Wednesday, 29 January 2014

99 Quick Facts About Shakespeare and His Work

99 facts about Shakespeare - none
of which involve ice cream or
Cadbury's Flake.
For the 99th post on this blog (insert drum roll here), I present you with 99 quick, and hopefully interesting, facts about the one and only William Shakespeare.

1.
Shakespeare came into the world in April of 1564. It's not known exactly what day he was born, but he was baptised on the 26th, which was likely just a few days after his birth.

2. His birthday is generally considered, therefore, to be the 23rd of April, which is also the date of his death fifty two years later.

3. William's father, John Shakespeare, was a glove maker.

4. His mother, Mary Shakespeare (nee Arden), was the daughter of a wealthy landowner.

5. Mary Arden is, disappointingly, not even distantly related to Elizabeth Arden.

6. However, Mary Arden was the second cousin of Edward Arden, a nobleman whose son-in-law plotted to murder Elizabeth I. The plot was quashed and Arden, implicated in his son-in-law's plan (although he probably knew nothing about it), was sentenced to death.

Shakespeare was born and raised in the Warwickshire town
of Stratford-Upon-Avon
7. Shakespeare was born and brought up in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

8. Although there is no record of him attending school, given that his parents were well-to-do, it's highly unlikely that he went without an education.

9. It's believed that he attended King Edward VI Grammar School, which was just a stone's throw from the family home.

10. William was the third of eight children born to his parents.

11. Infant mortality being so high, neither of Shakespeare's older sisters, Joan and Margaret, lived to be toddlers.

12. After William came another boy, named Gilbert, who survived into adulthood and became a successful tradesman.

13. Next came another sister, confusingly also named Joan, who made it to the ripe old age of seventy seven. She would be the only Shakespeare to survive her famous brother.

Joan Shakespeare, William's younger sister
14. Joan Shakespeare married a hat maker, William Hart, and had four children. One of them, another William, eventually became an actor. Following his uncle, he joined the King's Men sometime in the mid 1630s.

15. Shakespeare's acting nephew William Hart would become most famous for playing Falstaff.

16. John and Mary Shakespeare's sixth child was another daughter, Anne. Unfortunately, she did not survive the hazardous first years of life, and died at the age of eight.

17. Child number seven was named Richard. Very little is known of him, except that he died at the age of thirty nine, unmarried.

18. The last of the Shakespeare's siblings was Edmund, born sixteen years after his eldest brother. Edmund was keen to follow William into the theatre and moved to London. However, he hadn't had much of a chance to make a name for himself when he died at the age of twenty nine.

19. Almost nothing is known of Shakespeare's childhood, and the next documented event in his life is his marriage.

William Shakespeare married Anne
Hathaway in a shotgun wedding
20. On November 28th, 1582, the eighteen-year-old William Shakespeare wed the twenty-six-year-old Anne Hathaway. Coo coo ca choo Mrs Robinson.

21. Six months later, the hastily put together wedding was explained when Anne gave birth to a baby girl, Susanna.

22. Susanna was followed two years later by twins, Hamnet and Judith.

23. Like three of Shakespeare's siblings, Hamnet didn't make adulthood, dying at eleven years old.

24. Susanna eventually married John Hall, a famed physician. The couple had just one daughter, Elizabeth Hall.

25. Susanna Hall nee Shakespeare may have been the inspiration for several of her father's female characters. Susana Hall is described on her epitaph as "Witty beyond her sex, but that's not all, wise to salvation was good Mistress Hall."

26. Making the fairly good age of sixty six, Susanna survived her husband and left her only daughter well-educated.

27. Shakespeare's granddaughter Elizabeth Hall married twice, and lead what seems to have been a happy, affluent life, but she never had any children.

Shakespeare and his wife had three children: Susanna, Judith
and Hamnet
28. William Shakespeare's second daughter, Judith, did not marry quite as well as her sister. Indeed, her relationship with a vintner named Thomas Quiney led to several scandals.

29. First, Quiney did not obtain the license necessary for them to wed during lent, meaning the couple was excommunicated from the church.

30. Later, Quiney would be charged with, and prosecuted for,  "carnal copulation" with a woman named Magaret Wheeler. Quiney confessed to the crime and was forced to pay a fine and conduct "private penitence".

31. Despite their problems, Judith and Thomas had three sons: Shakespeare, Richard and Thomas.

32. Shakespeare's grandson, Shakespeare, died in infancy. Richard and Thomas died at the ages of twenty one and nineteen, within weeks of each other. Neither married or had children. So, the direct Shakespeare line ended there.

33. After the birth of his children, details on Shakespeare once again become murky. In fact, for around seven years, no records mention him: these are known as the 'lost years'.

Following the 'lost years', Shakespeare is
next mentioned in Robert Greene's
Groatsworth of Wit
34. There are several theories concerning Shakespeare's whereabouts during the 'lost years'. One assertion is that he was on the run after poaching a deer on Sir Richard Lucy's land, but no evidence supports this notion.

