William Shakespeare was born on1564 and he died on 1616. He was an English playwright and poet, recognized in much of the world as the greatest of all dramatists. Hundreds of editions of his plays have been published, including translations in all major languages. Scholars have written thousands of books and articles about his plots, characters, themes, and language. He is the most widely quoted author in history, and his plays have probably been performed more times than those of any other dramatist. English Renaissance theatre is sometimes called “Elizabethan Theatre.” The term Elizabethan theatre, however, properly covers only the plays written and performed publicly in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603).
There is no simple explanation for Shakespeare’s unrivaled popularity in the Elizabethan period, but he remains the greatest entertainer and perhaps the most profound thinker. He had a remarkable knowledge of human behavior, which he was able to communicate through his portrayal of a wide variety of characters. He was able to enter fully into the point of view of each of his characters and to create vivid dramatic situations in which to explore human motivations and behaviour. His mastery of poetic language and of the techniques of drama enabled him to combine these multiple viewpoints, human motives, and actions to produce a uniquely compelling theatrical experience. It is however noted that Shakespeare had no formal University Education.
Shakespeare’s plays were performed at the courts of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I more frequently than those of any other dramatist of that time. Shakespeare risked losing royal favor only once, in 1599, when his company performed “the play of the deposing and killing of King Richard II” at the request of a group of conspirators against Elizabeth. In the subsequent inquiry, Shakespeare’s company was absolved of any knowing participation in the conspiracy. Although Shakespeare’s plays enjoyed great popularity with the public, most people did not consider them literature. Plays were merely popular entertainments, not unlike the movies today.
Shakespeare’s reputation today is, however, is based primarily on his 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and 38 plays that he wrote, modified, or collaborated on. Records of Shakespeare’s plays begin to appear in 1594, when the theaters reopened with the passing of the plague that had closed them for 21 months. In December of 1594 his play The Comedy of Errors was performed in London during the Christmas revels at Gray’s Inn, one of the London law schools. In March of the following year he received payment for two plays that had been performed during the Christmas holidays at the court of Queen Elizabeth I by his theatrical company, known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The receipt for payment, which he signed along with two fellow actors, reveals that he had by this time achieved a prominent place in the company. He was already probably a so-called sharer, a position entitling him to a percentage of the company’s profits rather than merely a salary as an actor and a playwright. In time the profits of this company and its two theaters, the Globe Theatre, which opened in 1599, and the Black friars, which the company took over in 1608, enabled Shakespeare to become a wealthy man.
It is worth noting that Shakespeare’s share in the production company made him wealthy, not any commissions or royalties from writing his plays. Playwriting was generally poorly paid work, which involved providing scripts for the successful theater business. His plays would have belonged to the acting company, and when they did reach print they then belonged to the publisher. No system of royalties existed at that time. Indeed, with the exception of the two narrative poems he published in 1593 and 1594, Shakespeare never seems to have bothered about publication. The plays that reached print did so without his involvement. The only form of “publication” he sought was their performance in the theatre.
The paradox in the development of the Elizabethan theatre and its contribution to the world’ theatre is that it grew out of Puritan’s attack and the reign of a monarch who loved the Arts. The puritans were against professional theatre. The Elizabethan Era came after the period when theatre witness a total blackout, known as Dark Ages, there was no theatrical activity through the territory. Elizabethan period is also known as Renaissance in England. It is a period when Men broke out of the rules and regulations of the church in order to seek for knowledge. It is a period of rebirth of learning, a period when Scholars decided to look into the classical past. There are many great writers in this period. The Elizabethan era in 16th-century England was a prolific period for English literature. Edmund Spenser, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, Chettle Henry, Wyatt Thomas, Surrey Henry, Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare were only a few of the many writers who created their great works during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Drama in the Elizabethan age was seen as part of political propaganda to sustain the common weal in terms of culture and commercialism of the arts. When Elizabeth 1 came to the throne, there was an Act against vagabonds. An actor therefore is legally a vagabond unless he is attached as a retainer to a noble man of quality. When Elizabeth 1 got to the throne, she showed her joy and interest in plays and pageantry and courtly performances. She allowed special performances in the palace. William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was first performed in the court of Elizabeth 1.
The timelessness of Shakespeare can be seen in his themes on which he later drawn his inspiration. The timelessness of Shakespeare can be categorized in three places, they are
ü Themes of his plays
ü His use of Language
ü The play’s adaptability to all ages and generation.
The themes in Shakespeare’s plays varies from Ambitious in Macbeth, Revenge in Hamlet, Jealousy in Othello. All this provide timeless issues.
Shakespeare’s characters emerge in his plays as distinctive human beings. Although some of the characters display elements of conventional dramatic types such as the melancholy man, the braggart soldier, the pedant, and the young lover, they are nevertheless usually individualized rather than caricatures or exaggerated types. Falstaff, for example, bears some resemblance to the braggart soldiers of 16th-century Italian comedy and to representations of the character Vice in medieval morality plays, but his vitality and inexhaustible wit make him unique. Hamlet, one of the most complex characters in all literature, is partly a picture of the ideal Renaissance man, and he also exhibits traits of the conventional melancholic character. However, his personality as a whole transcends these types, and he is so real that commentators have continued for centuries to explore his fascinating mind.
