William Shakespeare was born of lowly status to a wool dealer in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. Not much is known of his life. Due to the perfection of his writing, and obvious knowledge of the Classics, it is assumed he went to grammar school.
As his father rose in status – eventually becoming a gentleman – this is feasible. At 18 he married Anne Hathaway, 8 years his senior and had three children.
Most likely joining a number of drama companies, about 1593 he came under the patronage of the Earl of Southampton, becoming a member of the prestigious Chamberlain’s Men group of actors about 1594, the whole company moving to The Globe in 1599. The writer of the greatest plays ever, they were split into three categories: tragedies, such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet; comedies, such as As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing; and histories, such as Richard III and Henry V.
Again, not much is known of his life in London, but he is thought to have returned to Stratford about 1610, dying in 1616. This unknown quality about his life, plus the fact that few of his plays are in original manuscript form, has led many scholars to conclude he wasn’t the true author of the plays.
Best candidate is Francis Bacon for authorship – a man of obvious ability. One easy way to disprove this is to realise Bacon was a scientist and rational materialist. The writer of the plays is so clearly a romantic and metaphysicist. The philosophies couldn’t be further apart.
The main reason for the idea Shakespeare was not the author is clearly intellectual snobbery. How could someone of so low a status write such masterful works? And it is, perhaps, this mystery that adds to Shakespeare’s great status. As to the man himself, we can only learn from his plays, and the odd snippet of information regarding things he may or may not have done. For instance, claims of illegitimate children abound; and his deep insights show him to be a deep thinking, often emotional human being.
This all leads us to the view that Shakespeare was not a conventional character, but a highly emotional, possibly philandering man. As to the effect of his work, his place in the history of literature is assured. But some theorists go even further, arguing that, in outing the undercurrents of emotions in his plays, he created the modern mind-set, his plays actually giving a new definition of what it is to be human, complete with all our foibles, dark side, and sense of fun.
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