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Imagination and Evil Spirits in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

January 20th, 2011 Comments off

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Around the late 1590s, Shakespeare penned the “most powerful and influential tragedy in the English language,” Hamlet. (“Hamlet”) Set in Denmark, this play tells the story of Prince Hamlet, who takes revenge on his uncle Claudius for murdering Hamlet’s father, taking over the throne, and marrying the Queen, Hamlet’s mother. But can it truly be summed up in one sentence? Throughout Hamlet, Shakespeare’s longest play, an intense, deep course is charted; with supernatural elements, treachery, revenge, insanity, moral corruption, death, and victory. Woven together in beautiful language, it is a fascinating read. Samuel Coleridge’s 1818 lecture on Hamlet is one that truly explores this deepness and explains it in equally deep fashion. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he says, the balance between real and imaginary is disturbed: “his thoughts, and the images of his fancy, are far more vivid than his actual perceptions, and his very perceptions, instantly passing through the medium of his contemplations, acquire, as they pass, a form and a colour not naturally their own. Hence we see a great, an almost enormous, intellectual activity, and a proportionate aversion to real action consequent upon it, with all its symptoms and accompanying qualities.” (Coleridge) In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there is an overbalance between the real and imaginary, towards the imaginary. This overbalance of the imaginative power is specially seen in the person of Hamlet, when an already-suspicious mind is met at an opportune moment by a Satanic spirit; then when his mind becomes warped, shaken by the supernatural apparition of his murdered father, and constantly occupied with shadows; and his clouded brain throws a mist over everything common-place.

In Shakespeare’s play, Prince Hamlet first appears on the scene with skeptical doubts about his new stepfather and many suspicions. His already doubting mind becomes completely shattered when his dead father’s ghost appears and warps his view of reality. He remains home after the funeral of his father, and begins to suspect his stepfather, King Claudius, thinking that Claudius is treating him far too personally, calling Hamlet his own son. “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” (I, ii, 65.) He also suspects his mother for marrying Claudius so soon after her own husband’s funeral: “That it should come to this! But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two: So excellent a king.” “Why, she would hang on him, As if increase of appetite had grown By what it fed on; and yet, within a month, Let me not think on’t: Frailty, thy name is woman! A little month…married with mine uncle, My father’s brother, but no more like my father Than I to Hercules.” He also notes the incestuous part of the marriage: Claudius married his sister-in-law, and the Queen, in marrying him, married her dead husband’s actual brother. (I, ii, 135-155) So far, we see that Hamlet has somewhat validated reasons for suspicion. Marriage of the dead King’s wife to the dead King’s brother not two months after the King’s death is indeed odd. However, objectively looking on things, this is no actual proof or reason for Hamlet’s final and ultimate belief, that King Claudius murdered Hamlet’s father. So, when Prince Hamlet is finally met by the spirit who puts on the form of his dead father, a mind brooding with suspicion is a perfect fertile setting for the words of the ghost to settle well in.

Hamlet’s mind becomes shaken upon seeing the ghost, so much so that he threatened his friends with death when they tried to stop him, warning him away from the ghost. (I, iv, 85.) He is desperate to hear the words of the ghost, his mind thirsting for what he already has suspicions for in his mind. Upon the word revenge, and murder, he is aroused; when the ghost declares, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder;” so much so, that he immediately replies upon the spot, “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love, May sweep to my revenge.”

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Imagination and Evil Spirits in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Part 2)

January 20th, 2011 Comments off

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(I, iv., 30.) He not only listens to the ghost’s lengthy epilogues but also takes them up with fiery emotions. Mr. Eliot, a critic whose main goal was to show that Shakespeare took on a work too much for him, notes how “Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear.” (Eliot) After he sees the ghost, his emotions rise to overflowing and he acts very oddly with those he knows, making no sense at times. He is bold and brazen, unkind and uncouth; alternating between all at once. Some in King Claudius’ court interpret it as lovesickness for Ophelia, who eventually loses her own sanity and kills herself, and Hamlet is called insane. In his emotional state, Hamlet even doubts himself: “Yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, And can say nothing.” (II, ii, 575.) “In effect Hamlet is creating a paronomasia of performance, moving from politeness to brutality; and it seems to come out almost unbidden.” (Brown) He comes to such a low point that he becomes suicidal, his warped mind eventually turning suicidal to solve his problems. “To die: to sleep; No more; and, by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ‘tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d.” (III, i, 60.) Mrs. de Grazia, PhD in English, observes of Hamlet’s problem: “Hamlet falls short of dialectical self-realization,” and “advances against his own until in the final scenes, he is ‘bandied from pillar to post’ and ends up ‘sandbanked.’” (Grazia) He talks to himself constantly, fails to kill King Claudius at an opportune moment, kills another by mistake, and eventually dies from a poisoned stab wound in a duel fought with Ophelia’s brother, Laertes. In the end, the idea planted by the spirit in his already-suspicious mind influences him enough to cause the deaths of not just one, but several people.

