The Immortal Bard

William Shakespeare {1564-1616} is regarded as the greatest writer of all, in the English language. We can look at the existing portraits of him, framed by that old-fashioned collar, and wonder exactly what it was in that mind that produced such brilliance verbage?  That is a question that has been asked by generations that have appreciated his work, and there is still no satisfactory answer.

THE MAN

We know only a little regarding Shakespeare’s life, mostly from official records of the time. ‘Written records give little indication of the way in which Shakespeare’s professional life molded his artistry’ {Bio}.  This is a shame, because that is the most interesting part of a writer’s biography.

He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, his christening was on 26 April 1564 {Folger}.  We don’t know his exact birthday, but it is usually given as 23 April 1564 {Bio}.  William was the third child of John Shakespeare, a leather merchant and local heiress Mary Arden.  In those days, soft white leather was in demand for gloves and other clothing {Folger}.  The Shakespeares had three other boys: Gilbert, Richard and Edmund, and [yes, Virginia Woolf!] he had sisters named Anne, Joan and Judith {Bio}.

Young William probably attended the local school, the King’s New School in Stratford, until he was about 15.  ‘Its curriculum consisted of an intense emphasis on the Latin classics, including memorization, writing, and acting classic Latin plays’ {Folger}.

The next time Shakespeare appears in the records is in 1582, he was eighteen and marrying an older woman named Anne Hathaway, their wedding was on 28 November 1582 {Bio}.  Anne was then pregnant with their first child, Susanna, born 1583.  Then in 1585, the Shakespeares had twins named Hamnet and Judith {Folger}.

It is not known exactly when the next event in Shakespeare’s life took place, when he made the journey down the high road to London.  Certainly he was not the first young man to travel to the big city, and the stage, seeking fame.  At that stage, William could not have known just how eternal his fame would be.

He had become successful by about 1592, as one of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, an acting troupe.  He was writing plays by then, as well as a poem called Venus and Adonis.

In 1592, the actor and playwright Robert Greene wrote the following:  ‘There is an upstart Crow, beautiful in our feathers, that, with his tiger’s heart wrapt in a player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast 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 the country. Oh, that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses, and let these apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions’ (quoted in Bates).

This shows that the infamous Tall Poppy Syndrome is nothing new, a form of it certainly existed in the 16th Century.

THE INSTITUTION

During his lifetime, Shakespeare the Man gradually evolved into Shakespeare the Institution.  This began with his plays and sonnets, Richard III [c. 1592] was one of his earliest, and Shakespeare continued to write all the plays that have made his name immortal.

The man did well from his feather quill, and theatrical productions, he was able to purchase a large home for his family, who remained in Stratford.  He bought the New House in 1597 {Folger}, one of many other real estate deals that Shakespeare made.

 

THE LEGACY

William Shakespeare died 26 April 1616, approximately on his 52nd birthday, from unknown causes ().

 

This was the end of Shakespeare the man, but Shakespeare the Institution lives on whenever someone quotes a line of his, as they do many times a day in the English-speaking world.  It lives on in schoolchildren complaining over the Shakespeare play they must study, giving them the words that they will find golden as adults.

 

Shakespeare has been performed so many times in the last four centuries.  In humble halls in obscure country towns, to the finest theatres and concert halls of the world.  His plays have adapted well to all the technology in the last century; from radio, to moving pictures, to television, videos and the internet.  We can easily imagine people in a century from now, broadcasting his words on whatever high-tech device they will communicate with.

 

Performing his plays in amateur productions has led to many ‘a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage’.  It has also given many a Hollywood star roles to challenge them, often at the beginning of their careers, or later when they are famous.

 

Many actors, and since the late 17th Century, actresses have devoted their lives to the works of Shakespeare.  Plenty of this cast never found everlasting fame in their own names, and had to settle for applause only when their act finished, but some did.  One of the most famous was Sir Laurence Oliver, who was not only a star in Hollywood, but ‘could speak William Shakespeare’s lines as naturally as if he were “actually thinking them”, said English playwright Charles Bennett, who met Olivier in 1927’ (O’Connor).

 

The famous eccentric, social nonconformist, Bohemian rebel, and bag lady named Bea Miles earned her living from the works of Shakespeare.  To passers-by, she would advertise ‘her eagerness to quote any passage from Shakespeare, and she appeared to know all the plays and certainly was expert at all the famous speeches, for no more than six pence or a couple of shillings.’ (Elder).  For some recitations she went as high as three shillings (Allen).

 

The greatest legacy of Shakespeare, and the institution formed around his writing and performances, is among the common people.  For generations, these people have quoted a favourite line from one of his plays or sonnets, to highlight some dramatic event in their lives.  This is likely to continue as long as the English language is spoken.

 

So it only goes to show what the Bard said, in his own immortal words:

‘All the world’s a stage

And all the men and women merely players’

(As You Like It  Act II Scene 7)

 

WORKS CITED

“Shakespeare’s Life”.  Folger Shakespeare Library.  2017.  http://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-life  Accessed 13 March 2017.

“William Shakespeare: The life and legacy of England’s bard”.  BBC.  2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/z8k2p39  Accessed 13 March 2017.

Allen, Judith.  Miles, Beatrice (Bea) (1902–1973).  Australian Dictionary of Biography.  1986. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/miles-beatrice-bea-7573  Accessed 13 March 2017.

Bates, Alfred ed.  GREENE’S JEALOUSY OF SHAKESPEARE.  The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 13. 1906. http://www.theatrehistory.com/british/shakespeare024.html  Accessed 13 March 2017.

Elder, Bruce.  Eccentric city: Bea Miles.  Fairfax Media.  13 January 2012. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/eccentric-city-bea-miles-20120112-1pxba.html  Accessed 13 March 2017.

Hayes, Lynn.  Astrology in the works of William Shakespeare.  Beliefnet.   May 2006.  http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/astrologicalmusings/2006/05/astrology-in-the-works-of-will.html  Accessed 13 March 2017.

O’Connor, Dale.  Laurence Olivier Biography.  IMDb.  2017.  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000059/bio  Accessed 13 March 2017.

The Editors.  William Shakespeare. Bio.  2017.  http://www.biography.com/people/william-shakespeare-9480323  Accessed 13 March 2017.

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2 thoughts on “The Immortal Bard

  1. PS- so Linda where are your other Shakespeare entries? Are they hidden away somewhere uncategorized? Please come and see me early next week so we can sort out your categories. Can you make a booking to see me??
    MG

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