Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) is probably the most famous of all English writers throughout the world. He has even attracted an adjective to himself: to be called shakespearean is a very great compliment to any writer. (There is a note on the 'correct' spelling of his name at Shakespearean - Shakespearian - Shaksperean - Shaksperian.)

He was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon in Warwickshire, in the English midlands. He was married to Anne Hathaway at 18, in 1582 (she was 26, and three months pregnant). There were three children of the marriage: Susannah (born 1583), who married Dr. John Hall and was William Shakespeare's principal legatee; and the twins Judith and Hamnet (baptised 1585). Hamnet died of the plague in 1596; Judith married Thomas Quiney, and was largely removed from her father's will. She died in 1662.

Shakespeare spent 25 years in London as an actor and playwright and in total wrote some 38 plays. (Wikipedia's list is available at [[1]].) The exact total is unclear - some were collaborations, and two are believed to have been lost - Love's Labours Won and Cardenio. Most were first performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men (the King's Men, after the accession of James I, in which Shakespeare was a shareholder as well as an actor - notably, it is said, as the Ghost of Hamlet's father. Many of them were first performed at The Globe Theatre in London, of which he was also a shareholder. (The Globe Theatre has been reconstructed as Shakespeare's Globe, near its original site in London.) Apart from his plays, Shakespeare is famous for his cycle of 154 sonnets, and three longer poems, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and A Lover's Complaint: his drama is heavily indebted to the poetry in which it is written. (Most of it is in blank verse; and its mastery of both imagery and rhythm is astounding.)

Shakespeare moved back to Stratford, probably in 1613. He possessed substantial property there, buying the only brick-built house in the town, the second largest, called New Place, which was demolished by a later owner as it attracted too many tourists. Its remains are still visible at the tourist site of Nash's House. Shakespeare died in 1616, at the age of 52 (or 51: there is no proof that the day on which he died, 23rd April - the feast day of St George, England's patron saint - was his birthday), and is buried in Holy Trinity church in Stratford.

Much has been published on Shakespeare, his life and his works. To know more, read his plays and follow up the bibliographies in the editions you read. Because he wrote some 400 years ago (see Early Modern English), some of his writing is not easy to read, so a good modern edition includes notes and hints for study. However no individual writer is known to have contributed so much to our modern language, so he is nearer the way you speak than most writers of nearly half a century ago. Perhaps the best way to begin an acquaintance with his work, however, is to see a good production, performed by actors who breathe life into his words.