In honor of Shakespeare’s birthday, I present this post to introduce you to some of the important events in his life and career!
5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Shakespeare
- Shakespeare wrote 39 attributed plays, 154 sonnets, four epic poems, and (some believe), might have had a hand in writing the King James Bible.
- He was the third of 8 children, but his elder siblings died as infants, so he was the eldest son.
- Shakespeare’s father had a criminal record: In 1572, he was caught selling wool illegally. The government had a monopoly on the wool trade, so this would be like selling bootleg tapes or mp3s online. He was also in trouble for lending money, just like Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice.
- Shakespeare’s whole company was suspected of treason and conspiracy! In late January of 1601, Shakespeare’s company was asked to perform a play February 7th, designed to foment rebellion against queen Elizabeth! The Earl of Essex hoped that the play would make people rise up and storm London, and planned to attack the castle the next day. Unfortunately, nobody showed up to the rebellion, and Essex was arrested and tried and convicted of treason. As for Shakespeare and his company, they were interrogated, but found not guilty; they just told the court officials that they did it for the money.
- Shakespeare invented the knock-knock joke! And also 1,700 other words. No other author in history has created more words and phrases than Shakespeare. For a few samples, click here: http://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/resources/shakespeare-words/
Now, so we don’t get on the wrong foot about Shakespeare, I would like to dispel some oft-perpetuated misconceptions:
Top 5 Lies About Shakespeare
- The law forbade women from performing in Shakespeare’s Day. Although this lie inspired the plot of one of my favorite movies, Shakespeare In Love, I feel this lie needs to be dispelled. There was no law prohibiting women from performing in any country. In fact, it was quite common to see women perform in Italy and France for centuries. However, in England, given the low status of theatre at the time, acting was not considered a reputable occupation, and women didn’t have the freedom to pursue occupations that men did, so though it wasn’t illegal, it was not encouraged.
- We know for a fact that Shakespeare had an affair Although pseudo scholars and conspiracy nuts claim that they can prove Shakespeare had a mistress, the so-called “Dark Lady,” there is no evidence from the poet’s life that he had any extramarital affair. He remained married to his wife Anne Hathaway until his death, and no one has ever testified that they ever saw him with any woman. Part of the basis of this lie comes from the fact that for the last 25 of his sonnets, Shakespeare refers to a woman of a darker complexion whom he calls his mistress, but you have to remember these were published poems that Shakespeare wrote for money. You wouldn’t assume Stephanie Myer wrote Twilight because of her unrequited love for a real sparkly vampire, would you?
- Shakespeare was a starving artist. It’s sad to say good bye to this myth; even I love the image of Shakespeare as a struggling writer trying to make it and unknowingly composing the greatest canon of work in western theatre. But sadly, Shakespeare’s work wasappreciated in its own time. He made enough money to become a gentleman and was granted a coat of arms in 1596. He also bought the second best house in town to accommodate his wife and three kids:
Nice digs, huh?
4. Shakespeare was illiterate. This lie refers to the fact that Shaksespeare’s father signed his name with an X on legal documents, so people assume his father was illiterate, and that his son must have been too. However, Shakespeare’s father was a town official; he didn’t need to write his name on documents. In addition, we have a copy of Shakespeare’s will with his own signature on it.
Pretty good evidence that he can write, don’t you think?
5. Shakespeare never wrote any of his plays Here it is, the biggest, most bloated lie of all. Hundreds of books, and millions of words have been wasted on this tired conspiracy theory, most recently in the form of a film called Annonymous. Every argument against Shakespeare as author of the plays that bear his name has been disputed hundreds of times by reputable scholars and yet, this terrible lie just won’t bite the dust. I know I can’t convince every conspiracy nut out there, but I can present a few bits of hard evidence to help all normal thinking persons to make up their minds.
- We have title pages of his plays with his name on them. Nearly all of Shakespeare’s work appeared in print before he died, then they were re-printed in the First Folio of 1623. A few of these plays actually have Shakespeare’s name on them, such as the 1604 edition of Hamlet (Above)
- We have a manuscript of “Sir Thomas Moore” with Shakespeare’s handwriting on it. Although we don’t have a finished manuscript of a Shakespeare play, we do have copies of a play he didn’t finish called Sir Thomas Moore in the British Library. Analysis of the handwriting shows several writers, including one that closely corresponds to Shakespeare’s own. This play was written to be performed by Shakespeare’s company, so it confirms that he wrote their plays.
- We have records of his plays being performed at court with his name attached to them. To me, this is the most important evidence to confirm Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays. Look at this account of the plays performed at court in 1604.
This document lists all the plays Shakespeare’s company performed for the king that Christmas , as well as the playwright’s names. In the right column Shakespeare (spelled Shaxberd by a careless clerk) is credited as the author of Measure for Measure, Henry the Fifth, andComedy of Errors, among others. This proves he was a writer who wrote plays for the company he said he did, and that the king himself paid him to do it. It takes a tremendous amount of conspiracy hocus-pocus to pull the wool over the eyes of an entire court!
- We have references to him being a playwright written by his rivals, especially Robert Greene who hated Shakespeare for being an upstart “Johnny do-everything” who, although he was an actor, could still write plays and poems as well as Greene, and the rest of his University Wits. For more info on Greene, search for his famous pamphlet “Groatsworth of Wit.”
- Nobody else comes close. Sorry to disappoint you, but most of the supposed candidates for the “real” Shakespeare have at least 1 terribly big problem preventing them from writing the whole cannon- THEY WERE DEAD. Shakespeare stopped writing in 1613, which prevents all of the top contenders from writing the entire cannon:
- Christopher Marlowe– Died 1593
- Thomas Kidd– Died 1594.
- The Earl of Oxford- Died 1604
I could go on with this hotly debated issue, which has been dissected by scholars far better then me, but let me close by saying that the main argument of the people who don’t believe Shakespeare wrote his own plays is that they believe a guy who wasn’t an educated nobleman couldn’t have written such beautiful and insightful truths about human nature. To this I reply, genius is not constrained by one’s upbringing. I’d say Shakespeare lived a kind of American Dream- going from a middle class boy in a country town to becoming the hot-ticket in London, and then capturing the imagination, “Not of an age, but of all time.”
Happy Birthday Will!
If you want more information about Shakespeare’s life and career, here are some websites to help you out!
- Internet Shakespeare Editions:http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/life/index.html
- Treasures in Quarto (British Library) http://special-1.bl.uk/treasures/SiqDiscovery/ui/record.aspx?Source=text&LHCopy=0&LHPage=0&RHCopy=0&RHPage=1
- In Search Of Shakespeare Website: the Shakespeare Dossier:http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/events/
- American Shakespeare Center Education Blog: “Book Review: Contested Will by James Shapiro” by Cass Morris.
- Women’s Theatre History Online Bibliography:http://webapps.langara.bc.ca:8080/wtob/index.jsp
- Shakespeare’s Life And Times by Terry Gray (University of Palomar)http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/life.htm