Book Day – William Shakespeare

‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’ (Henry V)

This is one of my favourite Shakespeare’s lines and I cannot think of a better way to start this entry to remember his birth on 23 April 1564 and death on the same date in 1616. Soon we will be celebrating Shakespeare and his plays at our school, but how much do you know about him?

William Shakespeare /ʃeɪkˈspɪə/ is often called the world’s greatest playwright. He wrote comedies, tragedies and historical plays in England in the last part of the 16th and the early 17th century. William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in the English town of Stratford-upon-Avon. His father was a businessman and the town’s mayor. His mother came from a family that owned land near Stratford. William had three younger brothers and two younger sisters. Like other boys of middle-class families, William attended a grammar school in Stratford where he got a good education and also learned Latin.

When William was 18 he married Anne Hathaway. They had three children, first Susanna and then twins, a son named Hamnet and a daughter named Judith. Hamnet died when he was 11.

In 1592 he went to London to work as a writer and actor. From 1592 to 1594 the Black Death spread across England and public places like the theatres were closed. Shakespeare spent these years writing sonnets and poems. When the theatres opened up again in 1594 Shakespeare joined the best acting company of the country—Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It had the best actors, the best writers and the most famous theatre—the Globe. The Globe was a huge amphitheatre without a roof. The seats were curved around a stage that was built on many levels.

Plays always started at two o’clock in the afternoon. People who didn’t have the money to buy a seat were allowed to stand in the front of the stage. All kinds of people came to see the shows: housewives, children, noblemen and even visitors from other countries. The company also presented special plays for kings and queens.

Shakespeare and his fellow actors were responsible for everything in the Globe theatre. They owned the building and the costumes, they wrote the scripts and they also shared the profits that they made. The actors and writers of the theatre worked together successfully for many years.


The Globe Theatre in London
©wolftara-d4rndil at deviant art

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. They can be put into three big categories:

– Tragedies are plays that show the downfall and destruction of a main character. His most famous tragedies are Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth.

– Comedies are funny plays that have a happy ending. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It and The Merry Wives of Windsor are among the most popular.

– Historical plays are dramas about the lives of some of England’s most powerful kings like Henry IV or Richard II.

William Shakespeare retired from the theatre in 1610 and went back to his home town Stratford, where he lived until his death in 1616.

At that time the people of England did not know that their country’s greatest poet and playwright had died. They just thought that he was only a popular actor and writer.

Just for fun… Can you try to match the characters with the play they are in? 🙂

A Tybalt Taming of the Shrew
B Shylock All’s Well That Ends Well
C Petruchio Hamlet
D Falstaff Romeo and Juliet
E Brutus Macbeth
F Titania The Twelfth Night
G Helena Othello
H Claudius Julius Caesar
I Viola The Winter’s Tale
J Iago Merchant of Venice
K Cordelia The Tempest
L Malcolm Othello
M Bassanio Julius Caesar
N Benedick As You Like It
O Mark Anthony Merry Wives of Windsor
P Rosalind Hamlet
Q Leontes A Midsummer Night’s Dream
R Ophelia Merchant of Venice
S Prospero King Lear
T Desdemona Much Ado About Nothing

A soliloquy is a speech in which a character alone on stage reveals private thoughts. Shakespeare wrote some of the most beautiful soliloquies ever written in English such as ‘to be or not to be’ (Hamlet) or ‘All the world’s a stage’ (As you like it).

To be, or not to be—that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep—

No more, and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to. ’Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,

To sleep—perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country from whose bourn

No traveler returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action. . . .


Happy birthday, William Shakespeare!

PS. Today we also celebrate Miguel de Cervantes’ life and works. 🙂


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