35. When he resurfaces again in 1592, he's called an "upstart crow," in a pamphlet called the 'Groatsworth of Wit'.

36. By the time he's being unfavourably reviewed in the Groatsworth of Wit, Shakespeare is living in London, and working as an actor and playwright. Anne Hathaway and the children, meanwhile, are still back in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

37. It's not really known why Shakespeare left the family behind, but given the fact that acting was seen as not only a lowly, but also a delinquent profession, it's perhaps no surprise that he didn't drag his wife and kids along.

38. While making a name for himself as an actor and writer, Shakespeare became a managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain's Men (renamed the King's Men after James I came to the throne) - the most famous acting troupe in the country, whose members included Richard Burbage.

39. In 1593 and 1594, there were virulent outbreaks of the plague which closed the theatres.

40. Out of work as an actor, Shakespeare focused on writing, but it wasn't plays he primarily focused on. With the entertainment venues of London closed, William wrote the poems 'Venus and Adonis' and 'The Rape of Lucrece'.

Henry Wriothesley was Shakespeare's
patron
41. It's also thought that he wrote many of his sonnets at this time.

42. Shakespeare's poems are dedicated to his patron, Henry Wriothesley - the Earl of Southampton, who is believed to be the 'fair youth' that many of the sonnets are written about.

43. So, far from being a poem of romantic love, Sonnet 18 'Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day' was actually written about the good looks of a man. And, you've gotta agree, Wriothesley was a pretty boy.

44. This doesn't necessarily mean Shakespeare was gay, though. Sexuality, and the appreciation of beauty (both male and female), was very different from our modern perception.

45. And, of course, if you're an out of work actor, it's not a bad idea to flatter the man who's putting food on your table.

46. It's thought that Shakespeare began writing plays sometime between 1590 and 1592.

47. His earliest works included Love's Labour's Lost and the Henry VI trilogy.

48. He was prolific, producing around two plays each year from the early 1590s right through until 1611.

The First Folio puts Shakespeare's plays
into three genres: comedies, histories
and tragedies
49. Because many of Shakespeare's plays weren't printed and published until after his death, its difficult to be sure exactly how many he wrote. But there are thirty seven plays that we know of and have access to.

50. There are another two places that are known of, but of which no copies exist. Those 'lost plays' are The History of Cardenio and Love's Labour's Won.

51. There's also at least one play that Shakespeare collaborated on: The Two Noble Kinsmen, which was penned with John Fletcher.

52. Shakespeare's plays are divided into just three genres, although many of them don't fit neatly into one category. Those genres are: history, tragedy and comedy.

53. William Shakespeare's ten history plays follow the chronicles (some of them less accurate than others), of several English kings starting in the 11th century with King John all the way up to Elizabeth I's pa, Henry VIII.

54. Although Shakespeare is perhaps best known for his tragedies, he wrote the same number of tragedies as histories: ten.

55. He was most abundant where comedies were concerned, churning out seventeen of the things.

Today, Measure for Measure is viewed
as a 'problem play' rather than a
straightforward comedy.
56. More recently, six of the plays have been re-branded 'problem plays', because they do not fit neatly into the genre of comedy or tragedy. These plays are, All's Well That Ends Well, A Winter's Tale, Measure for Measure, The Merchant of Venice, Timon of Athens, and Troilus and Cressida.

57. The problem plays are labelled 'problem' because either, like The Merchant of Venice, they do not sit comfortably as comedies, or, like Timon of Athens, they wrestle with problematic themes.

58. It appears that Shakespeare's talent as a writer began to pay divides quickly. In 1596, John's father was granted a coat of arms, and its likely that William's cash commissioned it.

59. In 1597, Shakespeare could afford to buy New Place, a grand home in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

60. Meanwhile, The Chamberlain's Men were packing them in, and setting their sights on building their own theatre: The Globe, which was completed in 1599.

61. By the latter 1590s, Shakespeare had established a name for himself and was performing several of his plays in Queen Elizabeth's court.

62. In 1598, Francis Meres wrote of Shakespeare, "...the Muses would speak with Shakespeare's fine filed phrase if they would speak English."

Extract from Palladis Tamia, by Francis Meres,
praising Shakespeare
63. Meres also considered William Shakespeare to be among the greatest writers of comedy and tragedy for the stage.

64. Although he's most famed as a writer, and with good reason, in records from 1592, 1598 and even up until 1603, Shakespeare's profession is listed as 'actor'.

65. We know that he performed in a play by Ben Jonson, and it's also likely that he played minor roles in his own works.

66. There is some evidence to suggest that he took on the roles of Hamlet's Ghost in Hamlet, and Adam in As You Like It.

67. Almost all of Shakespeare's plays have their roots in either historical fact or another play or story.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is one
of only two plays that are entire creations
of Shakespeare's imagination
68. The two works that are complete works of his imagination are A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest.

