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Some of Shakespeare's plays, particularly the history plays, were reprinted frequently in cheap quarto i. After Ben Jonson pioneered the canonisation of modern plays by printing his own works in folio the luxury book format in , Shakespeare was the next playwright to be honoured by a folio collection, in That this folio went into another edition within 9 years indicates he was held in unusually high regard for a playwright.
The dedicatory poems by Ben Jonson and John Milton in the 2nd folio were the first to suggest Shakespeare was the supreme poet of his age. These expensive reading editions are the first visible sign of a rift between Shakespeare on the stage and Shakespeare for readers, a rift that was to widen over the next two centuries.
In his work 'Timber' or 'Discoveries', Ben Jonson praised the speed and ease with which Shakespeare wrote his plays as well as his contemporary's honesty and gentleness towards others. During the Interregnum — , all public stage performances were banned by the Puritan rulers. Though denied the use of the stage, costumes and scenery, actors still managed to ply their trade by performing " drolls " or short pieces of larger plays that usually ended with some type of jig.
Shakespeare was among the many playwrights whose works were plundered for these scenes. Among the most common scenes were Bottom 's scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream and the gravedigger's scene from Hamlet. When the theatres opened again in after this uniquely long and sharp break in British theatrical history, two newly licensed London theatre companies, the Duke's and the King's Company, started business with a scramble for performance rights to old plays.
Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and the Beaumont and Fletcher team were among the most valuable properties and remained popular after Restoration playwriting had gained momentum. In the elaborate Restoration London playhouses, designed by Christopher Wren , Shakespeare's plays were staged with music, dancing, thunder, lightning, wave machines, and fireworks. The texts were "reformed" and "improved" for the stage.
A notorious example is Irish poet Nahum Tate 's happy-ending King Lear which held the stage until , while The Tempest was turned into an opera replete with special effects by William Davenant. In fact, as the director of the Duke's Company, Davenant was legally obliged to reform and modernise Shakespeare's plays before performing them, an ad hoc ruling by the Lord Chamberlain in the battle for performance rights which "sheds an interesting light on the many 20th-century denunciations of Davenant for his adaptations".
The incomplete Restoration stage records suggest Shakespeare, although always a major repertory author, was bested in the — period by the phenomenal popularity of Beaumont and Fletcher. In the early 18th century, however, Shakespeare took over the lead on the London stage from Beaumont and Fletcher, never to relinquish it again. By contrast to the stage history, in literary criticism there was no lag time, no temporary preference for other dramatists: Shakespeare had a unique position at least from the Restoration in and onwards.
While Shakespeare did not follow the unbending French neo-classical "rules" for the drama and the three classical unities of time, place, and action, those strict rules had never caught on in England, and their sole zealous proponent Thomas Rymer was hardly ever mentioned by influential writers except as an example of narrow dogmatism.
Dryden, for example, argued in his influential Essay of Dramatick Poesie — the same essay in which he noted that Shakespeare's plays were performed only half as often as those of Beaumont and Fletcher — for Shakespeare's artistic superiority. Though Shakespeare does not follow the dramatic conventions, Dryden wrote, Ben Jonson does, and as a result Jonson lands in a distant second place to "the incomparable Shakespeare", the follower of nature, the untaught genius , the great realist of human character.
In the 18th century, Shakespeare dominated the London stage, while Shakespeare productions turned increasingly into the creation of star turns for star actors. After the Licensing Act of , a quarter of plays performed were by Shakespeare, [ citation needed ] and on at least two occasions rival London playhouses staged the very same Shakespeare play at the same time Romeo and Juliet in and King Lear the next year and still commanded audiences.
This occasion was a striking example of the growing prominence of Shakespeare stars in the theatrical culture, the big attraction being the competition and rivalry between the male leads at Covent Garden and Drury Lane, Spranger Barry and David Garrick. There appears to have been no issues with Barry and Garrick, in their late thirties, playing adolescent Romeo one season and geriatric King Lear the next.
In September Garrick staged a major Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon which was a major influence on the rise of bardolatry. As performance playscripts diverged increasingly from their originals, the publication of texts intended for reading developed rapidly in the opposite direction, with the invention of textual criticism and an emphasis on fidelity to Shakespeare's original words.
