William Shakespeare


William Shakespeare     1564 - 1616

    English Poet and Playwright

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
William Shakespeare is one of the greatest poets and playwrights in the world. He changed the way plays were written by creating new styles of writing.

William was born in April, 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Although the exact date of William's birth is unknown, we recognize his birthday on April 23. This date was chosen because William was baptized on April 26, and it was customary to baptize children three days after they were born. Did you know April 23 is also St. George's Day? St. George is the patron saint of England.

Stratford-upon-Avon is located in Warwickshire County. Did you know it derives its name from the Avon River located near Stratford?

Shakespeare's Names
Did you know William's last name has been written over eighty ways? The Shakespeare family records show 44 different spellings of Shakespeare. Even William spelled it two ways in his will -- "Shakspere" and "Shakspeare." Other spellings include "Shagspeare," "Shakestaffe," "Shagsbere," "Shaxpere," and "Shackspeare." Throughout the years, it has been decided to spell it Shakespeare. So if you are looking up William Shakespeare in an encyclopedia, be sure to spell his name S-h-a-k-e-s-p-e-a-r-e.

Did you know William's nickname is "The Bard of Avon?" A bard is another word for poet, and William is one of the greatest poets in the world. Therefore, he is known as "The Bard." "Of Avon" is added to this name because William was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. When the two names are put together, William's nickname becomes "The Bard of Avon."

Shakespeare's Plays
William had a talent for writing about the struggles people face. His stories combine conflicts with which both the Kings and peasants could identify. His plots mirror the every day lives of people and encourage the audience to choose good over evil.

William's plays were performed in playhouses, like The Globe Theatre, and at the royal courts of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.

Categories of Plays
William's plays are placed in one of three categories. They are either Histories, Comedies, or Tragedies.

William's well known histories are Henry IV, V, and VI, and Richard III.

His popular comedies are A Midsummer Nights Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and As You Like It.

His famous tragedies are Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and Othello.

One reason William is a great playwright is his plays often contained elements of all three categories. He blended common issues into histories, seriousness into comedies, and humor into tragedies. This was a revolutionary concept in William's time.

William's Famous Quotes
Most people could probably quote a line from one of William's play, even if they are unaware the saying came from him. The following are some famous quotes from William's plays and sonnets:

    "To be, or not to be, that is the question." (Hamlet)

    "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" (Romeo and Juliet)

    "Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!" (Macbeth)

     "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players."

            (As You Like It)

     "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!" (Julius Caesar)

    "A horse, A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" (Richard III)

     "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" (Sonnet 18)

     "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (A Midsummer Night's Dream)

Words and Phrases
William influenced the English language more than any other writer in the world. He created over 2,000 new words and phrases. They include: schoolboy, shooting star, puppy-dog, football, bandit, partner, downstairs, upstairs, leapfrog, alligator, and mimic.

William's Influence Today
William helped turn the theatrical profession into a gentlemanly profession loved by all people, from Kings and Queens to peasants and servants. Today, a writer, actor, director, or producer is well received in our society.

In William's time, there were different groups of acting companies. These acting companies were named after monarchs or wealthy patrons. William was associated with the Lord Chamberlain's Men and the King's Men. Today, an acting company is named after William. It is called The Royal Shakespeare Company.

William's plays are still popular today and have been reprinted thousands of times. They have been translated into all the major languages and performed throughout the world. His plays are also studied in many literature classes. In addition, several of his plays have been turned into operas, ballets, and movies.

Today, William's plots are present in movies, television shows, and books. They have become so common we may not realize they were first introduced by William. They include:

  1. mistaking the identity of one person for another person (A Comedy of Errors)

  2. two young people from rival families falling in love (Romeo and Juliet)

  3. a person torn between loyalty and revenge (Hamlet)

  4. giving a person a taste of their own medicine (The Taming of the Shrew)

  5. an evil person who dies because of their own wrongdoing (Macbeth)

Starlings and Sparrows
William indirectly introduced starlings and sparrows to North America. He wrote about these birds in his plays. In the 1890's, almost 300 years after William's death, a man from New York wanted to bring all the birds mentioned in William's plays to North America. This man brought the starling and the sparrow to New York and released them in Central Park.

Remembering William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. It was his 52nd birthday.

Stratford-upon-Avon is well known as the birthplace of William. Today, many people visit Stratford to see William's birthplace, homes, and grave site at Holy Trinity Church.

Westminster Abbey in London, England, commemorates poets in the poet's corner. William was the first writer to be honored. There is also a bust of William over a door in Westminster Abbey.

William Shakespeare was a great poet and playwright.

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©  2009 D. K. Malowney