Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
He is, perhaps, one of the best known literary figures in history.
His works are classic masterpieces that continue to shape world literature as we know it today.
He is the quintessential English writer who has influenced generations of artists, philosophers and, of course, writers.
His name, as we all know, is William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare is a name synonymous to literary greatness and he is best known for tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello, and comedies such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew.
Among the world’s great poets and dramatists, Shakespeare is most popular because of the enduring impact of his works. However, the man, often called England’s “national poet” and the “Bard of Avon,” is also known for his personal life which is as complex as his own stories.
According to Poets.org, William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-on-Avon to Mary Arden, the daughter of an affluent farmer, and John Shakespeare, a successful glover. He was the third child in a brood of eight, and the eldest surviving son.
Interestingly, his birth date is still a subject of debate among scholars and experts because there is no conclusive evidence to corroborate it.
The European Graduate School online library adds that the date April 23 was selected by biographers to “impose symmetry on the few verifiable facts about Shakespeare’s life.”
It is said that he was likely educated at the King Edwards IV Grammar School in Stratford where he would have learned Elizabethan educational criteria. Back then, grammar schools had a largely similar curricula and basic Latin text was standardized by a royal decree. This kind of exposure is thought to have provided the young Shakespeare a background on classical Latin authors.
When he was 18, Shakespeare married 26-year-old and an already pregnant Anne Hathaway. Six months after their wedding, Hathaway gave birth to Susanna and two years later, twins Hamnet (a son) and Judith (a daughter) followed.
Between 1585 and 1592, little is known about Shakespeare’s activities. Some scholars refer to these years as Shakespeare’s “lost years.”
Some say that, during this time, he pursued a career as an actor and playwright. Because of the plague, however, London theaters were often closed. Shakespeare is said to have found support through his patron, Henry Wriothesley, the earl of Southampton. His first two poems, Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece are said to be dedicated to Wriothesley.
Scholars also found evidence of his participation in the London theater scene when his name was mentioned in the “complaints bill” of a law case at Westminster.
Different biographers have different versions of Shakespeare’s lost years.
Nicholas Rowe recounted a “legend” that the young creative genius fled the town of Stratford for London to escape prosecution for deer poaching. John Aubrey noted that Shakespeare was a country schoolmaster, and yet another story stated that Shakespeare started his theatrical career tending horses of theater patrons.
By 1592, some of Shakespeare’s plays were already being performed onstage and he was quite the crowd drawer. Robert Greene, a university-educated playwright, wrote an “attack” that accused Shakespeare of trying to level with “university wits.” This attack is the earliest surviving mention of his career in theater.
From 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men which Shakespeare co-owned. He also performed in his own plays. The company later became known as the King’s Men and its success made Shakespeare a wealthy man as proven by records of his property purchases and investments.
By 1610, Shakespeare wrote fewer plays and after 1613, none were attributed to him. He retired to his hometown of Stratford.
He died on April 23, 1616, survived by his wife and two daughters. (Hamnet died when he was 11.) He left the bulk of his estate to elder daughter Susanna with the instruction that she pass it down intact to the “first son of her body.”
There is an infamous story about Shakespeare leaving his wife his “second best bed” which many interpreted as a cruel gesture. Others argued that the best bed in the house is always reserved for guests so the “second best bed” is, in fact, a symbol of love and affection.
Shakespeare’s work is a game-changer in theater and literature. For example, with Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare redefined romantic tragedies, and writers after him would try to emulate and recreate his style.
It has also been noted that his use of the English language has helped shape modern English. Phrases like “with bated breath” (from Merchant of Venice) and “a foregone conclusion” (from Othello) are now common expressions in English speech.
Even famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud drew on Shakespearean psychology from Hamlet for his work on the theories of human nature.
Indeed, with the worlds that he built with his words, William Shakespeare changed the world in more ways than one.
William Shakespeare. (Image.) Retrieved November 14, 2013, from http://www.hamletscenen.dk/uk/welcome/shakespeare-at-kronborg/about-william-shakespeare/
William Shakespeare. Retrieved November 14, 2013, from http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/122