William Shakespeare: Legacy of A Great English Author

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Being the national English poet, William Shakespeare is one of the most renowned authors in history. Shakespeare is best known for his famous plays, even though he was also a fascinating poet, an actor, and a playwright. Many critics and literature lovers think he is the greatest playwright of all time.

William Shakespeare produced a significant body of literary works that are still widely read today while working in the British theatre during the so-called English Renaissance’s Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.

William Shakespeare’s early years

Little William was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. But, due to the lack of birth records during the Elizabethan era, his birth date is not historically recorded. Yet, it is thought that he was born on 23 April. This is because he was baptised on 26 April, which is the normal date for the baptismal ceremony to take place after the child is born.

When discussing his background, Shakespeare was raised in a noble household made up of his parents, Mary Arden, who came from a nobility family, and his father, John Shakespeare, who had a number of posts. He had considerable success in his line of work as a merchant, as a town councillor, and as Stanford’s mayor.

John Shakespeare was elected mayor but was stripped of the title of Gentleman and refused the right to wear the coat of arms in 1570 after being accused of making excessive and inappropriate loans of money. Shakespeare was the oldest of five brothers and sisters.

William Shakespeare is thought to have attended the Stratford Grammar School, which is located in the heart of Stratford. Ovid, Shakespeare’s favourite author, was among the writers who were taught Latin grammar and translation there. This assumption was made based on Shakespeare’s father’s membership in the municipality, which gave him the right to send his kids to Stratford Grammar School for free. However, neither a historical record nor any other evidence exists to support Shakespeare’s father’s membership in the municipality.

William Shakespeare’s personal life

William Shakespeare is thought to have converted to Catholicism and come from a Catholic-friendly family. He started his own family when he became 18 by marrying Anne Hathaway, a woman from the city of Shuttery, on 28 November 1582. The couple welcomed their first two children in 1583. In February 1585, Susan gave birth to twins named Judith and Hamnet. Shakespeare lost his only son, Hamnet, when he was eleven years old in 1596. As a result, he wrote nothing until four years after his passing, when he published his well-known play, Hamlet.

Shakespeare’s twins’ baptism was one of the few historical moments that historians were unable to reconstruct accurately. His twins Hamnet and Judith were baptised in 1585 until William Shakespeare came to London in 1592 when his star in the theatre industry began to rise. Shakespeare’s later years were known as the Lost Years because no documentation supports his decision to go to London from his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Or what he was doing before relocating to London and rising to renown as a playwright and professional actor.

William Shakespeare career

Although there is no concrete evidence about the time period in which Shakespeare began his writing career, the prevailing beliefs indicate that he started in 1592, based on historians’ performance records that were set up. Shakespeare’s practical life was in the city of London, moving to Stratford from time to time. Shakespeare released some of his plays in the form of four-page copies in the year 1594, which marks the beginning of Shakespeare’s star’s rise in the world of theatre.

Shakespeare’s writings quickly became the most popular in 1598, and it should be noted that in addition to composing plays, he also worked as a stage performer. Shakespeare started working with Lord Chamberlain’s Men theatre company, which they established in 1594 and quickly rose to prominence in London. The company had its own theatre in 1599 because its members built it on the south bank of the Thames and named it the Globe Theater.

The company was honoured in 1603 by receiving a royal patent from King James I, the king who succeeded Queen Elizabeth as monarch after her death. The name of the company changed to The King’s Men, but the members weren’t happy with that, so they added the Blackfriars Indoor Theater to their company.

It is worth noting that William Shakespeare became wealthy for collaborating with the “King’s Men” ensemble. Records show that in addition to spending his portion of the tithe tax in Stratford, Shakespeare purchased and invested in a significant amount of real estate, including the second-largest home in the county, in 1597.

The Legacy of William Shakespeare 

Even though it has been more than 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, his plays and poems still significantly influence society today. The following are some of William Shakespeare’s most significant works.

His Contributions to Poetry

William Shakespeare was notable for inventing numerous literary devices and languages that he employed in his works, some of which stand out due to the fact that they incorporate several Roman, French, and even his own native tongue roots. Shakespeare initially published a poem in 1593 named “Venus and Adonis,” which is categorised as a narrative poem. The next year, he published another narrative poem titled “The Rape of Lucrece”.