The turning of Hamlet’s mind and heart to the surreal is the very work of an evil spirit, who works in men’s minds to cause evil. In the play, Hamlet ponders this very fact: “The spirit that I have seen May be the devil: and the devil hath power To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy As he is very potent with such spirits—Abuses me to damn me.” (II, ii, 605.) But he did not take this thought to heart and try to rid himself of the Satanic overclouding from his soul. It eventually led him to do desperate actions, and his own sad death. “Through Hamlet, this tragedy affirms the world of the mind over against the world of matter, the unresolved and independent conscience over against the answers that can be provided by others or demanded by society in its political, religious or familial manifestations.” (Brown) With truly beautiful language and eloquent poetry, Hamlet is a fascinating read; but once read through in its entirety, it is depressing and dark as well. The reader is taken up in the downward path of Hamlet’s life, and into the very intricacies of his fertile, but infected, mind. Mr. Coleridge said that in the conversations found in this play is “a proof of Shakespeare’s minute knowledge of human nature.” (Coleridge)

References

Brown, John Russell. “Multiplicity of Meaning in the Last Moments of Hamlet.”

Connotations. http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/connotations/BROWN21.HTM

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare and Other English

Poets.” Shakespeare and His Critics. 2001. http://shakespearean.org.uk/ham1-col.htm

Eliot, T.S. “Hamlet and His Problems.” Bartleby Great Books Online. 2010.

http://www.bartleby.com/200/sw9.html

Grazia, Margreta de. “Hamlet’s Thoughts and Antics.” Early Modern Culture. 2001.

http://emc.eserver.org/1-2/degrazia.html

“Hamlet.” Wikipedia. May 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamlet

Shakespeare, William (2006). Hamlet. New Jersey: Wiley Publishing

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Anti-Semitism and Hypocrisy in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale (Part 3)

January 13th, 2011 Comments off

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In so doing, she destroys any possibility of gaining new insight into the religion from which hers derived.

The prioress seeks to further validate her anti-Semitic views by associating Jews with Satan. As the boy sings Alma Redemptoris through the Jewish quarter, Satan whispers into the Jew’s ears. Evidently, Jews are close friends, or at least loyal subjects, of Satan. Indeed, the dark lord “hath in Jewes herte his wasps nest” (125). This is demeaning on several levels. Not only is there the obvious association with Satan himself, but apparently the very hearts of Jews are empty, sub-human shells. Love may dwell in Christian hearts, but Jews have only a wasp’s nest. Satan goes on to admonish the Jews for allowing the boy to sing his prayer against “oure lawes” (130). This is an inflammatory creation on the part of the prioress. The “oure” is slightly problematic; some lesser manuscripts read “youre. ” Either Satan is the lord of the Jews or he at least functions as a protector of their laws. In either case, the implications are the same. Jewish law, as conceived of by the prioress, is violently anti-Christian. By created this falsehood of mutual antipathy, she can better justify her own rabid anti-Semitism.

All of the evils in this tale stem from a lack of knowledge, or misinformation. Bad information ultimately stems from bad epistemology. Neither the prioress, nor any character in her stories, exhibits an understanding as to how to obtain legitimate, truthful knowledge—the kind from which progress flows. As a substitute for real knowledge, rationally ascertained and disseminated, the prioress relies on the emotional response of the audience to physical gore. Acting on direct orders from none other than Satan, the Jews conspired to kill the boy. They hired a murderer who grabs the boy on his way home from school and “kitte his throte, and in a pit him caste” (137). This highly sensational murder is told to incite a purely emotional reaction. There is nothing wrong with emotions, per se. Emotions serve as an automatic manifestation of our most sincere and innate values. However, they are not infallible. A misidentification of how a specific action applies to our values, or even of the values themselves, can result in the wrong emotional response. Emotions wield a strong power over us, but we are still fundamentally rational beings and we need not act on our emotions when reason tells us otherwise.