69. For reasons not quite explained, in the middle of the 19th century, the question of 'authorship' began to be raised. The theory behind the debate was that Shakespeare didn't actually write anything; he was just a beard for someone who could not publicly acknowledge his/her work.

70. Today, there are some scholars, actors and directors who think its unlikely that William Shakespeare wrote everything that's attributed to him.

71. And, in fairness, there was a tradition of collaborative writing during the Elizabethan era. So there is certainly the possibility that he did not write everything entirely alone.

72. Those who believe someone other than Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays are referred to as anti-Stratfordians.

73. One of the things anti-Stratfordians are quick to point out is that Shakespeare's name is spelled differently on documents and manuscripts. It's written as Shakespear, Shakspere, Shakespe and Shakspe. But, it's worth remembering, there were no hard and fast rules were spelling was concerned, not even for names.

Nowhere does Shakespeare spell his name the way we do
74. In none of the copies of Shakespeare's own signature does he spell his name the way we do today.

75. However, there is no firm evidence for one candidate, or (in my opinion), anything other than speculation over Shakespeare's education, or lack thereof, to suggest that he didn't or couldn't have written his plays.

76. We often refer to Shakespeare as an Elizabethan writer, as I just did above, but his most famous plays were written during the reign of James I (the Jacobean era).

77. Shakespeare wasn't afraid of risking his neck (quite literally), with politically charged writing. Richard II was penned late in the reign of the childless Elizabeth I and parallels between the tale of the 14th century king and the contemporary monarch were unmistakable.

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, used Shakespeare's
Richard II to get his supports riled up for rebellion
78. In fact, a performance of Richard II was paid for by the rebellious Earl of Essex and played at The Globe on the eve of what was his attempted uprising against the queen.

79. While a successful (and very busy), actor, playwright and theatre owner in London, Shakespeare was also a respected property owner and businessman back home in Stratford.

80.  Although Shakespeare is well known for his verse, only two plays are written entirely in verse: Richard II and King John. The rest are a mixture of prose and verse.

81. It wasn't until the Restoration period that woman were allowed to perform on stage. Therefore, in Shakespeare own lifetime, all female parts were played by boys or young men. So Viola, Portia and those other cross-dressing girls are actually boys dressed as girls dressed as boys. Keeping up?

82. Shakespeare's longest play is Hamlet, which has a running time of around four hours when performed in its entirety.

The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare's shortest play
83. The shortest, on the other hand, is The Comedy of Errors.

84. In 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII, The Globe theatre was destroyed after a fire started by a cannon set off as part of the play.

85. Shakespeare's religion is another aspect of his life that is debated. His distant relative Edward Arden (mentioned above), was Catholic despite it being illegal. And, after Shakespeare's death, Richard Davies (an Anglican Archdeacon, who had known the Bard), claimed that William was himself Catholic.

86. Shakespeare died at the age of fifty two. He was an impressively rich man, who left his estate to Susanna and her husband. To Anne Hathaway, who survived him, he famously left the second best bed.

Shakespeare's will, in which he famously left his
wife the second best bed
87. The second best bed was probably the marital bed and, therefore, had sentimental significance. And it's reasonable to assume that there was already an agreement that Susanna and Dr Hall would care for her mother in her old age.

88. Shakespeare was buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

89. On his original headstone, there was an engraved image of him carrying a bag of grain. In 1747, the people of Stratford had the image altered, replacing the grain with a quill.

90. It was common at the time for remains to be dug up and moved in order to make room for new graves, but Shakespeare's epitaph discourages it. "Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear, To dig the dust enclosed here: Blest be the man that spares these stones, And curst be he that moves my bones." Sure enough, Shakespeare hasn't been budged since he was laid to rest there.

91. Shakespeare has become the single most quoted author in English. Only the Bible's multiple authors are quoted more often.

John Keats kept a bust of Shakespeare on his desk
in the hope that he'd be inspired.
92. Shakespeare has had a string of very famous fans, including John Keats, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Shelley and Nelson Mandela.

93. Although, unfortunately, Shakespeare is now seen as entertainment for an affluent and/or well-educated minority, Shakespeare's plays were, and still are, very much for the masses.

94. Violence is rife in Shakespeare's plays with twelve murders, twelve suicides and nine fatal wounds sustained in combat. Not to mention a broad selection of bloody maiming and assassinations. It's enough to rival most Hollywood blockbusters.

95. The first collection of Shakespeare's plays was published in 1623 and is known as the First Folio.

96. Between 1788 and 1820, King Lear was banned from being performed on English stages, for fear that it would mock King George III, who was suffering from mental illness, which is thought now to be a result of porphyria.

97. There have been over 410 screen versions and adaptations of Shakespeare's plays.

98. Shakespeare's work is the most filmed of any author in any language.

99. Today, a Google search for William Shakespeare generates a whopping 38 million hits.

If you'd like to learn more about Shakespeare, check out What's It All About Shakespeare? An Introduction to The Bard of Avon.

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