Shakespeare’s philosophy of life can only be deduced from the ideas and attitudes that appear frequently in his writings, and he remained always a dramatist, not a writer of philosophical or ethical tracts. Nonetheless, the tolerance of human weakness evident in the plays tends to indicate that Shakespeare was a broad-minded person with generous and balanced views. Although he never lectured his audience, sound morality is implicit in his themes and in the way he handled his material. He attached less importance to noble birth than to an individual’s noble relations with other people. Despite the bawdiness of Shakespeare’s language, which is characteristic of his period, he did not condone sexual license. He accepted people as they are, without condemning them, but he did not allow wickedness to triumph. The comments of Shakespeare’s contemporaries suggest that he himself possessed both integrity and gentle manners.
Shakespeare brilliantly exploited the resources of the theaters he worked in. The Globe Theatre held an audience of 2,000 to 3,000 people. Like other outdoor theatres, it had a covered, raised stage thrusting out into the audience. The audience stood around the three sides of the stage in an unroofed area called the pit. Covered galleries, where people paid more money to sit, rose beyond the pit. Performances took place only during daylight hours, and there was little use of lighting. Few props were used, and little scenery. Costumes, however, were elaborated.
In Shakespeare’s time English was a more flexible language than it is today. Grammar and spelling were not yet completely formalized, although scholars were beginning to urge rules to regulate them. English had begun to emerge as a significant literary language, having recently replaced Latin as the language of serious intellectual and artistic activity in England. Freed of many of the conventions and rules of modern English, Shakespeare could shape vocabulary and syntax to the demands of style. For example, he could interchange the various parts of speech, using nouns as adjectives or verbs, adjectives as adverbs, and pronouns as nouns. Such freedom gave his language an extraordinary plasticity, which enabled him to create the large number of unique and memorable characters he has left us. Shakespeare made each character singular by a distinctive and characteristic set of speech habits.
The main influences on Shakespeare’s style were the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, the homilies (sermons) that were prescribed for reading in church, the rhetorical treatises that were studied in grammar school, and the proverbial lore of common speech.
Shakespeare wrote nearly all of his plays from 1590 to 1611, when he retired to New Place. A series of history plays and joyful comedies appeared throughout the 1590s, ending with As You Like It and Twelfth Night. At the same time as he was writing comedy, he also wrote nine history plays, treating the reigns of England’s medieval kings and exploring realities of power still relevant today. The great tragedies including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth were written during the first decade of the 1600s. All focus on a basically decent individual who brings about his own downfall through a tragic flaw. Scholars have theorized about the reasons behind this change in Shakespeare’s vision, and the switch from a focus on social aspects of human activity to the rending experience of the individual. But no one knows whether events in his own life or changes in England’s circumstances triggered the shift, or whether it was just an aesthetic decision. Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, had died in 1596 at the age of 11, his father died in 1601, and England’s popular monarch, Elizabeth I, died in 1603, so it is not unreasonable to think that the change in Shakespeare’s genre and tone reflects some change in his own view of life prompted by these events. In his last years working as a playwright, however, Shakespeare wrote a number of plays that are often called romances or tragicomedies, plays in which the tragic facts of human existence are fully acknowledged but where reassuring patterns of reconciliation and harmony can be seen finally to shape the action.
The theatre served Shakespeare’s financial needs well. In 1597 he bought New Place, a substantial three-story house in Stratford. With the opening of the splendid Globe Theatre in 1599, Shakespeare’s fortunes increased and in 1602 he bought additional property: 43 hectares (107 acres) of arable land and 8 hectares (20 acres) of pasture north of the town of Stratford and, later that year, a cottage facing the garden at New Place. In 1605 he bought more property in a neighboring village. His financial activities can be traced, and his final investment is the purchase of a house in the Black friars district of London in 1613.
In Conclusion, Shakespeare’s early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the sixteenth century. He then wrote mainly tragedies until about 1608, including Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, considered some of the finest work in the English language. In his last phase, he wrote tragic-comedies also known as romances and collaborated with other playwright. Many of his plays were published in editions of varying quality and accuracy during his life time. In 1623, two of his former theatrical colleagues published the first Folio, a collected edition of his dramatic works.
Some of Shakespeare’s plays were published in quarto editions from 1594. By 1598, his name had become a selling point and began to appear on the title pages. Shakespeare continued to act in his own and other plays after his success as a playwright.
He divided his time between London and Stratford during his career. In 1596, the year before he bought New Place as his family home in Stratford, he was living in the Parish of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, north of the river Thames. He moved across the river to Southwark by 1599, the year his company constructed a Globe theatre there.