After the throat slitting, the tale quickly turns even more macabre and disturbing. The boy’s mother finds him and he sings the prayer loudly. Through divine intervention, he is able to overcome physical limitations. He tells the people, “Me thoghte she leyde a greyn upon my tonge” (228). The act of Mary extending the life of a fatally injured boy is theologically complex. How can someone live with a slit throat? How can that person sing? The “greyn” has no direct, logical connection to its effect. It is not a bandage or ointment. The “greyn” is not even placed that close to the wound. So what is the “greyn”? Communion wafers are placed on top of the tongue by the clergy in the Catholic Church. This “greyn” could be a literal grain or seed, or it could be a metonymy for a communion wafer. The prioress, despite her position of religious authority, operates on a very simplistic level regarding religion, just like the boy. She needs a concrete object present. The same principle applies to the sale of absolutions by a pardoner. It is too abstract to just say that by God’s grace the boy was allowed to stay alive a little longer.

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Anti-Semitism and Hypocrisy in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale (Part 4)

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There are actually several layers, each progressively more concrete. God is highly abstract, Jesus less so. Mary, who is just a human being, is even more concrete. But even that is not enough. The prioress needs something she can touch. It is highly unlikely that the prioress fully grasps the concept of transubstantiation, but she clearly appreciates religious rituals. She advocates going through with the rituals, such as prayer, even if the person performing the ritual has absolutely no idea what it all really means. Her need for visuals to convey knowledge carries over into the discomforting violence of the final dozen stanzas. Not only is there the violent crime against the boy, and his supernatural singing, but also the retributive justice and dirge by the public and the boy’s mother over his death.

This odious murder of the little boy incites barbarous violence against the Jews. The prioress attempts to justify the wholesale execution of a large number of people though their often tenuous complicity in the heinous crime. The local magistrate gathers up the Jews, declaring:

“Yvel shal have that yvel wol deserve:”

Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,

And after that he heng hem by the lawe. (198–200)

The offending Jews are not only drawn by horses, but also hanged. More importantly, all of this is done in accordance with the law. The prioress already established that this region had a Christian ruler. It follows that the laws and punishments should reflect this Christian background. Christian theology is ostensibly based on love, which when consistently applied should not promote murder. Christ taught his subjects to “turn the other cheek” and love their “brothers. ” The prioress, in being both a woman and more specifically a nun, might reasonably be expected to be a pacifist. She is not; the outraged populace in her tale wants vengeance and they get it. A calm, reasoned approach to the murder (if such a thing is possible), would be to methodically determine whom to blame. With guilt established, perhaps even a Christian argument could be made to justify execution of those involved. Instead, the entire group is mercilessly slaughtered. What follows is treacle displays of mourning for the murdered boy, then a stanza of pure hypocrisy. The prioress offers a final prayer emphasizing, of all things, mercy: “That, of his mercy, God so merciable On us his grete mercy multiplye” (254–255). In only two lines, “mercy” appears three times. In one respect, the prioress is finally getting something right: Christianity does indeed teach mercy. However, they just had an opportunity to show mercy to the Jews, or at least humanity. Instead, they brutally murdered them. Once again, she is able to express the Christian ideas without even beginning to grasp what they mean. A request for mercy is not a meaningless string of words offered because social institutions say it’s the right time. It is a profound statement of humility before a person whose powers exceed your own or, in this case, before God Himself.

The Prioress’s Tale is one of brazen self-righteousness, gross ignorance of other cultures and religions. The title character is hopelessly solipsistic with no ability to look beyond her own carefully constructed fantasy world. As a result, she ends up blindly advocating a host of evils and lesser wrongs.

Bibliography

Besserman, Lawrence. “Ideology, Antisemitism, and Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale. ”The Chaucer Review 36. 1 (2001) 48-72

Patterson, Lee. “‘The Living Witnesses of Our Redemption’: Martyrdom and Imitation in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale. ” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31. 3 (2001) 507-560.