William Shakespeare did not, however, write the majority of the poetry included in this rendition that bears his name. Only five of the poems in the book, two of which were later included in Shakespeare’s sonnets and three written for the play Love is a Wasted Effort, were given Shakespearean authorship. Shakespeare kept on writing poetry up until 1601 when he published “The Phoenix and the Tortoise,” a lament. Shakespeare’s poetry was first made available in 1609 under the title The Sonnets of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are referred to as a copy, including 154 sonnets of poetry. The sonnets are split into two sections that are assigned based on whom the poetic lyrics are addressed. The poet’s loving friend, who is portrayed as a handsome and honourable young man, is the subject of the sonnets (1–126). The poet clings to and falls in love against his will with a woman who is defined by cruelty and malice but who nonetheless has a notable personality.

His Contributions to Theatre

William Shakespeare produced more than thirty plays during his lifetime, the first of which included a number of comedic and historical plays, including Henry VI and Comedy of Errors. Later, Shakespeare’s focus shifted, and in 1596, he produced the well-known play Romeo and Juliet, which is categorised as a tragic and romantic play.

William Shakespeare wrote several well-known plays, including Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Anthony, and Cleopatra. However, he quickly reverted to his original style, for which he was known, and William Shakespeare continued in it for twelve years. However, in his later years, he changed his style and produced several less successful plays. He authored a number of plays in the romantic style, including The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and Cymbeline.

Only 18 of Shakespeare’s plays were published separately in four-page versions during his lifetime. Nevertheless, John Hemmings and Henry Condell, two of Shakespeare’s performing partners, compiled 36 of Shakespeare’s plays into a single file after his death. Before they could publish the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays in 1623, they had to organise the texts, edit them, and oversee their printing. The value of this file comes from the fact that it has managed to save several significant plays by William Shakespeare that were either lost or never published.

Shakespeare’s plays were shown, and five were chosen as favourites. Not all of Shakespeare’s plays were published during his life, as only eighteen of them were published separately in four-page copies, but after his death, John Hemmings and Henry Condell – two of Shakespeare’s acting colleagues – collected 36 of Shakespeare’s plays in one file.

They coordinated the texts, edited them, and supervised their printing until they were able to publish the first file that collected Shakespeare’s plays in 1623. The importance of this film lies in the fact that it was able to preserve several important plays by Shakespeare that were not published and were subject to lose. Based on the play’s literary merit and enduring appeal, five of Shakespeare’s plays were universally favoured by critics. They are listed below in order of best favourite to modern critics and general audience:

1.      Hamlet

The young king of Denmark, Hamlet, the play’s central character, is terribly grieved by his father’s death and resolves to exact revenge. As a result, the tragic drama explores emotions connected to the grief of loss. It is thought that William Shakespeare experienced sensations similar to those described in this play as a result of the death of his son. Many literary critics believe Hamnet and Hamlet are among Shakespeare’s greatest plays. It is also thought to have given psychology a deep dimension hundreds of years before its current image emerged.

2.      Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is a play that presents a romantic and tragic story and is considered the most famous play written by William Shakespeare because it is about two people who fall in love despite their different social backgrounds and because of the animosity between their families (Montague and Capulet). As a result, several kinetic scenes appear in the play because of this dispute, but the balcony scene remains the most famous dramatic text in the world.

3.      Macbeth

It is a brief theatrical play in which the action centres on the changes that Macbeth experiences throughout his life as he progresses from soldier to king to tyrant. She plays a significant and influential role in the play.

4.      Julius Caesar

Although the play is titled “Julius Caesar,” he only appeared in a few scenes; it discusses the assassination plot that Roman Senator Marcus Brutus concocted. The piece mainly emphasises Brutus’ damaged psyche and his conflicting morals while laying out the details of the assassination attempt.

5.      Much Ado About Nothing

The play’s action is centred on Benedick and Beatrice, who have an abusive relationship. They are in love with one another but won’t admit it, leading to a relationship that oscillates between love and hate. This play is categorised as an aristocratic behaviour satire comedy.

The Controversy over Shakespeare

There has been some debate regarding the claim that Shakespeare authored the plays he is credited with authoring more than 200 years after his demise. Given that Lord Francis Bacon actually writes these plays and that Shakespeare’s attribution to them is only a plot to conceal the genuine authorship of these works.

There is no proof that Shakespeare was only a stage actor or that the name Shakespeare used was just a pseudonym. Still, numerous pieces of evidence show the opposite of those claims and confirm the existence of a real person named William.

However, this controversy was started by Delia Bacon and is not based on any evidence proving the validity of her claim. All the facts verify the existence of a genuine person named William Shakespeare, who is the author of all the works of literature that have been credited to him, establishing that he was a member of a theatrical company.

