Happy Birthday Juliet!

Hi Folks,

Not only is it the first day of this month, it’s also a Shakespearean holiday! According to this passage from “Romeo and Juliet,” today is Juliet’s Birthday!

NURSE: Even or odd, of all days in the year,
Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen.
Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene ii.
Lammas Eve, is a pagan holiday, also known as Lughnasa, a Celtic holiday traditionally held on August 1st, or the midway point between the summer solstice and the Equinox. It was a day celebrating harvests and the beginning of fall, and was celebrated through eating wheat, drinking wine and burning a giant wicker man in effigy, (the inspiration of the film of the same name, and the festival of Burning Man). By the way, not everyone appreciates this holiday, click here to see what I mean.
There is also another significance to Juliet’s birthday. It makes her a Leo, a star sign traditionally associated with the Sun. So, when Romeo calls her “The Sun,” there is a literal connection to her birth. Shakespeare makes many allusions to astrology in Romeo and Juliet, as a metaphor for fate.
In the next few days I’ll be talking about what these allusions mean and how they help people understand the play.
Enjoy Juliet’s Birthday everyone!
By the way, here’s a link to a fun website: Juliet’s Blog: http://julietisthesun.blogspot.com/

Shakespeare the Father, Shakespeare the Son.

I realize Father’s day was last weekend, but I thought I’d like to cap off that week of posts with one final insight into Shakespearean fathers, only today they won’t be fictional! Today I’ll be sharing with you some details from the lives of William Shakespeare and his father, John Shakespeare. We’ve been talking about good, bad, and dad dads, so after reading this post, what do you think- were these men good fathers, or not?

-Bio of John Shakespeare c1530—to 1601

Ancestry-

Shakespeare Family Tree
Shakespeare Family Tree
  • John Shakespeare was born around the year 1530 (exact records no longer exist). He came from a long line of prominent farmers in Snitterfield, and moved to Stratford Upon Avon in Warwickshire, in the year 1557 John married Mary Arden, who also came from pretty posh country stock; records trace the Arden family back before the Norman conquest in 1066!
  • John and Mary’s children
    • Altogether, John and Mary had 8 children (see the family tree above.)
    • Sadly, their 2 eldest daughters Margaret and Anne died in infancy, making William the eldest child, and the son and heir of his father’s wealth.
    • William’s brother Edmund became an actor, while his sister Joan took over John’s old house.
    • Shakespeare was born in 1564 in a modest house on Henley Street, which still stands today!
The house on Henley Street, where Shakespeare was born in 1564. Click here to learn more about Shakespeare's birthplace.
The house on Henley Street, where Shakespeare was born in 1564. Click here to learn more about Shakespeare’s birthplace.
  • Mayor, Bailiff, Glover When John and Mary moved to Stratford, John established himself as a great fixture of the community- he started as the local glover, and rose to the highly respected office of town ale taster (no, I’m not kidding). At the height of his career, John became Mayor of Stratford, and an Alderman- a town counsilor who helped make decisions like whether or not to let local theater troupes come to town! Maybe John took his young son to watch the travelling players and helped inspire Will’s lifelong love of theater.
  • Teach Your Children Well Shakespeare got to go to one of the first ever public schools in England, where he learned English history, poetry, and the art of persuasive speech, everything he needed to become the great writer he would become.
  • Brogger not Blogger As I mentioned in my first post, Shakespeare’s dad had an illegal side business as a wool dealer. All wool was controlled by the English government, so selling it directly to people was a crime, and eventually John Shakespeare was caught. Fortunately, the fine he paid wasn’t enough to ruin him financially…yet.
  • Closet Catholic The biggest financial problem John Shakespeare faced was his religious beliefs. In 1757, archeologists unearthed a pamphlet where John confessed to be a secret Catholic in a society where the Church of England was the national religion. Scholar Michael Wood believes that John’s Catholicism led to financial ruin; he refused to go to Episcopal church and had to pay crippling fines every time he failed to appear.
  • John’s Descent At the same time, John’s debts kept mounting and he was afraid to go to the town council house for fear of more collectors, even though he was the mayor. The final blow came in 1576, when John was booted off the town council.
  • Son of Fortune John’s son William would eventually repair the family dignity when he became a success. In 1596, William made himself, and all the male members of his family gentlemen, by applying for a coat of arms. Below is a picture of Shakespeare’s family crest.
Shakespeare's coat of arms, as depicted in the Folger Shakespeare Library window.
Shakespeare’s coat of arms, as depicted in the Folger Shakespeare Library window.
  • John Shakespeare died in 1601, shortly after his son’s play Hamlet was published. Will might have honored his father’s memory by playing the Ghost of Hamlet’s father.

