William Shakespeare biography
Shakespeare, William (1564-1616), the English poet and playwright, recognised in much of the world as the greatest of all dramatists.
His day of birth is traditionally held to be April 23; it is known he was baptised on April 24, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon. He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried in the Stratford church.
Although the precise date of many of Shakespeare's plays is in doubt, his dramatic career is generally divided into four periods: (1) the period up to 1594, (2) the years from 1594 to 1600, (3) the years from 1600 to 1608, and (4) the period after 1608. Shakespeare's first period was one of experimentation. His early plays are characterised to a degree by formal and rather obvious construction and often-stylised verse. Four plays dramatising the English civil strife of the 15th century are possibly Shakespeare's earliest dramatic works. This plays, Henry VI., Parts I., II., and III., and Richard III., deal with the evil results of weak leadership and of national disunity fostered for selfish ends. The Comedy of Errors, an uproarious farce in imitation of classical Roman comedy, depends for its appeal on the mistakes in identity between two sets of twins involved in romance and war. Farce is not so strongly emphasised in The Taming of the Shrew, a comedy of character. The Two Gentlemen of Verona depends on the appeal of romantic love. In contrast, Love's Labour's Lost satirises the loves of its main male characters. Shakespeare's second period includes his most important plays concerned with English history, his so-called joyous comedies, and two major tragedies. In this period, his style became highly individualised. The second-period historical plays include Richard II., Henry IV. Parts I. and II., and Henry V. Outstanding among the comedies of the second period is A Midsummer Night's Dream. Its fantasy-filled insouciance is achieved by the interweaving of several plots involving two pairs of noble lovers, a group of bumbling and unconsciously comic townspeople, and members of the fairy realm, notably Puck, King Oberon, and Queen Titania. The Merchant of Venice - The Renaissance motifs of masculine friendship and romantic love in this play are portrayed in opposition to the bitter inhumanity of a usurer named Shylock, whose own misfortunes are presented so as to arouse understanding and sympathy.
The witty comedy Much Ado About Nothing is marred, in the opinion of some critics, by an insensitive treatment of its female characters. However, Shakespeare's most mature comedies, As You Like It and Twelfth Night, are characterised by lyricism, ambiguity, and the attraction of beautiful, charming, and strong-minded heroines like Beatrice. Shakespeare constructed a complex pattern between different characters and between appearance and reality. Another comedy of the second period is The Merry Wives of Windsor ; this play is a farce about middle-class life in which Falstaff reappears as the comic victim. Romeo and Juliet, famous for its poetic treatment of the ecstasy of youthful love, dramatises the fate of two lovers victimised by the feuds and misunderstandings of their elders and by their own hasty temperaments. On the other hand, Julius Caesar is a serious tragedy of political rivalries, less intense in style than the tragic dramas that followed.
Shakespeare's third period includes his greatest tragedies and his so-called dark or bitter comedies. Hamlet, his most famous play, goes far beyond other tragedies of revenge in picturing the mingled sordidness and glory of the human condition. Hamlet feels that he is living in a world of horror; confirmed in this feeling by the murder of his father and the sensuality of his mother, he presents a pattern of crippling indecision and precipitous action. Othello portrays the growth of unjustified jealousy in the protagonist, Othello, a Moor serving as a general in the Venetian army. The innocent object of his jealousy is his wife, Desdemona. In this tragedy, Othello's evil lieutenant Iago draws him into mistaken jealousy in order to ruin him. King Lear - Lear's daughter Cordelia displays a redeeming love that makes the tragic conclusion a vindication of goodness, though a bleak resolution because Cordelia dies. Antony and Cleopatra is concerned with a different type of love, namely the middle-aged passion of the Roman general Mark Antony for the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. In Macbeth, Shakespeare depicts the tragedy of a great and basically good man who, led on by others and because of a defect in his own nature, succumbs to ambition. In getting and retaining the Scottish throne, Macbeth dulls his humanity to the point where he becomes capable of any amoral act. Three other plays of this period suggest bitterness lacking in these tragedies because the protagonists do not seem to possess greatness or tragic stature. In Troilus and Cressida, the most intellectually contrived of Shakespeare's plays, the gulf between the ideal and the real.
In Coriolanus , another tragedy taking place in antiquity, the legendary Roman hero Gnaeus Marcius Coriolanus is portrayed as unable to bring himself either to woo the Roman masses or to crush them by force. Timon of Athens is a similarly bitter play about a character reduced to misanthropy by the ingratitude of his sycophants. The two comedies of this period also are dark in mood. These plays are sometimes called “problem plays” because they do not fit into clear categories or present easy resolution. All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure are both plays that question accepted patterns of morality without offering the comfort of solutions.
The fourth period of Shakespeare's work comprises his principal romantic tragicomedies. Toward the end of his career, Shakespeare created several plays that, through the intervention of magic, art, compassion or grace. The romantic tragicomedy Pericles, Prince of Tyre concerns the title character's painful loss of his wife and the persecution of his daughter. After many exotic adventures, Pericles is reunited with his loved ones. In Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale, characters suffer great loss and pain, but are reunited. Shakespeare's last complete play is The Tempest, in which the resolution suggests the beneficial effects of the union of wisdom and power. Two final plays are the products of collaboration. A historical drama, Henry VIII was probably written with the English dramatist John Fletcher, as was The Two Noble Kinsmen, a story of the love of two noble friends for one woman.