half of the translation in one afternoon and the rest the following morning. Although the poem brought him praise, it did not bring the material benefit he had hoped for.[35] The poem later appeared in Miscellany of Poems (1731), edited by John Husbands, a Pembroke tutor, and is the earliest surviving publication of any of Johnson's writings. Johnson spent the rest of his time studying, even during the Christmas holiday. He drafted a "plan of study" called "Adversaria", which he left unfinished, and used his time to learn French while working on his Greek.[36]

After thirteen months, a lack of funds forced Johnson to leave Oxford without a degree, and he returned to Lichfield.[30] Towards the end of Johnson's stay at Oxford, his tutor, Jorden, left Pembroke and was replaced by William Adams. Johnson enjoyed Adams' tutoring, but by December, Johnson was already a quarter behind in his student fees, and was forced to return home. He left behind many books that he had borrowed from his father because he could not afford to transport them, and also because he hoped to return to Oxford.[37]

He eventually did receive a degree. Just before the publication of his Dictionary in 1755, the University of Oxford awarded Johnson the degree of Master of Arts.[38] He was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1765 by Trinity College Dublin and in 1775 by the University of Oxford.[39] In 1776 he returned to Pembroke with Boswell and toured the college with his former tutor Adams, who by then was the Master of the college. During that visit he recalled his time at the college and his early career, and expressed his later fondness for Jorden.[40]

Early career

Little is known about Johnson's life between the end of 1729 and 1731. It is likely that he lived with his parents. He experienced bouts of mental anguish and physical pain during years of illness[41] his tics and gesticulations associated with Tourette syndrome became more noticeable and were often commented upon.[42] By 1731 Johnson's father was deeply in debt and had lost much of his standing in Lichfield. Johnson hoped to get an usher's position, which became available at Stourbridge Grammar School, but since he did not have a degree, his application was passed over on 6 September 1731.[41] At about this time, Johnson's father became ill and developed an "inflammatory fever" which led to his death in December 1731.[43] Johnson eventually found employment as undermaster at a school in Market Bosworth, run by Sir Wolstan Dixie, who allowed Johnson to teach without a degree.[44] Although Johnson was treated as a servant,[45] he found pleasure in teaching even though he considered it boring. After an argument with Dixie he left the school, and by June 1732 he had returned home.[46]

Johnson continued to look for a position at a Lichfield school. After being turned down for a job at Ashbourne, he spent time with his friend Edmund Hector, who was living in the home of the publisher Thomas Warren. At the time, Warren was starting his Birmingham Journal, and he enlisted Johnson's help.[47] This connection with Warren grew, and Johnson proposed a translation of Jerónimo Lobo's account of the Abyssinians.[48] Johnson read Abbé Joachim Le Grand's French translations, and thought that a shorter version might be "useful and profitable".[49] Instead of writing the work himself, he dictated to Hector, who then took the copy to the printer and made any corrections. Johnson's A Voyage to Abyssinia was published a year later.[49] He returned to Lichfield in February 1734, and began an annotated edition of Poliziano's Latin poems, along with a history of Latin poetry from Petrarch to Poliziano a Proposal was soon printed, but a lack of funds halted the project.[50]

Johnson remained with his close friend Harry Porter during a terminal illness,[51] which ended in Porter's death on 3 September 1734. Porter's wife Elizabeth (née Jervis) (otherwise known as "Tetty") was now a widow at the age of 45, with three children.[52] Some months later, Johnson began to court her. The Reverend William Shaw claims that "the first advances probably proceeded from her, as her attachment to Johnson was in opposition to the advice and desire of all her relations,"[53] Johnson was inexperienced in such relationships, but the well-to-do widow encouraged him and promised to provide for him with her substantial savings.[54] They married on 9 July 1735, at St Werburgh's Church in Derby.[55] The Porter family did not approve of the match, partly because of the difference in their ages, Johnson was 25 and Elizabeth was 46. Elizabeth's marriage to Johnson so disgusted her son Jervis that he severed all relations with her.[56] However, her daughter Lucy accepted Johnson from the start, and her other son, Joseph, later came to accept the marriage.[57]

In June 1735, while working as a tutor for the children of Thomas Whitby, a local Staffordshire gentleman, Johnson had applied for the position of headmaster at Solihull School.[58] Although Johnson's friend Gilbert Walmisley gave his support, Johnson was passed over because the school's directors thought he was "a very haughty, ill-natured gent, and that he has such a way of distorting his face (which though he can't help) the gents think it may affect some lads".[59] With Walmisley's encouragement, Johnson decided that he could be a successful teacher if he ran his own school.[60] In the autumn of 1735, Johnson opened Edial Hall School as a private academy at Edial, near Lichfield. He had only three pupils: Lawrence Offley, George Garrick, and the 18-year-old David Garrick, who later became one of the most famous actors of his day.[59] The venture was unsuccessful and cost Tetty a substantial portion of her fortune. Instead of trying to keep the failing school going, Johnson began to write his first major work, the historical tragedy Irene.[61] Biographer Robert DeMaria believed that Tourette syndrome likely made public occupations like schoolmaster or tutor almost impossible for Johnson. This may have led Johnson to "the invisible occupation of authorship".[22]

Johnson left for London with his former pupil David Garrick on 2 March 1737, the day Johnson's brother died. He was penniless and pessimistic about their travel, but fortunately for them, Garrick had connections in London, and the two were able to stay with his distant relative, Richard Norris.[62] Johnson soon moved to Greenwich near the Golden Hart Tavern to finish Irene.[63] On 12 July 1737 he wrote to Edward Cave with a proposal for a translation of Paolo Sarpi's The History of the Council of Trent (1619), which Cave did not accept until months later.[64] In October 1737 Johnson brought his wife to London, and he found employment with Cave as a writer for The Gentleman's Magazine.[65] His assignments for the magazine and other publishers during this time were "almost unparalleled in range and variety," and "so numerous, so varied and scattered" that "Johnson himself could not make a complete list".[66] The name Columbia, a poetic name for America coined by Johnson, first appears in a 1738 weekly publication of the debates of the British parliament in The Gentleman's Magazine.

In May 1738 his first major work, the poem London, was published anonymously.[67] Based on Juvenal's Satire III, it describes the character Thales leaving for Wales to escape the problems of London,[68] which is portrayed as a place of crime, corruption, and poverty. Johnson could not bring himself to regard the poem as earning him any merit as a poet.[69] Alexander Pope said that the author "will soon be déterré" (unearthed, dug up), but this would not happen until 15 years later.[67]

In August, Johnson's lack of an MA degree from Oxford or Cambridge led to his being denied a position as master of the Appleby Grammar School. In an effort to end such rejections, Pope asked Lord Gower to use his influence to have a degree awarded to Johnson.[10] Gower petitioned Oxford for an honorary degree to be awarded to Johnson, but was told that it was "too much to be asked".[70] Gower then asked a friend of Jonathan Swift to plead with Swift to use his influence at the University of Dublin to have a master's degree awarded to Johnson, in the hope that this could then be used to justify an MA from Oxford,[70] but Swift refused to act on Johnson's behalf.[71]

Between 1737 and 1739, Johnson befriended poet Richard Savage.[72] Feeling guilty about living on Tetty's money, Johnson stopped living with her and spent his time with Savage. They were poor and would stay in taverns or sleep in "night-cellars". Some nights they would roam the streets until dawn because they had no money.[73] Savage's friends tried to help him by attempting to persuade him to move to Wales, but Savage ended up in Bristol and again fell into debt. He was committed to debtors' prison and died in 1743. A year later, Johnson wrote Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a "moving" work which, in the words of the biographer and critic Walter Jackson Bate, "remains one of the innovative works in the history of biography".[74]

A Dictionary of the English Language

In 1746, a group of publishers approached Johnson with an idea about creating an authoritative dictionary of the English language.[67] A contract with William Strahan and associates, worth 1,500 guineas, was signed on the morning of 18 June 1746.[75] Johnson claimed that he could finish the project in three years. In comparison, the Académie Française had 40 scholars spending 40 years to complete their dictionary, which prompted Johnson to claim, "This is the proportion. Let me see forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman."[67] Although he did not succeed in completing the work in three years, he did manage to finish it in eight.[67] Some criticised the dictionary, including Thomas Babington Macaulay, who described Johnson as "a wretched etymologist,"[76] but according to Bate, the Dictionary "easily ranks as one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship, and probably the greatest ever performed by one individual who laboured under anything like the disadvantages in a comparable length of time."[4]