-Bio of William Shakespeare as a Father 1564-1616.

  • Drawing of Anne Hathaway, original artist unknown.
    Oil reproduction by Roger Dunn of an alleged drawing of Anne Hathaway. Reproduced with Permission, Shakespeare’ Birthplace Trust. Click on the picture to find out more about this work of art!

    Roger Dunn BA

    Wedding Bells In 1582, Will married Anne Hathaway (not the Oscar winning actress from Les Miserables, although that one has shown some love for Shakespeare too. Based on the timeline, it’s very likely that Anne was already pregnant when William married her. Some claim that the Bard was basically in a “shotgun” marriage, but nobody has proven otherwise. We do know that he wrote a sonnet to her on their wedding day, click here to read it!

  • Shakespeare’s Children Shakespeare and Anne had three kids (Judith, Susanna, Hamnet) Susanna was born in 1583, while the twins were born 5 years later.
  • Hit the Road! Sometime around 1590, Shakespeare moved to London and must’ve gotten a job with a theater company. Unfortunately, no records survive between the birth of Shakespeare’s children, and his first success as a playwright in 1592, which is why scholars refer to this period as “The Lost Years.” It was probably a tough life for the Shakespeares, with the father away in the city while they were cooped up in Stratford with their grandparents.
  • RIP Hamnet. Shakespeare’s only son died August 9th He was away in London at the time, and undoubtedly the news was a terrible shock.
Burial Registry of Hamnet Shakespeare
Burial Registry of Hamnet Shakespeare

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00144940209597737?journalCode=vexp20

  • Will’s daughters Shakespeare had two girls, Judith and Susanna. Naturally, it’s hard to tell anything about Shakespeare’s personal feelings, but looking at his plays and his future actions, Shakespeare must have really loved his girls. Many of his later plays explore the relationships between fathers and daughters, and as you’ve probably noticed, most of the fathers on my previous countdowns have at least 1 girl. Shakespeare was preoccupied with his daughter’s futures and helped them find husbands, Susanna Shakespeare was arrested for refusing to take protestant communion Susannah married Dr. John Hall, a respected puritan physician. She also bore William his only grandchild, Elizabeth Barnard (pictured below).
Elizabeth Hall, 1608-1680. Shakespeare's granddaughter.
Elizabeth Hall, 1608-1680. Shakespeare’s granddaughter.

Will clearly loved his daughters, especially his daughter Susanna. His last 5 plays were about fathers trying their best to improve their daughter’s lives. In his will he gave his daughter Susannah 100 pounds of English money, as well as a dowry To his other daughter Judith he left 30 pounds, all of his silver, and permitted her to live in one of his houses on Henley street.

FMI:

  • by Michael Wood: A fantastic documentary/ book/ website, which looks at the life of William Shakespeare and his work. On this website is an interactive timeline that shows pictures of the places Shakespeare lived and worked, and the documents with his name on them: http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/events/
  • Will In the World by Steven Greenblatt: A great biography of Shakespeare by a celebrated Harvard scholar and editor of tne Norton Shakespeare edition. Click here for a review: http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Will-in-the-World/. 

So that ends my posts on Shakespeare and Father’s Day. Stay tuned for another post about a very interesting holiday!

Illustration of the Shakespeare family, wife and children, 1890.
Illustration of the Shakespeare family, wife and children, 1890.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

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

  1. Shakespeare wrote 39 attributed plays, 154 sonnets,  four epic poems, and (some believe), might have had a hand in writing the King James Bible.
  2. He was the third of 8 children, but his elder siblings died as infants, so he was the eldest son.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Evidence that supports Shakespeare as the author of the plays he’s credited with writing:

      • 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:
      1. Christopher Marlowe– Died 1593
      2. Thomas Kidd– Died 1594.
      3. 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!

  1. Internet Shakespeare Editions:http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/life/index.html
  2. 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
  3. In Search Of Shakespeare Website: the Shakespeare Dossier:http://www.pbs.org/shakespeare/events/
  4. American Shakespeare Center Education Blog: “Book Review: Contested Will by James Shapiro” by Cass Morris.
  5. Women’s Theatre History Online Bibliography:http://webapps.langara.bc.ca:8080/wtob/index.jsp
  6. Shakespeare’s Life And Times by Terry Gray (University of Palomar)http://shakespeare.palomar.edu/life.htm