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William Shakespeare (baptised April 26, 1564 , died (O.S.) April 23, 1616) is considered by many to have been the greatest writer the English language has ever known. As a playwright Shakespeare wrote not only some of the most powerful tragedies, but also many of the funniest comedies ever to appear on an English stage.
Shakespeare also wrote 154 sonnets and several major poems, some of which are considered to be the most brilliant pieces of English literature ever written, because of Shakespeare's ability to rise beyond the narrative and describe the innermost and the most profound aspects of human nature. He is believed to have written most of his works between 1585-1610, although the exact dates and chronology of the plays attributed to him are not accurately known.
Shakespeare's influence on the English-speaking world is reflected in the ready recognition afforded many quotations from Shakespearean plays, the titles of works based on Shakespearean phrases, and the frequent performance of his plays. Other indicators of contemporary influence are his inclusion in the top 10 of the "100 Greatest Britons" poll sponsored by the BBC, the frequent productions based on his work, such as the BBC Television Series Shakespeare, and the success of the fictional account of his life in the 1998 film Shakespearein Love.
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Most historians agree that the actor and playwright were the same William Shakespeare for whom we have considerable historical records. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, in April 1564, the son of John Shakespeare , a glove maker, and Mary Arden. The baptism of Shakespeare is recorded on April 26 of that year and the 23rd has traditionally been considered his birthday. Shakespeare's father, prosperous at the time of William Shakespeare's birth, was prosecuted for participating in the black market in wool, and later lost his position as an alderman. There is some evidence that both sides of the family had Roman Catholic sympathies.
At the age of 18, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who was 26, on November 28, 1582. On May 26, 1583 Shakespeare's first child, Susanna, was baptised at Stratford. This was soon followed on February 2, 1585, with the baptisms of a son, Hamnet, and a daughter, Judith.
By 1592, Shakespeare was sufficiently known to be accused by Robert Greene of being "an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey." (The italicised line is a parody of the phrase, "Oh,tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide" which Shakespeare used in Henry VI, part 3 )
In 1596 Shakespeare's son Hamnet died; he was buried on August 11, 1596. Because of the similarities of their names, some suspect that his death was the impetus for Shakespeare's The Tragical History of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark .
In 1597 Shakespeare sold "one messuage, two barns, two gardens, two orchards, with appurtenances, in Stradford-upon-Avon" to William Underhill for sixty pounds. The house on this property was that built by Sir Hugh Clopton.
By 1598 Shakespeare had moved to the parish of St. Helen's, Bishopgate and appeared top of a list of actors (Every man in his Humor) produced by Ben Jonson.
Shakespeare became an actor, writer and ultimately part-owner of an acting company known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men - the company was named, like others of the period, for their aristocratic sponsor. It was sufficiently popular that after the death of Elizabeth I and the coronation of James I (1603), the new monarch adopted the company and it became known as The King's Men.
Various documents recording legal affairs, and business transactions show that Shakespeare grew increasingly prosperous in his London years. He did well enough to buy a property in Blackfriars, London, and owned the largest house in Stratford.
In 1609 Shakespeare published his sonnets, love poems, some addressed to a 'dark lady', and some to a young man (or 'fair lord').
Shakespeare retired approximately 1611 and died in 1616, on April 23rd (the same day as when Shakespeare was babtised), perhaps the reason behind the tradition of his Shakespeare's birthday and his death being on the same day. He remained married to Anne until his death. Of their three children, Hamnet, the only boy, died at the age of 11. There were two daughters, Susannah and Judith. Susannah married Dr John Hall, and was later the subject of a divorce case.
Coincidentally, Shakespeare died on the same day as the playwright Miguel de Cervantes. At his death, Shakespeare divided his property according to the instructions left in an interesting will, the text of which is reproduced here: [Shakespeare's Will]
Identity and Authorship of Shakespeare's Plays
Main article: Shakespearean authorship
The vast majority of academics accept that the William Shakespere recorded as living in Stratford-upon-Avon, the actor Shakespeare and the playwright Shakespeare are one and the same person, but this subject has been hotly debated over the years; even the painting of Shakespeare that accompanies this article (and appears above the name "William Shakespeare" in the National Portrait Gallery, London) may not be a representation of Shakespeare at all. Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, and Christopher Marlowe have been suggested as alternative authors or co-authors for some or all of Shakespeare's work.
The idea that Shakespeare himself wrote all of what are commonly accepted as his plays has also been called into question. There is ongoing serious academic work to ascertain the authorship of plays and poems of the time, both those attributed to Shakespeare and others.
Shakespeare's Plays and their Categories
Shakespeare's plays were published as a series of folios and quartos, and continue to be widely studied and performed. Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies are a firm part of the Western canon of literature. Even people who have not read the plays often - unknowingly - quote Shakespeare whose words continue to be in current usage. For example: "We have seen better days." , "What's in a name? " are all Shakespeare quotes that have become cliches in the English language.
BBC Shakespeare Tragedies DVD Giftbox
These BBC and Time-Life film productions of Shakespeare's plays feature some of Britain's most distinguished theater actors including Anthony Hopkins, Sir John Gielgud, Patrick Stewart, Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom and more. This DVD set is recommended as the best Shakespeare DVD collection. This special Drama DVD Giftbox Set contains 5 of Shakespeare's most popular tragedies: *Romeo and Juliet
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