Johnson's dictionary was not the first, nor was it unique. It was, however, the most commonly used and imitated for the 150 years between its first publication and the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928. Other dictionaries, such as Nathan Bailey's Dictionarium Britannicum, included more words,[5] and in the 150 years preceding Johnson's dictionary about twenty other general-purpose monolingual "English" dictionaries had been produced.[77] However, there was open dissatisfaction with the dictionaries of the period. In 1741, David Hume claimed: "The Elegance and Propriety of Stile have been very much neglected among us. We have no Dictionary of our Language, and scarce a tolerable Grammar."[78] Johnson's Dictionary offers insights into the 18th century and "a faithful record of the language people used".[5] It is more than a reference book it is a work of literature.[77]

For a decade, Johnson's constant work on the Dictionary disrupted his and Tetty's living conditions. He had to employ a number of assistants for the copying and mechanical work, which filled the house with incessant noise and clutter. He was always busy, and kept hundreds of books around him.[79] John Hawkins described the scene: "The books he used for this purpose were what he had in his own collection, a copious but a miserably ragged one, and all such as he could borrow which latter, if ever they came back to those that lent them, were so defaced as to be scarce worth owning."[80] Johnson was also distracted by Tetty's poor health as she began to show signs of a terminal illness.[79] To accommodate both his wife and his work, he moved to 17 Gough Square near his printer, William Strahan.[81]

In preparation, Johnson wrote a Plan for the Dictionary. Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, was the patron of the Plan, to Johnson's displeasure.[82] Seven years after first meeting Johnson to go over the work, Chesterfield wrote two anonymous essays in The World recommending the Dictionary.[83] He complained that the English language lacked structure and argued in support of the dictionary. Johnson did not like the tone of the essays, and he felt that Chesterfield had not fulfilled his obligations as the work's patron.[84] In a letter to Chesterfield, Johnson expressed this view and harshly criticised Chesterfield, saying "Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind: but it has been delayed till I am indifferent and cannot enjoy it till I am solitary and cannot impart it till I am known and do not want it."[85] Chesterfield, impressed by the language, kept the letter displayed on a table for anyone to read.[85]

The Dictionary was finally published in April 1755, with the title page acknowledging that the University of Oxford had awarded Johnson a Master of Arts degree in anticipation of the work.[86] The dictionary as published was a large book. Its pages were nearly 18 inches (46 cm) tall, and the book was 20 inches (51 cm) wide when opened it contained 42,773 entries, to which only a few more were added in subsequent editions, and it sold for the extravagant price of £4 10s, perhaps the rough equivalent of £350 today.[87] An important innovation in English lexicography was to illustrate the meanings of his words by literary quotation, of which there were approximately 114,000. The authors most frequently cited include William Shakespeare, John Milton and John Dryden.[88] It was years before Johnson's Dictionary, as it came to be known, turned a profit. Authors' royalties were unknown at the time, and Johnson, once his contract to deliver the book was fulfilled, received no further money from its sale. Years later, many of its quotations would be repeated by various editions of the Webster's Dictionary and the New English Dictionary.[89]

Besides working on the Dictionary, Johnson also wrote numerous essays, sermons, and poems during these nine years.[90] In 1750, he decided to produce a series of essays under the title The Rambler that were to be published every Tuesday and Saturday and sell for twopence each. Explaining the title years later, he told his friend, the painter Joshua Reynolds: "I was at a loss how to name it. I sat down at night upon my bedside, and resolved that I would not go to sleep till I had fixed its title. The Rambler seemed the best that occurred, and I took it."[91] These essays, often on moral and religious topics, tended to be more grave than the title of the series would suggest his first comments in The Rambler were to ask "that in this undertaking thy Holy Spirit may not be withheld from me, but that I may promote thy glory, and the salvation of myself and others."[91] The popularity of The Rambler took off once the issues were collected in a volume they were reprinted nine times during Johnson's life. Writer and printer Samuel Richardson, enjoying the essays greatly, questioned the publisher as to who wrote the works only he and a few of Johnson's friends were told of Johnson's authorship.[92] One friend, the novelist Charlotte Lennox, includes a defence of The Rambler in her novel The Female Quixote (1752). In particular, the character Mr. Glanville says, "you may sit in Judgment upon the Productions of a Young, a Richardson, or a Johnson. Rail with premeditated Malice at the Rambler and for the want of Faults, turn even its inimitable Beauties into Ridicule." (Book VI, Chapter XI) Later, she claims Johnson as "the greatest Genius in the present Age."[93]

His necessary attendance while his play was in rehearsal, and during its performance, brought him acquainted with many of the performers of both sexes, which produced a more favourable opinion of their profession than he had harshly expressed in his Life of Savage. With some of them he kept up an acquaintance as long as he and they lived, and was ever ready to shew them acts of kindness. He for a considerable time used to frequent the Green Room, and seemed to take delight in dissipating his gloom, by mixing in the sprightly chit-chat of the motley circle then to be found there. Mr. David Hume related to me from Mr. Garrick, that Johnson at last denied himself this amusement, from considerations of rigid virtue saying, 'I'll come no more behind your scenes, David for the silk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous propensities.[94]

Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

However, not all of his work was confined to The Rambler. His most highly regarded poem, The Vanity of Human Wishes, was written with such "extraordinary speed" that Boswell claimed Johnson "might have been perpetually a poet".[95] The poem is an imitation of Juvenal's Satire X and claims that "the antidote to vain human wishes is non-vain spiritual wishes".[96] In particular, Johnson emphasises "the helpless vulnerability of the individual before the social context" and the "inevitable self-deception by which human beings are led astray".[97] The poem was critically celebrated but it failed to become popular, and sold fewer copies than London.[98] In 1749, Garrick made good on his promise that he would produce Irene, but its title was altered to Mahomet and Irene to make it "fit for the stage."[99] The show eventually ran for nine nights.[100]

Tetty Johnson was ill during most of her time in London, and in 1752 she decided to return to the countryside while Johnson was busy working on his Dictionary. She died on 17 March 1752, and, at word of her death, Johnson wrote a letter to his old friend Taylor, which according to Taylor "expressed grief in the strongest manner he had ever read".[101] He wrote a sermon in her honour, to be read at her funeral, but Taylor refused to read it, for reasons which are unknown. This only exacerbated Johnson's feelings of loss and despair after the death of his wife. Consequently, John Hawkesworth had to organise the funeral. Johnson felt guilty about the poverty in which he believed he had forced Tetty to live, and blamed himself for neglecting her. He became outwardly discontented, and his diary was filled with prayers and laments over her death which continued until his own. She was his primary motivation, and her death hindered his ability to complete his work.[102]

Later career

On 16 March 1756, Johnson was arrested for an outstanding debt of £5 18s. Unable to contact anyone else, he wrote to the writer and publisher Samuel Richardson. Richardson, who had previously lent Johnson money, sent him six guineas to show his good will, and the two became friends.[103] Soon after, Johnson met and befriended the painter Joshua Reynolds, who so impressed Johnson that he declared him "almost the only man whom I call a friend".[104] Reynolds' younger sister Frances observed during their time together "that men, women and children gathered around him [Johnson]", laughing at his gestures and gesticulations.[105] In addition to Reynolds, Johnson was close to Bennet Langton and Arthur Murphy. Langton was a scholar and an admirer of Johnson who persuaded his way into a meeting with Johnson which led to a long friendship. Johnson met Murphy during the summer of 1754 after Murphy came to Johnson about the accidental republishing of the Rambler No. 190, and the two became friends.[106] Around this time, Anna Williams began boarding with Johnson. She was a minor poet who was poor and becoming blind, two conditions that Johnson attempted to change by providing room for her and paying for a failed cataract surgery. Williams, in turn, became Johnson's housekeeper.[107]

