Shakespeare for All Seasons
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was a poet, playwright, and actor in Elizabethan England. His plays have remained popular throughout the centuries and around the world. Shakespeare has inspired writers and poets like no other author. His works are among the most quoted in literature.
Writing in verse was typical of the Elizabethan period. The use of rhythm and rhyme allowed the writer to play with words, it made the lines easier for actors to memorize, and was appealing to the listener’s ear. In fact, theater-goers in those days would say they were going to “hear” a play rather than “see” a play.
Shakespeare can be studied by children beginning around age nine. Shakespeare is an acquired taste, however, and at first can be discouraging and bewildering. The best way to gain an appreciation of Shakespeare is by seeing stage performances and film productions or listening to audio versions as well as reading the text. Those who invest the time and energy to understand Shakespeare’s work will be enriched and inspired by it.
Shakespeare’s plays deal with universal themes such as tragedy and comedy, love and hate, loyalty and betrayal, honor and dishonor, human passions and weaknesses that are common to all men. As with any work of timeless value, Shakespeare’s plays become more meaningful with each reading and are something that we can glean from throughout our lives.
Shakespeare’s Dramatic Career
Actors in Shakespeare’s time usually worked together in a group, or company. The company often owned a theater, where they produced most of their plays. Shakespeare worked as an actor and playwright in a company called the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”
In 1592, the bubonic plague swept over England. For about two years all London theaters were closed. During that time, Shakespeare wrote more than 100 sonnets. (A sonnet is a 14-line poem that has a specific pattern and rhyme.) When the plague was over, the playhouses were re-opened.
By 1598, Shakespeare had become a popular actor and the plays he wrote were extremely successful. In 1599, Shakespeare and his company started their own theater, the Globe. He achieved prosperity and recognition as London’s leading playwright.
Shakespeare’s company acted more than once at the palace of Queen Elizabeth I. She died in 1603, and James I became the King. As a lover of literature and the theater, King James was an enthusiastic patron of Shakespeare and his work. Shakespeare's troop became known as “The King's Players,” the official actors to the king, which was the highest honor a group of actors could have.
The Globe theater burned down in 1613 during a production of Henry VIII. It was rebuilt a year later, but Shakespeare retired and moved back to his hometown of Stratford-on-Avon. In 1623, Shakespeare’s fellow actors published the “First Folio Edition” of his plays.
Shakespeare’s 37 plays can be divided into three types – histories, tragedies, and comedies. Histories include: "Julius Caesar" and "Richard III." Tragedies include: "Hamlet," "Macbeth," "King Lear," "Othello," "Romeo and Juliet." Comedies include: "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," "The Taming of the Shrew," "The Merchant of Venice," and "Twelfth Night."
Shakespeare and the Bible
The Authorized King James Bible, first published in the year 1611, is the most often-quoted translation, widely known for its poetic beauty and structure. While its language may sound archaic today, a familiarity with this version of the Bible prepares modern students for reading Shakespeare. The King James Bible was published in the same year that William Shakespeare was writing “The Tempest.”
Shakespeare’s way with words profoundly influenced the development of the English language. We quote Shakespeare all the time without even realizing it. He invented many colorful expressions which we commonly use today, such as: all that glitters isn’t gold, break the ice, fair play, foul play, good riddance, it’s Greek to me, heartsick, laughing-stock, leapfrog, love letter, mind’s eye, piece of work, pomp and circumstance, snail-paced, tongue-tied, too much of a good thing, and wild-goose chase. For more of Shakespeare’s sayings, see www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/phrases-sayings-shakespeare.html.
1564 – William Shakespeare is born in England; Galileo Galilei is born in Italy.
1582 – Shakespeare marries Anne Hathaway; they have three children.
1584 – Sir Walter Raleigh discovers Virginia.
1585 – Shakespeare leaves Stratford-on-Avon for London.
1589 – Galileo becomes professor of mathematics at the University of Pisa.
1591 – Shakespeare is mentioned as an actor for the first time.
1592 – Plague kills 15,000 in London; all theaters are closed for two years.
1596 – Galileo invented the thermometer.
1599 – Globe theatre built.
1602 –Queen Elizabeth I dies and is succeeded by her cousin James. Galileo investigates the laws of gravity.
1603 – Another plague outbreak in London closes the theaters once again.
1607 – English colonists settle at Jamestown, Virginia.
1608 – Galileo constructs astronomical telescope.
1611 – The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version, is published.
1613 – The Globe burns down; Shakespeare returns to Stratford-on-Avon.
1614 – Pocahontas marries John Rolfe.
1616 – Shakespeare dies.
1620 - The Mayflower arrives in America; Pilgrims found Plymouth Colony.
1623 – Anne Shakespeare dies; First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays is published.
A number of movies based on Shakespeare’s plays have been made, particularly in the last decade. One of my favorites is Looking For Richard, an educational docu-drama of “Richard III.” It’s like a video version of Shakespeare 101, starring Al Pacino as the world’s coolest English teacher. Seriously, it’s suitable for a high school classroom as an introduction to Shakespeare, interspersed with behind-the-scenes shots of actors discussing their lines and rehearsing the performance. Looking For Richard imparts the message that Shakespeare is relevant and comprehensible to anyone.
Hear, Hear, Mr. Shakespeare, by Bruce Koscielniak.
Irresistible Shakespeare, by Carol Rawlings Miller.
Shakespeare for Kids, by Colleen Aagesen and Margie Blumberg.
Tales From Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb.
Tales from Shakespeare, by Marcia Williams.
Tales From Shakespeare, by Tina Packer.
Teaching Shakespeare: Yes, You Can! by Lorraine Hopping Egan.
Usborne World of Shakespeare, by Anna Claybourne and Rebecca Treays.
William Shakespeare & the Globe, by Aliki.
http://www-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare - The Web's first edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
http://absoluteshakespeare.com - The essential resource for William Shakespeare's plays, sonnets, poems, quotes, biography and the legendary Globe Theatre.
www.nosweatshakespeare.com - Shakespeare resources, plays, quotes, modern English translations of his famous sonnets, and study guides online.
http://shakespeare.palomar.edu - An annotated guide to scholarly Shakespeare resources on the Internet.
www.bardware.com - Shakespeare scholarship, homage, and information including books, movies, plays and poetry, theaters and festivals, fast facts, and links.
www.shakespearesglobe.com - The Globe Theatre, Globe Exhibition & Tour, and Globe Education seek to further the experience and international understanding of Shakespeare in performance.
www.shakespeare.com - The Shakespeare Web; try writing verse like Shakespeare did.
www.shakespeareincostume.com - Costumes for teaching and performing Shakespeare in the classroom, and ideas on teaching with costumes.
See Also: Spooky Shakespeare
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