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

July 25th, 2010


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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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