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Anti-Semitism and Hypocrisy in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale

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Through her words and actions, the prioress of Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale makes it plainly evident that she is a hypocrite who does not understand her own religion. The prioress’s misconceptions about her own religion lead to an illogical condemnation of Jews, a people who could scarcely be found in England in Chaucer’s period. Her insecurities regarding her sex and confidence in the validity of her faith and also her close-mindedness prevent her from gaining any sort of meaningful knowledge of other religions and peoples. Instead, she tries to spread her bigotry and willful ignorance with an inflammatory version of a tale common in the 14th century. Her tale seeks to elevate Christian women, such as herself, by constant invocations to Mary and the denigration of Jews. Tearing down another group makes hers seem, by comparison, better. To that end, she spews vitriolic anti-Semitism in her ridiculously macabre tale.

To ensure outrage at the murder to come, and to set up her tale, the prioress first must establish the victim as a wholly sympathetic character. While no one doubts the boy’s innocence, the prioress goes to almost comic (and satirical? lengths to also establish his near inhuman virtue. After learning that the Alma Redemptorisis about Mary, whom the boy and prioress both venerate with obsession, he declares:

“Now certes, I wol do my diligence

To conne it al, er Cristemasse be went.

Though that I for my prymer shal be shent,

And shal be beten thryes in an houre,

I wol it conne, oure Lady for to honoure. ” (105–109)

This sort of dedication may be expected from a member of a religious order, such as the prioress, who clearly approves of such a sacrifice. Indeed, the boy’s willingness to suffer multiple beatings for failure to study his primer could even be described as self-flagellation. The problem is that this boy is only seven years old. No amount of indoctrination is going to make a child that young eagerly accept physical abuse in exchange for the opportunity to memorize “by rote” (88) a song. He is not even going to truly study the song and its depths. How could he? He learned of the song by hearing other boys singing it. His peers, even the older ones, have only a superficial understanding of the prayers. So, too, does the prioress. Later on, the boy survives, temporarily at least, a vicious attack. The boy explains to an abbot that “for the worship of his moder dere Yet may I singe O Alma laude and clere” (220–221). Does it matter that he lacks all meaningful comprehension of the prayer? Not according to the prioress. He can mimic the sounds of the prayer and he worships Mary. That is more than sufficient for her. She doesn’t understand the prayer much better than he does; by her standard, he has done all that he needs to. After all, “in Chaucer’s day you were ignorant, or mad, or demonic to think that God did not exist, or could be anything other than the ultimate reality” (Besserman, 60). The laity did not need to spend much time contemplating metaphysics and ethics. However, a religion that lasts requires a careful and thorough examination of its fundamentals. Incoherent mysticism can gain an ephemeral following, but for a religion to survive a millennium, smart people must dedicate time and energy to the development of cohesive, internally consistent theological concepts and tenets. The prioress fails to comprehend the complexities of Catholicism. She reduces Christian virtue to rote memory of prayers. While such memory work is at least valuable in a Christian context, it is not fundamental to the religion.

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Anti-Semitism and Hypocrisy in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale (Part 2)

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But, the prioress is not concerned so much with the adherence to legitimate Christian principles but rather to the institution of the Catholic Church, of which she is a part. Her insecurities about her beliefs, a result of not thinking them over, result in her desperate need to cling to the institution. This explains her position as a prioress. She lives in her own cloistered world, leading a group of nuns who do not bother her with provocative or critical questions about the nature their religion. She is a shepherd so engrossed with the affairs of her own flock that she is incapable of understanding outsiders of any sort. Thus, the attack against the boy receives a sudden, too-broad and ultimately unthinking reaction in the tale.

The prioress goes further than mere childhood innocence; she makes the boy Christ-like. She calls the Jews the “cursed folk of Herodes” (140). This not-so-subtle epithet invokes the Biblical account of Christ’s birth and his escape from the infamous order by Herod to slay all the baby boys. The boy in this tale also suffers an untimely death for his Christianity, but at a much earlier age than Jesus. Nevertheless, the parallel between the two is still clearly present, fixed in the minds of the audience. The song itself also conjures associations between the boy and Christ. It was commonly sung during the Boy Bishop rituals, popular in England at the time, which coincided with the Mass of Holy Innocents. “In the Middle Ages, the Holy Innocents were traditionally understood as types of Christ, who was himself in turn often represented in late medieval religious writing and drama as a sacrificial child” (Patterson, 510). Thus, the boy’s Christian goodness is magnified to that of the ultimate exemplar, Christ Himself.

