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About this poet

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 former 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," who 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 thirty 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.


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)

Venus and Adonis [But, lo! from forth a copse]

William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616
But, lo! from forth a copse that neighbours by,
A breeding jennet, lusty, young, and proud,
Adonis' trampling courser doth espy,
And forth she rushes, snorts and neighs aloud;
     The strong-neck'd steed, being tied unto a tree,
     Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he.

Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds,
And now his woven girths he breaks asunder;
The bearing earth with his hard hoof he wounds,
Whose hollow womb resounds like heaven's thunder;
     The iron bit he crushes 'tween his teeth
     Controlling what he was controlled with.

His ears up-prick'd; his braided hanging mane
Upon his compass'd crest now stand on end;
His nostrils drink the air, and forth again,
As from a furnace, vapours doth he send:
     His eye, which scornfully glisters like fire,
     Shows his hot courage and his high desire.

Sometime her trots, as if he told the steps,
With gentle majesty and modest pride;
Anon he rears upright, curvets and leaps,
As who should say, 'Lo! thus my strength is tried;
     And this I do to captivate the eye
     Of the fair breeder that is standing by.'

What recketh he his rider's angry stir,
His flattering 'Holla,' or his 'Stand, I say?'
What cares he now for curb of pricking spur?
For rich caparisons or trapping gay?
     He sees his love, and nothing else he sees,
     Nor nothing else with his proud sight agrees.

Look, when a painter would surpass the life, 
In limning out a well-proportion'd steed,
His art with nature's workmanship at strife,
As if the dead the living should exceed;
     So did this horse excel a common one,
     In shape, in courage, colour, pace and bone

Round-hoof'd, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostril wide,
High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong,
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide:
     Look, what a horse should have he did not lack,
     Save a proud rider on so proud a back.

Sometimes he scuds far off, and there he stares;
Anon he starts at stirring of a feather;
To bid the wind a race he now prepares,
And whe'r he run or fly they know not whether;
     For through his mane and tail the high wind sings,
     Fanning the hairs, who wave like feather'd wings.

He looks upon his love, and neighs unto her;
She answers him as if she knew his mind;
Being proud, as females are, to see him woo her,
She puts on outward strangeness, seems unkind,
     Spurns at his love and scorns the heat he feels,
     Beating his kind embracements with her heels.

Then, like a melancholy malcontent,
He vails his tail that, like a falling plume
Cool shadow to his melting buttock lent:
He stamps, and bites the poor flies in his fume.
     His love, perceiving how he is enrag'd,
     Grew kinder, and his fury was assuag'd.

His testy master goeth about to take him;
When lo! the unback'd breeder, full of fear,
Jealous of catching, swiftly doth forsake him,
With her the horse, and left Adonis there.
     As they were mad, unto the wood they hie them,
     Out-stripping crows that strive to over-fly them.

     I prophesy they death, my living sorrow,
     If thou encounter with the boar to-morrow.

"But if thou needs wilt hunt, be rul'd by me;
Uncouple at the timorous flying hare,
Or at the fox which lives by subtlety,
Or at the roe which no encounter dare:
     Pursue these fearful creatures o'er the downs,
     And on they well-breath'd horse keep with they hounds.

"And when thou hast on food the purblind hare,
Mark the poor wretch, to overshoot his troubles
How he outruns with winds, and with what care
He cranks and crosses with a thousand doubles:
     The many musits through the which he goes
     Are like a labyrinth to amaze his foes.

"Sometime he runs among a flock of sheep,
To make the cunning hounds mistake their smell,
And sometime where earth-delving conies keep,
To stop the loud pursuers in their yell,
     And sometime sorteth with a herd of deer;
     Danger deviseth shifts; wit waits on fear:

"For there his smell with other being mingled,
The hot scent-snuffing hounds are driven to doubt,
Ceasing their clamorous cry till they have singled 
With much ado the cold fault cleanly out;
     Then do they spend their mouths: Echo replies,
     As if another chase were in the skies.

"By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill,
Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear,
To hearken if his foes pursue him still:
Anon their loud alarums he doth hear;
     And now his grief may be compared well
     To one sore sick that hears the passing-bell.

"Then shalt thou see the dew-bedabbled wretch
Turn, and return, indenting with the way;
Each envious briar his weary legs doth scratch,
Each shadow makes him stop, each murmur stay:
     For misery is trodden on by many,
     And being low never reliev'd by any.

"Lie quietly, and hear a little more;
Nay, do not struggle, for thou shalt not rise:
To make thee hate the hunting of the boar,
Unlike myself thou hear'st me moralize,
     Applying this to that, and so to so;
     For love can comment upon every woe."

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, regarded as the foremost dramatist of his time, wrote more than thirty plays and more than one hundred sonnets, all written in the form of three quatrains and a couplet that is now recognized as Shakespearean.

by this poet

poem
Let me not to the marriage of true minds   
Admit impediments. Love is not love   
Which alters when it alteration finds,   
Or bends with the remover to remove:   
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark, 
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;   
It is the star to every wandering bark,   
Whose worth’s unknown,
poem
Ariel sings

Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily.   
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
poem
Come unto these yellow sands,
   And then take hands:
Court'sied when you have, and kiss'd,--
   The wild waves whist--
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
   Hark, hark!
      Bow, wow,
   The watch-dogs bark:
      Bow, wow.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting