William Shakespeare: Literary Genius

William Shakespeare (also spelled Shakspere) is a literary figure recognized throughout the world. He is considered one of the greatest playwrights who ever lived. But how did Shakespeare attain this status? What is it that made him so popular? As Shakespeare himself might say, "The answer lies not in the stars, but within this paper." Then again, maybe he wouldn't say that.

To better understand why Shakespeare is so revered, one should know something about his person. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England, in 1564, probably on April 23. His father, John Shakespeare, was not only the burgess of the borough, but also a merchant; however, there is evidence that indicates that he did not always have a steady flow of financial resources. Shakespeare's mother was Mary Arden, the heiress to some of the land of a wealthy family with a long history. As a child, Shakespeare probably attended Stratford's elementary school, where he would have learned Latin, as well as study some classical poets and historians. When he reached 18 years of age, he married Anne Hathaway, and together they had three children: Susanna was born 1583, the twins Hamnet and Judith were born in 1585.

The next eight years of Shakespeare's life are "lost"; no one is certain what he did in this time period. There are stories as to how he spent these years. These stories, though, differ greatly among each other. People came up with these stories by looking at the content of his plays. This method of determining how he spent that part of his life is inadvisable, however, because many wrong conclusions could be reached.

Whatever Shakespeare did during these years, it is clear that by 1594 he was an important member of Lord Chamberlain's Company (later to become King's Men), a theater group. They performed their plays at the Globe Theater, undoubtedly the best in England at the time. While part of this theater group, Shakespeare wrote many of his best works. Around the year 1610, Shakespeare retired from the London scene to go back to Stratford. He continued his writing there. In March of 1616 he made out his will, and on April 23 of the same year he died.

It was around the ear 1590 that Shakespeare started to write his plays. His first play, Henry VI, a historical play, was written between 1589 and 1592. Most of his plays written before 1600 were either comedies, including Much Ado About Nothing (1598-99), and The Merchant of Venice (1596-97), or histories, such as Julius Caesar (1599-1600) and Henry IV (1597-98). A notable exception to this is Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy, written between 1594 and 1595. After 1600, most of Shakespeare's plays were tragedies, his greatest being Hamlet (1600-01), Othello (1604-05), Macbeth (1605-06), and King Lear (1605-06). In each of these plays, the downfall of the main character is brought on by a personality flaw of the main character. The tragic nature of these plays is reinforced by the carefully structured plots.

One reason why Shakespeare's plays were so popular in his own time and also in the present is that his plays appeal to people on different levels. In his own time, Shakespeare had to make his plays appeal to both the upper and lower classes. He accomplished this through his use of more "dirty" humor and puns on words to appeal to the lower class, and he appealed to the upper class through the carefully structured plots and the themes he used. The theater Shakespeare's plays were mainly performed in had a seat for anyone who could pay for it, the more one paid, the better the seat. Since Shakespeare's audience consisted of persons from every social class in London at the time, so he had to make his work appeal to anyone and everyone who came to see it.

William shakespeare was a man of great talent for writing. His plays and poems captured the likeness of human nature so well that even centuries after he has died, thousands of people still read his works; some read the works for enjoyment, some for the insights onto humanity, others to try to deduce what kind of person Shakespeare really was. Whatever their reasons, most would agree that his works are, to understate things, very good. I teems that Shakespeare, like the character Julius Caesar, is "constantas the Northern Star," and will always be with us.


Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition. Copyright 1987, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Appreciating Literature, Copyright 1984, Macmillan Publishing Company, a division of Macmillan, Inc.

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