Having elevated the sacrificial victim to a quasi-divine status, the prioress continues her over-the-top tale by vilifying the Jews. She gives the setting as Asia Minor, a Muslim area. In the Middle Ages, Judaism and Islam were often conflated by the Christians of Western Europe. Both groups have darker skin and write using alphabets different from the Roman alphabet. To many of the less than well-traveled people of medieval England, the differences between Judaism and Islam were minor and, more importantly, irrelevant. After all, if Christianity is true, then other religions are necessarily false—at least in the popular view. The special status of the Jews, God’s “chosen people,” within a Christian culture was largely overlooked in the Middle Ages. The particular region she describes is ruled by a Christian, but with a Jewish quarter, sustained by the lord of that country “For foule usure and lucre of vileynye, Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye” (57–58). Medieval Catholic teachings forbade Christians from usury, but that did not mean the practice disappeared. Economic enterprise requires the lending of money—and people tend to be unwilling to lend money without any sort of benefit. In short, usury is a vital component of a healthy economy. The Church condemned a requirement of the society that sustained it. To have it both ways, they simply let Jews become the bankers. According to the prioress, this makes the Jews “hateful to Crist. ” This is blatant hypocrisy. The Christians condemned Jews for taking up a profession that they were simply unwilling to do themselves. This snap-judgment further reveals the Prioress’s own simplistic world-view. She uses inappropriate absolutes to describe religiosity: Christians are good; Jews are evil. What is not evident here is any attempt to understand Judaism or even Christ’s own comments regarding the Jews. She shuts out the Jews, immediately dismissing them as evil.

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The Life and Times of William Shakespeare (Biography)

July 25th, 2010 Comments off

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William Shakespeare of Elizabethan England lived a mysterious and sometimes scandalous existence, causing puzzlement and great fantastic stories, both true and false, to abound. His education remains to be speculated at as does his marriage. After leaving for England, what profession did he take up before appearing on stage? The most prominent mystery surrounding the magnificent bard’s life is the idea that he may have not even written any of his own play or poems at all. Exploring these unknown facts and rumors sheds light on our understanding of the immortal genius.

England’s greatest poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, the third of the eight children of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. According to the parish register of the Holy Trinity Church, he was baptized on April 26, 1564. Following ancient custom, babies in Stratford were baptized on the third day of life, placing William Shakespeare’s date of birth to be April 23, 1564. This date was also marked St. George’s Day and the day of his own death fifty four years later. Young William was born of John Shakespeare, a successful landowner, moneylender, dealer of wool and agricultural goods, and glover. William’s father moved to Stratford-upon-Avon in the mid-sixteenth century, and in 1556 he purchased a home on Greenhill Street, in addition to a house adjoining his place of occupancy on Henley Street. It is in this “double-house” on Henley Street (ninety miles northwest of London) in the county of Warwickshire that the brilliant poet was said to have been born. In 1557, John Shakespeare had married Mary Arden, the mother of William. Her family was Roman Catholic but when she married John Shakespeare she became part of the English church to escape persecution by the Queen. Mary Arden was a land-owning heiress with a fifty-acre estate by the name of Asbies recently inherited from her father, Robert Arden, in 1556. The name of Shakespeare is quite an old one in Warwickshire, dating back as far as 1248, when William Sakspere was executed for thieving. By 1561, John Shakespeare was elected as one of Stratford’s fourteen burgesses where he served as one of two chamberlains, administering government property and revenues. William’s father became an alderman in 1568 and three years later he was elected Bailiff, the modern day equivalent of mayor. Around 1576, John Shakespeare fell upon hard times, losing is council position and was even listed as one of nine mean who failed to go to church for fear of being arrested for their debts.

Little is known about William Shakespeare’s childhood, but what can be deciphered is that it was time in his life with mixed emotion; moments of happiness were stained by heart-breaking tragedies, which perhaps later dictated how he expressed the world through his plays. Stratford-upon-Avon, although a small town, had a long history of excellent free education. It is fairly certain that William Shakespeare attended the King’s New School from the age of seven to thirteen, renamed in Edward’s honor, which at the time had a reputation that rivaled Eton. The teachers of this prestigious grammar school were all graduates of Oxford, so William probably greatly profited from their lessons. Students would spend nine hours a day in school for the entire calendar year and when a student misbehaved, the teachers were allowed to physically punish the student. The only surviving school desk from Stratford is a standing desk, and it has been speculated that on many occasions a schoolmaster would fight off a the winter morning frosts by beating his boys when he first got to the school to warm himself. While there are no records to prove that William Shakespeare attended the King’s New School, adding to the mysteries about his life, his knowledge of Latin and Classical Greek would support this theory. Also Shakespeare’s first biographer, Nicholas Rowe, wrote that John Shakespeare had placed William “for some time in a free school. ” (Pressley) William’s father would have been able to enjoy the absence of tuition for his young son as a benefit of his position. Furthermore, John Shakespeare took a special interest in grammar school, being a member of the committee responsible for major restorations and for nominating the headmaster. More support for this claim comes in his play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, where he re-enacts a school-room scene, right down to the learning of Latin by memorization. In 1575 when William was eleven years old, a great plague swept the country and Queen Elizabeth journeyed out of London to avoid its consequences. She stayed for several days at Kenilworth Castle near Stratford during the hot month of July, enjoying festivities arranged by her host Lord Leicester. It was probable that these events may have made a strong impact on the developing mind of the young poet and playwright.

Throughout the sometimes free spirited, high times of Shakespeare’s youth, he was haunted by growing debts of his father and the deaths of relatives very dear to him.

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The Life and Times of William Shakespeare (Biography) (Part 2)

July 25th, 2010 Comments off

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Five of William’s siblings out of the eight lived beyond childhood: the first Joan, who was born in 1558, and Margaret, born in 1562, died as small children, so William was not only the eldest son but eldest surviving child. His brother Gilbert and sister the second Joan lived into adulthood, but Anne, born in 1571, died at the age of eight when William was fifteen. This must have been a very painful loss for William. Also William’s beloved grandmother, old Mrs. Arden as she was often referred to, died just after Christmas in 1580. Edward Arden, high sheriff in 1575 and cousin of William Shakespeare was Catholic, forced to worship in secret. He kept a chaplain, formally disguised as his gardener but well known to be a priest called Father Hall. In Edward Arden’s house allegedly there was wild talk against the Queen. A deranged son-in-law of his, John Someville, is said to have set off for London on a personal mission to kill the Queen. This asinine scheme supposedly was too complicated and abstract to have been contrived by Edward Arden. John Someville frequented the taverns of London, apparently declaring his intentions directed towards the Queen to whomever would listen. He was arrested, and under torture stated that he was in Edward Arden’s empowering and that Father Hall conceptualized the entire plot. John Someville was declared to have strangled himself in prison so that his evidence could not be withdrawn. Father Hall was arrested and then released without a trial, but Edward Arden was hanged, drawn and quartered, and his head stuck on a spike on the London Bridge. Edward was killed when his cousin, William Shakespeare was merely nineteen, producing a anxiety inside of William for his mother’s safety. Since she was a devout Catholic in private, he feared for her life as he had for his cousin’s life.

(Levi 19)

During William Shakespeare’s youth, he was said to have had a very mischievous personality. The Lucy family lived at the great Charlecote Park, three miles outside of Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. In the late seventeenth century, while William Shakespeare was still a young man, it was said that he had poached Sir Thomas Lucy’s deer on several occasions. The first editor of Shakespeare’s plays and biographer of his life, Nicholas Rowe, said that he was arrested and severely punished, consequently leaving Stratford to escape further persecution. Despite these accusations, there is no direct evidence of this story. The fact that there were even deer in Charlecote Park at the end of the sixteenth century is mere speculation. Sir Thomas Lucy, however was very much involved with game-preservation, and so perhaps there could have had several deer roaming in the woods outside of his estate. If William Shakespeare had been proven guilty, which he was not, his punishment would have almost certainly have been payment of three times the damage and costs and imprisonment for three months.

The next documented event in Shakespeare’s life is his marriage to Anne Hathaway on November 28, 1582. In 1582 when William Shakespeare was eighteen, he got the orphan Anne Hathaway pregnant, who was twenty six, eight years his senior. She was of Shottery, a short walk from Stratford through the fields, providing an easy opportunity for Anne and William to meet. Anne’s pregnancy seems to have happened in late September because the child Susanna was born on May 23. At the time, William Shakespeare was a minor, and the last chance for the

