Last Updated 28 Jul 2020

Shakespeare Greatest Playwright of All

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William Shakespeare: Greatest Playwright of All William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was a British poet and playwright, he was well known as the greatest writer of all time, he was often called the "Bard of Avon". Although many facts of his life remain unknown, his poems and plays are unique and have timeless theme that touch everyone’s heart, and are still widely studied and performed in today’s society. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, England enjoyed a time of prosperity and stability that led to a new era for England.

Shakespeare’s works epitomize arts of the Elizabethan Epoch; through his uses of beautiful and poetic language, iambic pentameter is nearly always used in his style of poetry. Shakespeare wrote about timeless themes about the human nature surrounded themes of true love, revenge, power-lust, ambition, anger, war, etc, they are not only appealed to the people of Elizabethan England, but also provide a reference for life in his time for us to view the contemporary society. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon Avon in Warwickshire and was baptized on April 26, 1564.

His father was a wool merchant and his mother was the daughter of a landowner. The next documented event was his marriage when he was 18 years old to Anne Hathaway who was 26 years old at that time, and they had three children. There was another gap where some scholars referred to as "the lost years", then he was working in a theatre in London in 1592. Shakespeare wrote his very first play, Henry VI, Part One in 1589-90, and in 1590-91, Shakespeare wrote Henry VI, Part Two and Henry VI, Part III. Shakespeare's poetry appeared before his plays, his narrative poems Venus and Adonis as his first ever publication in 1593.

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Then Shakespeare wrote plays began to be noticed by the public, and sooner became popular. During the Renaissance in Europe there was a great innovation of science; the Church had lost some of the corruptive power that once held over Europe, and people were again free to look back upon the pagan scholars and writers of Greece and Rome. Plays by playwrights such as Euripides, Plautus, and Seneca which were once banned by the Church were once again being read and performed. Likewise, the cultural stories of the people were once again being told in public, and playwrights, including Shakespeare, were widely performed.

An good example would be Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare used ancient Celtic and Greek mythological figures such as Puck, Oberon, Theseus and placed them in a different time and place, but with their original characteristics. Other plays, such as Romeo and Juliet make references to popular mythological figures like Queen Mab to make the story fit better into their world. Since people of all classes attended plays, playwrights needed to use stories, characters and words that would appeal to everyone.

England in the time before the reign of Elizabeth I was under a state of religious turmoil. When Elizabeth I ascended to the throne, she banned the performances all religious plays and stories (except in Church) to help stop the violence over religion. Popular plays were  not longer be performed, and playwrights were now free to concentrate on secular stories. They still contained some elements of religion, as did everyday life in Elizabethan England, but it was not the primary focus, nor did it play a particularly important part of the story.

Conventions from Medieval religious theatre found its way into Elizabethan Theatre, however, and Shakespeare made good use of them during their performances, such as using the trap door for the gravediggers’ scene in Hamlet. The Hellmouth and trapdoor, which had been a staple of Medieval Theatres continued to be used, and were built into the permanent theatre structures used in the performances of Elizabethan plays. Shakespeare’s histories, such as Henry V, were a tribute to the Monarch and to the country.

Many playwrights and other artists paid homage to their patrons, including Shakespeare. By writing about the glories of England and her former rulers he was paying homage to Queen Elizabeth and England. Since the arts were kept alive by patrons, it was best not to anger one and lose your support. Shakespeare sometimes, such as in Hamlet, criticized the Monarchy, but in a way that would not be obvious or outwardly treasonous. He spoke his mind, but also paid lip service to keep money coming from his patron. Shakespeare was a very prolific writer, because his writings are not totally original.

