In this topic I am going to deal with William Shakespeare. I will establish five different sections. First I will present a historical introduction of Shakespeare’s times, followed by the general features of the Elizabethan theatre. In my third section I will deal with Shakespeare’s life. My fourth section will be aboutShakespeare’s works, grouped into comedies, tragedies, histories and roman plays. Finally, I will include some current speculations related to Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare was born in 1564. This is the time of the Renaissance. Before concentrating on his life and works, I am going to begin by dealing with the historic moment in which he lived. Renaissance means rebirth. From about 1500 to 1600 theworld was reborn in many ways. The Renaissance began in Italy, especially in art and architecture, in the 15th c. As England became the most powerful nation in Europe in the late 16th c., new worlds were discovered and new ways of seeing and thinking developed. Columbus was the first European to discover America in 1492; Copernicus and Galileo later made important discoveries about the stars andplanets; Ferdinand Magellan sailed all around the world. The Renaissance was worldwide.
In England, there was an important change in religion and politics when king Henry VIII made himself the head of the Church of England, bringing church and state together (1529-39). He cut all contact with the Catholic Church and the Pope in Rome, part of a reaction against the Catholic Church in many partsof Europe. Protestantism became more and more important, and gave a whole new vision of man’s relations with God. The king or queen became the human being on earth who was closest to God, at the head of the Great Chain of Being which led down to the rest of mankind, animals, insects, and so on. The Dutch thinker, Erasmus, wrote of mankind as central to the world, and this humanist concern was thebasis of most Renaissance thought.
Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth, became the symbol of the Golden Age, the period of stability from 1558 to 1603. England’s enemies, Spain in particular, were defeated, and the English controlled the seas of the world, exploring and bringing valuable goods from the new world.
As Elizabeth grew older, with no child to succeed her, a new concern grewwith the passing of time and with the shortness of human life. This is closely linked with the Renaissance search for new ways of believing, new ways of seeing and understanding the universe.
The Renaissance was the beginning of the modern world in the areas of geography, sciences, politics, religion, society and art. London became not only the capital city of England, but also the main cityof the known world. And English, in the hands of writers like Shakespeare, became the modern language we can recognize today. The invention of printing meant that all kind of writing were open to anyone who could read. Many new forms of writing were developed, but the most important form of expression was the theatre. This was the age of Shakespeare, and the Golden Age of English drama.
Afterhaving set the scene in which Shakespeare lived, I would like to move on to deal with Elizabethan drama as its main characteristics. There were two types of theatres: indoor and outdoor. Outdoor theatres were public theatres, whereas indoor were private ones. The theatre became the main place where the concerns of the day could be forgotten. The theatre was not a socially exclusive affair; on thecontrary, it was almost startlingly popular. The audiences were large and very excited at plays. They would participate in the play by cheering, hissing or even throwing rotten vegetables. People would know that a play was about to be performed by a flag that rose over the theatre.
There were different types of audiences: the groundlings, standing after having paid a penny, were people of...