The texts that we read and perform today were largely settled in the 18th century. Nahum Tate and Nathaniel Lee had already prepared editions and performed scene divisions in the late 17th century, and Nicholas Rowe 's edition of is considered the first truly scholarly text for the plays.
It was followed by many good 18th-century editions, crowned by Edmund Malone 's landmark Variorum Edition , which was published posthumously in and remains the basis of modern editions. These collected editions were meant for reading, not staging; Rowe's edition was, compared to the old folios, a light pocketbook.
Shakespeare criticism also increasingly spoke to readers, rather than to theatre audiences. The only aspects of Shakespeare's plays that were consistently disliked and singled out for criticism in the 18th century were the puns "clenches" and the "low" sexual allusions. While a few editors, notably Alexander Pope , attempted to gloss over or remove the puns and the double entendres , they were quickly reversed, and by mid-century the puns and sexual humour were with only a few exceptions, see Thomas Bowdler back in permanently.
Dryden's sentiments about Shakespeare's imagination and capacity for painting "nature" were echoed in the 18th century by, for example, Joseph Addison "Among the English, Shakespeare has incomparably excelled all others" , Alexander Pope "every single character in Shakespeare is as much an Individual as those in Life itself" , and Samuel Johnson who scornfully dismissed Voltaire 's and Rhymer's neoclassical Shakespeare criticism as "the petty cavils of petty minds".
The long-lived belief that the Romantics were the first generation to truly appreciate Shakespeare and to prefer him to Ben Jonson is contradicted by praise from writers throughout the 18th century. Ideas about Shakespeare that many people think of as typically post-Romantic were frequently expressed in the 18th and even in the 17th century: he was described as a genius who needed no learning, as deeply original, and as creating uniquely "real" and individual characters see Timeline of Shakespeare criticism.
To compare Shakespeare and his well-educated contemporary Ben Jonson was a popular exercise at this time, a comparison that was invariably complimentary to Shakespeare. It functioned to highlight the special qualities of both writers, and it especially powered the assertion that natural genius trumps rules, that "there is always an appeal open from criticism to nature" Samuel Johnson.
Opinion of Shakespeare was briefly shaped in the s by the "discovery" of the Shakespeare Papers by William Henry Ireland. Ireland claimed to have found in a trunk a goldmine of lost documents of Shakespeare's including two plays, Vortigern and Rowena and Henry II. These documents appeared to demonstrate a number of unknown facts about Shakespeare that shaped opinion of his works, including a Profession of Faith demonstrating Shakespeare was a Protestant and that he had an illegitimate child.
Although there were many believers in the provenance of the Papers they soon came under fierce attack from scholars who pointed out numerous inaccuracies. Vortigern had only one performance at the Drury Lane Theatre before Ireland admitted he had forged the documents and written the plays himself.
English actors started visiting the Holy Roman Empire in the late 16th century to work as "fiddlers, singers and jugglers", and through them the work of Shakespeare had first become known in the Reich. In Germany Lessing compared Shakespeare to German folk literature.
In France, the Aristotelian rules were rigidly obeyed, and in Germany, a land where French cultural influence was very strong German elites preferred to speak French rather than German in the 18th century , the Francophile German theatre critics had long denounced Shakespeare's work as a "jumble" that violated all the Aristotelian rules. As a part of an effort to get the German public to take Shakespeare more seriously, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe organised a Shakespeare jubilee in Frankfurt in , stating in a speech on 14 October that the dramatist had shown that the Aristotelian unities were "as oppressive as a prison" and were "burdensome fetters on our imagination".
Goethe praised Shakespeare for liberating his mind from the rigid Aristoltelian rules, saying: "I jumped into the free air, and suddenly felt I had hands and feet Shakespeare, my friend, if you were with us today, I could only live with you".
This claim that Shakespeare's work breaks through all creative boundaries to reveal a chaotic, teeming, contradictory world became characteristic of Romantic criticism, later being expressed by Victor Hugo in the preface to his play Cromwell , in which he lauded Shakespeare as an artist of the grotesque , a genre in which the tragic, absurd, trivial and serious were inseparably intertwined.
In , the American journalist Stephen Kinzer writing in The New York Times observed: "Shakespeare is an all-but-guaranteed success in Germany, where his work has enjoyed immense popularity for more than years. By some estimates, Shakespeare's plays are performed more frequently in Germany than anywhere else in the world, not excluding his native England.
