William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616):

“Neither here nor there”, “with bated breath”, “vanish into thin air”… Words we use today, but they were written by one very talented writer nearly 500 years ago. The English language as we know it today owes a lot to William Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare is considered the greatest writer in the English language and the greatest playwright to have ever lived. Born on the 26th of April 1564, his complete works include 39 plays and 154 sonnets. His plays have been performed more than any playwright.

Shakespeare was born to a successful glove maker in England. He was the eldest son and studied at King’s New School which was near his home. The school focused heavily on teaching grammar through the Latin classic texts. This helped Shakespeare develop his abilities.

Chandos Portrait [Source: Common domain]
Chandos Portrait [Source: Common domain]

Shakespeare produced most of his work between 1589 and 1613. He was a part-owner of a theatrical group who would perform his plays. They were called Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The quality of his work led Lord Chamberlain’s Men to become the top theatrical group in the country. Eventually, they were recognized by the King and changed their name to the King’s Men. Shakespeare used this success to build one theatre and then buy an existing one. It was 1603 and Shakespeare was slowly becoming famous.

His early plays are comedies with mystical elements. For example, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a witty mixture of romance, fairy magic, and comic lowlife scenes. By the mid-1600s, he began writing and producing “tragedies”. A tragedy is a play that is based on human suffering but leaves a sense of pleasure in the audience. This is considered Shakespeare at his peak. The plots of Shakespeare’s tragedies often hinge on fatal errors or flaws, which cause chaos and destroy the hero and those he loves. In his final years, Shakespeare wrote comedies without elements of romance and tragedy. Two of the most famous of these were Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale. The hero of his plays would still deal with fatal flaws but be forgiven at the end.

Shakespeare had a massive influence on theatre, literature, and music. His play Romeo and Juliet showed that romance was a worthy topic for a tragedy themed play. Various novelists have said that they were influenced by Shakespeare. His work has been directly linked to over 20,000 pieces of music. His writing has also deeply impacted English as we know it today. Various phrases we use today were first said by Shakespeare. In fact, the person who was most quoted in the world’s first dictionary was Shakespeare.

Shakespeare created new plays and acted in them for a total of 24 years. He died on the 23rd of April 1616, at the age of 52. He died due to high fever after a night of excessive partying with his friends.

But that is “neither here nor there” as many still believe that “the be-all and end all” of the English language is William Shakespeare.

Born: 26 April 1564, Snitterfield, England
Died: 23 April 1616, London, England
Education: Kings New School (1560–1578)
Major contribution: 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two narrative poems, highest performed plays ever

More about Shakespeare

539 words | 6 minutes
Readability: Grade 7 (12-13 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: biographies
Tags: #england, #literature, #music, #playwright, #theatre

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