William Shakespeare, also known as “the Bard,” was a poet, a playwright and an actor and is thought to be the greatest dramatist of all times and the most significant one in the English canon. He was a prolific writer and in addition to poems and sonnets he wrote 37 plays. One more play was attributed to him after he died. He wrote comedies, histories, tragedies and romances or “tragicomedies”.
William Shakespeare was born into a family of traders, in Stratford-upon-Avon, 100 miles northwest of London in the year 1564. Not much is known about Shakespeare’s early education but it is said he attended Grammar School and studied Latin grammar and the Classics. Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582 and they had three children, two daughters and a son. Unfortunately his son died at an early age of 11, but the daughters survived.
An ardent lover of theatre, Shakespeare lived in and around London to make theatre his source of livelihood. He joined The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a theatre group, and was one of the founding members. The group later came to be known as The King’s Men under the regime of James I. Shakespeare wrote almost two plays each year for this group and emerged as a prominent name in the world of theatre.
In the early part of his career Shakespeare was involved in writing lyrical poetry. His famous poems of the time are Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece, both dedicated to the Earl of Southampton. By 1598, Shakespeare could complete some of his most famous works, Romeo and Juliet, The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Love’s Labour’s Lost, as well as his historical plays Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, and King John. In the final years of sixteenth century, Shakespeare wrote his romantic comedies As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Much Ado About Nothing, as well as Henry V, the last of his history plays in the Prince Hal series. During the next ten years he wrote his great tragedies, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra. In the next phase of his writing Shakespeare wrote The Tempest and Henry VIII. He also wrote the “tragicomedies,” Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale. In addition he has written many sonnets on the issues of love, chastity, beauty of man, and has challenged the Petrarchan ideals of women as objects of love.
Shakespeare died in 1616 and by that time there was no single collection of works published in his name. In 1623, the First Folio of his authentic works was published by John Hemings and Henry Condell. The universal appeal of Shakespeare’s plays has endured over the years and they are still read and performed all over the world and have been translated into many languages. Adding to the literary genius of Shakespeare Ben Jonson has rightly said, “He was not of an age, but for all time!”