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A big reason was his portayal of women in his plays. He showed them being reasonable and strong and intelligent - something rarely seen or thought of in regard to women during that time.
All of his female characters have an intelligence not seen in Shakespeare's contemporaries.
In reply to above... Queen Elizabeth might have disagreed with you about about that! In her famous speech to the army at Tilbury Docks in 1588 (genuine, not drama) she said "I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England too." There was nothing demur about that. In Shakespeare's day they were familiar with powerful, decisive women. Elizabeth was supposed to have been very out spoken and critical of men at court, if she wanted to be.
I think Shakespeare was controversial in his day because he shows non-white characters very differently from the usual racist stereotypes that most other playwrights used. Othello and Shylock (An African Muslim and A Venetian Jew) are both complex, intelligent, sensitive characters with fully human emotions, not just simple comic or hateful clowns.
Why do you believe that Shakespeare was controversial in his time? The evidence does not support your theory. He was enormously successful, and became very wealthy (as a playwright). In order to sustain The Globe, the partnership, needed approximately one thousand paying patrons for every performance, six times per week!
His plays were regularly performed -- by invitation -- at the royal courts, and his company was patronized by the Lord Chamberlain (The Lord Chamberlain's Men). The Lord Chamberlain was in charge of all entertainments at court, and considered the senior official of the Royal Household.
Later, they became The King's Men! How much more popular could they become!
Shakespeare was very careful to avoid trouble. He was never put in prison (unlike many of his contemporaries), and yet, his personal political and religious views are still hotly debated. His plays give very little away -- even though these may be the very themes of the work!
His work is still immediate today, because of this uncanny ability to skirt controversy! Does Julius Caesar espouse the overthrow of an evil monarch, or condemn it? Why did a very intelligent, highly capable Othello allow himself to be so insanely jealous that he killed the most precious part of his life? Was Shylock justified in demanding a pound of flesh?
We all have our theories -- debated endlessly! That is why we keep performing them!
If you need primary sources, or, want to read more, let me know.
I think Shakespeare was very popular in his time. I am sure some people did not like some of his ideas, or some of his plays. However ultimately it seems like they got over it, and we still do, because the plays are still so popular today.
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