To occupy himself, Johnson began to work on The Literary Magazine, or Universal Review, the first issue of which was printed on 19 March 1756. Philosophical disagreements erupted over the purpose of the publication when the Seven Years' War began and Johnson started to write polemical essays attacking the war. After the war began, the Magazine included many reviews, at least 34 of which were written by Johnson.[108] When not working on the Magazine, Johnson wrote a series of prefaces for other writers, such as Giuseppe Baretti, William Payne and Charlotte Lennox.[109] Johnson's relationship with Lennox and her works was particularly close during these years, and she in turn relied so heavily upon Johnson that he was "the most important single fact in Mrs Lennox's literary life".[110] He later attempted to produce a new edition of her works, but even with his support they were unable to find enough interest to follow through with its publication.[111] To help with domestic duties while Johnson was busy with his various projects, Richard Bathurst, a physician and a member of Johnson's Club, pressured him to take on a freed slave, Francis Barber, as his servant.[112]

Johnson's work on The Plays of William Shakespeare took up most of his time. On 8 June 1756, Johnson published his Proposals for Printing, by Subscription, the Dramatick Works of William Shakespeare, which argued that previous editions of Shakespeare were edited incorrectly and needed to be corrected.[113] Johnson's progress on the work slowed as the months passed, and he told music historian Charles Burney in December 1757 that it would take him until the following March to complete it. Before that could happen, he was arrested again, for a debt of £40, in February 1758. The debt was soon repaid by Jacob Tonson, who had contracted Johnson to publish Shakespeare, and this encouraged Johnson to finish his edition to repay the favour. Although it took him another seven years to finish, Johnson completed a few volumes of his Shakespeare to prove his commitment to the project.[114]

In 1758, Johnson began to write a weekly series, The Idler, which ran from 15 April 1758 to 5 April 1760, as a way to avoid finishing his Shakespeare. This series was shorter and lacked many features of The Rambler. Unlike his independent publication of The Rambler, The Idler was published in a weekly news journal The Universal Chronicle, a publication supported by John Payne, John Newbery, Robert Stevens and William Faden.[115]

Since The Idler did not occupy all Johnson's time, he was able to publish his philosophical novella Rasselas on 19 April 1759. The "little story book", as Johnson described it, describes the life of Prince Rasselas and Nekayah, his sister, who are kept in a place called the Happy Valley in the land of Abyssinia. The Valley is a place free of problems, where any desire is quickly satisfied. The constant pleasure does not, however, lead to satisfaction and, with the help of a philosopher named Imlac, Rasselas escapes and explores the world to witness how all aspects of society and life in the outside world are filled with suffering. They return to Abyssinia, but do not wish to return to the state of constantly fulfilled pleasures found in the Happy Valley.[116] Rasselas was written in one week to pay for his mother's funeral and settle her debts it became so popular that there was a new English edition of the work almost every year. References to it appear in many later works of fiction, including Jane Eyre, Cranford and The House of the Seven Gables. Its fame was not limited to English-speaking nations: Rasselas was immediately translated into five languages (French, Dutch, German, Russian and Italian), and later into nine others.[117]

By 1762, however, Johnson had gained notoriety for his dilatoriness in writing the contemporary poet Churchill teased Johnson for the delay in producing his long-promised edition of Shakespeare: "He for subscribers baits his hook / and takes your cash, but where's the book?"[118] The comments soon motivated Johnson to finish his Shakespeare, and, after receiving the first payment from a government pension on 20 July 1762, he was able to dedicate most of his time towards this goal.[118] Earlier that July, the 24-year-old King George III granted Johnson an annual pension of £300 in appreciation for the Dictionary.[39] While the pension did not make Johnson wealthy, it did allow him a modest yet comfortable independence for the remaining 22 years of his life.[119] The award came largely through the efforts of Sheridan and the Earl of Bute. When Johnson questioned if the pension would force him to promote a political agenda or support various officials, he was told by Bute that the pension "is not given you for anything you are to do, but for what you have done".[120]

On 16 May 1763, Johnson first met 22-year-old James Boswell—who would later become Johnson's first major biographer—in the bookshop of Johnson's friend, Tom Davies. They quickly became friends, although Boswell would return to his home in Scotland or travel abroad for months at a time.[121] Around the spring of 1763, Johnson formed "The Club", a social group that included his friends Reynolds, Burke, Garrick, Goldsmith and others (the membership later expanded to include Adam Smith and Edward Gibbon, in addition to Boswell himself). They decided to meet every Monday at 7:00 pm at the Turk's Head in Gerrard Street, Soho, and these meetings continued until long after the deaths of the original members.[122]

On 9 January 1765, Murphy introduced Johnson to Henry Thrale, a wealthy brewer and MP, and his wife Hester. They struck up an instant friendship Johnson was treated as a member of the family, and was once more motivated to continue working on his Shakespeare.[123] Afterwards, Johnson stayed with the Thrales for 17 years until Henry's death in 1781, sometimes staying in rooms at Thrale's Anchor Brewery in Southwark.[124] Hester Thrale's documentation of Johnson's life during this time, in her correspondence and her diary (Thraliana), became an important source of biographical information on Johnson after his death.[125]

During the whole of the interview, Johnson talked to his Majesty with profound respect, but still in his firm manly manner, with a sonorous voice, and never in that subdued tone which is commonly used at the levee and in the drawing-room. After the King withdrew, Johnson shewed himself highly pleased with his Majesty's conversation and gracious behaviour. He said to Mr Barnard, 'Sir, they may talk of the King as they will but he is the finest gentleman I have ever seen.'[126]

Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

Johnson's edition of Shakespeare was finally published on 10 October 1765 as The Plays of William Shakespeare, in Eight Volumes . To which are added Notes by Sam. Johnson in a printing of one thousand copies. The first edition quickly sold out, and a second was soon printed.[127] The plays themselves were in a version that Johnson felt was closest to the original, based on his analysis of the manuscript editions. Johnson's revolutionary innovation was to create a set of corresponding notes that allowed readers to clarify the meaning behind many of Shakespeare's more complicated passages, and to examine those which had been transcribed incorrectly in previous editions.[128] Included within the notes are occasional attacks upon rival editors of Shakespeare's works.[129] Years later, Edmond Malone, an important Shakespearean scholar and friend of Johnson's, stated that Johnson's "vigorous and comprehensive understanding threw more light on his authour than all his predecessors had done".[130]

In February 1767, Johnson was granted a special audience with King George III. This took place at the library of the Queen's house, and it was organised by Barnard, the King's librarian.[131] The King, upon hearing that Johnson would visit the library, commanded that Barnard introduce him to Johnson.[132] After a short meeting, Johnson was impressed both with the King himself and with their conversation.[126]

Final works

On 6 August 1773, eleven years after first meeting Boswell, Johnson set out to visit his friend in Scotland, and to begin "a journey to the western islands of Scotland", as Johnson's 1775 account of their travels would put it.[134] The work was intended to discuss the social problems and struggles that affected the Scottish people, but it also praised many of the unique facets of Scottish society, such as a school in Edinburgh for the deaf and mute.[135] Also, Johnson used the work to enter into the dispute over the authenticity of James Macpherson's Ossian poems, claiming they could not have been translations of ancient Scottish literature on the grounds that "in those times nothing had been written in the Earse [i.e. Scots Gaelic] language".[136] There were heated exchanges between the two, and according to one of Johnson's letters, MacPherson threatened physical violence.[137] Boswell's account of their journey, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1786), was a preliminary step toward his later biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson. Included were various quotations and descriptions of events, including anecdotes such as Johnson swinging a broadsword while wearing Scottish garb, or dancing a Highland jig.[138]

In the 1770s, Johnson, who had tended to be an opponent of the government early in life, published a series of pamphlets in favour of various government policies. In 1770 he produced The False Alarm, a political pamphlet attacking John Wilkes. In 1771, his Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Falkland's Islands cautioned against war with Spain.[139] In 1774 he printed The Patriot, a critique of what he viewed as false patriotism. On the evening of 7 April 1775, he made the famous statement, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."[140] This line was not, as widely believed, about patriotism in general, but what Johnson considered to be the false use of the term "patriotism" by John Wilkes and his supporters. Johnson opposed "self-professed Patriots" in general, but valued what he considered "true" patriotism.[141]

