What Did Shakespeare Accomplish

What did Shakespeare achieve during his career and what was his career like?


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hi1954 | Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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His achievements included being the most popular author of dramatic works of his time, as well as one of the most popular poets.  He wrote at a time of great change in the theatre.  The building of playhouses was meant to restrict the number of people attending and funnel them through entrances where admission could be charged.  Since natural light was required, plays began between noon and 2:00 pm and ran without a break.  Plays were usually presented every day (except Sundays, although this did happen sometimes), with the exception of Lent and outbreaks of the Plague.

William Shakespeare was the oldest of four children born to John and Mary Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.  He was baptized on April 26, 1564.  It has become assumed that he was born three days earlier, but there is no evidence of this at all.  When he was 18 years old he married 26-year old Anne Hathaway, who was four months pregnant(as were approximately one-third of Elizabethan brides).  They had three children, a daughter (Susana) and twins (a son, Hamnet, who died in 1596, and another girl, Judith).

Shakespeare appears as a successful dramatist in London by 1592, and as to what he was doing in the seven years between the birth of the twins and this date there is no record.  Theories abound: he traveled to Italy; he was a soldier in the Low Countries; he studied medicine or law, etc., but we really have no idea.   He could hardly have become so well noted as an actor and playwright had he spent a great deal of those years away from the theatre.  In 1595 he was named as a member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a prominent acting company.  The following year his father received a coat of arms from the College of Arms, and the new "gentleman" William bought a 10% interest in the Globe Theatre.  The year after that he bought a substantial house in Stratford, where his family lived while he continued to reside and work in London.

In 1598 a record of contemporary British writers (Palladis Tamia, by Francis Meres) mentions him as one of the best playwrights of the time.  Camden's list in 1605 calls him one of "the most pregnant witts of this our times."

After this Shakespeare was known in London as a playwright and theatrical man-about-town, and as an important local figure in Stratford.  In 1608 his acting company, the King's Men, bought an interior space called the Blackfriars theatre, which he owned a large share in.  By 1612 he apparently resided largely in Stratford, as he bought a substantial house in London but listed himself as "of Stratford" and named several Londoners as the building's trustees.  He did stay active to some degree in the theatrical world, but his last play was Macbeth, probably written in 1606.

His last years were spent focused on life in Stratford-upon-Avon, and he died April 23, 1616.  He was buried in Holy Trinity Church, in Stratford.  For more information, see the link below.  I also suggest the Pelican printing of the Complete Shakespeare.

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