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FURTHER READING
Related Prose
Shakespeare in Love
Poetic Form: Sonnet
Transcript: James Wright on the Poetic Prose of H. L. Mencken, Mark Twain, E. M. Forster, and Leo Tolstoy
by James Wright
Related Poets
Ben Jonson
External Links
Shakespeare Online Guide
A wealth of Shakespeare resources, curated by findingDulcinea.
Shakespeare, Stevens, and the Problem with Greatness
A critical essay by Dan Schneider, illustrated with more than a dozen poems, at Cosmoetica.com.
Writing About Shakespeare by Frank Kermode
From the London Review of Books.
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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-on-Avon. The son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden, he was probably educated at the King Edward IV Grammar School in Stratford, where he learned Latin and a little Greek and read the Roman dramatists. At eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, a woman seven or eight years his senior. Together they raised two daughters: Susanna, who was born in 1583, and Judith (whose twin brother died in boyhood), born in 1585.

Little is known about Shakespeare's activities between 1585 and 1592. Robert Greene's A Groatsworth of Wit alludes to him as an actor and playwright. Shakespeare may have taught at school during this period, but it seems more probable that shortly after 1585 he went to London to begin his apprenticeship as an actor. Due to the plague, the London theaters were often closed between June 1592 and April 1594. During that period, Shakespeare probably had some income from his patron, Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his first two poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). The fomer was a long narrative poem depicting the rejection of Venus by Adonis, his death, and the consequent disappearance of beauty from the world. Despite conservative objections to the poem's glorification of sensuality, it was immensely popular and was reprinted six times during the nine years following its publication.

In 1594, Shakespeare joined the Lord Chamberlain's company of actors, the most popular of the companies acting at Court. In 1599 Shakespeare joined a group of Chamberlain's Men that would form a syndicate to build and operate a new playhouse: the Globe, which became the most famous theater of its time. With his share of the income from the Globe, Shakespeare was able to purchase New Place, his home in Stratford.

While Shakespeare was regarded as the foremost dramatist of his time, evidence indicates that both he and his contemporaries looked to poetry, not playwriting, for enduring fame. Shakespeare's sonnets were composed between 1593 and 1601, though not published until 1609. That edition, The Sonnets of Shakespeare, consists of 154 sonnets, all written in the form of three quatrains and a couplet that is now recognized as Shakespearean. The sonnets fall into two groups: sonnets 1-126, addressed to a beloved friend, a handsome and noble young man, and sonnets 127-152, to a malignant but fascinating "Dark Lady," whom the poet loves in spite of himself. Nearly all of Shakespeare's sonnets examine the inevitable decay of time, and the immortalization of beauty and love in poetry.

In his poems and plays, Shakespeare invented thousands of words, often combining or contorting Latin, French and native roots. His impressive expansion of the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, includes such words as: arch-villain, birthplace, bloodsucking, courtship, dewdrop, downstairs, fanged, heartsore, hunchbacked, leapfrog, misquote, pageantry, radiance, schoolboy, stillborn, watchdog, and zany.

Shakespeare wrote more than 30 plays. These are usually divided into four categories: histories, comedies, tragedies, and romances. His earliest plays were primarily comedies and histories such as Henry VI and The Comedy of Errors, but in 1596, Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, his second tragedy, and over the next dozen years he would return to the form, writing the plays for which he is now best known: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra. In his final years, Shakespeare turned to the romantic with Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.

Only eighteen of Shakespeare's plays were published separately in quarto editions during his lifetime; a complete collection of his works did not appear until the publication of the First Folio in 1623, several years after his death. Nonetheless, his contemporaries recognized Shakespeare's achievements. Francis Meres cited "honey-tongued" Shakespeare for his plays and poems in 1598, and the Chamberlain's Men rose to become the leading dramatic company in London, installed as members of the royal household in 1603.

Sometime after 1612, Shakespeare retired from the stage and returned to his home in Stratford. He drew up his will in January of 1616, which included his famous bequest to his wife of his "second best bed." He died on April 23, 1616, and was buried two days later at Stratford Church.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Rape of Lucrece (1594)
The Sonnets of Shakespeare (1609)
Venus and Adonis (1593)

Drama

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595)
All's Well that Ends Well (1602)
Antony and Cleopatra (1607)
As You Like It (1599)
Coriolanus (1608)
Cymbeline (1609)
Hamlet (1600)
Henry IV (1597)
Henry V (1598)
Henry VI (Parts I, II, and III) (1590)
Henry VIII (1612)
Julius Caesar (1599)
King John (1596)
King Lear (1605)
Love's Labour's Lost (1593)
Macbeth (1606)
Measure for Measure (1604)
Much Ado About Nothing (1598)
Othello (1604)
Pericles (1608)
Richard II (1595)
Richard III (1594)
Romeo and Juliet (1596)
The Comedy of Errors (1590)
The Merchant of Venice (1596)
The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597)
The Taming of the Shrew (1593)
The Tempest (1611)
The Winter's Tale (1610)
Timon of Athens (1607)
Titus Andronicus (1590)
Troilus and Cressida (1600)
Twelfth Night (1599)
Two Gentlemen of Verona (1592)

Poems by
William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene I [Over hill, over dale]
Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, Scene II [The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne]
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII [All the world's a stage]
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII [Blow, blow, thou winter wind]
Hamlet, Act I, Scene I [Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes]
Hamlet, Act III, Scene I [To be, or not to be]
Hamlet, Act III, Scene III [Oh my offence is rank]
Hamlet, Act IV, Scene IV [How all occasions do inform against me]
Henry V, Act III, Scene I [One more unto the breach, dear friends]
Henry V, Act V, Scene III [What's he that wishes so?]
King Lear, Act III, Scene II [Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!]
Love's Labour's Lost, Act V, Scene 2 [Winter]
Macbeth, Act I, Scene II [The merciless Macdonwald]
Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I [Round about the cauldron go]
Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene II
Tempest, Act V, Scene I [Where the bee sucks, there suck I]
The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I [The quality of mercy is not strained]
The Winter's Tale Act IV, Scene II [When daffodils begin to peer]
Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene III [O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?]
Venus and Adonis [But, lo! from forth a copse]
From you have I been absent in the spring... (Sonnet 98)
How like a winter hath my absence been (Sonnet 97)
Let me not to the marriage of true minds (Sonnet 116)
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)
Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck (Sonnet 14)
Not marble nor the guilded monuments (Sonnet 55)
Orpheus
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (Sonnet 18)
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea (Sonnet 65)
That time of year thou mayst in me behold (Sonnet 73)
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame (Sonnet 129)
They that have power to hurt and will do none (Sonnet 94)
Three Songs
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry (Sonnet 66)
When I consider every thing that grows (Sonnet 15)
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes (Sonnet 29)
When that I was and a little tiny boy
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought (Sonnet 30)

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