He had help with many of his plays from other writers and actors, such as Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), resulted people doubting that he himself wrote his plays. King Lear is based on a Celtic myth, and Hamlet is a retelling of earlier versions of the same story. Elizabethan plays use stock-type characters like those found in Comedia Del’Arte and Roman plays, and actors would specialize in specific types of roles. The English Renaissance Theatre played a significant part of Elizabethan theatre and Shakespeare's playwright career. The theatre has a proscenium-arch stage, and seatings on hree tiers (stalls, circle and balcony). Shakespeare first worked for Lord Strange's Men in The Rose, it is London’s most historic Elizabethan Theatre on Bankside and a home to many of Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s first production. When the Globe was built, He worked for the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and was also part owner of the Globe itself. People in Elizabethan England were very concerned with the humour, which was a form of medicine and psychology. Shakespeare makes references to them all over in his plays. Hamlet is portrayed as being to Melancholic, with his humours out of balance, and one was dominant over the others.

This is not psychology as we know it today, and was why the people from Elizabethan Era believed people were the way they were. Shakespeare used this belief to make his characters not only believable, but also understandable to his audience. Shakespeare’s works are the greatest representation of art from Elizabethan England politically, economically, and socially. No other art form, including painting, could provide so much information about life in Elizabethan England, we can see the ideas, thoughts, languages, customs, etc throughout his plays. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and 37 plays in total, including tragedy, comedy, and history.

The Four Great Tragedies were his greatest achievement as a playwright, and are greatly studied in English literature, performed in theatre, and made into several films; include Romeo and Juliet (1594), the timeless tale of young lovers whose names were synonymous with star-crossed romance; Hamlet (1600), the revenge drama centering on the introspective Prince of Denmark; Othello (1604), a story of gallant soldier and loving husband was undone by jealousy ; and Macbeth (1605), known as "The Scottish Play", concerning a nobleman's overweening ambition.

These plays focused on powerful central characters with outstanding personal qualities, and the antagonists were their own strengths,  their family, and the society, which would not allow then to get what they wanted. For example, Romeo and Juliet sought for true love, but they were forbidden to love each other because their families were mortal enemies, and the story ended tragically where Romeo drugged himself and Juliet stabbed herself with a dagger.

Audience of all times are  appalled at this paradox and at the inexorability of his characters' fate in which because part of our human nature and the cruelty of our society, we don't always get what we desired deeply. Other tragedies include Julius Caesar (1599), King Lear (1604), Timon of Athens (1607), etc. Comedies include Merchant of Venice (1596), Midsummer Night's Dream 1595), Twelfth Night (1599), Two Gentlemen of Verona (1594), etc.

History includes Henry IV, Part I (1597), Henry IV, Part II (1597), Henry V (1598), Henry VI, Part I (1591), Henry VI, Part II (1590), Henry VI, Part III (1590), Henry VIII (1612), Richard II (1595), Richard III (1592), King John, etc. Iambic pentameter is meter that Shakespeare nearly used when writing in verse. The reason why Shakespeare's works are always extraordinary is because most of his plays were written in iambic pentameter, except for lower-class characters who speak in prose.

Iambic Pentameter has ten syllables in each line, five pairs of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. Some examples of Shakespearean Iambic Pentameter is "Two households, both alike in dignity. ", "In fair Verona, where we lay our scene. ", "But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? ", etc. Shakespeare's influence continued to impact the society today, his plays are being performed constantly throughout the world.

Every day, one of his plays is being performed somewhere, and probably more than one place. More than 410 feature-length film and TV versions of Shakespeare's plays or adaption, have been produced, making Shakespeare the most filmed author ever in any language, including Romeo and Juliet (1968), Romeo+Juliet (1996), West Side Story (1961), Gnomeo and Juliet (2011), Othello (1965), Othello (1995), Macbeth (1948), The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971), etc.

Some films used Shakespeare as a character, such as Shakespeare in Love (1998) is a fictional love story about Shakespeare's romance with a noblewoman, at the time of writing Romeo and Juliet. Many universities offer courses on Shakespeare, such as Shakespeare Studies MA from University of Birmingham, Shakespeare special subject courses from University of Cambridge, Shakespeare and Films from University of Notre Dame, Shakespeare Studies from Boston College, etc.

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