The last of these pamphlets, Taxation No Tyranny (1775), was a defence of the Coercive Acts and a response to the Declaration of Rights of the First Continental Congress, which protested against taxation without representation.[142] Johnson argued that in emigrating to America, colonists had "voluntarily resigned the power of voting", but they still retained "virtual representation" in Parliament. In a parody of the Declaration of Rights, Johnson suggested that the Americans had no more right to govern themselves than the Cornish, and asked "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"[143] If the Americans wanted to participate in Parliament, said Johnson, they could move to England and purchase an estate.[144] Johnson denounced English supporters of American separatists as "traitors to this country", and hoped that the matter would be settled without bloodshed, but he felt confident that it would end with "English superiority and American obedience".[145] Years before, Johnson had stated that the French and Indian War was a conflict between "two robbers" of Native American lands, and that neither deserved to live there.[108] After the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, marking the colonists' victory over the British, Johnson became "deeply disturbed" with the "state of this kingdom".[146]

Mr Thrale's death was a very essential loss to Johnson, who, although he did not foresee all that afterwards happened, was sufficiently convinced that the comforts which Mr Thrale's family afforded him, would now in great measure cease.[147]

Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

On 3 May 1777, while Johnson was trying to save Reverend William Dodd from execution, he wrote to Boswell that he was busy preparing a "little Lives" and "little Prefaces, to a little edition of the English Poets".[148] Tom Davies, William Strahan and Thomas Cadell had asked Johnson to create this final major work, the Lives of the English Poets, for which he asked 200 guineas, an amount significantly less than the price he could have demanded.[149] The Lives, which were critical as well as biographical studies, appeared as prefaces to selections of each poet's work, and they were longer and more detailed than originally expected.[150] The work was finished in March 1781 and the whole collection was published in six volumes. As Johnson justified in the advertisement for the work, "my purpose was only to have allotted to every Poet an Advertisement, like those which we find in the French Miscellanies, containing a few dates and a general character."[151]

Johnson was unable to enjoy this success because Henry Thrale, the dear friend with whom he lived, died on 4 April 1781.[152] Life changed quickly for Johnson when Hester Thrale became romantically involved with the Italian singing teacher Gabriel Mario Piozzi, which forced Johnson to change his previous lifestyle.[153] After returning home and then travelling for a short period, Johnson received word that his friend and tenant Robert Levet, had died on 17 January 1782.[154] Johnson was shocked by the death of Levet, who had resided at Johnson's London home since 1762.[155] Shortly afterwards Johnson caught a cold that developed into bronchitis and lasted for several months. His health was further complicated by "feeling forlorn and lonely" over Levet's death, and by the deaths of his friend Thomas Lawrence and his housekeeper Williams.[156]

Final years

Although he had recovered his health by August, he experienced emotional trauma when he was given word that Hester Thrale would sell the residence that Johnson shared with the family. What hurt Johnson most was the possibility that he would be left without her constant company.[157] Months later, on 6 October 1782, Johnson attended church for the final time in his life, to say goodbye to his former residence and life. The walk to the church strained him, but he managed the journey unaccompanied.[158] While there, he wrote a prayer for the Thrale family:

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To thy fatherly protection, O Lord, I commend this family. Bless, guide, and defend them, that they may pass through this world, as finally to enjoy in thy presence everlasting happiness, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.[159]

Hester Thrale did not completely abandon Johnson, and asked him to accompany the family on a trip to Brighton.[158] He agreed, and was with them from 7 October to 20 November 1782.[160] On his return, his health began to fail, and he was left alone after Boswell's visit on 29 May 1783.[161]

On 17 June 1783, Johnson's poor circulation resulted in a stroke[162] and he wrote to his neighbour, Edmund Allen, that he had lost the ability to speak.[163] Two doctors were brought in to aid Johnson he regained his ability to speak two days later.[164] Johnson feared that he was dying, and wrote:

The black dog I hope always to resist, and in time to drive, though I am deprived of almost all those that used to help me. The neighbourhood is impoverished. I had once Richardson and Lawrence in my reach. Mrs. Allen is dead. My house has lost Levet, a man who took interest in everything, and therefore ready at conversation. Mrs. Williams is so weak that she can be a companion no longer. When I rise my breakfast is solitary, the black dog waits to share it, from breakfast to dinner he continues barking, except that Dr. Brocklesby for a little keeps him at a distance. Dinner with a sick woman you may venture to suppose not much better than solitary. After dinner, what remains but to count the clock, and hope for that sleep which I can scarce expect. Night comes at last, and some hours of restlessness and confusion bring me again to a day of solitude. What shall exclude the black dog from an habitation like this?[165]

By this time he was sick and gout-ridden. He had surgery for gout, and his remaining friends, including novelist Fanny Burney (the daughter of Charles Burney), came to keep him company.[166] He was confined to his room from 14 December 1783 to 21 April 1784.[167]

A few days before his death, he had asked Sir John Hawkins, one of his executors, where he should be buried and on being answered, "Doubtless, in Westminster Abbey," seemed to feel a satisfaction, very natural to a Poet.[168]

Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson

His health began to improve by May 1784, and he travelled to Oxford with Boswell on 5 May 1784.[167] By July, many of Johnson's friends were either dead or gone Boswell had left for Scotland and Hester Thrale had become engaged to Piozzi. With no one to visit, Johnson expressed a desire to die in London and arrived there on 16 November 1784. On 25 November 1784, he allowed Burney to visit him and expressed an interest to her that he should leave London he soon left for Islington, to George Strahan's home.[169] His final moments were filled with mental anguish and delusions when his physician, Thomas Warren, visited and asked him if he were feeling better, Johnson burst out with: "No, Sir you cannot conceive with what acceleration I advance towards death."[170]

Many visitors came to see Johnson as he lay sick in bed, but he preferred only Langton's company.[170] Burney waited for word of Johnson's condition, along with Windham, Strahan, Hoole, Cruikshank, Des Moulins and Barber.[171] On 13 December 1784, Johnson met with two others: a young woman, Miss Morris, whom Johnson blessed, and Francesco Sastres, an Italian teacher, who was given some of Johnson's final words: "Iam Moriturus" ("I who am about to die").[172] Shortly afterwards he fell into a coma, and died at 7:00 p.m.[171]

Langton waited until 11:00 p.m. to tell the others, which led to John Hawkins' becoming pale and overcome with "an agony of mind", along with Seward and Hoole describing Johnson's death as "the most awful sight".[173] Boswell remarked, "My feeling was just one large expanse of Stupor . I could not believe it. My imagination was not convinced."[172] William Gerard Hamilton joined in and stated, "He has made a chasm, which not only nothing can fill up, but which nothing has a tendency to fill up. –Johnson is dead.– Let us go to the next best: There is nobody –no man can be said to put you in mind of Johnson."[171]

He was buried on 20 December 1784 at Westminster Abbey with an inscription that reads:

Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Obiit XIII die Decembris, Anno Domini M.DCC.LXXXIV. Ætatis suœ LXXV.[174]

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Contents

Early life

William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare, an alderman and a successful glover (glove-maker) originally from Snitterfield in Warwickshire, and Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent landowning family. [14] He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was baptised on 26 April 1564. His date of birth is unknown, but is traditionally observed on 23 April, Saint George's Day. [15] This date, which can be traced to William Oldys and George Steevens, has proved appealing to biographers because Shakespeare died on the same date in 1616. [16] [17] He was the third of eight children, and the eldest surviving son. [18]

Although no attendance records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Shakespeare was probably educated at the King's New School in Stratford, [19] [20] [21] a free school chartered in 1553, [22] about a quarter-mile (400 m) from his home. Grammar schools varied in quality during the Elizabethan era, but grammar school curricula were largely similar: the basic Latin text was standardised by royal decree, [23] [24] and the school would have provided an intensive education in grammar based upon Latin classical authors. [25]

At the age of 18, Shakespeare married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway. The consistory court of the Diocese of Worcester issued a marriage licence on 27 November 1582. The next day, two of Hathaway's neighbours posted bonds guaranteeing that no lawful claims impeded the marriage. [26] The ceremony may have been arranged in some haste since the Worcester chancellor allowed the marriage banns to be read once instead of the usual three times, [27] [28] and six months after the marriage Anne gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, baptised 26 May 1583. [29] Twins, son Hamnet and daughter Judith, followed almost two years later and were baptised 2 February 1585. [30] Hamnet died of unknown causes at the age of 11 and was buried 11 August 1596. [31]

After the birth of the twins, Shakespeare left few historical traces until he is mentioned as part of the London theatre scene in 1592. The exception is the appearance of his name in the "complaints bill" of a law case before the Queen's Bench court at Westminster dated Michaelmas Term 1588 and 9 October 1589. [32] Scholars refer to the years between 1585 and 1592 as Shakespeare's "lost years". [33] Biographers attempting to account for this period have reported many apocryphal stories. Nicholas Rowe, Shakespeare's first biographer, recounted a Stratford legend that Shakespeare fled the town for London to escape prosecution for deer poaching in the estate of local squire Thomas Lucy. Shakespeare is also supposed to have taken his revenge on Lucy by writing a scurrilous ballad about him. [34] [35] Another 18th-century story has Shakespeare starting his theatrical career minding the horses of theatre patrons in London. [36] John Aubrey reported that Shakespeare had been a country schoolmaster. [37] Some 20th-century scholars suggested that Shakespeare may have been employed as a schoolmaster by Alexander Hoghton of Lancashire, a Catholic landowner who named a certain "William Shakeshafte" in his will. [38] [39] Little evidence substantiates such stories other than hearsay collected after his death, and Shakeshafte was a common name in the Lancashire area. [40] [41]

London and theatrical career

It is not known definitively when Shakespeare began writing, but contemporary allusions and records of performances show that several of his plays were on the London stage by 1592. [42] By then, he was sufficiently known in London to be attacked in print by the playwright Robert Greene in his Groats-Worth of Wit:

. there is an 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 factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. [43]

Scholars differ on the exact meaning of Greene's words, [43] [44] but most agree that Greene was accusing Shakespeare of reaching above his rank in trying to match such university-educated writers as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and Greene himself (the so-called "University Wits"). [45] The italicised phrase parodying the line "Oh, tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide" from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3, along with the pun "Shake-scene", clearly identify Shakespeare as Greene's target. As used here, Johannes Factotum ("Jack of all trades") refers to a second-rate tinkerer with the work of others, rather than the more common "universal genius". [43] [46]

Greene's attack is the earliest surviving mention of Shakespeare's work in the theatre. Biographers suggest that his career may have begun any time from the mid-1580s to just before Greene's remarks. [47] [48] [49] After 1594, Shakespeare's plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. [50] After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new King James I, and changed its name to the King's Men. [51]

"All the world's a stage,
and all the men and women merely players:
they have their exits and their entrances
and one man in his time plays many parts . "

As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7, 139–142 [52]

In 1599, a partnership of members of the company built their own theatre on the south bank of the River Thames, which they named the Globe. In 1608, the partnership also took over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Extant records of Shakespeare's property purchases and investments indicate that his association with the company made him a wealthy man, [53] and in 1597, he bought the second-largest house in Stratford, New Place, and in 1605, invested in a share of the parish tithes in Stratford. [54]

Some of Shakespeare's plays were published in quarto editions, beginning in 1594, and by 1598, his name had become a selling point and began to appear on the title pages. [55] [56] [57] Shakespeare continued to act in his own and other plays after his success as a playwright. The 1616 edition of Ben Jonson's Works names him on the cast lists for Every Man in His Humour (1598) and Sejanus His Fall (1603). [58] The absence of his name from the 1605 cast list for Jonson's Volpone is taken by some scholars as a sign that his acting career was nearing its end. [47] The First Folio of 1623, however, lists Shakespeare as one of "the Principal Actors in all these Plays", some of which were first staged after Volpone, although one cannot know for certain which roles he played. [59] In 1610, John Davies of Hereford wrote that "good Will" played "kingly" roles. [60] In 1709, Rowe passed down a tradition that Shakespeare played the ghost of Hamlet's father. [35] Later traditions maintain that he also played Adam in As You Like It, and the Chorus in Henry V, [61] [62] though scholars doubt the sources of that information. [63]

Throughout his career, Shakespeare divided his time between London and Stratford. In 1596, the year before he bought New Place as his family home in Stratford, Shakespeare was living in the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, north of the River Thames. [64] [65] He moved across the river to Southwark by 1599, the same year his company constructed the Globe Theatre there. [64] [66] By 1604, he had moved north of the river again, to an area north of St Paul's Cathedral with many fine houses. There, he rented rooms from a French Huguenot named Christopher Mountjoy, a maker of women's wigs and other headgear. [67] [68]

Later years and death

Rowe was the first biographer to record the tradition, repeated by Johnson, that Shakespeare retired to Stratford "some years before his death". [69] [70] He was still working as an actor in London in 1608 in an answer to the sharers' petition in 1635, Cuthbert Burbage stated that after purchasing the lease of the Blackfriars Theatre in 1608 from Henry Evans, the King's Men "placed men players" there, "which were Heminges, Condell, Shakespeare, etc.". [71] However, it is perhaps relevant that the bubonic plague raged in London throughout 1609. [72] [73] The London public playhouses were repeatedly closed during extended outbreaks of the plague (a total of over 60 months closure between May 1603 and February 1610), [74] which meant there was often no acting work. Retirement from all work was uncommon at that time. [75] Shakespeare continued to visit London during the years 1611–1614. [69] In 1612, he was called as a witness in Bellott v Mountjoy, a court case concerning the marriage settlement of Mountjoy's daughter, Mary. [76] [77] In March 1613, he bought a gatehouse in the former Blackfriars priory [78] and from November 1614, he was in London for several weeks with his son-in-law, John Hall. [79] After 1610, Shakespeare wrote fewer plays, and none are attributed to him after 1613. [80] His last three plays were collaborations, probably with John Fletcher, [81] who succeeded him as the house playwright of the King's Men. He retired in 1613, before the Globe Theatre burned down during the performance of Henry VIII on 29 June. [80]

Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, at the age of 52. [f] He died within a month of signing his will, a document which he begins by describing himself as being in "perfect health". No extant contemporary source explains how or why he died. Half a century later, John Ward, the vicar of Stratford, wrote in his notebook: "Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting and, it seems, drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted", [82] [83] not an impossible scenario since Shakespeare knew Jonson and Drayton. Of the tributes from fellow authors, one refers to his relatively sudden death: "We wondered, Shakespeare, that thou went'st so soon / From the world's stage to the grave's tiring room." [84] [g]

He was survived by his wife and two daughters. Susanna had married a physician, John Hall, in 1607, [85] and Judith had married Thomas Quiney, a vintner, two months before Shakespeare's death. [86] Shakespeare signed his last will and testament on 25 March 1616 the following day, his new son-in-law, Thomas Quiney was found guilty of fathering an illegitimate son by Margaret Wheeler, who had died during childbirth. Thomas was ordered by the church court to do public penance, which would have caused much shame and embarrassment for the Shakespeare family. [86]

Shakespeare bequeathed the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna [87] under stipulations that she pass it down intact to "the first son of her body". [88] The Quineys had three children, all of whom died without marrying. [89] [90] The Halls had one child, Elizabeth, who married twice but died without children in 1670, ending Shakespeare's direct line. [91] [92] Shakespeare's will scarcely mentions his wife, Anne, who was probably entitled to one-third of his estate automatically. [h] He did make a point, however, of leaving her "my second best bed", a bequest that has led to much speculation. [94] [95] [96] Some scholars see the bequest as an insult to Anne, whereas others believe that the second-best bed would have been the matrimonial bed and therefore rich in significance. [97]

Shakespeare was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church two days after his death. [98] [99] The epitaph carved into the stone slab covering his grave includes a curse against moving his bones, which was carefully avoided during restoration of the church in 2008: [100]

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be yͤ man yͭ spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yͭ moves my bones. [101] [i]

(Modern spelling: Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear, / To dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man that spares these stones, / And cursed be he that moves my bones.)