calling of the banns before Advent had been missed. So on November 27, 1582 two friends of the bride’s family rode to Bishops court at Worcester to negotiate a special marriage license. The bishop, John Witgift, asked them to get letters from their consenting parents as was required for very young couples. The license was granted on November 28 and the two friends, John Rychardson and Fulke Sandells, both farmers from Stratford-upon-Avon, gave £40 that no hindrance to marriage would later come to pass. The clerk of Worcester court had probably entered the marriage license on his register on the 27th of November; in all probability it took a day to draw up the document. There is no direct documentation of the marriage of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway although most historians accept that an entry in the Bishop’s register in November of 1582 does not refer to the famous bard. In this register is recorded the issuing of a marriage license to William Shaxpere and Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton. One of the most fascinating mysteries of Shakespeare’s personal life is the question of the identity of Anne Whateley from Temple Grafton. Some observers that the marriage clerk misheard the name Hathaway as Whateley. Others believe that William Shakespeare became engaged to an actual Anne Whateley but their betrothal was broken off when news of Anne Hathaway’s pregnancy spread.

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The Life and Times of William Shakespeare (Biography) (Part 3)

July 25th, 2010 Comments off

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The banns were asked only once in church instead of the traditional three times, because the bride was some three months pregnant. In the year of his marriage, Shakespeare worked in Stratford with an income of some kind. William’s and Anne’s first daughter, Susanna was born on May 23, 1583. Later on February 2, 1585, Richard Barton of Coventry christened Hamnet and Judith, the couple’s twins, whose birth date is uncertain.

From the birth of the twins until his first appearance in London as a troubadour, there is no record of what William Shakespeare was doing or where he was. During these years, stretching from the mid-1850s to the early 1590s, speculation runs rampant, and these years are romantically termed “lost”. It is very important to emphasize the emotional closeness and stamina of his family link, because numerous biographers have over-stressed the significance of Shakespeare’s lost years. Many imagine that Shakespeare completely deserted his wife and three children in search of an unclear aspiration, yet there is no indication that he even left home. The view of love that he constantly displayed indicated his fondness of his family, and it would seem odd for him to abandon his new wife and three young children at this point in his life.

There is no evidence of Shakespeare’s professional career after he left grammar school and married Anne Hathaway. It is relatively certain that William Shakespeare never proceeded to university schooling. If he had continued his education onto the university level, his Greek allusions would have been broader and manifested differently. Although he did not attend higher level schooling, William probably learned a great deal from the forests and farms surrounding his residence, for his plays suggest he had an extensive knowledge of hunting, hawking, and “the appetite of worms in a rural cemetery. ” (Gay)

Many scholars believe that Shakespeare was a page-boy or a lawyer’s clerk upon leaving grammar school during his “lost” years. If William Shakespeare had been a page-boy, it is supposed that he would have been granted permission to visit nobles and after gaining their support, traveling with them to London. Another reason why many believe Shakespeare was a page-boy is that his father, John Shakespeare, was running very quickly out of money and wanted to use his son’s connection with the household of which he was employed to get back his previous stature. Shakespeare could have conceivably been a lawyer’s clerk, but there is only circumstantial evidence which can be used to draw a conclusion about this theory. Throughout his younger years, William became well acquainted with local Stratford lawyers through his father. John Shakespeare’s professional proceedings in both money-making and local business would have provided young William an excellent opportunity to meet many lawyers. Also William Shakespeare had always been very involved with the purchasing, selling, and leasing of land. Thirdly his most famous plays often contained legal phrases and lawyers, demonstrating an expansive knowledge of the legal system.

The discussion continued as experts proceeded to contemplate Shakespeare’s profession after leaving school. John Aubrey, the author of Brief Lives written during the seventeenth century, states that “He understood Latine pretty well: for he had in his younger yeares a School-master in the Countrey. ” (Evans 20) Perhaps, like many of his contemporaries, he taught school before setting out to write on his own. Aubrey tells another story, “ I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he exercised his father’s Trade, but when he kill’d a Calfe, he would doe it in a high style, & make a Speech. ” (Evans 21) Many boys of that time period began their occupation as apprentices of their fathers. Another career path that Shakespeare may have taken was to become a soldier of fortune. He seems to be quite knowledgeable in his plays about the soldiering and weaponry used in

military campaigning. Although he could have started his professional life in this way, it is unlikely because he would have left his wife and children in England while going to a foreign country.