In response to the debate started by author Delia Bacon, many people adopted her stance, including the Earl of Essex, Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland, the Earl of Oxford, and Queen Elizabeth I. However, not all of the names of the potential authors had any connection with any contemporaneous actor of any of Shakespeare’s plays, contrary to what is raised by Bacon’s supporters or anyone who assumes the existence of another author of the plays.

The Influence of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s literary works had a significant influence on a number of levels in addition to entertaining his readers and playgoers. The majority of authors were able to master this genre of writing, particularly in the traditional heroic narrative or the romantic tragicomedy. This is in addition to the stories’ unique narrative styles and impressively shaped structures.

In terms of the language, Shakespeare provided linguistic riches that brought Middle English up to par with modern English. Putting words together in novel ways and giving them prefixes and suffixes. Shakespeare’s stories stand out because they transcend time and culture and continue to be presented in innovative ways.

Shakespeare’s works are notable for transcending time and culture because they are stories that live on and are told in new ways to fit the modern world. This is because they contain a great deal of universal human emotions like love, music, and ageing that are thought to be difficult for Western writers to express in as powerful and eloquent a manner as William Shakespeare did.

Shakespeare’s influence extended beyond just his words and rhetoric. It was also seen in the power of the characters that appeared in his plays, particularly the tragic characters he created, which excelled in Greek tragedy because they have rich, complex personalities, like Hamlet, who deviated from her human nature and headed for murder. Shakespeare’s tragic characters are among the most challenging for performers to portray while also being among the most alluring to actors.

Who is William Shakespeare?

Professor Dempna Callahan, who works at Syracuse University in America, and is the former director of the Shakespeare Association in America, wrote many writings about playwrights and poets belonging to the English Renaissance, and she authored her most famous book (Who is William Shakespeare?) with the aim of introducing readers to unique rhetoric of the English language in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, by shedding light on the unique expressions and strange sounds of this language.

Book contents

The book begins with an explanation from the author of the reason why she wrote this work and then divided it into two parts, in which she touches on the personal life of William Shakespeare and mentions some of his theatrical written works, as follows:

Part One:

His life

The author wrote this part with the help of many experts in language and literature in ancient historical times. She also looked at the studies of students in different universities who studied William Shakespeare in depth, which helped her understand his life and interpret his works accurately. This part was divided into five chapters distributed as follows:

  • Who is William Shakespeare?
  • Writing: This part mentioned the history of the beginning of Shakespeare’s writings and the discovery of his talent.
  • Religion: This part deals with Shakespeare’s religious life and its impact on his written works and theatrical tragedy. The book mentioned the importance of religion in that time period and Shakespeare’s conversion to Catholicism.
  • Status: This chapter explores the ways in which hierarchy shaped Shakespeare’s professional life and experience, particularly as he sought to climb the social ladder and reach the peerage, and explores the difficulties Shakespeare faced in transcending these social classes.
  • Theatre: This part recounts how William Shakespeare became an actor, playwright, and participant in a theatre company with a fixed headquarters in London and then his participation in unprecedented works of art in that period. For a short time, there were growing cultural forces seeking to suppress theatre as a whole.

Part Two:

His plays

This part of the book reviews the plays of William Shakespeare with their different types in terms of language and style and how these plays profoundly impacted English literature from then to our time. This part was divided into four chapters as follows:

  • Comedy Plays: This chapter begins with mentioning the names of the comedic plays written by Shakespeare, then begins showing and explaining one play after another and presenting quotes from those plays.
  • Historical, English, and Roman plays: This part of the book referred to the political life that William Shakespeare lived and how the political and historical colour dominated his works at the time, as his plays in that period are considered a historical reference to our time.
  • Tragic Plays: Perhaps the most prominent play that shined in this aspect is the play Romeo and Juliet with a tragic end, which has been re-enacted throughout the ages. This part of the book detailed this play and other tragic plays that became famous during that period.
  • Romantic Plays: This part was limited to presenting two plays from Shakespeare’s romantic works, where the play The Winter’s Tale and the play The Tempest and their detailed explanation were mentioned, with some romantic quotations with deep linguistic connotations that highlight the beauty of the language.

His last years and his death

William Shakespeare wrote up until 1613, the year in which he penned his final two plays, and then he announced his retirement upon his return to Stratford. Shakespeare passed away at 52 and was buried in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon on 23 April 1616.

William Shakespeare was buried on the altar of the Holy Trinity Church, and he had purchased a share of that church for a significant sum of money. Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, was by his side throughout his final days, and his family was positioned on the wall closest to his tomb.

If you enjoyed this content, why not dive into some more historical eras – check out these articles: Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth, Most Important People in History, Augustan AgeVikings HistoryAncient RomeNative American History. Victorian Era, and Ibn Khaldun.

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