Some time before 1623, a funerary monument was erected in his memory on the north wall, with a half-effigy of him in the act of writing. Its plaque compares him to Nestor, Socrates, and Virgil. [102] In 1623, in conjunction with the publication of the First Folio, the Droeshout engraving was published. [103]

Shakespeare has been commemorated in many statues and memorials around the world, including funeral monuments in Southwark Cathedral and Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. [104] [105]

Most playwrights of the period typically collaborated with others at some point, and critics agree that Shakespeare did the same, mostly early and late in his career. [106]

The first recorded works of Shakespeare are Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI, written in the early 1590s during a vogue for historical drama. Shakespeare's plays are difficult to date precisely, however, [107] [108] and studies of the texts suggest that Titus Andronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona may also belong to Shakespeare's earliest period. [109] [107] His first histories, which draw heavily on the 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, [110] dramatise the destructive results of weak or corrupt rule and have been interpreted as a justification for the origins of the Tudor dynasty. [111] The early plays were influenced by the works of other Elizabethan dramatists, especially Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe, by the traditions of medieval drama, and by the plays of Seneca. [112] [113] [114] The Comedy of Errors was also based on classical models, but no source for The Taming of the Shrew has been found, though it is related to a separate play of the same name and may have derived from a folk story. [115] [116] Like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in which two friends appear to approve of rape, [117] [118] [119] the Shrew's story of the taming of a woman's independent spirit by a man sometimes troubles modern critics, directors, and audiences. [120]

Shakespeare's early classical and Italianate comedies, containing tight double plots and precise comic sequences, give way in the mid-1590s to the romantic atmosphere of his most acclaimed comedies. [121] A Midsummer Night's Dream is a witty mixture of romance, fairy magic, and comic lowlife scenes. [122] Shakespeare's next comedy, the equally romantic Merchant of Venice, contains a portrayal of the vengeful Jewish moneylender Shylock, which reflects Elizabethan views but may appear derogatory to modern audiences. [123] [124] The wit and wordplay of Much Ado About Nothing, [125] the charming rural setting of As You Like It, and the lively merrymaking of Twelfth Night complete Shakespeare's sequence of great comedies. [126] After the lyrical Richard II, written almost entirely in verse, Shakespeare introduced prose comedy into the histories of the late 1590s, Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. His characters become more complex and tender as he switches deftly between comic and serious scenes, prose and poetry, and achieves the narrative variety of his mature work. [127] [128] [129] This period begins and ends with two tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, the famous romantic tragedy of sexually charged adolescence, love, and death [130] [131] and Julius Caesar—based on Sir Thomas North's 1579 translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives—which introduced a new kind of drama. [132] [133] According to Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro, in Julius Caesar, "the various strands of politics, character, inwardness, contemporary events, even Shakespeare's own reflections on the act of writing, began to infuse each other". [134]

In the early 17th century, Shakespeare wrote the so-called "problem plays" Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and All's Well That Ends Well and a number of his best known tragedies. [135] [136] Many critics believe that Shakespeare's greatest tragedies represent the peak of his art. The titular hero of one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies, Hamlet, has probably been discussed more than any other Shakespearean character, especially for his famous soliloquy which begins "To be or not to be that is the question". [137] Unlike the introverted Hamlet, whose fatal flaw is hesitation, the heroes of the tragedies that followed, Othello and King Lear, are undone by hasty errors of judgement. [138] The plots of Shakespeare's tragedies often hinge on such fatal errors or flaws, which overturn order and destroy the hero and those he loves. [139] In Othello, the villain Iago stokes Othello's sexual jealousy to the point where he murders the innocent wife who loves him. [140] [141] In King Lear, the old king commits the tragic error of giving up his powers, initiating the events which lead to the torture and blinding of the Earl of Gloucester and the murder of Lear's youngest daughter Cordelia. According to the critic Frank Kermode, "the play. offers neither its good characters nor its audience any relief from its cruelty". [142] [143] [144] In Macbeth, the shortest and most compressed of Shakespeare's tragedies, [145] uncontrollable ambition incites Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder the rightful king and usurp the throne until their own guilt destroys them in turn. [146] In this play, Shakespeare adds a supernatural element to the tragic structure. His last major tragedies, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, contain some of Shakespeare's finest poetry and were considered his most successful tragedies by the poet and critic T. S. Eliot. [147] [148] [149]

In his final period, Shakespeare turned to romance or tragicomedy and completed three more major plays: Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest, as well as the collaboration, Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Less bleak than the tragedies, these four plays are graver in tone than the comedies of the 1590s, but they end with reconciliation and the forgiveness of potentially tragic errors. [150] Some commentators have seen this change in mood as evidence of a more serene view of life on Shakespeare's part, but it may merely reflect the theatrical fashion of the day. [151] [152] [153] Shakespeare collaborated on two further surviving plays, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, probably with John Fletcher. [154]

Performances

It is not clear for which companies Shakespeare wrote his early plays. The title page of the 1594 edition of Titus Andronicus reveals that the play had been acted by three different troupes. [155] After the plagues of 1592–93, Shakespeare's plays were performed by his own company at The Theatre and the Curtain in Shoreditch, north of the Thames. [156] Londoners flocked there to see the first part of Henry IV, Leonard Digges recording, "Let but Falstaff come, Hal, Poins, the rest . and you scarce shall have a room". [157] When the company found themselves in dispute with their landlord, they pulled The Theatre down and used the timbers to construct the Globe Theatre, the first playhouse built by actors for actors, on the south bank of the Thames at Southwark. [158] [159] The Globe opened in autumn 1599, with Julius Caesar one of the first plays staged. Most of Shakespeare's greatest post-1599 plays were written for the Globe, including Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. [158] [160] [161]

After the Lord Chamberlain's Men were renamed the King's Men in 1603, they entered a special relationship with the new King James. Although the performance records are patchy, the King's Men performed seven of Shakespeare's plays at court between 1 November 1604, and 31 October 1605, including two performances of The Merchant of Venice. [62] After 1608, they performed at the indoor Blackfriars Theatre during the winter and the Globe during the summer. [162] The indoor setting, combined with the Jacobean fashion for lavishly staged masques, allowed Shakespeare to introduce more elaborate stage devices. In Cymbeline, for example, Jupiter descends "in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt. The ghosts fall on their knees." [163] [164]

The actors in Shakespeare's company included the famous Richard Burbage, William Kempe, Henry Condell and John Heminges. Burbage played the leading role in the first performances of many of Shakespeare's plays, including Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. [165] The popular comic actor Will Kempe played the servant Peter in Romeo and Juliet and Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, among other characters. [166] [167] He was replaced around 1600 by Robert Armin, who played roles such as Touchstone in As You Like It and the fool in King Lear. [168] In 1613, Sir Henry Wotton recorded that Henry VIII "was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and ceremony". [169] On 29 June, however, a cannon set fire to the thatch of the Globe and burned the theatre to the ground, an event which pinpoints the date of a Shakespeare play with rare precision. [169]

Textual sources

In 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare's friends from the King's Men, published the First Folio, a collected edition of Shakespeare's plays. It contained 36 texts, including 18 printed for the first time. [170] Many of the plays had already appeared in quarto versions—flimsy books made from sheets of paper folded twice to make four leaves. [171] No evidence suggests that Shakespeare approved these editions, which the First Folio describes as "stol'n and surreptitious copies". [172] Nor did Shakespeare plan or expect his works to survive in any form at all those works likely would have faded into oblivion but for his friends' spontaneous idea, after his death, to create and publish the First Folio. [173]

Alfred Pollard termed some of the pre-1623 versions as "bad quartos" because of their adapted, paraphrased or garbled texts, which may in places have been reconstructed from memory. [171] [172] [174] Where several versions of a play survive, each differs from the other. The differences may stem from copying or printing errors, from notes by actors or audience members, or from Shakespeare's own papers. [175] [176] In some cases, for example, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, and Othello, Shakespeare could have revised the texts between the quarto and folio editions. In the case of King Lear, however, while most modern editions do conflate them, the 1623 folio version is so different from the 1608 quarto that the Oxford Shakespeare prints them both, arguing that they cannot be conflated without confusion. [177]

