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Tudor England: William Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare has been credited as England’s greatest playwright and poet of all times, having written thirty-eight plays, one-hundred and fifty-four sonnets and countless other poems and verses.  His works have been performed worldwide, and his poetry read by countless millions.

His exact date of birth is unknown, but research has found he has been credited with the same date as St.George’s Day

William Shakespeare was born on the 23rd April 1564 to parents John Shakespeare an Alderman and Mary Arden in Stratford – upon-Avon, and baptised on the 26th April at Holy Trinity Church.

We know little of young Shakespeare’s schooling, other than we believe he attended King’s New School in Stratford, for the school was only a few hundred yards from the family home.  Based upon the teachings during the Elizabethan era, he would have received a grammatical education based upon Latin classical works.

When Shakespeare was 18, he married Anne Hathaway aged 26, and pregnant at the time, on the 27th November 1582 in Worcester.  She gave birth to a daughter; Susanna on the 26May 1583.

According to the will of Richard Hathoway, he left his daughter Anne the sum of £6-13s-4d to be paid out on the day of her marriage.

When Anne Hathoway married William Shakespeare on the 27th November 1582 in Worcester, she was already pregnant with their first child; Susanna, born on the 26th May 1583.

If one studies the writings and events related to the life of William Shakespeare, it becomes obvious that he was involved with two women at the same time.  Anne Hathoway of Shottery and Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton whom he had intended to marry.  Once the news got out, he was forced into marriage with Anne Hathoway, as she was carrying his child; it was nothing short of a shotgun wedding.

Two years later, Anne and William had twins; Hamnet and Judith in 1585.  Bubonic plague was a common disease at that time, and they lost Hamnet to it, aged just eleven years old in 1596, and he was buried in Stratford.

Their first born daughter, Susanna went on to marry John Hall the local doctor in 1607, and gave birth to a daughter; Elizabeth in 1608.

His other daughter; Judith, would bring shame on the family name.  In February 1616 Judith Shakespeare aged 31, married Thomas Quiney aged 27, a tavern owner.

A disgusted William heard that his new son-in-law Thomas had married his daughter, having made another pregnant, and not marrying the one carrying his child as would have been expected of him.  Added to the fact, he had not applied for a special marriage licence, for celebrations were forbidden during Lent by the church.  This resulted in their excommunication on the 12th March 1616.

In the latter part of the 1580’s, Shakespeare arrived in London, hoping to make a name for himself.  By 1592 he had several plays being performed on stage, including “As You Like it.”

Out of utter disgust, Robert Greene the university – educated writer attacked his words in print.  “There is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide, supposes he is well able to bombarst 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 agree it was Greene’s way of saying William Shakespeare was reaching above his rank, and matching those trained in the art of writing.

lord-chamberlains-men-plaqueBy the early part of the 1590’s William Shakespeare had become a partner in an acting company who performed in London, known as the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”  In 1603 they changed their name to that of the “King’s Men” following the crowning of King James I.

One thing we have to note, is that during the 16th century, the theatre was not frequented very much by those of mobility or those of high ranking in society.  They showed their appreciation in other ways, by being patrons to the performing arts.

For William Shakespeare to make his mark he needed to attract somebody of importance to his works.  He was fortunate, that the Earl of Southampton; Henry Wriothesley liked what he read and saw, written and produced by this virtual newcomer.

Shakespeare dedicated his first two published poems to the Earl:

“Venus and Adonis” was published in 1593.

“The Rape of Lucrece” was published in 1594.

When their patron died on the 23rd July 1596 his son George Carey the 2nd Baron Hunsdon took over the position as their patron, and under his direction they were no longer known as “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” but “Lord Hunsdon’s Men.”  When George Carey was appointed to Lord Chamberlain on the 17th March 1597, they reverted their stage name to that of “Lord Chamberlain’s Men.”

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1603, having been on the throne for 45 years, and served her people well.  King James IV of Scotland became the new King James I of England when he ascended to the English throne in 1603.  He became the new patron to the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” who duly changed their name to the “Kings Men,” in honour of their new patron, and King.

Shakespeare wrote most of his plays to be performed by the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men,” and they played to their audience at “The Theatre” in Shoreditch, then in 1597 they moved to the “Curtain Theatre,” following a dispute with their landlord.

His need for larger premises saw the ambitious construction of the “Globe Theatre” in Southwark, built in 1599.

For it was on the 29th December 1598 that “The Theatre” in Shoreditch was dismantled, and the main beams moved to south of the River Thames: “The Globe Theatre,” in Southwark.

The original Globe Theatre was a three-storey open-air amphitheatre, some 100 feet in diameter, and easily capable of housing 3,000 spectators.

fire-at-globe-theatre

Globe Theatre Fire

Located at the base of the stage, we find an area referred to as the pit, which was for standing room only.  It was common practice in this design, to locate larger columns on either side of the stage as support for a roof over the rear area of stage.  The ceiling area would be painted with what appeared to be sky and clouds, representing the heavens.  A trap door would be located in the heavens, allowing performers to descend using a harness.

The “Globe Theatre” was destroyed by fire on 29th June 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII.  It is said a theatrical cannon misfired setting the wooden beams and thatched roof into a blazing inferno.  She was rebuilt by June 1614.

The shock to William Shakespeare seeing The Globe struck down by fire in 1613, may have been the reason that he retired from writing plays and returned to the family home in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

On the 25th March 1616, having signed his will, knew in his heart he had achieved so much in his lifetime.

William Shakespeare died on the 23rd April 1616, leaving his devoted wife Anne, his eldest daughter Susanna having married a physician John Hall in 1607.  His other daughter Judith married tavern owner Thomas Quiney and brought shame on the family, when they were excommunicated from the church on the 12th March 1616.

His body was buried within the Chancel of Holy Trinity Church on 25th April 1616.

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