The market for his work, both in English and in German translation, seems inexhaustible. Neither Dante or Cervantes, neither Moliere or Ibsen have even approached his influence here. With the passage of time, Shakespeare has virtually become one of Germany's national authors. Shakespeare as far it can be established never went any further from Stratford-upon-Avon than London, but he made a reference to the visit of Russian diplomats from the court of Tsar Ivan the Terrible to the court of Elizabeth I in Love Labor Lost in which the French aristocrats dress up as Russians and make fools of themselves.
Theatres and theatrical scenery became ever more elaborate in the 19th century, and the acting editions used were progressively cut and restructured to emphasise more and more the soliloquies and the stars, at the expense of pace and action. The platform, or apron, stage, on which actors of the 17th century would come forward for audience contact, was gone, and the actors stayed permanently behind the fourth wall or proscenium arch, further separated from the audience by the orchestra, see image right.
Through the 19th century, a roll call of legendary actors' names all but drown out the plays in which they appear: Sarah Siddons — , John Philip Kemble — , Henry Irving — , and Ellen Terry — To be a star of the legitimate drama came to mean being first and foremost a "great Shakespeare actor", with a famous interpretation of, for men, Hamlet, and for women, Lady Macbeth, and especially with a striking delivery of the great soliloquies.
The acme of spectacle, star, and soliloquy Shakespeare performance came with the reign of actor-manager Henry Irving at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in London from — At the same time, a revolutionary return to the roots of Shakespeare's original texts, and to the platform stage, absence of scenery, and fluid scene changes of the Elizabethan theatre, was being effected by William Poel 's Elizabethan Stage Society.
The belief in the unappreciated 18th-century Shakespeare was proposed at the beginning of the 19th century by the Romantics, in support of their view of 18th-century literary criticism as mean, formal, and rule-bound, which was contrasted with their own reverence for the poet as prophet and genius. Such ideas were most fully expressed by German critics such as Goethe and the Schlegel brothers.
To compare him to other Renaissance playwrights at all, even for the purpose of finding him superior, began to seem irreverent. Shakespeare was rather to be studied without any involvement of the critical faculty, to be addressed or apostrophised—almost prayed to—by his worshippers, as in Thomas De Quincey 's classic essay "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth " : "O, mighty poet!
Thy works are not as those of other men, simply and merely great works of art; but are also like the phenomena of nature, like the sun and the sea, the stars and the flowers,—like frost and snow, rain and dew, hail-storm and thunder, which are to be studied with entire submission of our own faculties As the concept of literary originality grew in importance, critics were horrified at the idea of adapting Shakespeare's tragedies for the stage by putting happy endings on them, or editing out the puns in Romeo and Juliet.
In another way, what happened on the stage was seen as unimportant, as the Romantics, themselves writers of closet drama , considered Shakespeare altogether more suitable for reading than staging. Charles Lamb saw any form of stage representation as distracting from the true qualities of the text. This view, argued as a timeless truth, was also a natural consequence of the dominance of melodrama and spectacle on the early 19th-century stage.
Shakespeare became an important emblem of national pride in the 19th century, which was the heyday of the British Empire and the acme of British power in the world. To Thomas Carlyle in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History , Shakespeare was one of the great poet-heroes of history, in the sense of being a "rallying-sign" for British cultural patriotism all over the world, including even the lost American colonies: "From Paramatta, from New York, wheresoever English men and women are, they will say to one another, 'Yes, this Shakespeare is ours; we produced him, we speak and think by him; we are of one blood and kind with him'" "The Hero as a Poet".
As the foremost of the great canonical writers, the jewel of English culture, and as Carlyle puts it, "merely as a real, marketable, tangibly useful possession", Shakespeare became in the 19th century a means of creating a common heritage for the motherland and all her colonies. Post-colonial literary critics have had much to say of this use of Shakespeare's plays in what they regard as a move to subordinate and deracinate the cultures of the colonies themselves.
Across the North Sea, Shakespeare remained influential in Germany. In , August Wilhelm Schlegel translated all of Shakespeare's plays into German, and such was the popularity of Schlegel's translation which is generally regarded as one of the best translations of Shakespeare into any language that German nationalists were soon starting to claim that Shakespeare was actually a German playwright who just written his plays in English.