In 1593 and 1594, when the theatres were closed because of plague, Shakespeare published two narrative poems on sexual themes, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. He dedicated them to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. In Venus and Adonis, an innocent Adonis rejects the sexual advances of Venus while in The Rape of Lucrece, the virtuous wife Lucrece is raped by the lustful Tarquin. [178] Influenced by Ovid's Metamorphoses, [179] the poems show the guilt and moral confusion that result from uncontrolled lust. [180] Both proved popular and were often reprinted during Shakespeare's lifetime. A third narrative poem, A Lover's Complaint, in which a young woman laments her seduction by a persuasive suitor, was printed in the first edition of the Sonnets in 1609. Most scholars now accept that Shakespeare wrote A Lover's Complaint. Critics consider that its fine qualities are marred by leaden effects. [181] [182] [183] The Phoenix and the Turtle, printed in Robert Chester's 1601 Love's Martyr, mourns the deaths of the legendary phoenix and his lover, the faithful turtle dove. In 1599, two early drafts of sonnets 138 and 144 appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim, published under Shakespeare's name but without his permission. [181] [183] [184]

Sonnets

Published in 1609, the Sonnets were the last of Shakespeare's non-dramatic works to be printed. Scholars are not certain when each of the 154 sonnets was composed, but evidence suggests that Shakespeare wrote sonnets throughout his career for a private readership. [185] [186] Even before the two unauthorised sonnets appeared in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599, Francis Meres had referred in 1598 to Shakespeare's "sugred Sonnets among his private friends". [187] Few analysts believe that the published collection follows Shakespeare's intended sequence. [188] He seems to have planned two contrasting series: one about uncontrollable lust for a married woman of dark complexion (the "dark lady"), and one about conflicted love for a fair young man (the "fair youth"). It remains unclear if these figures represent real individuals, or if the authorial "I" who addresses them represents Shakespeare himself, though Wordsworth believed that with the sonnets "Shakespeare unlocked his heart". [187] [186]

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate . "

—Lines from Shakespeare's Sonnet 18. [189]

The 1609 edition was dedicated to a "Mr. W.H.", credited as "the only begetter" of the poems. It is not known whether this was written by Shakespeare himself or by the publisher, Thomas Thorpe, whose initials appear at the foot of the dedication page nor is it known who Mr. W.H. was, despite numerous theories, or whether Shakespeare even authorised the publication. [190] Critics praise the Sonnets as a profound meditation on the nature of love, sexual passion, procreation, death, and time. [191]

Shakespeare's first plays were written in the conventional style of the day. He wrote them in a stylised language that does not always spring naturally from the needs of the characters or the drama. [192] The poetry depends on extended, sometimes elaborate metaphors and conceits, and the language is often rhetorical—written for actors to declaim rather than speak. The grand speeches in Titus Andronicus, in the view of some critics, often hold up the action, for example and the verse in The Two Gentlemen of Verona has been described as stilted. [193] [194]

"And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd
Upon the sightless couriers of the air." [195]

However, Shakespeare soon began to adapt the traditional styles to his own purposes. The opening soliloquy of Richard III has its roots in the self-declaration of Vice in medieval drama. At the same time, Richard's vivid self-awareness looks forward to the soliloquies of Shakespeare's mature plays. [196] [197] No single play marks a change from the traditional to the freer style. Shakespeare combined the two throughout his career, with Romeo and Juliet perhaps the best example of the mixing of the styles. [198] By the time of Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and A Midsummer Night's Dream in the mid-1590s, Shakespeare had begun to write a more natural poetry. He increasingly tuned his metaphors and images to the needs of the drama itself.

Shakespeare's standard poetic form was blank verse, composed in iambic pentameter. In practice, this meant that his verse was usually unrhymed and consisted of ten syllables to a line, spoken with a stress on every second syllable. The blank verse of his early plays is quite different from that of his later ones. It is often beautiful, but its sentences tend to start, pause, and finish at the end of lines, with the risk of monotony. [199] Once Shakespeare mastered traditional blank verse, he began to interrupt and vary its flow. This technique releases the new power and flexibility of the poetry in plays such as Julius Caesar and Hamlet. Shakespeare uses it, for example, to convey the turmoil in Hamlet's mind: [200]

Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting
That would not let me sleep. Methought I lay
Worse than the mutines in the bilboes. Rashly—
And prais'd be rashness for it—let us know
Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well .

After Hamlet, Shakespeare varied his poetic style further, particularly in the more emotional passages of the late tragedies. The literary critic A. C. Bradley described this style as "more concentrated, rapid, varied, and, in construction, less regular, not seldom twisted or elliptical". [201] In the last phase of his career, Shakespeare adopted many techniques to achieve these effects. These included run-on lines, irregular pauses and stops, and extreme variations in sentence structure and length. [202] In Macbeth, for example, the language darts from one unrelated metaphor or simile to another: "was the hope drunk/ Wherein you dressed yourself?" (1.7.35–38) ". pity, like a naked new-born babe/ Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd/ Upon the sightless couriers of the air . " (1.7.21–25). The listener is challenged to complete the sense. [202] The late romances, with their shifts in time and surprising turns of plot, inspired a last poetic style in which long and short sentences are set against one another, clauses are piled up, subject and object are reversed, and words are omitted, creating an effect of spontaneity. [203]

Shakespeare combined poetic genius with a practical sense of the theatre. [204] Like all playwrights of the time, he dramatised stories from sources such as Plutarch and Holinshed. [205] He reshaped each plot to create several centres of interest and to show as many sides of a narrative to the audience as possible. This strength of design ensures that a Shakespeare play can survive translation, cutting and wide interpretation without loss to its core drama. [206] As Shakespeare's mastery grew, he gave his characters clearer and more varied motivations and distinctive patterns of speech. He preserved aspects of his earlier style in the later plays, however. In Shakespeare's late romances, he deliberately returned to a more artificial style, which emphasised the illusion of theatre. [207] [208]

Shakespeare's work has made a lasting impression on later theatre and literature. In particular, he expanded the dramatic potential of characterisation, plot, language, and genre. [209] Until Romeo and Juliet, for example, romance had not been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy. [210] Soliloquies had been used mainly to convey information about characters or events, but Shakespeare used them to explore characters' minds. [211] His work heavily influenced later poetry. The Romantic poets attempted to revive Shakespearean verse drama, though with little success. Critic George Steiner described all English verse dramas from Coleridge to Tennyson as "feeble variations on Shakespearean themes." [212]

Shakespeare influenced novelists such as Thomas Hardy, William Faulkner, and Charles Dickens. The American novelist Herman Melville's soliloquies owe much to Shakespeare his Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick is a classic tragic hero, inspired by King Lear. [213] Scholars have identified 20,000 pieces of music linked to Shakespeare's works. These include three operas by Giuseppe Verdi, Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff, whose critical standing compares with that of the source plays. [214] Shakespeare has also inspired many painters, including the Romantics and the Pre-Raphaelites. The Swiss Romantic artist Henry Fuseli, a friend of William Blake, even translated Macbeth into German. [215] The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud drew on Shakespearean psychology, in particular, that of Hamlet, for his theories of human nature. [216]

In Shakespeare's day, English grammar, spelling, and pronunciation were less standardised than they are now, [217] and his use of language helped shape modern English. [218] Samuel Johnson quoted him more often than any other author in his A Dictionary of the English Language, the first serious work of its type. [219] Expressions such as "with bated breath" (Merchant of Venice) and "a foregone conclusion" (Othello) have found their way into everyday English speech. [220] [221]

Shakespeare's influence extends far beyond his native England and the English language. His reception in Germany was particularly significant as early as the 18th century Shakespeare was widely translated and popularised in Germany, and gradually became a "classic of the German Weimar era" Christoph Martin Wieland was the first to produce complete translations of Shakespeare's plays in any language. [222] [223] Actor and theatre director Simon Callow writes, "this master, this titan, this genius, so profoundly British and so effortlessly universal, each different culture – German, Italian, Russian – was obliged to respond to the Shakespearean example for the most part, they embraced it, and him, with joyous abandon, as the possibilities of language and character in action that he celebrated liberated writers across the continent. Some of the most deeply affecting productions of Shakespeare have been non-English, and non-European. He is that unique writer: he has something for everyone." [224]

