William Shakespeare - Biography and Works

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 to a prosperous leather merchant in the village of Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire England. He is not only regarded as the father of English drama, but also known as the greatest English poet, and actor. He is also famous as England’s national poet and the Bard of Avon.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

During his childhood, he attended a grammar school and when his father’s financial condition degraded he left the school. At the age of eighteen, he got married to an older woman Anne Hathaway. From her, he became the father of three children, Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith.

He left Stratford for London to pursue a career in theater. He started his career holding the reins of horses for the theater audiences. Gradually he made ways to the theater and began getting success. By the early seventeenth century, he had contributed some great plays to the world literature.  He wrote most of his masterpieces between 1589 and 1613. His early works especially the plays were comedies and histories which still remain as the best comedies and histories in this genre. His later works focused on the tragedies because of which he is still known as the Tragedy king. His greatest tragedies are Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. In his last phase of life he wrote tragicomedy, which are also known as romances. Altogether he produced 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and two long narrative poems. His most of the plays have been translated into many major languages and they have been staged in different parts of the world.

He owned his own theater, the Glob, and amassed enough wealth from his venture to retire to Stratford as a wealthy gentleman. He died in 1616, and was hailed by Jonson and others as the apogee of theater during the Renaissance of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

In poetry, Shakespeare changed the rhyming scheme to abab; cdcd; efef; gg. He used the iambic pentameter. He used three quatrains and a couplet. The concluding couplet is usually an unusual twist given to the argument of the body of the argument in three quatrains. So the Shakespearian sonnet can also be divided into two parts; statement-cum-argument, and conclusion.

He returned to Stratford to live a retired life around 1613 at age 49, where he died three years later. His works were collected and printed posthumously in various editions. By the early eighteenth century he was well known as the best poet ever to write in English language. Today, Shakespeare is remembered for the wealth of magnificent poetry and drama he left the world- for Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and many other plays, and for his extraordinary sequence of 154 lyrics, which we group together as Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Scholars have written thousands of books and articles about his plots, characters, themes, and language. He is the most widely quoted author in history, and his plays have probably been performed more times than those of any other dramatist. There is no simple explanation for Shakespeare's unrivaled popularity, but he remains one of the greatest entertainers. More interesting than that is however his being one of the most profound thinkers also. He had a remarkable knowledge of human behavior, which he was able to communicate through his portrayal of a wide variety of characters. He was able to enter fully into the point of view of each of his characters and to create vivid, dramatic situations in which to explore human motivations and behavior. His mastery of poetic language and of the techniques of drama enabled him to combine these multiple viewpoints, human motives, and actions to produce a uniquely compelling theatrical experience.

His people are not the exaggerated types or allegorical abstractions found in many other Elizabethan plays. They are instead men and women with the mingled qualities and many of the inconsistencies of life itself. The very richness of Shakespeare's language continues to delight, and it is always amazing to be reminded how many common words and phrases have their origin in Shakespeare's art.

The women in Shakespeare's plays are equally vivid creations, though in Shakespeare's time boy actors played the female parts; and Shakespeare could create such a rich array of fascinating women characters. He was fond of portraying aggressive, witty heroines, but he was also adept at creating gentle and innocent women. His female characters also include the treacherous, the iron-willed Lady Macbeth, the witty and resourceful Portia in Merchant of Venice, the tender and loyal Juliet, and the alluring Cleopatra. Shakespeare's comic figures are also highly varied. They include bumbling rustics, tireless punsters, pompous grotesques, cynical realists, and fools who utter nonsense that often conceals wisdom. Shakespeare drew his characters with remarkable insight into human character. Even the wicked characters, such as Iago in Othello, have human traits that can elicit understanding if not compassion. The characters achieve uniqueness through their brilliantly individualized styles of speech. Shakespeare's understanding of the human soul and his mastery of language enabled him to write dialogue that makes the characters in his plays always intelligible, vital, and memorable.

Shakespeare wrote many of his plays in blank verse, unrhymed poetry in iambic pentameter, a verse form in which unaccented and accented syllables alternate in lines of ten syllables. Shakespeare sometimes used rhymed verse, particularly in his early plays. Rhymed couplets occur frequently at the end of a scene, punctuating the dramatic rhythm and perhaps serving as a cue to the offstage actors to enter for the next scene. As Shakespeare's dramatic skill developed, he began to make greater use of prose. In earlier plays, prose is almost always reserved for characters from the lower classes. Shakespeare, however, soon abandoned this rigid assignment of prose or verse on the basis of social rank. Many plays use prose for different important effects. Examples include Ophelia's mad scenes in Hamlet, and Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene in Macbeth.

Shakespeare remained always a dramatist, not a writer of philosophical or ethical tracts, but the tolerance of human weakness evident in the plays tends to indicate that Shakespeare was broad-minded personality. He had generous attitudes and balanced views towards humanity. Although he never lectured his audience, sound morality is implicit in his themes and in the way he handled his material. The comments of Shakespeare's contemporaries suggest that he himself possessed both integrity and gentle manners. He accepted people as they are, without condemning them, but he did not allow wickedness to triumph. But, as the history plays indicate, he accepted the idea of monarchy and had little interest in, or even concept of, participatory democracy. Although many of his women characters are assertive and independent, the plays still have them subordinate their energy to the logic of the male-dominated household.