In the Romantic age, Shakespeare became extremely popular in Russia. Possibly the best known of these plays is Hamlet , which explores betrayal, retribution, incest and moral failure. These moral failures often drive the twists and turns of Shakespeare's plots, destroying the hero and those he loves.
In William Shakespeare's final period, he wrote several tragicomedies. Though graver in tone than the comedies, they are not the dark tragedies of King Lear or Macbeth because they end with reconciliation and forgiveness. Tradition holds that Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday, April 23, , but some scholars believe this is a myth.
Church records show he was interred at Trinity Church on April 25, The exact cause of William Shakespeare's death is unknown, though many believe he died following a brief illness. In his will, he left the bulk of his possessions to his eldest daughter, Susanna.
Though entitled to a third of his estate, little seems to have gone to his wife, Anne, whom he bequeathed his "second-best bed. However, there is very little evidence the two had a difficult marriage. Other scholars note that the term "second-best bed" often refers to the bed belonging to the household's master and mistress — the marital bed — and the "first-best bed" was reserved for guests.
About years after his death, questions arose about the authorship of William Shakespeare's plays. Much of this stemmed from the sketchy details of Shakespeare's life and the dearth of contemporary primary sources. Official records from the Holy Trinity Church and the Stratford government record the existence of a William Shakespeare, but none of these attest to him being an actor or playwright.
Skeptics also questioned how anyone of such modest education could write with the intellectual perceptiveness and poetic power that is displayed in Shakespeare's works. Over the centuries, several groups have emerged that question the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. The most serious and intense skepticism began in the 19th century when adoration for Shakespeare was at its highest.
The detractors believed that the only hard evidence surrounding William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon described a man from modest beginnings who married young and became successful in real estate. Members of the Shakespeare Oxford Society founded in put forth arguments that English aristocrat and poet Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the poems and plays of "William Shakespeare.
The Oxfordians cite de Vere's extensive knowledge of aristocratic society, his education, and the structural similarities between his poetry and that found in the works attributed to Shakespeare. They contend that William Shakespeare had neither the education nor the literary training to write such eloquent prose and create such rich characters.
However, the vast majority of Shakespearean scholars contend that William Shakespeare wrote all his own plays. They point out that other playwrights of the time also had sketchy histories and came from modest backgrounds.
They contend that Stratford's New Grammar School curriculum of Latin and the classics could have provided a good foundation for literary writers. Supporters of Shakespeare's authorship argue that the lack of evidence about Shakespeare's life doesn't mean his life didn't exist. They point to evidence that displays his name on the title pages of published poems and plays. Royal records from show that William Shakespeare was recognized as a member of the King's Men theater company and a Groom of the Chamber by the court of King James I, where the company performed seven of Shakespeare's plays.
There is also strong circumstantial evidence of personal relationships by contemporaries who interacted with Shakespeare as an actor and a playwright. What seems to be true is that William Shakespeare was a respected man of the dramatic arts who wrote plays and acted in some in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
But his reputation as a dramatic genius wasn't recognized until the 19th century. Beginning with the Romantic period of the early s and continuing through the Victorian period, acclaim and reverence for William Shakespeare and his work reached its height. In the 20th century, new movements in scholarship and performance have rediscovered and adopted his works. Today, his plays are highly popular and constantly studied and reinterpreted in performances with diverse cultural and political contexts.
The genius of Shakespeare's characters and plots are that they present real human beings in a wide range of emotions and conflicts that transcend their origins in Elizabethan England. We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us! Sign up for the Biography newsletter to receive stories about the people who shaped our world and the stories that shaped their lives.
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William Shakespeare, often called England's national poet, is considered the greatest dramatist of all time. His works are loved throughout the world, but Shakespeare's personal life is shrouded in mystery.
William Shakespeare was an actor, playwright, poet, and theatre entrepreneur. William Shakespeare (). English poet and playwright – Shakespeare is widely considered to be the greatest writer in the English. English poet and playwright considered to be one of the greatest writers in the English language, as well as one of the greatest in Western.
William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April – 23 April ) was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English. William Shakespeare was an actor, playwright, poet, and theatre entrepreneur. Shakespeare's influence extends from theatre and literatures to present-day.
William Shakespeare (26 April (baptised) – 23 April ) was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English. In his own time, William Shakespeare ( –) was rated as merely one. This is a short biography of William Shakespeare. William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor. He was born on Adapted from Wikipedia.