It is easy to make a case for William Shakespeare being the most influential writer in the history of the English language. He wrote prolifically and established the most classic and important story lines of the past four-hundred years. He was so good that some scholars do not believe it is possible that one man could write so much fantastic material. He invented over 1,700 words; that’s almost 4% of the average person’s vocabulary, and the majority of them are popular words still used in modern English language.
But very little is known about Shakespeare, at least compared to the overwhelming amount we know about other writers. Below are 20 facts about the Bard that everyone should know. You can test your modern playwriting skills with this film screenwriting and scriptwriting class.
1. The Beginning, The End And Providence
William Shakespeare was born in April of 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England (we don’t know the exact date of his birth, but we do know he was baptized on April 26, 1564). We have no birth records for William Shakespeare, but most scholars can agree (or agree to disagree) that he was probably born on April 23. This is interesting because we think we know when he died: April 23, 1616. If our estimate is true, then he would have died on his 52nd birthday.
2. The Missing Years
Part of why we know so little about Shakespeare is that he disappeared from records for a considerable amount of time. Between 1585 and 1592, there is no record of Billy anywhere. This is incredibly bizarre because he married Anne Hathaway just three years prior, in 1582 (more on this later). He does not reappear in history until the playwright Robert Greene published a pamphlet in 1592 and denounced Shakespeare as an “upstart crow beautified with our feathers.” That, I think we can all agree, was a mistake.
So what did Shakespeare do during those missing years? Nobody knows. There’s a lot of speculation, naturally, ranging from teaching to practicing law to fleeing because he illegally poached deer. Who knew?
3. Love And Marriage
As mentioned, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582 (November, to be as exact as we can). Shakespeare was barely more than a boy at the time; just 18 years old. Hathaway was 26. Perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that Anne gave birth to their first daughter, Susanna, just six months after they were married. Needless to say, Anne was already pregnant when they were married and this would have been something they would have kept secret (1582 was not as liberally-minded as 2014). All in all, Anne and William had three children (after Susanna, the twins, Hamnet and Judith).
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4. Death And A Curse
We don’t know a whole lot about Shakespeare’s death, but it seems that he died rather quickly. What we do know is that he knew he was dying and had enough time to pen his own epitaph. The epitaph, presumably, was meant to protect his grave from being tampered with. This was not only a common vandalism, but a common practice among cemeteries that were short on space and had to make room for the newly deceased. The epitaph, below, curses whoever disturbs the grave:
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.
5. Prolific And Profound
One of the most amazing things about Shakespeare is just how much he wrote. He started writing in 1589 and is thought to have penned his last play in 1613. During this time, he wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets. It is almost unbelievable. If you look at this chronology of his plays, you will see that he sometimes wrote four plays a year. It’s incredible that he would have written Romeo and Juliet AND Richard II AND A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the same year; or that King Lear AND Macbeth AND Antony and Cleopatra were written in the same year. He had a seemingly never ending supply of genius.
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6. The Business Man
Shakespeare became quite wealthy, even though at the time the theater was primarily a place for the poor. Stratford-upon-Avon records show that he owned the second largest house in the town. And by 1599, Shakespeare had earned enough money to build his own theater, called The Globe. The Globe was a serious piece of architecture: three floors high, with a stage 43 feet wide and enough seating and standing room for 3000 people.
He was also a fairly adept entrepreneur and was able to earn enough money on his real estate investments to write full-time (thank god for that). Even if you can’t write full time, this course can help you quickly and easily master the art of writing for publication.
7. Too Good To Be True
As I already mentioned, a great number of scholars believe Shakespeare was not a real person. At once, this seems likely: Shakespeare had very little formal schooling, came from a small country town and barely shows up in the record books. In other words, detractors do not think someone with so little education could be capable of such writing (and yet, many of the greatest writers were the same way, from Chaucer, who studied law but not English, to Hemingway).
The most common explanations are that other great writers, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and Mary Sidney Herbert, either collaborated or published individually under Shakespeare’s name. This is not generally accepted, however, because if you analyze the works of Shakespeare chronologically, it is easy to see the progression of a single ambitious writer, from the simple couplets of his first plays to the virtuosic performances of his later works.
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