For whatever reason, by 1592 Shakespeare had made a place for himself in the theatrical world of London as a playwright and actor, leaving his family behind in Stratford. Perhaps drawn to London by the glamorous reputation of the theatre, many believed that Shakespeare’s first job in London was at the Globe Theatre tending the horses of patrons. Although this cannot possibly be true because the Globe Theatre was not built until 1599, at least ten years after Shakespeare arrived in London, it illustrates his desperation to get near dramaturgy. There can be no doubt that he was in London at this time placing quill against paper. Proof of his presence in London appeared in a 1592 pamphlet written, Groats-worth of Witte by Robert Greene on his deathbed. In this most famous literary snarl, Robert wrote: “for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.

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The Life and Times of William Shakespeare (Biography) (Part 4)

July 25th, 2010 Comments off

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” (Gray) This passage is notable because it clearly refers to William Shakespeare and is the first documentary evidence that Shakespeare has risen to prominence in London. The importance of the passage shows to the modern reader several truths of Shakespeare’s life at the time to be evident. He had become successful to make Greene and other peers jealous and had become well known throughout the professional world of London theater. Also he was a man known for his numerous abilities including acting, play writing, and play mending. When the pamphlet was published after Greene’s death, its preface, which was written by an acquaintance of Greene, apologized to Shakespeare and acknowledged his growing importance.

In London Shakespeare lived alone in rented accommodations while his wife and children remained in Stratford. Why his family did not move to London is unknown. Some scholars speculate that it was Anne’s wish to live apart from her husband because she reportedly had a Puritan background. The Puritans looked upon the theater as a path to all wickedness.

When an epidemic of the Bubonic Plague closed the theatres in 1592, the resourceful bard wrote plays and other poetry until the theatres reopened in 1594. In that year, he joined a newly formed drama company known as The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. As a part of this group he acted as writer and played principle roles as well as taking upon himself the management of the company. They performed publicly at the Blackfriar in the beginning, a theatre built by James Burage in 1576 north of the city.

Theatres within London boundaries were often closed to halt the spread of infectious diseases or heavily fined if reopened. The Lord Chamberlain’s had been forced into a year’s idleness by this law and during this time when new plays were not in demand, Shakespeare began to write poetry. In 1593 he dedicated the lengthy poem Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton and the Baron of Titchfield. Also dedicated to the Earl of Southampton was the Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare’s second poem printed in 1594. After several years of inactivity, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men moved to the site of the Globe across the river where they would no longer be subject to London’s law that closed all theaters. Always industrious, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men did actually move their old theatre. The actors and stagehands carried away every timber of the Blackfriar theatre on a warm summer’s evening in 1598 and used them to construct the Globe, even though the previous theatre had only been leased, not purchased. The owner was away on business at the time, and upon his return, he sued the company. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men won the lawsuit, making the Globe their more permanent home.

William Shakespeare solidly established himself with the reassembling of the playing companies of London after the reopening of theaters when their popularity peaked. Not only were The Lord Chamberlain’s Men the most popular company at they time, they were the favorites of Queen Elizabeth, a patron of theatres across London, who invited them to act for her every Christmas at the palace. For several years, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men alone held the privilege to act for the Queen on this holy day. Shakespeare himself was able through his great success to sell octavo editions or “penny copies” to the literate people in his audience. Never before had a playwright been so well loved within his own time that his plays were sold like novels. Shakespeare quickly became a sharer and householder in The Lord Chamberlain’s Men acting company, sharing in the profits as part owner. The revenues from this position provided him the economic stability necessary for him to write freely without burden while he was the company’s primary playwright, producing approximately two plays a year before his retirement in 1612.

In conclusion, not much is known about the personal and professional life of William Shakespeare, the most superlative, renowned playwright and poet that has ever existed. According to George Steevens, a knowledgeable Shakespearean scholar of the 1700s, “All that is known with any degree of certainty concerning Shakespeare, is that he was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, married and had children there, went to London, where he commenced actor, and wrote poems and plays. ” (Classic Notes: About William Shakespeare) Certainly records from Elizabethan England are not as detailed as records from more modern times, but we know more about Shakespeare than we know about most playwrights from his era. Scholars have discerned that he existed for they have all the major documentation of his life and have even found the costuming bills from his theatre company.

Philosophers have fumbled with accusations that William Shakespeare may have not written plays or poems at all, but instead allowed Francis Bacon to use his name or a committee of intellectually brilliant authors to write in collaboration with the pen name “Shakespeare”.

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