According to Guinness Book of World Records Shakespeare remains the world’s best-selling playwright, with sales of his plays and poetry believed to have achieved in excess of four billion copies in the almost 400 years since his death. He is also the third most translated author in history. [225]

Shakespeare was not revered in his lifetime, but he received a large amount of praise. [227] [228] In 1598, the cleric and author Francis Meres singled him out from a group of English playwrights as "the most excellent" in both comedy and tragedy. [229] [230] The authors of the Parnassus plays at St John's College, Cambridge, numbered him with Chaucer, Gower, and Spenser. [231] In the First Folio, Ben Jonson called Shakespeare the "Soul of the age, the applause, delight, the wonder of our stage", although he had remarked elsewhere that "Shakespeare wanted art" (lacked skill). [226]

Between the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the end of the 17th century, classical ideas were in vogue. As a result, critics of the time mostly rated Shakespeare below John Fletcher and Ben Jonson. [232] Thomas Rymer, for example, condemned Shakespeare for mixing the comic with the tragic. Nevertheless, poet and critic John Dryden rated Shakespeare highly, saying of Jonson, "I admire him, but I love Shakespeare". [233] For several decades, Rymer's view held sway but during the 18th century, critics began to respond to Shakespeare on his own terms and acclaim what they termed his natural genius. A series of scholarly editions of his work, notably those of Samuel Johnson in 1765 and Edmond Malone in 1790, added to his growing reputation. [234] [235] By 1800, he was firmly enshrined as the national poet. [236] In the 18th and 19th centuries, his reputation also spread abroad. Among those who championed him were the writers Voltaire, Goethe, Stendhal, and Victor Hugo. [237] [j]

During the Romantic era, Shakespeare was praised by the poet and literary philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the critic August Wilhelm Schlegel translated his plays in the spirit of German Romanticism. [239] In the 19th century, critical admiration for Shakespeare's genius often bordered on adulation. [240] "This King Shakespeare," the essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote in 1840, "does not he shine, in crowned sovereignty, over us all, as the noblest, gentlest, yet strongest of rallying signs indestructible". [241] The Victorians produced his plays as lavish spectacles on a grand scale. [242] The playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw mocked the cult of Shakespeare worship as "bardolatry", claiming that the new naturalism of Ibsen's plays had made Shakespeare obsolete. [243]

The modernist revolution in the arts during the early 20th century, far from discarding Shakespeare, eagerly enlisted his work in the service of the avant-garde. The Expressionists in Germany and the Futurists in Moscow mounted productions of his plays. Marxist playwright and director Bertolt Brecht devised an epic theatre under the influence of Shakespeare. The poet and critic T.S. Eliot argued against Shaw that Shakespeare's "primitiveness" in fact made him truly modern. [244] Eliot, along with G. Wilson Knight and the school of New Criticism, led a movement towards a closer reading of Shakespeare's imagery. In the 1950s, a wave of new critical approaches replaced modernism and paved the way for "post-modern" studies of Shakespeare. [245] By the 1980s, Shakespeare studies were open to movements such as structuralism, feminism, New Historicism, African-American studies, and queer studies. [246] [247] Comparing Shakespeare's accomplishments to those of leading figures in philosophy and theology, Harold Bloom wrote: "Shakespeare was larger than Plato and than St. Augustine. He encloses us because we see with his fundamental perceptions." [248]

Classification of the plays

Shakespeare's works include the 36 plays printed in the First Folio of 1623, listed according to their folio classification as comedies, histories, and tragedies. [249] Two plays not included in the First Folio, The Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles, Prince of Tyre, are now accepted as part of the canon, with today's scholars agreeing that Shakespeare made major contributions to the writing of both. [250] [251] No Shakespearean poems were included in the First Folio.

In the late 19th century, Edward Dowden classified four of the late comedies as romances, and though many scholars prefer to call them tragicomedies, Dowden's term is often used. [252] [253] In 1896, Frederick S. Boas coined the term "problem plays" to describe four plays: All's Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and Hamlet. [254] "Dramas as singular in theme and temper cannot be strictly called comedies or tragedies", he wrote. "We may, therefore, borrow a convenient phrase from the theatre of today and class them together as Shakespeare's problem plays." [255] The term, much debated and sometimes applied to other plays, remains in use, though Hamlet is definitively classed as a tragedy. [256] [257] [258]

Authorship

Around 230 years after Shakespeare's death, doubts began to be expressed about the authorship of the works attributed to him. [259] Proposed alternative candidates include Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. [260] Several "group theories" have also been proposed. [261] Only a small minority of academics believe there is reason to question the traditional attribution, [262] but interest in the subject, particularly the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, continues into the 21st century. [263] [264] [265]

Religion

Shakespeare conformed to the official state religion, [k] but his private views on religion have been the subject of debate. Shakespeare's will uses a Protestant formula, and he was a confirmed member of the Church of England, where he was married, his children were baptised, and where he is buried. Some scholars claim that members of Shakespeare's family were Catholics, at a time when practising Catholicism in England was against the law. [267] Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, certainly came from a pious Catholic family. The strongest evidence might be a Catholic statement of faith signed by his father, John Shakespeare, found in 1757 in the rafters of his former house in Henley Street. However, the document is now lost and scholars differ as to its authenticity. [268] [269] In 1591, the authorities reported that John Shakespeare had missed church "for fear of process for debt", a common Catholic excuse. [270] [271] [272] In 1606, the name of William's daughter Susanna appears on a list of those who failed to attend Easter communion in Stratford. [270] [271] [272] Other authors argue that there is a lack of evidence about Shakespeare's religious beliefs. Scholars find evidence both for and against Shakespeare's Catholicism, Protestantism, or lack of belief in his plays, but the truth may be impossible to prove. [273] [274]

Sexuality

Few details of Shakespeare's sexuality are known. At 18, he married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway, who was pregnant. Susanna, the first of their three children, was born six months later on 26 May 1583. Over the centuries, some readers have posited that Shakespeare's sonnets are autobiographical, [275] and point to them as evidence of his love for a young man. Others read the same passages as the expression of intense friendship rather than romantic love. [276] [277] [278] The 26 so-called "Dark Lady" sonnets, addressed to a married woman, are taken as evidence of heterosexual liaisons. [279]

Portraiture

No written contemporary description of Shakespeare's physical appearance survives, and no evidence suggests that he ever commissioned a portrait, so the Droeshout engraving, which Ben Jonson approved of as a good likeness, [280] and his Stratford monument provide perhaps the best evidence of his appearance. From the 18th century, the desire for authentic Shakespeare portraits fuelled claims that various surviving pictures depicted Shakespeare. That demand also led to the production of several fake portraits, as well as misattributions, repaintings, and relabelling of portraits of other people. [281]



Anecdotes and documents

Seventeenth-century antiquaries began to collect anecdotes about Shakespeare, but no serious life was written until 1709, when Nicholas Rowe tried to assemble information from all available sources with the aim of producing a connected narrative. There were local traditions at Stratford: witticisms and lampoons of local characters scandalous stories of drunkenness and sexual escapades. About 1661 the vicar of Stratford wrote in his diary: “Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.” On the other hand, the antiquary John Aubrey wrote in some notes about Shakespeare: “He was not a company keeper lived in Shoreditch wouldn’t be debauched, and, if invited to, writ he was in pain.” Richard Davies, archdeacon of Lichfield, reported, “He died a papist.” How much trust can be put in such a story is uncertain. In the early 18th century a story appeared that Queen Elizabeth had obliged Shakespeare “to write a play of Sir John Falstaff in love” and that he had performed the task ( The Merry Wives of Windsor) in a fortnight. There are other stories, all of uncertain authenticity and some mere fabrications.

When serious scholarship began in the 18th century, it was too late to gain anything from traditions. But documents began to be discovered. Shakespeare’s will was found in 1747 and his marriage license in 1836. The documents relating to the Mountjoy lawsuit already mentioned were found and printed in 1910. It is conceivable that further documents of a legal nature may yet be discovered, but as time passes the hope becomes more remote. Modern scholarship is more concerned to study Shakespeare in relation to his social environment, both in Stratford and in London. This is not easy, because the author and actor lived a somewhat detached life: a respected tithe-owning country gentleman in Stratford, perhaps, but a rather rootless artist in London.


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